When we caught up with Matthew Williamson in his London home, the usually confident and instinctively stylish designer was experiencing a moment of self doubt. The reason for this fleeting wobble is his characteristically exuberant new collection – his first for high-street stalwart John Lewis & Partners.
‘I kept thinking of my aunt, who lives in Cheshire,’ he says. ‘She is a big John Lewis fan, and I kept wondering, “Would she buy that?”’ He need not have worried, but more on that later…
This latest product range, two years in the making, is just one of the things that Matthew has on the go at the moment. He’s been working on an interiors book focused on his famous love of colour (Thames & Hudson will be releasing it in 2023, he promises) and has filmed an appearance as a returning judge on the upcoming new series of BBC’s Interior Design Masters.
He also continues with projects for his eponymous brand, which works on retail and residential interiors, as well as creating and selling products that run the gamut from wallpaper to stationery via vintage finds. All this, and he’s found time to give his home what he calls a ‘mini reno’.
Where there were once flashes of the designer’s signature neon pinks and turquoise, there is now a more toned-down palette. ‘I don’t know if it’s age and maturity or just a general mood,’ he muses. ‘It’s an appropriate sense of where I am at now. I’m quite busy when I’m in London, so I wanted a space that feels calm but also has impact.’
The change has been confined, so far, to the living room and main bedroom, although Matthew is already dreaming up plans for spray painting his white kitchen cabinets a rich olive green and adding sunny yellow tiles to his bathroom. ‘I’m forever tinkering,’ he admits. ‘Is a space ever finished? Possibly not.’
His home’s colour scheme may not be as punchy as it’s previously been, but this is definitely not the abode of a shrinking violet. ‘I’ve never really been drawn to neutrals – the beiges, the greys. I admire people who use them and I love the aesthetic, but I’ve always gravitated towards colour,’ he says.
Pink is his neutral. ‘Whenever you say pink, people think of Barbara Cartland. They think campy and saccharine,’ he jokes. ‘That’s not really what I am talking about. I mean plaster pink, putty and blush.’
It was in his newly tea-rose-pink living room, with its bay window picked out in gold paint to highlight the verdant garden beyond, that Matthew first met with the John Lewis & Partners homeware team. ‘They walked in and gasped,’ he recalls. ‘They saw all of the choices I had made and just sort of sat there and said, “This is what we want.”’
One of the key inspirations for the vast collection he has been dreaming up in collaboration with them (it includes everything from bedding and cushions to mirrors, lighting and accessories) was what Matthew calls ‘doorstep design’. Working on these pieces during the pandemic meant that his style, which usually draws influences from far afield, ended up focusing more on the local – ‘this idea that we can all access beautiful things just by stepping out of the front door’.
There is a classically British sensibility to many of the items, like a duvet cover decorated with a view of the sky at night and another that depicts a hedgerow, but Matthew does admit to a few exotic flights of fancy. ‘I couldn’t resist a parrot and a cheeky little monkey here and there,’ he laughs. ‘My design DNA is still alive and well.’
Matthew describes the process of creating this new range as being an act of self indulgence. ‘I sat down and thought, “What lamp would I want? What is not out there that I would pick up and buy? What would stop my heart?”’ That’s why it is perhaps no surprise that personal highlights from the collection can be spotted throughout his own home. The fantastical gilded peacock mirror in the bedroom is a favourite, as is the illustrated linen monkey cushion on the living-room sofa.
We’re sure it’s not just Matthew and his aunt who will fall for the exuberance and generous eccentricity of these designs. They are landing at a moment when many people are discovering the confidence to be more experimental in their homes. Matthew is gutsy when it comes to his use of bright shades and bold patterns, and it’s just this freedom that he hopes to inspire and cultivate in others with his collection. ‘I don’t dilly-dally around with colour charts and spend weeks on end debating whether to use this tone or that tone,’ he says.
For someone who is so driven by instinct, the idea of judging other people’s style during his stint on Interior Design Masters was something that gave Matthew pause for thought. ‘I don’t like the word “judge”,’ he admits. ‘Who am I to judge anyone’s taste? It’s all so subjective.’ Indeed, for this light-hearted designer, whether you like something and if it makes you smile are the most important considerations.
‘We all need a bed, we all have a cushion and a towel, but why not make those things that are so mundane a little more special?’ he asks. Why not indeed? matthewwilliamson.com