Styling Tips: how I use Natural history accents to style my home

February 4, 2019

The byline (as you have hopefully noticed) for my blog is colour, pattern & patina. I chose these words early on as I felt they reflected my style in the home.

I was always inspired by colour (and often with a paint pot to hand trying out new shades in our rooms), forever on the hunt for unique vintage pieces that spoke to me from the past (patina), and using pattern to create texture within schemes. These are still the bones that inspire most of the spaces I’ve designed. However, as my style changes over time I’ve refined my mantra to include modern elements, lots of natural history and investment in artisanal products that show the craft behind them.

All of these elements provide a big part of the style narrative in our home. When I asked on Instagram in December what people wanted me to talk more about on the blog I got an awful lot of messages asking me to talk about how I style my home (which was very flattering – thank you!). So, after thinking about this for a while, I’ve decided to do a mini series on the blog focussing on each of the main elements mentioned above with tips on how I use each one to tell a story or add a layer to our home.

I’m starting with natural history, since it is a long term passion of mine, and an area I’ve been collecting pieces within forever (long before I started blogging). So, what do I mean by natural history? Well, in our home it means lots of thing; entomology (we have quite a few butterflies and bugs dotted around), shells, coral, feathers, dried flowers, plants, precious stone, and I even see woods and paint colours that use natural pigment as a further layer of my love of nature and being outdoors.

I think that when choosing your personal points of collecting (or the bones that inform your signature style) it’s good to spend a little time thinking about which aesthetics really inspire you. A good starting point can be to save disparate images on Pinterest with abandon, and then start to hone them down by removing the images which you love but may not feel right for your own home. I am in love with many of the architectural and Scandinavian style interiors we see where every detail is thought through to the chic-est molecule. But I have to be honest, as much as I love looking at this style, it’s not a look I could personally live with. I love a tidy home (don’t we all!), but I also like a style that looks a little undone, one that has been lived in and looks comfortable, it may be the historian in me but I like a home that tells a story about the past, a modern minimalist I am not.

At the same time, and I flag this as my first tip, I am also averse to overwhelming collections of maximalist style where your mind is psychedelically drawn all over the place with style references writ large. Again, I can totally appreciate the beauty of these passions in an image, I may even chose a layered eclectic design to spend time socialising in commercial spaces, but my own home needs to be quieter. This style works incredibly well if you are naturally confident, cool and probably a little extrovert. I want my home to feel more muted than this, so whilst I collect a lot I also reign myself in by choosing designs that are neither bold nor neutral.

When it comes to naturally history, I choose items that resonate with me, and I think that it’s fairly impossible to go overboard with them. I like to use natural history to contextualise, provoke a juxtaposition of surface or texture, or simply as a pretty accent that hints at my love of the outdoors. Have a look at collections of still life and see what items spark joy for you, it may be that old wooden utensils or aged metal are your thing, whatever it is have a little fun with where you place them to add layers of interest and spark curiosity.

Where do I source my collection from? Well, as you can imagine since it’s been amassed over years and years from all over but I do have a few places to recommend to you. Firstly eBay, I have heard people like Kirsty Allsopp bemoan that eBay is a a philistines antiques market or auction room, but she’s wrong. If you know what you are looking for eBay is a perfect place to search for items that you’re less likely to come across in real life, coral reef or reef fans for example, and you will often find some real bargains. However I would also caution that as this is natural history bear in mind the legal and ethical restraints that should stop certain things being sold. Ivory is an obvious one, it is no longer legal to obtain coral from its depleted source either, and butterflies wherever possible vintage is best since no-one has killed anything for your purchase, be particularly wary of beautiful and brightly hued creatures from hotter climbs where over sourcing of the butterflies is putting some species at risk.

Foraging outdoors is another big source of material for us, since having a child I’ve become really well trained at absorbing anc talking about the natural world around us, we always bring shells back from the seasude, stones that grab my attention, feathers, and maybe possibly the odd piece of dried grass where it won’t be missed! You can treat nature as your sourcebook with abandon, you don’t need to be constrained by colour palettes or patterns since nature rarely produces things that clash, in this country at least.

Finally, and this may be a little obvious, but let collecting of any kind evolve naturally over time. We have natural history in each room but my collection goes back to before we ever owned a home, with marble eggs inherited from my grandma, a really successful styling narrative is rarely rushed, so enjoy the process of finding the things that bring you joy and tell a little if your story. What do you like to collect? I’d live to hear in the comments below.

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