Let’s talk personal style. I often get a lot of questions asking how I found and developed mine – as if it’s a rare chrysalis you need to catch with a net and nurture until it becomes a beautiful butterfly that can fly on its own. Which is kind of true. Sometimes it feels like it’s just at the tip of your finger tips or fluttering out of grasp. Because it takes time, trial and error to hone a distinctive personal style that’s completely unique and yours alone. And with that time, whether it’s months or years, comes a confidence that allows you to own that personal style completely and not worry what other people are doing or what they think.
In this blog post I’m going to talk (or more likely ramble on) about how I’ve worked to find a personal style that resonates with me and what that means for my home and my work. Rather than tell you what I think you should do to find yours – each person is different and style comes in all sorts of different forms – I’m going to share what I’ve learnt. Hopefully (if I don’t go on to long) you might find some little takeaways to help you delve a little deeper into your style, whether you’re a blogger, stylist, interior designer or a homeowner that simply wishes their home was a better reflection of them.
Seeking out inspiration
I believe a home should be an expression of you – your interests, hopes, dreams and aspirations; in short, everything that makes you, you. Ideas can come from almost anywhere – some people may take inspiration from their wardrobes and decorate the same way they dress, others might bring an element of their travels back home, or even curate their space as a reaction or opposition to their childhood home.
I find inspiration by getting out of the house and stepping away from my routine; travelling to cities, staying in well-designed hotels, snapping photos of the bathrooms or picking up postcards from exhibitions. I was first drawn to Scandinavian interiors when I spent a month as a student travelling across Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, visiting cultural landmarks, museums and architectural gems. The colour and patina of an old door may later find its way into a scheme, or the tones and textures of a beautiful roofscape might inspire a wall colour.
I spent a long time working out what I liked and what I didn’t like; figuring out the things that really made me tick and constantly questioning whether I truly connected with something for what it was or whether I was being influenced because I’d seen it other people’s homes or in a beautiful magazine. I’m incredibly influenced and intrigued by other people’s style – if I see someone walking down the street in a nice pair of jeans, for instance, I’ll want to go straight out and buy the same thing to get a little slice of what I perceive to be their coolness. But the thing is, what if those jeans don’t suit you or they don’t even fit. So when I look at an interior that really inspires me, instead of thinking how can I recreate that, I’m thinking instead, what sort of feeling does that space give me, what connection do I get, how can I get people to have the same reaction with one of my images or designs.
A home to reflect my personality
Personal style, as the name suggests, has a lot to do with your personality. I’m a huge introvert – shy, sensitive, extremely private and relatively quiet – so that’s reflected in my rather quiet interior, with it’s pale, neutral walls, light, uplifting colours and calming tones. A lot of clutter, strong colours and clashing patterns just makes my head hurt, but that could be just the ticket for someone else. I need something a little more soothing. What matters is that your interior makes you feel happy and at home.
You can do a personality test like the Myers Brigg 16 Personality Test to get to know yourself better. I’m an Advocate – accounting for only 1% of the population! – this type of personality tends to act with creativity, imagination, conviction and sensitivity to try and create a sense of balance in the world. Advocates need to know that what they’re doing has meaning, is in line with their values and principles, can lead to personal growth and ultimately help other people. I see that translated in my blog, my passion for simple living and my interest in the relationship between our wellbeing and our homes.
Defining my brand values and finding my niche
I found it really helpful to write down a list of words that resonated with me and described what I wanted my business and blog to be all about – for me, they were things like simplicity, honesty, considered, slow, understated, timeless, balance. With every new project I can then refer back to them and make sure everything stays in alignment.
The key for me was developing an instantly recognisable style that couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else’s. Instagram is so saturated with beautiful images and lovely homes that I wanted someone to be scrolling through, stop at an image of mine and know straight away that it’s mine. In many ways social media has homogenised our interiors – for a while, because Instagram’s algorithm learns what it thinks you want to see, I kept seeing the same things in people’s homes or eerily similar angles. That made me want to seek out my own originality and find my USP.
I also want the spaces I design or the images I share to be a true reflection of me – that’s the real appeal, the Instagram gold, when it feels real, honest and, dare I say that Insta buzzword, authentic. When you share a little piece of you or make yourself vulnerable, people connect and begin to really relate to you. If you’re more anonymous, it’s easier for people to pass you by and in the end, forget what it is that you do. So I started showing up more in my feed and sharing more behind the scenes, the little things I was passionate about or just everyday scenes that make me happy, like my little sausage dog Francis.
Letting time take its course
Once you figure out your brand values and everything you want your style to encompass, the next step is putting in the work. Personal style doesn’t always come out of no where, you don’t just wake up and have it nailed. My style developed when I submitted to time and didn’t put any pressure on myself. It’s a natural, ever-evolving thing and something you can’t force.
