Me and my home: Messy minimalism

Alice Hart-Davis talks to the style guru who loves to make simplicity look 'lived in'
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The Independent Online

Erika Knight is a sought-after fashion and textile consultant, who has worked in a number of major fashion houses including Whistles, Edina Ronay and Country Road in Australia

Erika Knight is a sought-after fashion and textile consultant, who has worked in a number of major fashion houses including Whistles, Edina Ronay and Country Road in Australia

Ilive in Brighton with my daughter, who's 16, and a dog, the funniest little poodle who looks like a pipe cleaner. I used to live here with my husband, years ago, but for the past few years I've been living in Berkshire. My family comes from a village there and goes back to the Domesday book (we all look scarily alike).

I wanted my daughter to grow up in the countryside, but by the time she was 13, I wanted her to be urban, and the school is almost next door, rather than a drive away. We live in a mid-Victorian town house in Kemp Town, which is a gay village. It's colourful and eclectic, with a real village atmosphere. It's not one of the grand parts, but it's fantastic. The place has so much energy. Everyone is out in the street the whole time. I know 60 per cent of my neighbours. I'm quite a sociable person, but in Berkshire, I'd only speak to neighbours by nodding to them. Here, people I didn't know from Adam would come up to the door and say things like "I'm walking to Lewes, do you want to come?" It's quite scary. The place is a huge contrast, all the time. Even the down-and-outs are well-spoken and entertaining.

I'm a messy minimalist, so the area really suits me. I work with lots of hard-nosed minimalists who have the money and the space to do it properly. I'm obsessive about good design - I have to have lovely tea-towels - but I love texture and colour and collecting bits and pieces, so my home is a lived-in space.

The house is typical mid-Victorian, on three floors, with the original dividing doors on the interconnecting rooms. I like the flexibility of space. I'm obsessive about De Stijl (a Dutch movement of the 1920s, a forerunner of Bauhaus) which harks back to the Japanese idea that whatever you were doing in a house, you could divide your spaces up with screens. Upstairs, there are two very simple bedrooms. I have just painted the floors black - which other people tend to find scary, but I'm a bit of an Eighties girl. I remember all that Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons. I love black; it's a great foil for colour and natural wood, so I have lots of black accents about the house. A lot of the doors are stripped but they have black handles.

I have some renovations planned. The kitchen hasn't been done because we could not get the fridge out. I wish it was a smarter house, but it's a feelgood house (we have a jukebox for all the old 45s) and it's always full of kids.

I work as a design consultant for big companies, and the fashion business involves so much travel that I always used to be away, working in, say, South Africa or Australia. It's just the way it works. Now I work more from home, or out of people's studios.

I work in most rooms of the house, and I'm never happy until I have made other people's offices look like my front room. I have lots of those cheap striped laundry bags full of all the different projects that I'm working on at any time for about 30 different companies. I'm doing a vintage collection for the Craft Company, other stuff on nostalgic baby clothes. I trained as a painter and have always had a passion to do fashion. In those days, you were taught that you'd never get a job, so I went into printing textiles.

In the Eighties I had my own business doing ready-made knitwear garments for the American and Japanese markets. I also worked in Italy for an Italian designer. I have never just had one job.

The first book I did was Simple Knits for Easy Living, four years ago. It was all about working in cream and charcoal and indigo and ecru, which at the time no one wanted to touch, but now it's all popular again. I try to keep the knitting really simple: in, over, under, off, which my grandmother taught me. I learned to knit as a girl and never looked back. At college, if someone had a birthday, I'd make a Bridget Riley sweater, so I have a long history with knitting, which has come back in the past three years. I've done several books since then and lots of the projects in them are based around knitting a square. It's amazing what you can do without having to go round corners. I like simple things; things that look homemade but sumptuous and contemporary. Knitting is a great way to express yourself. The books are about empowering people. We knit with paper and wire, too: in the new book, there are some wire napkin rings which are really simple.

Having said all that, I don't knit a lot because I never have time. I'll start a project then I'll begin changing it as I go along. I'm a complete Gemini, hence the messy minimalism. I'm a great collector of old kitsch stuff such as knitted toilet-roll holders - they're so funny -- and they always find their way into books. I've included some retro cushion covers in one of them. But if I manage to finish a project, I tend to give it to someone.

Knitting something is rather like making a home-made card. It's much more personal than just buying a gift.

Erika Knight's latest book is 'New Knits: 20 Knitting Projects with a Contemporary Twist' (Quadrille, £14.99)

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