A fine balance: How furniture designer Bethan Gray plays the local markets
Bethan Gray has mixed her own pieces with vintage finds from the markets on her doorstep in a home as charming as it is reflective of her design talent, says Holly Williams
Sunday 30 October 2011
The furniture designer Bethan Gray admits to struggling with her work-life balance – her office is at home, part of the Victorian villa in west London's Ladbroke Grove that she shares with her husband and a dog. And it doesn't make it easy to know when to put down her pen.
"I'm lucky, because there are a lot of benefits to working from home and I do love what I'm doing," she acknowledges. "But I am considering getting a studio to try to get a better balance. It's the end of the day that's the problem, really – knowing when to finish."
It's easy to understand why the 35-year-old designer finds it hard to wind it up of an evening: as well as designing her own range of contemporary furniture, she has a new line in John Lewis this autumn, teaches final-year students studying product design at St Martins, and is a global furniture-trends consultant for Stylus Media Group. But then, if you've going to be busy, it must be nice to be busy somewhere as charmingly decorated as her home.
Gray likes to mix vintage furniture she sources at flea markets and stalls on the nearby Portobello Road with more obvious designer pieces – including a few of her own. So a rocking chair and little yellow table picked up on the nearby Golborne Road cosy up to a black sofa she designed for The Conran Shop and the lacquer-topped table she's just produced for John Lewis.
Of course, being a designer means she gets first dibs on some products, such as the black sculptural table in her kitchen. "It's actually an outdoor table – it's a sample that never went into production," she explains. "There's only one that exists, and I always really liked it, so it's nice to have it."
Gray and her husband decided to keep the layout of their home clear and open when they moved in a little over a year ago, which means it's beautifully bright and airy. "It's very simple and has large windows at the front, so it's very light," she says. "I also like that it feels very communal – the living space extends into the kitchen, which goes into the balcony." For Gray, having a fairly plain backdrop is ideal: she's not a fan of clutter, preferring to show restraint and let pieces speak for themselves.
To that end, there are a lot of neutral tones in the soft furnishings, swathes of chunky knits and simple, wooden block pieces. "I love working with wood," she says. "It's a love I inherited from my father, and from my grandfather, who was a forester. "I tend to do things that are solid and square," she adds, "mixed with occasional pieces that are more sculptural. The upholstery is chunky, and it's nice to offset that with things that are soft and crafted."
Not that it's a boringly beige home. Gray is also fond of the odd injection of colour: a set of neon-bright chairs perk up the dining area, while the living-room is enlivened with splashes of yellow.
Indeed, she often finds herself organising her possessions by colour – even the books in her office (right) are arranged by the hue of their spines. "I'm a visual person, and I think it looks nice," she says. "I try to remember what I'm looking for and I think, 'What's that book? Oh, it's green...' It's an easy way to keep it organised."
Stylish organisation – well, she's obviously nailed at least one aspect of the work-life conundrum.
Bethan Gray's line for John Lewis is in shops now. For more details: johnlewis.com
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