How to create a relaxing space at home

·10-min read
Photo credit: Megan Taylor
Photo credit: Megan Taylor

SUZIE DE ROHAN WILLNER - CEO of Toast

De Rohan Willner heads up fashion and homeware brand Toast, which champions new makers and hosts an annual creative residency, three days of talks, workshops and demonstrations, which, this October, will be inspired by the theme of rewilding. She recently moved to Oxfordshire, where she lives in a Georgian house with her architect husband and mother.

Photo credit: Jooney Woodward
Photo credit: Jooney Woodward


‘This is one of those lovely square Georgian rooms with a window in the middle. It has roses climbing up the wall next to it and looks out onto a Victorian greenhouse. My husband is a keen gardener, so we’ve built vegetable patches and he’s slowly teaching me. Bringing the garden in was critical, so we put in a window seat. It’s a beautiful spot to sit in.

I’m a vociferous reader – for me, it’s escapism. I’m currently reading Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. Once I find an author who I enjoy, I tend to read as many books by them as I can.

The room itself I love. We chose Farrow & Ball’s “Emerald Green” for the kitchen cabinets. I grew up in France and the colour reminds me of an old French kitchen. Behind it, the washed walls are very gentle pale pink and almost look like plasterwork.

I work in here all day and Mum will come in to make lunch or have a chat. She has Alzheimer’s and is a creative, so we’re really trying to keep that going. Once a week she creates flower arrangements and they give us all great joy.

One of the upsides of being at home during the pandemic has been having meals around the table. It’s a ritual that can easily be lost. We tend to lay the table, which we picked up on Ebay, and sit down together for breakfast and lunch. It cuts up the day and is a time to share what we’re doing.

I like to collect one piece each season, either from one of Toast’s new makers or a ceramicist whose work we sell online. Sitting with a mug and feeling the different textures always makes me slow down.’ toa.st


AARON PROBYN - Designer

The British designer founded his eponymous studio in 2012. He consults for companies such as West Elm and Another Country, and launched a line of his own-brand products last year. He and his wife, baby and dog Reggie, split their time between London and a brownstone apartment in Brooklyn, New York, which is close to the East River.

Photo credit: David Land
Photo credit: David Land


‘At one end of our Brooklyn apartment is the kitchen and dining table, where we work, which feels like the busy part of the home. The living room is at the other end and that’s where we relax in the evening. It’s the most tranquil area by far.

We have plants as decoration but also as a way to soften the space. We like a room to feel jungle-like. The greenery is reflected in the forest shade of the Hay sofa. We chose velvet upholstery as it’s cosy and inviting, and develops a slight patina as it ages.

I’m a strong believer in mixing aesthetics so the cork coffee table by Ilse Crawford for Ikea adds warmth, while the Hungarian steel and glass medical cabinet brings an industrial element. My wife is a collector and what’s nice about this cabinet is that it’s somewhere for her to keep her ever-changing artefacts. Although it’s busy inside, somehow it still has a calmness to it.

During lockdown we spent a lot of time here and it was great being able to listen to BBC Radio 6 Music – having that connection to normal life in England kept us partially sane.

Next to the window is a Balinese kite, which my wife and I bought on our honeymoon. It’s a mobile so it moves around, catching the light in different ways. For much of my working day I’m sat behind a screen so I switch off by reading design books or fiction classics that offer a very different perspective to modern life. Reading is such a restful pastime and a good way to wind down.’ aaronprobyn.com

GYNELLE LEON - Founder of Prick

Five years ago, Leon opened Prick, London’s first dedicated cacti and succulent shop, in Dalston. More recently, she has launched a new events space, Shallow Roots, running workshops on everything from repotting to macramé making, and a range of candles in collaboration with Our Lovely Goods. She lives in a new-build townhouse in Chigwell, Essex with her husband and son.

Photo credit: Jooney Woodward
Photo credit: Jooney Woodward


‘I like to come to this space for quiet in the evenings. To spend time around the things I love brings me calm. It’s a spare room but we also call it a second front room – it’s away from the football on the television and my son’s toys. When you’re out in the world you can’t control the noise, but here, it’s silent. If I do listen to anything, it’s a podcast or audio book – I enjoy getting lost in fiction, especially if there’s a wonderful narrator – but often I like to sit and reflect.

Plants, together with botanical art, make the room feel peaceful. I have plants hanging, on window sills and on stands. [The late American artist] Georgia O’Keeffe is a massive inspiration. She was able to capture the beauty and stillness of flowers in such a bold form and I’ve always connected with her prints; they help to ground me.

A space is about all the senses: the right lighting and temperature, and the softness of my little sheepskin from Ikea gives me comfort, whether it’s on the back of a chair or under my feet.

