Re//Store Sisterhood: Nisha Stevens, interior designer
Nisha Stevens and I met many years ago on the East London music scene and have been close friends ever since. With a graphic design background, recognisable personal style, and impeccable taste, it is if no surprise she has embarked on a successful interior design career. Last year she was chosen as Interiors Room Set Designer of the Year in the Grand Designs Live Interiors and recently returned from Sri Lanka where she designed the interiors of Soul & Surf, a Yoga and surf retreat in Weligama. I enjoyed catching up with her in her wonderful period home in Brockley.
How would you describe your personal style?
My style has changed quite a bit over the past few years. It’s relaxed a lot, as have I in general. As I’ve got older I’ve become more interested in expressing my heritage through my clothing. My mum is Indian and I now often incorporate her old jewellery, shawls and clothing into my outfits.
And your company’s style when it comes to interiors?
There is generally some strong colour or pattern involved in all my designs, and I use a lot of second hand and antique pieces. Having studied landscape architecture I’m also passionate about horticulture and using plants to bring life and warmth to interiors.
What made you decide to become an interior designer? And what inspires you when embarking on a new project?
I always knew I wanted to be a designer of some kind, but I ended up trying graphics, jewellery and landscape design before things finally fell into place with interiors! It sounds cheesy but my inspiration always starts with the client. I love listening to people’s desires for their space and being able to come up with a solution that they are delighted with and wouldn’t have thought of themselves.
When you design and produce your designs do you have a sustainable approach? And how do you put this in process?
I was really inspired by working in Sri Lanka as it was simply not possible to buy certain mass produced homewares items there. High import taxes mean that most products had to be made locally, so we worked with a team of local craftsmen and women. I was collaborating on the project with Katie McCrum of McCrum Interior Design, and if we needed a table we would jump in a tuk tuk, drive into the jungle to the carpenter’s house, sketch what we wanted on a piece of paper and choose the wood from a pile in his back garden. It was the same with all the soft furnishings, which were sewn by a lady living down another track in the jungle, the wicker laundry baskets, which were woven on the side of the road and all the artwork which was painted to order on site. We also re-used and re-purposed objects and materials wherever we could, using seed heads as ornaments and the remains of the interior paint in the artwork.
What is the favourite element of your job? And biggest challenge?
Being invited to design something as intimate as a person’s home is my favourite element of my job but actually also my biggest challenge! It sometimes feels like a big responsibility to be entrusted with someone’s personal space in that way.
Do you practice mindfulness and in what way?
I have a 4 year old son so am constantly being shown the world in new, surprising and wonderful ways through his eyes. It’s very freeing to let go of my pre-conceptions and be a tourist in the world with him. Having him has definitely changed my priorities and outlook on life.
What is your favourite indulgence within the world of wellness.
I will take literally any opportunity to get a massage. When I was working on the Soul and Surf villa in Sri Lanka I was lucky enough to experience an Esalen massage which originated in Big Sur, California, in the ’60s. It combines physical touch with a sort of spiritual energy exchange, which was completely different to any massage I’d tried before. Closer to home is the Sunflower Centre in Brockley where their osteopaths incorporate cranial massage and acupuncture into their practice.
Where do you go when you want to find inspiration in London?
In London we’re obviously spoilt for choice in terms of amazing museums and art galleries, and I try to visit as often as possible. The last exhibition I saw was the Hockney retrospective at Tate Britain and I was as blown away as ever by his work from the 1960s and ‘70s.
I also know you as one half of wonderful dj duo The Broken Hearts and was wondering if you could be so kind to enlighten us with some of your current favourite audible pleasures.
When I’m not DJing I tend to gravitate towards music which calms me and lifts my spirits – today that is Townes Van Zandt and Ghanaian Highlife music. But I actually mainly listen to podcasts. I love how much information I can absorb whilst doing mindless activities like sitting on the tube or putting on make up. I particularly like 99% Invisible – a show about the power of design and architecture and how it subconsciously permeates every area of our lives.
Could you recommend an organic / local produce cafe / restaurant in your area?
Brockley Market is hands-down the best place in London to buy locally-sourced, seasonal food and groceries. It’s always busy without being uncomfortably crowded and has an amazing selection, including raw dairy products, biodynamic fruit and veg and wonderful organic bread from Astons Bakery. I also have to mention Winemakers on Deptford High Street: they import organic and biodynamic wines and head chef Rory Shannon has crafted an impeccable menu to complement them.
Where do you go to shop for clothes / accessories?
I worked for a vintage clothing chain for several years, which gave me a very real understanding of the sheer volume of used clothing already in the world and a fear of how much of it will end up in landfill. Having said that, I find it virtually impossible not to accumulate any new clothes or accessories at all. In an attempt to align these conflicting views I try to buy second hand as much as possible and to exchange, donate or recycle those I no longer need. There is a great second hand shop round the corner from my house in Deptford with very sporadic opening hours where I’ve found some amazing pieces over the years. And my all time favourite shop is The End in Yucca Valley, which is (luckily for my wallet!) slightly harder for me to get to on a regular basis.
And wellness / organic food shops?
I love the attitude of a lot of the new small businesses that are opening on Northdown Road in Cliftonville, Margate. The Grain Grocer is a zero waste cafe where you can also buy ethical household goods, from grains to make up and cleaning products. And Urchin Wines has a fantastic selection of organic and natural wines as well as locally sourced deli products.
Who would you like to see on here in the future? (Somebody within the world of wellness / sustainability, all fields)
I think you should feature my friend Grace Welch, who is Senior Restaurant Manager at Spring Restaurant in Somerset House. She ran a pop-up there recently called TABLE, which showcased their Scratch menu: a 3 course £20 menu made from ‘waste’ ingredients. It’s a great way to get people talking and thinking about food waste and sustainable growing, farming and eating.
What is your favourite plant based / Vegetarian recipe?
This isn’t actually my own recipe but I have to share My New Roots’ lentil salad, which I make often. It’s delicious! Every time I make it someone asks me for the recipe. The dressing incorporates pretty much everything in my spice cupboard and tastes totally unique. It’s also a great recipe for parties or picnics as you can make it ahead and then it actually gets better the longer it hangs around! Perfection.