An interior designer's colourful 1920s apartment
A passion for pigment, pattern and creativity – as well as a keen environmental awareness – has made its mark on Isabelle McAllister’s 1920s home. Feature Antonia AF Petersens. Photographs Beth Evans
In the heart of Stockholm, interior designer, blogger and TV personality Isabelle McAllister has created a family home that’s full of fun, distinctive designs and brave colour choices. It’s a warm, convivial space furnished with flea market bargains, quirky antiques and upcycled pieces. The relaxed vibe signals that the inhabitants don’t take themselves too seriously.
As soon as you enter Isabelle McAllister’s apartment, it is obvious that she is not afraid of colour. A plaster pink sitting room, forest green bedroom and a bathroom tiled in peppermint green are not unusual by Isabelle’s standards. She is known as a colour advocate and uses television appearances, magazine articles and her blog to encourage her fellow Swedes to embrace colour and creativity.
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Paint and colour make Isabelle happy, and she believes that it is difficult to design a cosy, beautiful home using only white paint. In her opinion, monochromatic interiors may be photogenic, but they are very hard to live in. Isabelle’s theory is that the minimalist white homes we see all over social media are like pop songs – we listen to them on the radio and eventually we start to sing along, but is it because we actually like the music, or because we’ve heard it so many times that the tune has taken root in our brain? As for the old decorating rule that white is the only colour to use if you want to make a room appear lighter, she points out that we no longer live in the 17th century – effective lighting is instantly available at the flick of a switch.
Isabelle’s aesthetic is one of cheerful imperfection. Her bold tastes and resourceful attitude were instilled in her during her childhood, as both her parents worked with colour and design. Her mother is originally from Belgium and when Isabelle was a teenager the family moved there. She learned Flemish and began a course at art school, only to drop out and start designing lamps and styling homes instead. Her father, a scrap dealer and salvage merchant, still helps out with many of her projects and can find a solution for every problem.
The apartment is divided over two floors and the communal areas occupy the attic space. The open-plan living room-cum-kitchen has slanting ceilings, wooden beams and a huge fireplace taking up most of one wall, which posed something of a challenge when they first moved in. To begin with, Isabelle painted the kitchen cabinets sea blue and the walls of the kitchen area mint green but, after a while, she reconsidered and repainted the walls a muted pink and the cabinets dark grey- brown. She says she often defaults to dusty pastels – they are neutral, soft and timeless, and combine happily with many other colours.
Isabelle didn’t start with a grand plan or vision for the apartment. Instead, she likes to make a start decorating and see where she ends up. Her home is somewhere that allows her to experiment and try new things. When inspiration strikes, she unearths an old tin of paint from her cache and her husband comes home that night to discover that the furniture or walls have changed colour. For example, Isabelle recently repainted the bedroom a soft, luxurious, dark green shade. She hasn’t changed anything else in the room, but both she and her husband have noticed that now they use the room much more frequently, going in there to read or relax.
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Most of the items in Isabelle’s apartment were discovered in flea markets and antiques shops, both at home and abroad. Upcycling is her speciality subject and she says a lick of paint or a length of fabric gives most items a new lease of life. Hunting for treasure at flea markets is one of her favourite activities. The most important thing for Isabelle is falling in love with an object. She is not interested in status symbols or iconic designer pieces, and values character, comfort and personality in a home, over impersonal perfection.
This is a friendly, easy-going space where everyone feels at home. Isabelle has allowed her kids free rein in their own rooms – her son has covered his walls with posters of football players and Isabelle was a little surprised when her pre-teen daughter wanted to paint her bedroom walls white. But then her daughter also recently suggested that they could transform a pair of her trousers into cool, bespangled shorts to wear to a party – so the creativity and recycling gene, and the desire to go one’s own way, seem to have been transmitted to the next generation too.
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