As part of our interview series, My Happy Home, we sit down with Michelle Ogundehin to find out about her favourite room in her home — as well as the joy that her garden provides her with, particularly during the spring months.
Many of you might know Michelle Ogundehin, former Editor-In-Chief of Elle Decoration UK, as the head judge on BBC’s Interior Design Masters – with the new series returning on 7th March. She’s the author of Happy Inside: How to Harness the Power of Home for Health and Happiness, and you may have also spotted her providing invaluable advice and expertise on everything from Kevin McCloud‘s Grand Designs: House of the Year to The Great Interior Design Challenge.
Michelle currently lives in Brighton with her son and regularly shares interiors inspiration plus her top tips for designing on her Instagram, as well as why a better home often equates to better health.
What makes you happiest at home?
MO: Silence – and texture. I think a home should comfort and console. So to snuggle yourself into a corner and feel different textures is just kind of a joy to me.
Tell us about your childhood home
MO: My childhood home is of no consequence whatsoever. My parents were far too busy trying to survive than to have anything to do with interiors. So, I have no back story of parents flicking through World of Interiors or anything like that. Where the bug came from, I have no idea.
When you get home, what is the first thing you like to do?
MO: It would be to put everything away because I do like a sense of order. I mean, my home is not brutally tidy but I do abide by ‘everything in its place and a place for everything’. So, coats, scarves, shoes, they’ve all got to come off and go away, or school bags and all that sort of stuff. Then it would be to make a pot of tea.
Which room do you spend most of your time in? How did you decorate this space?
MO: Because I mostly work from home it’s probably the room that I’m in right now – it’s kind of my study or office. I suppose it’s decorated for concentration.
Behind me there are two shelves filled with bits. I love things. I’m not a minimalist by any stretch of the imagination but I do think things should be contained so they’re not everywhere. They are sort of creative things, however they are behind me, so when I’m sitting and writing I can concentrate. I’ve actually got a large map in front of me and a window looking out towards my outdoor space.
Describe the view outside your bedroom window?
MO: Green. Just green. I plant a lot of greenery as opposed to flowers and there’s a beautiful tree, I don’t know what it’s called, but it has the most gorgeous scented flowers on it and I’ve hung all the bird feeders in it. I call it my sparrow cafe because the house sparrows nest in the eaves of my house so I always hear them squabbling and talking – it’s glorious. It’s also the same view that I see from my study because that’s the room underneath it. I do love that.
What is the best decorating advice you have ever received?
MO: I’m not sure who specifically may have said this to me but whatever that thing is that you want to try – just go for it!
One that always surprises me is when people say go bigger than you think, with anything. I know that has come up quite a lot in the show, you kind of see something and go, why is that so tiny? Go with a big statement – sometimes even in a small room, a really big oversized pot actually works. It feels completely counter-intuitive but I think that would probably be something.
What is the best home bargain you’ve ever snapped up?
MO: I very rarely snap anything up. I haven’t bought any furniture for years because I don’t have room for it and I don’t have the need for it. One of the things that I’m always doing is clearing and getting rid of stuff, but I absolutely love the things that I have.
I suppose I did manage to get my sofas that I absolutely love. They are the Robin Day Forum sofas, when they were sold in Habitat. I managed to get one of those in the sale but it was hardly a snapping up thing – it was because I’d always loved it and I’d always thought ‘oooh, I think I should have two’.
I’m a very slow burner, I like to have a long think. It’s more about having a kind of palette of materials that I stick to – often when you snap something up, you veer from that. It can look gorgeous in the shop and then you bring it home and discover that it doesn’t work. I would always counsel people to take their time and have a think.
What is your most treasured possession at home? Why is it so special?
MO: I’m literally doing a ‘less is now’ challenge and I’ve been sharing it on Instagram. There’s a coffee pot that I’ve had in a cupboard forever. It used to belong to my parents, it’s a real sixties shape. It’s a beautiful piece of design but I don’t drink coffee at all so it’s just been in the cupboard forever. And so I said that I was going to get rid of it, but because it is a beautiful piece of design, I was having a little bit of a wobble, and my inbox just went crazy with people saying, ‘Keep the coffee pot! Keep the coffee pot! Use it as a vase. Plant a plant in it. Use it for something else.’ And I was really like, ‘no – it needs to be used for coffee.’ It needs to go to someone who will actually value it and treasure it because I’m not.
I’m quite unattached to a lot of possessions in that way, truthfully because I think anything only has the value that you wish to ascribe to it. The things that I would really treasure will have no value to anyone else. They’ll be like a drawing that my son did or we’ve got this red rubber duck – it’s like a Manchester United rubber duck. It used to belong to my dad who very sadly passed away about four or five years ago but he gave it to my son and we love that stupid red duck.
I always think that when clearing, for example, you need to look at everything and ask yourself, if this was lost or broken or stolen, would you care? Would you care enough to replace it? Or would you cry over this loss? Because, if not, most things you realise is just stuff. I don’t really hold much sentimentality for too many things.
What would we find in your bedside table?
MO: Books, a pencil and hand cream. I do try to put hand cream on before I go to bed because my hands get very dry.
What would top your list for the worst decor trend?
MO: Probably any trend, really. I think the time for trends is over. We’ve got bigger things to concentrate on like sustainability and renewable resources and things like that, so any trend that someone buys into regardless of whether they like it is anathema to me.
Are you green-fingered?
MO: I think that I would describe myself as an intuitive gardener, which means that I don’t really know what I’m doing. I try and some things work and some don’t. I’ve had gardens where suddenly everything looks lovely and then there’s just patches of earth because I’ve not quite understood that thing about the timings of different things coming up at different times.
But I’m loving having a garden. It was one of the newer additions to my home and I find it so intensely therapeutic and relaxing and a joy to do. It is just so glorious at the moment – I love this time of year where spring is starting and it feels so optimistic. You’ve got little shoots coming through and I planted loads of bulbs last year, so I’m waiting to see what I’ve planted and whether they all come up.
If you could have a snoop around anyone’s house, whose would it be and why?
MO: People don’t invite me round because they’re scared of me passing judgement and I don’t ever want to judge someone’s home. Because that’s the thing, your home is your space. It is your personal and private space. I mean, designers put theirs on display and I know this is ironic – since I edited Elle Decoration for years and was always persuading people to share their homes – but I’m not really interested in seeing any celebrity’s home. Just because they’re a celebrity doesn’t mean they have any taste. That makes me seem like I’m very not curious, but I did enjoy seeing Gwyneth Paltrow’s home [in Architectural Digest], actually.
• Interior Design Masters series 4 premieres on Tuesday 7th March 2023 at 8pm on BBC One.