A lesson in Colour: masterclass on colour and styling with Karen Haller and Ashlyn Gibson

April 18, 2016

Copper Blush, painterly ceramic plate, studiolenneke_wispelwey_ceramics (2)

Image: Copper Blush sample and pink objects I love

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to an event on colour psychology and styling led by colour psychology expert Karen Haller and super-stylist/author/shop owner/Clapton laundry and location house owner, Ashlyn Gibson. The event was put together by Get Living London, as part of their Make Yourself at Home Campaign, they formed with the aim of offering a new kind of rental to Londoners and creating a true community in the East Village in Stratford. One of their unique offerings is that they encourage tenants to be creative in their homes, to design them to feel like their own spaces, painting walls, putting up shelves, mirrors etc. without fear of losing deposits. I rather like this idea and would have been glad of it when I was renting. As a part of this campaign, the event took place in Ashlyn’s new Olive Lives Alfie store in the East Village on the Olympics site, and I relished the excuse of being on the other side of London to follow my nose (getting a little lost!) and seeing how the planners and architects had built a new city within a city that was in some places quite beautiful and very tranquil and, dare I say it, not very British in feel, which I really liked.

Karen Haller Ashlyn Gibson Make Yourself at Home colour psychology and styling

Images: From the Event

Karen on the psychology of Colour:

Karen kicked off the night by talking about the personal relationships we all have to colour. We had been asked to bring along our favourite colour that could be stuck to a sheet of paper. I have to admit I was a little dubious, I found myself thinking ‘what favourite colour, just one, who has just one favourite colour?!’. Happily this view was somewhat of a consensus amongst my group of fellow bloggers. I chose to bring a piece of paper I’d painted in Dulux’s Colour of the Year, the year before last, Copper Blush (used in main image above) as its a shade I love and have been accessorising with for the last few years. Not quite pink, more of a peach or clay tone, I adore this shade and yet I also know I couldn’t live with it on whole walls. I wondered what choosing this shade was going to say about me! When thinking about it on the way up I jotted a few notes in anticipation. I felt my choice was fresh, soft, calm and quite elegant, pretty or glamorous, nurturing, almost florid. It’s a colour way that makes me think of Nancy Mitford novels or Cecil Beaton’s home, as well as sunsets and holidays.

Copper Blush, painterly ceramic plate, studiolenneke_wispelwey_ceramics

Image: My Colour Selection

Karen’s talk was really insightful, and useful if you are planning to decorate any time soon. She highlights three main triggers which shape our attitudes to colour 1. Psychological 2. Personal and 3. Cultural. She talked about how colour is deeply layered with meanings in our life and how negative reactions to colour are often a result of culture and colours themselves are never wrong, they just need to be detached from a memory. Anyone hate their school uniform colour? Or how about the fact that white is a colour that cuts out emotional noise, it’s no coincidence that it’s also the colour of straight jackets and cells! When used in the home, white can be self medicating if you need to cut off from the bustle of life as it can help create a neutral atmosphere.

Cool colours with lots of interest and noise Interiors

Image: Cool colours with lots of interest and noise

Quite a few of us chose a shade of pink (even Kate Watson-Smyth whose lovely book on greys Shades of Grey has just come out), though no-one quite chose Pantone’s hue of 2016 Rose Quartz. A number of us had chosen a colour which we wear but wouldn’t decorate with, I wondered if this was counter intuitive. I’ve read quite often recently that you should pick colours for your home that you favour in your wardrobe. I wear a lot of blacks and dark tones with pops of colour, bright red ballet shoes are a favourite of mine, along with geometric pastel necklaces and maybe the odd yellow handbag. However I’ve never thought this advice can be applied literally, taking my wardrobe as my design point I’d say our house mirrors it in being understated with pops of colour or interest but I could not imagine painting most of my rooms in the super dark tones I wear as staple, it just wouldn’t feel me. Some people like quirky design objects to really shout at you, Abigail Ahern’s dark schemes with neon kitsch pieces is something I adore, but I am maybe a little more muted than that. I like kitsch and I like humour in design, I also like reasonably dark colour but my style has a quietness to it as well. Karen explained that there is no contradiction in this at all and explained how colour can be a comfort or a stimulator when going about your daily business but your relaxed self at home may be quite different.

