My Cultural Life: Shona Heath

The set designer and long-time Tim Walker collaborator on her top cultural picks

Set designer Shona Heath
Tim Gutt

A veritable behind-the-scenes powerhouse, set designer Shona Heath creates fierce, fantastical and whimsical worlds for magazine editorials, advertising campaigns and fashion houses from Mulberry to Marni. Flouting any fixed ideas of what the discipline should involve, her magical portfolio encompasses costumery, sculpting, photography, film and, now, exhibition design – she’s worked on the upcoming ‘Wonderful Things’ retrospective of photographer Tim Walker’s work at London’s V&A museum.

Heath’s 20-year collaboration with Walker has enabled her to build an exciting and imagination-sparking world, where his visionary work is paired with ten new photographic projects that respond to items from the museum’s permanent collection. From 21 September-8 March.

Tim Walker: Karen Elson, Sgaire Wood and James Crewe
Tim Walker Studio

The book that has influenced me the most is Masquerade by Kit Williams. It is a children’s book, but it’s so dark, earthy and of the English countryside – the landscape I love and in which I grew up.

My all-time favourite film is Little Miss Sunshine. It reminds me of family holidays in a camper van as a child – we were an odd bunch. I once watched it in a hotel room on my own and fell off the bed laughing.

Masquerade by Kit Williams
Masquerade by Kit Williams

My best-loved museum or gallery is the V&A. It always has been.

I am a collector of African wax print cloths. I walk past the African shops in Dalston all the time, and I just can’t not buy one. They feature imagery from giant shells to religious figureheads, phones, fridges, English words spelt in odd ways, Chanel logos, cups of tea, cracked eggs... They are both magical and surreal.

One quote that speaks to me is ‘fascination is reached only through and beyond boredom’. I don’t know who said it, but it makes me feel a bit better when I refuse to let my son watch TV.

The last exhibition I saw was ‘Art and Counterculture 1967-1970’ at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam. I loved that all the work was a bit scruffy and never intended for an art gallery – nothing too ‘highbrow’, which was a relief for an exhibition visit.

I’d start a free day in London with a long walk from my home in Stamford Hill to the courtyard in Somerset House for coffee and pancakes with my husband and son. We’d get there early in the morning, when nobody else is there. Afterwards we’d walk to the Southbank for a wander around Tate Modern and, afterwards, pick sushi from the conveyor at Kulu Kulu on Brewer Street. Then a black cab home.

African wax cloths

My favourite place in the world is a Basque house in France’s Pyla-sur-Mer. It’s half by the sea, half by a pine forest and next to the biggest sand dune in Europe. I’ve been going there since I was three and the area blows my mind every time – it’s like a mini Sahara!

This year I will be collaborating more. I enjoy meeting people in person – that way ideas grow more organically. I’m also working on projects with wallpaper brand De Gournay and, hopefully, Liberty – both dreams come true!

This article first appeared in the September 2019 issue of ELLE Decoration

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