A woman's touch: How fashion designer Emma Cook recreates her feminine look at home
What do you do when she wants girly flourishes and dinky trinkets and he wants minimalist lines with bold graphic details? Easy, says fashion designer Emma Cook: you wait till he forgets
You might call it putty, nude or blush, but the colour of the walls going up four storeys of fashion designer Emma Cook's north London house is, she cheerfully admits, pink.
"It is definitely pink. I convinced my husband that it was the most neutral shade you could get, because it was the same colour as plaster, and then before he knew it…" he was living in a pink house. This seems to be typical of Cook's tactics: she and husband Neil, who was a graphic designer but now works with her on her label, "have a constant battle" about how the house looks. Her philosophy: the more, the merrier; his: less is more. "He likes things minimal. I put things up and he takes them down. I think if I leave them up for long enough, he forgets they're there."
There are signs of his influence – "any old letters and graphics around the house are his" she says, pointing out the chunky "END" on the bathroom window. But it appears that Cook mostly got her way: their home is full of dinky trinkets, flea-market furniture and over-sized curios (they have a giant fork in their hallway and a football-sized acorn sits next to a fireplace; both were gifts from her friend, fashion-set-designer Shona Heath).
The spare room, complete with salvaged mirror (Anna Huix)
And while it isn't exactly a hot-pink Barbie house, her fondness for colour is pervasive. Not least in the bathrooms, all three of which have bright, brilliantly mismatched suites: a pale-pink loo with a powder-blue cistern and primrose-yellow seat, for instance. Maybe it's not so far from the toy-shop childhood ideal: Cook laughingly dubs it her "Sindy toilet".
The pick'n'mix ceramics came from a company known as Broken Bog, a sort of purgatorial warehouse for "all the dead stock of coloured bathrooms from the whole of Europe", explains Cook. "It's huge nurseries that just go on for miles. It's all overgrown, ferns growing through everything." Choosing different bits that fitted together was a jigsaw puzzle, but Cook nonetheless loved the process. "That was my favourite part of [doing up] the house – the toilets."
This fondness for colour and quirk will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with her designs. Cook graduated from St Martins and showed at London Fashion Week, before repositioning her brand to make it more accessible; her dazzling patterns and prints are popular with the fashion pack while being cheerily wearable, and she's previously collaborated with Topshop on a Christmassy capsule collection featuring frolicking woodland creatures; Sonny, her six-year-old son, has the deer-printed duvet cover on his bed. When asked if there's a similar aesthetic in her designs and her home she says that "just naturally, if you do what you like, it'll overlap. [They're both] quite girly."
Cook's study area, with a Julie Verhoeven painting (Anna Huix)
Cook moved into the Stoke Newington property two-and-a-half years ago; the building took quite some refurbishment. It had been two separate flats, so there were rooms to re-fit, electrics to re-wire, walls to tear down. Luckily for Cook, she has a handy dad. "He's done so many [refurbishments] over the years; he trained as an engineer, and he said it's just basic engineering. It meant we didn't have to deal with builders, really, which was quite nice. But not so nice for dad – I think he was sick of it after a few weeks!"
He also proved a useful removal man. The spare room – "where a lot of the Victorian girly things get banished" – houses an elaborate mirror (top left), which Cook acquired 10 years ago. "Me and my dad found all these bits, left from an old fairground thing, in a skip outside a swimming pool. Rather than go swimming we brought them back, and he made a mirror out of them for my birthday."
A tiled fireplace in the study area was also salvaged with her dad's help. Cook bought it on eBay from a seller in Newcastle, but it was so heavy no couriers would move it, so her father drove a van up himself.
The mantelpiece above the fireplace now displays an endearingly sideways romantic gift: a demonstration medical model of the human heart. "That's a heart that I got Neil; I was very pleased when I found it for Valentine's Day." Hanging above it is a painting by artist and fashion designer Julie Verhoeven: "She did that for Neil – I think he helped her build her website or something."
Extensive work was needed in the basement. It was several small rooms, but they knocked down the walls, making it a long, light, kitchen-cum-living-area stretching from a garden at the back to basement windows at the front. As well as moving in retro 1950s English Rose kitchen counters, a 1930s open fire/bread oven, and a huge vintage dresser, Cook created a snug sitting area.
The bathroom, with a sink from Broken Bog and tiles by 1960s pottery designer Alan Wallwork (Anna Huix)
"It's nice when you're cooking and people can sit here and talk," she says of her nook, which has more mid-century modern furniture and plenty of pot plants. "I like plants, it makes it look a bit more friendly. Being a child of the 1970s, it's all things that you remember from when you were little, that homely feel."
The couple also replaced the windows, putting in frosted glass so people could sit and relax without fear of passing snoops. "When I'm walking home I always look in people's basements – you're bored, you're walking along, this is exactly one of those houses on a busy road that you'd be looking in at," she admits. Bad luck for passing pedestrians: Cook's home, with all her vintage finds, fashion flourishes and unusual colour combinations, is delightfully snoopable.
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