Cool colours with warm effects Interior design

Image: Cool colours with warm, cosy effects

Karen’s relation between colour and interiors was really thought provoking. She believes that the colour you paint your walls should never be a starting point for design. Instead, she believes that careful consideration of mood and purpose is the starting point. For example, is your bathroom a space that needs to uplift you in the morning or relax you in the evening, does it need to have a duality? Do you want to walk into your home and feel uplifted or do you want to feel cosy and relaxed? Karen suggested that knowing your personal style will help you to look through glossy magazines and decipher where you are in it. She talked about something I think we all agreed on which was the lack of charm in some wow factor spaces that have been designed to be hip but lack authenticity and where behaviour will interrupt the stylised or contrived. For this reason being attracted to a colour can be a good starting point for room design but shouldn’t be chosen til you have decided that it fits the purpose of your space.

Think Pink! Interiors

Image: Think Pink! Pink Pastels I like

Karen went on to talk about personalisation in the home, how editing and moving things around is a constant throughout life as you change and evolve. She presented us with a pretty grim statistic that 75% of people asked in the UK say that they decorate for other people to enjoy. Homes should never be achingly fashionable but should be a narrative about who you are and how you want to feel. So, the overall message to take from Karen’s talk is to trust your instinct with colour and design, know the purpose of your space and that we are all innately born with a love of colour, trust your natural preferences. Karen has developed an online colour quiz to help you design your decor with the perfect colour for you, it is available here.

Ashlyn on Styling:

Ashlyn Gibson Styling

Image: Ashlyn Gibson in the original Olive Loves Alfie Store, Stoke Newington

As I have mentioned, the event was hosted in Ashlyn Gibson’s lovely second home to Olive Loves Alfie. I was really looking forward to meeting Ashlyn as she’s a stylist I really love, I had her first book Creative Family Home on loan from the library for over 18 months and her second book Creative Children’s Spaces seems very appropriate as Ted grows up. She didn’t disappoint, her talk on interiors and styling was fabulous. Ashlyn started off by asking us four questions which work well as a jump point for starting to think about how you want to style your home so that it reflects who you are and not simply what you want to project. I thought these questions, which she called a tool kit of inspirations, were a really neat start point so I’m going to share them below. Ashlyn said that most people fall into two different groups when editing their interior, those who love the fresh and modern and those with a slightly more retrospective approach (can you guess which one I am?!).

Ashlyn Gibson childrens space

Image: Ashlyn Gibson’s Children’s Styling

She also talked about the importance of trying to mute trend driven culture in interiors, social media can be bombarding but Ashlyn feels that unique and honest spaces need to tell an individual’s story, which really resonated with me. Of course most of us will look around for inspiration, perusing interiors and trying to work out what I like and adapt is one of my favourite past times, but I do think sometimes when I see really stylised shots on say Instagram they can start to feel soulless or identikit if they are too in awe of trends. Ashlyn criticised the modern vogue for completing a home in a hurry, I have to say I am guilty of this, I’ve painted every room in my house over the last 5 months but like Ashlyn I also think that home design evolves over a lifetime and I don’t see our house as finished, the moment I think it is, is the moment I have given up and lost interest in interiors.

Ashlyn Gibson Creative Family Home

Image: Ashlyn Gibson’s Home


It was great to hear the thoughts of such a great stylist and owner of a beautiful bohemian bright home. Here are Ashlyn’s start point questions for designing a home:

Ashlyn Gibson’s Interiors Tool-kit Questions:

Think of:

  1. A favourite or inspirational place
  2. The person who has meant most to you in your life
  3. An item that you cherish
  4. A Cultural experience: a film, a painting etc.

Now, take these as a starting point for your home design, maybe there’s an aspect of your families history you’d like to see, or a film that really meant something to you, or a feeling of a place that you enjoy thinking about. Make your home a narrative of expression about you and not something contrived by trends or magazines. Go!


7 thoughts on “A lesson in Colour: masterclass on colour and styling with Karen Haller and Ashlyn Gibson

  1. Karen

    Love your write up lovely!
    (Mine going live this week – I’m so late! Rubbish blogger alert haha)
    By the sounds of things, our design tastes are really similar! When she mentioned that deep blues were to help calm people who feel they need to de-stress or who struggle to switch off at the end of the day, I identified with it completely. Amazing how much our personalities influence our colour preferences. x

    1. Design_Soda_Ruthie Post author

      Ooh, look forwards to reading yours too! Was really nice to meet you. Yes it’s strange to think that we all have colour bias based on things we’re not aware of isnt it? I’m definitely looking at my home in a slightly different light…

  2. Pingback: 2016 End of year post, round up, reflections and thank you.

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