Her handprinted totes have been seen dangling off the arms of celebrities, with Sarah Jessica Parker, Angelina Jolie and Kirsten Dunst all reported to be fans of her textile designs, but Lisa Stickley has remained remarkably low-key despite the fanfare around her nostalgic, quirky prints and vintage-styled ceramics for the home.
"It still feels very surreal watching the business grow," she says, sitting sunken into her battered leather sofa in the living room of her small but far from cutesy one-bed flat in Clapham, south London. "It's the weirdest thing, just thinking about where this is all going. I feel very privileged to be doing what I love, but it feels bonkers that people even as far away as in China and Japan are buying my work."
Since setting up her own business after graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2003, the Lisa Stickley brand has quickly grown into something of a mini-empire, with linens, bags, aprons, tea towels, ceramics and stationery stocked in Debenhams, Liberty, Selfridges and Fenwicks, as well as overseas in Japan, New York and Paris. And from next week, Heal's will be selling Lisa Stickley's bed and bath collection of gift-boxed linens and towels as part of its spring range.
Despite her worldwide success, Stickley has stayed firmly rooted in her London flat, which she bought as a first-time buyer seven years ago and shares with her fiancé. "I didn't really have vast amounts of money to spend on doing the flat up. I was building everything from scratch – the business, my home – and so I was constantly going to markets to buy things second-hand and storing them in my parents' house until I could move them in here. But I was so excited to have my own place and do it up. When I first moved in, I painted non-stop for 72 hours."
The flat is a top-floor Victorian conversion, with a small lounge and kitchen and a bedroom tucked up in the loft. Four and a half years ago, the architect practice beneath the flat came up for sale – by which time Stickley had run out of space to work upstairs.
"The business was growing, and I was working from home and from a studio, but this place was bursting at the seams," she says. "It was really frustrating; the living room was full of boxes of bags and fabric everywhere. When the shop space came up downstairs, it made sense to take it, and it's such a bonus to have been able to move everything work-related downstairs. Eventually, I'd like to move to somewhere where we can have a garden and have room for guests, but for now, I still love this flat."
The hallway leading up to Stickley's flat is still stuffed with boxes of old stock, but inside, the flat is free from work-related clutter, and filled instead with trinkets, vintage ceramics, bevelled mirrors and hand-me-downs.
If an art print or a clock or a teapot hasn't been bought at a market (her favourite is Kempton Racecourse antiques market), it's been passed along from her parents or grandparents instead; her two armchairs were the first pieces of furniture her parents every purchased as a young couple. The chairs have since been given a new lease of life, having been re-upholstered in Stickley's own fabric designs in black, white and slate grey – the sort of crafty fix that Stickley recommends in her sewing book, Made at Home.
"I love things that have aged with character and have had a bit of a journey to get here. My home is accessorised with items that I love, because I'm inspired by them," she says. Almost everything in the flat has an explanation for being there and a story behind it, as she points to bits and pieces on shelves and behind glass cupboards. There's the teacups set she was given for her 30th birthday; a pair of retro ceramic sherry and port bottles bought off eBay because they reminded her of a set her aunt once had; an oil painting from a family holiday to Nice; a ceramic house she made when she was seven ("I was always making something or the other when I was little," she says), and a glass bird perched on the mantlepiece, a recent engagement present from her fiancé's mother.
"I don't believe you need to have a massive budget to make a home," says Stickley. "If you just spend time looking around and scouring places for finds, then you'll find treasure. Creativity doesn't come from having money, it comes from having inspiration and finding ideas."
Last year, Stickley set about redecorating the flat completely. "When I first moved in, there was lots of exposed brickwork and exposed woodwork and although I loved that look, it was seven years ago, and my tastes have changed since. I wanted it to be a bit more grown-up, and a bit more coherently put-together."
Now, the living room walls are painted in a soft grey with white and black curtains, handprinted downstairs in the studio, hanging at the windows. She's taken her inspiration from mid-century styles and movies – citing the Audrey Hepburn film Paris When It Sizzles as one of her favourite films for interiors and decor ideas. The kitchen is filled with old sugar jars, teapots and recipe books, and is painted in a bold, bright, warm blue (it was painted four times before Stickley settled for the right shade).
The flat has a retro feel to it, but without being overly girly, in the way that vintage style can sometimes get. "I don't really like the term 'shabby-chic'," she says. "I've never been a girly-girl and I've never liked that frilliness. I love the vintage look, but I also like to combine it with a utilitarian, tough look, with the unpolished floors and the big industrial fridge. I'd call it 'pretty tomboy' instead."
Even though she lives just a few flights of stairs above her office, Stickley says she sometimes feels like she doesn't spend enough time at home. It's the understandable pitfall of working from home (or, in Stickley's case, in the same building), when you can never quite switch off from what needs to be done.
"I like being able to come home and feel quietness; put the radio on or read a book," she says. "But it rarely happens. I'll often bring work upstairs with me when we shut the store for the day. It's hard to call it a day, because it's not a nine-to-five job, it's all-encompassing. It's very hard work and it comes with its highs and lows. Sometimes I wish I could get off the treadmill, but I can't. But I'm also doing what I love and I know I'm incredibly lucky to have that. It's my job, but it's also my hobby."
Lisa Stickley's exclusive range for Heal's will be in stores and online from 21 February. (www.heals.co.uk) www.lisastickleylondon.com