I started off as an interior designer and worked for Nicky Haslam. It seems hard to imagine now but back then the trend was for heavy, formal interiors. I used to walk past junk shops and see all these brightly coloured materials and old furniture that you could paint, and I thought it looked so fresh and light. I couldn't understand why young people would want such dark, grand rooms full of gilt. I prefer houses you can live in. I want the dog to be able to jump on the sofa and for it to feel relaxed, informal and cheerful. I suppose my childhood home was quite like that.
I have no memory for numbers and useful things, but I remember fabrics from throughout my life. Despite the distinctive style for which I am known, my home is not a mass of florals. Parts of it are more sleek and modern, and then I might accessorise with my own stuff so that I can keep it fresh.
There is so much talent out there, which is why I am opening the New Designers Show today, which showcases the year's brightest talents presenting their degree work. My business is growing well now and we are about to move offices, so I have been hunting for furniture. I am also a firm believer in encouraging young talent, so we are going to have desks set aside for interns, students and work experience people. Here are some of my favourite hunting grounds for furniture:
This is a huge warehouse that is packed full of treats: it covers 10,000 sq ft and houses 23 dealers from around the UK and Europe. I often come here to source furniture for new shops because they have big pieces, as well as shabby-chic French, contemporary classics and period mirrors. The furniture is not at all dinky, which seems to be the trend right now. Be sure to buy some vintage chairs and have them re-upholstered by Jacqui, the in-house upholsterer.
Unit 3, Griffin Mill, London Road, Stroud, Gloucestershire (01453 889 002; www.antiquesgriffinmill.co.uk )
Sunbury Antiques Market
This is held on the second and last Tuesday of every month and is well worth getting up early for – even if it's only for the amazing toasted sandwiches! With more than 700 stallholders, it's the largest and longest-running bi-monthly market in the UK. People travel from as far as Eastern Europe to sell here. There are always fabulous pieces of furniture from France and great jewellery. Just don't go when it's raining, because nobody turns up when the weather is bad.
Kempton Park Racecourse, Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex (01932 230 946; www.kemptonantiques.com )
This shop has the most fantastic lighting. I particularly love the beautiful Ballfinger light from the Howe range, which is available in black, white and red. He also sells antiques and 20th-century design. You can view the stock online, but it's definitely worth a visit if you are in Pimlico. I have three of these lights – a white one in the kitchen and two red ones in other rooms. They are fantastic task lights because as well as being really well-made, they are weighty at the bottom and easy to move to any angle. He also does a desk version for around £300 – I think that's not a bad price when you look at the cost of some lighting.
93 Pimlico Road, London SW1W (020-7730 7987; www.howelondon.com )
Cross the Road
This interiors shop – across the road from The Cross boutique – stocks wonderful rugs and pictures, plus rustic cushions from the Andes and rugs from Paris. I recently bought a brightly coloured Mickey Mouse print from there for my living room, which has been much admired. So many people have really formal sitting rooms that they never spend any time in because they feel too grown-up, so everyone spends all the time in the kitchen. Our sitting room is fun and not at all grown-up. It's more like a playroom and everyone is always in there, which is what we wanted.
139 Portland Road, London W11 (020-7727 6760)
This store is great for all your modern basics, lighting and glassware. And it still manages to surprise me. Just recently, I bought a big canvas sun umbrella from there, which will be perfect for the summer. For a high-street shop it is very design-led, which I like.
Habitat stores nationwide (0870 411 5501; www.habitat.co.uk )
This Scandinavian interiors store used to sell the best plain-gloss kitchens that were available in any RAL paint colour, but sadly they have discontinued them. It's right opposite my shop in Marylebone, so I am very familiar with it. I bought my kitchen, which has high-lacquer white cupboards, from here. It is very modern and I have a lime-green glass splashback. This echoes the colour of the lawn outside the window and I love it. In fact, I have just put a runner up the stairs in the same colour. It's a shade that people are frightened of because they think it won't go with anything, but in fact it manages to be retro, funky and modern at the same time. I then accessorise with my own tea towels and cushions so I can ring the changes. I also love their beautiful textiles and kitchenware.
86 Marylebone High Street, London W1U (020-7935 2077; www.skandium.com )
You can buy the most beautiful composite stone flooring from here, which is even better than the real deal. The Blue Lias colour is my favourite – I have it in the kitchen of my house in the country.
Parrett Works, Martock, Somerset TA12 6AE (01935 826 483; www.castlereclamation.com )
E Mills & Son
I buy flokati rugs of all sizes here – they're great for making a room feel cosy. They come in eight different sizes, ranging from 60cm by 120cm for £15.95 right up to 240cm by 350cm for £168. A flokati is a traditional Greek rug made from sheep's wool. They are really deep and shaggy and all come in cream. I went a bit mad in my house in the country and got out the staple gun and just stuck them all down wall to wall in the bedroom. It's wonderful. My Lakeland terrier, Stanley, thinks the whole room is a giant bed for him now. Before I did that, I had some very grown-up beige cord and I hated it. This shop also has wonderful linoleum, which I am really getting back into. I nearly put some black lino up the side of the bath the other day with chrome buttons as decoration. I think it would look fabulous.
24-25 Shepherd's Bush Market, London W12 (020-8743 3891; www.millscarpets.com )
This store is unbeatable for the basics – but why have they moved haberdashery to the fourth floor? I only sew by hand and not that often, but I love to browse around this shop and particularly this department. Mentally, I am always customising things. I used to do it all the time when I was younger – perhaps I will start again when I retire. I have a friend who moved to Argentina 15 years ago and the first thing she does when she comes back is head straight to Peter Jones. It's so comforting. I'm quite keen on the cleaning department as well. I always fall for the products that promise miracles.
Sloane Square, London SW1W (020-7730 3434; www.peterjones.co.uk )
This is just a miracle shop. Somehow they always have what you're looking for, and must carry more stock than B&Q. It's really tiny, but whenever you ask for something they disappear into the back and re-emerge holding it. I needed a large sink plunger the other day and I thought, "That'll stump them", but it didn't. They are also very helpful for things like the right-sized nails for hanging pictures and little bits like that. And they also give great plumbing tips.
Brackenbury Road, London W6 (020-8741 5463)
I love this shop. It sells fabric that is used in theatres for stage drapes and scenery, but you can buy for personal use at home as well. It's full of lovely natural materials in linen and wool and flax. I have used their wool serge for curtains and the velvet is lovely, too. The great thing about this place is that they sell material in really wide widths, which is great if you are doing curtains for large windows or covering a large piece of furniture. The prices are reasonable, too.
4 McGrath Road, London E15 (020-8543 2921; www.mcdougall.co.uk)
New Designers, at the Business Design Centre, London N1, runs from 3 to 13 JulyReuse content