Bumpy walls and uneven floorboards may not be up there at the top of everyone’s wish list, but it was the imperfections that drew acclaimed florist and founder of Wild at Heart, Nikki Tibbles, to her home in West Sussex, two years ago. ‘I wanted a rambling old house. I don’t like anything in the country that’s perfect and straight, and I was looking for something that hadn’t been done up,’ she explains.
Nikki nurtured her flair for floristry after leaving her first career in advertising. More than two decades on, with her international reputation firmly established, clients commission her for high-profile events as far afield as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Santorini and Barcelona. ‘I’m lucky that I love what I do, and travel is always inspiring, but I do love it here,’ she says of the Georgian farmhouse, a rural sanctuary in which to entertain friends and relax with her much-loved rescue dogs, which now provides her with the antidote to her frenetic career.
Nikki’s floral style is famously naturalistic and opulent, and it’s no surprise to find nature, colour and texture mingled in her home. ‘I like things to feel natural, although everything has to have its place, so there is some order.’ She dispensed with the cream and beige decor as soon as she moved in. ‘I took up old flooring and carpets, and found a beautiful stone slab floor in the kitchen. I took out old cupboards, oiled and waxed and painted every floorboard, and painted the house, choosing a different colour for each room, and it only took a week,’ she recalls.
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Colour is key and each room is defined by a distinctive shade, which Nikki uses on ceilings, woodwork, shutters, walls and sometimes floorboards too. ‘I’ve always done this, to me it makes the room feel more unified. Otherwise you’ve got lines in the room made by skirtings and cornices. And why would I want my eye to be drawn to the ceiling? Unless there’s a Rubens on it.’
Sometimes Nikki’s choice of colour was determined by furnishings she already had. Sometimes she chose the colour first, then picked the furniture to match. ‘I’m naturally decisive, choosing colours doesn’t take me long. I haven’t got time to move things round endlessly,’ she says. The aspect and function of each room also influenced her choice. ‘The sitting room is very sunny so I painted it a soft blue-grey. I had a 20-year-old blue Conran sofa that I didn’t want to re-cover, so that worked well. The dining room is a smoky green, which I find very restful. My bedroom, which has windows on three sides and lots of light, is painted in ‘Setting Plaster’ by Farrow & Ball.’
Against this colourful backdrop, Nikki mixes decorative antiques with vintage finds and modern design classics, building up layers of pattern, colour and texture. ‘I buy from antiques fairs and local dealers. I don’t really care about where something came from, how old it is, or what it’s worth. What matters is whether I like it.’
Kempton Park and Ardingly are favourite hunting grounds, so too are the antiques shops of nearby Petworth. She loves to juxtapose antique treasures with 20th-century design, so in the guest bedroom, alongside a 19th-century oil painting, she has positioned an Eames ‘Lounge’ chair. A ‘Tulip’ table by Eero Saarinen is surrounded by ebonised Regency chairs, and a floor lamp by Tom Dixon illuminates a Victorian upholstered seat from behind.
Elements of humour and surprise play a part in the house. Each room has a name, which doesn’t necessarily correspond to its function. ‘I have a sewing room, although I don’t actually sew,’ says Nikki. There is also a quirkily christened ‘recipe-reading’ room, piled with vertically stacked cookery books, and a larder dubbed ‘the mini market’. While in the bathroom, three life-sized metal flamingos stand in front of the radiator.
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Alongside flowers, charity work plays an important part in Nikki’s life. Two years ago, she co-founded the Wild at Heart Foundation to help reduce the world’s stray dog population. Not surprisingly, references to her twin loves – flowers and dogs – are scattered like petals in every room. The dining room table stands on a brilliantly coloured Missoni rug, blooms and hounds feature in many of the paintings and on cushions, while Nikki’s eclectic collection of vases are displayed in many parts of the house. ‘So my house is part of me, and there’s no real rhyme or reason to my collecting. I don’t want it perfect, but still, everything has its place.’
Images: Jan Baldwin
Words: Janet Gleeson