So I spent time working out how to use a camera and set up a balanced shot, I took dozens and dozens of images of the same thing to get the perfect one, I played around with styling objects to see what had the best impact. Everything I learnt was from doing. And I took some awful shots and made some interior faux pas, but as frustrating as that process was, it all helped inform my personal style. You can always archive images on Instagram, paint over a wall or edit a blog post.
There’s something to be said for not overthinking things. I have moments when a shot isn’t working or days when I don’t have any inspiration. I just take those days for what they are and try to remember that there’ll be other days and inspiration will likely come when I least expect it.
In fact, I’ve realised it’s the moments when I’m not doing anything at all that I get my greatest inspiration. Creativity ebbs and flows and we can’t be on our A game all the time. Those quiet moments without much work or when we’re doing a mindless task like walking the dog or reading a book are as important as the busy times. I know I get my best interior ideas when I’m in the shower or just about to fall asleep.
Once I figured out what worked, the key was keeping it consistent so everything from my Instagram to my blog to my business to my home had a cohesive style. That’s about referring back to the same values but interpreting them in a new way for each project. It might mean editing your images to the same setting, always shooting in natural daylight or putting a bit of yourself in each image. I used to plan out my content and batch shoot images for a week ahead, but now I post much more in the moment, when I feel like it. I’m still finding a balance between sticking to my style and occasionally surprising readers or pushing clients a little out of their comfort zone to find that little extra spark of magic.
Looking inwards and blocking out some of the noise
While Pinterest and Instagram can hold a wealth of inspiration, sometimes it’s a good idea to step away from the screen and the reels of perfectly polished interiors. Those sites are great for a quick dose of inspiration, but it can become a dangerous cycle of comparison (and copying for some) if you keep going back to the same images or accounts.
Sometimes I need to put blinkers and block out some of the noise. If I find myself comparing my blog, work or home to someone else, instead of winding myself up with jealousy, I try to reflect it back on myself. It can be harder in practice but for instance, if I see someone with a new book deal, I might go and write a proposal for my own, if I keep eyeing up someone’s beautiful images, I might go and spend some more time working on my photography and editing. I try to channel that negative energy into something beneficial for my business and home, a little push to do better.
Being a perfectionist
I’m a perfectionist and obsess about the little details. I spend a lot of time analysing and picking apart my images and my home. It’s probably not always healthy but it has helped me refine my style and improve my photography because I’m always striving to improve. I want my blog and Instagram to show the very best of my work, so if there’s a day when I’m not feeling inspired or my work isn’t up to par, it’s OK not to post or share something just for the sake of it. When I made a commitment to quality, that’s when I started to see real results.
Not being afraid to fail and make mistakes
I’ve made some terrible design choices in the past and I have a long list of things I’d like to change in my home. But that’s OK, it’s my first proper home all of my own; I can get things wrong and make decisions I later regret and still have a thriving business and a home I love. Little failures help you on your way. It’s often only when you look back that you realise what really worked and what didn’t. Sometimes you need that hindsight. For me, finding your personal style is also about relaxing into it and not being too restricted by it; allowing yourself to grow and learn.
I also need to constantly remind myself that no home is perfect; none of us are perfect but social media sometimes tricks us into thinking so. Instagram is just a reel of highlights and don’t be fooled by all these beautiful homes; everyone has a messy corner, a scuff mark on the wall, a pile of washing to attend to, something they don’t like about their homes or even themselves. We need to stop judging ourselves on the state of our homes and start enjoying them for what they are – little sanctuaries that can make us feel comforted, safe and calm.
Allowing my style to evolve
Homes evolve with us, they’re never set in stone. I know mine changes in little, sometimes imperceptible, ways every day; I move objects around or change things up with with seasons. Our style might change too. And that’s OK, as long as it feels right and still resonates with you.
I went through a very pared-back stage where everything was very minimal and muted. It was good because it allowed me to treat my home as a blank canvas and add colour, texture and interest slowly as felt right. But now I look back on those images and think that’s not me at all. I worry that minimalism can come across as a bit too purist, a bit too virtuous and restrictive. I don’t want my followers to feel bad about themselves or their homes like I often do when I see other people’s tidy interiors and organised lives. I’m drawn to real, everyday homes that have life and tell a story, so that’s what I try to portray a little in mine. I’m still working out how to show a balance between curated and candid, but that’s all part of the creative process and getting to know myself. Because when you truly know yourself and your personal style, that’s when others – readers, customers, friends, followers – will get on board and really cheer you on because it will come from a place of honesty and integrity.