For me, scents are really important. Nag Champa is my favourite incense, but I also love anything botanical such as geranium or bergamot. I always light a candle or incense; it’s a form of meditation, of disconnecting from the day.’ prickldn.com

NIMI ATTANAYAKE - Architect

Attanayake co-founded NimTim Architects with her husband Tim O’Callaghan in 2014. The couple live with their daughter in a 1960s townhouse in Forest Hill, south east London, where the open-plan living and dining space, and kitchen, are on the first floor.

Photo credit: Megan Taylor
Photo credit: Megan Taylor


‘We built the iroko wood window seat, storage below and tall bookshelves next to it all at the same time. A lot of people think we put in the window seat for our cocker spaniel Corbi – he loves it and has his own cushion – but we did it because we thought it would be a good place to watch the world go by.

We’re end of terrace so from the window seat there are really long, beautiful views of the trees and the street. Although it’s on the first floor, we’ve tried to keep a connection to the outside by painting the walls in Farrow & Ball’s “Green Ground”.

We chose an abstract floral pattern by Marimekko for the curtains, as we wanted something bold and colourful. The light is from a mid-century modern furniture fair. In winter, when the curtains are closed, you can snuggle up and feel cosy.

What we were finding, even before Covid, is that lots of clients want these little enclaves where they can retreat to but still be part of all that’s going on in the home. From my nook, I can watch my daughter playing outside or Tim cooking dinner, and I’m not shut off or hidden away. Usually I sit here to eat my muesli at the weekend. Or during the week in the afternoons, I like to have a cup of tea while my daughter is doing something at the table. She has her own space, I’m not in it, but I’m still there with her.’ nimtim.co.uk

BRENDAN MURDOCK - Founder of Anatomē

Murdock set up modern apothecary Anatomē three years ago to focus on holistic wellbeing through skincare products, essential oils and health supplements. He lives in a ground-floor garden flat in a converted church in London’s Hoxton, which he shares with his partner and rescue dog Dodger.

Photo credit: Jooney Woodward
Photo credit: Jooney Woodward


‘Despite being in the middle of Hoxton, the great thing about the garden is that it’s quiet so it’s immediately relaxing. You don’t really notice the city outside, which was the idea behind such dense planting. It feels like a small oasis.

We designed the space like another room so it’s an extension of the living area. The walls that surround the garden are the same height as those of the building so that as you move through the space, it feels integrated and connected. It’s all about the flow.

I especially like my beautiful David Austin “Gertrude Jekyll” rose. It’s large, bright pink blooms have a wonderful scent. I’m also keen on the lavender – it’s one of the key oils in a number of Anatomē products. I love the smell of it, especially when it blends with the trailing rosemary. It reminds me of holidays in the south of France.

Unless it’s freezing cold or pelting with rain, I like to eat out here as much as possible. We found the table and chairs in an antiques shop in Gloucestershire and that’s where I like to sit in the morning with coffee and breakfast. It’s my favourite meal of the day. The garden gives me the space to open my mind. I read the weekend newspapers, sometimes do watercolours and also develop ideas in my notebooks.’ anatome.co

BISILA NOHA - Ceramicist

Spanish ceramicist Noha is known for her minimalist handmade tableware and pots. She is also co-director of arts and activism organisation Lon-art Creative and lives with her partner in a new-build block of flats by Regent’s Canal in east London’s Haggerston.

Photo credit: Jooney Woodward
Photo credit: Jooney Woodward


‘This space is a spare room and an office – my laptop is here and it’s where I do research – but it’s also somewhere I can be on my own if I don’t want to be disturbed. I tend to sit in silence and either meditate or do breathing exercises. The latter I do every morning when I wake up; it’s the way I set myself up for the day. Or sometimes I might sit for five minutes and meditate before going to bed to calm down.

We have plants everywhere. It makes the flat feel less urban and closer to nature even though we’re in the middle of the city.

One of my favourite artworks is a small unframed print of an abstract landscape by my friend Lucia Fraser, who is a painter and ceramicist. Plus, we used to share studios and she is an amazing, hilarious woman so I adore having her energy around me.

Exercise is important for my mental health and I often come in here to do vinyasa yoga. I’ve been practising for six years.

The pottery on the shelves brings joy to the space. Some pieces are made by friends; others are presents or things I’ve found. There is a pot made by John Colbeck, who was my mentor during a 2016 residency in Italy, and a couple of plates and a teapot by 20th-century potter Clarice Cliff that I picked up from a second-hand sale in Dorset. Every piece is special and unique to me.’ bisilanoha.co.uk

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