The swedish-born interior designer on her love of vintage pieces, the joy of layering pattern and how modern tiles now resemble artwork
Interior designer Ebba Thott on her love of natural materials and vintage chic
ebba Thott founded interior design company Sigmar in 2005 with Nina Hertig. Together, they combine their love of clean lines, luxurious muted hues and Scandi simplicity with a keen eye for the elegance and fine craftsmanship of mid-century and modernist furniture and accessories. Operating out of a gallery on London’s King’s Road (and named after the late German painter and photographer Sigmar Polke), Sigmar works on both new build and refurbished residential design in the UK and around the world. Here, Ebba reveals her design secrets.
How did you find your way into interior design?
After studying for a BA in Stockholm, I furthered my studies at Parsons School of Design in New York. I set up on my own in London in 2001, before starting Sigmar with Nina. I oversee the creative direction of our interior design service, while Nina – a walking design dictionary and extremely knowledgeable furniture specialist – sources products for our shop.
Do you have a signature style?
It’s not so much a sense of style, more an eye for how to make others a little happier by improving their personal space – not just through practical solutions, but also in the way we combine quality natural materials, vintage and recycled pieces and textures that lend a room emotional resonance and warmth. As a Swede, I’m very practical, but not sparse.
What’s the best place to start when redesigning a space?
Your home is your investment, so it’s important to work up a full idea of what you want to achieve and then, depending on budget, break it down into what’s urgent and what can wait until you’ve saved up. You can maybe live with a clean, functional – but naff – living room, but not a mouldy bathroom.
How should you want a space to feel?
It’s about what happens in the first 60 seconds when you walk through the door. Is it calm? Does it make you breathe out
and relax? If it doesn’t, then it’s my job to make sure it does. I see interior designers as the ‘doctors and nurses’ of the design world – we all live and work at a relentless pace, so home should be a place that represents who you are, but also be somewhere you feel like you belong and can recharge. Being an interior designer isn’t about being a ‘rock star’ and declaring everything should be purple!
What makes a good investment when redecorating?
Lighting has a huge impact in a room, but it’s also easy to take with you if you move. If it’s not vintage, I love the simplicity of Michael Anastassiades’s lighting. You can also make a high-street kitchen feel more special with beautifully made handles – my favourites are by Carl Auböck. And a focal point in a room doesn’t have to be a fireplace or painting – money is as well spent on great curtain fabric or a show-stopping rug.
Why do you have a particular affinity for vintage pieces?
They bring soul into a house – I’m always drawn to the quality and patina of the materials found with vintage items – they tell a story and add to your wellbeing. There’s a warmth and softness to older pieces – whether they’re something you’ve inherited, or holiday finds you’ve picked up along the way – and they all help to make a space feel unique to you.
What about flooring?
If not working with wide-planked, solid-wood floors – stained or limed – I like the rustic yet contemporary feel of thick flatweave rugs and embroidery borders (which give a refined, luxurious edge). I like the way Tim Page Carpets takes proven techniques, but works in new ways with new colours.
Any tips on working with or upcycling existing fittings?
In a recent courthouse conversion, the owner had an obsession with small rugs, so we laid them out – one slightly over the other – over the existing carpet to create an intimate zone in a large, open-plan space. In another, more modest, kitchen, we upcycled an old cabinet, replacing the back of it with glass and hanging it to work as a screen from the dining area and also to add personality to the room.
You have a great love of storage – why?
It’s not about being tidy obsessed, but if everything has its place, you know where to look for things. Making the most of all those nooks and crannies under stairs and windows is one way – but it’s also about having hooks where you need them, or using a wire basket by a favourite armchair to stow away your books rather than needing to put them on a shelf.
What about built-in storage?
It’s important if you’re installing shelves – like along a wall and around door and window frames – that they should be built well and fit in with the architecture. For washing machines and dryers, I like to put them in a bedroom, not the kitchen – using rust-treated metal mesh on the cupboard doors so air can circulate. It makes sense, as it’s where your clothes are.
Are there any particular rooms people often overlook?
The entrance is such an important space – it’s what greets you and tells people about you before they’ve even stepped over the threshold. It’s the first place you come home to and let go of the working day – so give thought to the logistics of hanging coats, bags and dog leashes, where to store your shoes and throw your keys. It needs to be easy and effortless.
What’s a good way of using texture?
One example is when we papered the inside of a TV cabinet (which was built into a chimney-breast alcove) with fabric to prevent it looking too sleek and minimal, which is particularly important in small spaces where everything is so close to you. Playing with tone-on-tone when painting walls and woodwork can soften a room, but leave it still feeling clean and modern.
Does everything have to be all matchy-matchy?
You can reflect the pattern of a rug in a curtain fabric – your eye will notice there’s a link, which brings the look together. In small spaces, I like to lacquer the walls to give a sense of luxury, which also helps to bounce light around the room, and when teamed with decadent bed linen, the whole feeling becomes so much more. More is more doesn’t mean it has to shout, but it does have to make you feel good and smile.
How do you work with pattern?
It can help disguise odd shapes in a room – exaggerated angles seem awkward when painted white, because the room feels smaller. But in an attic room with sloped ceilings and an unusual window seat, it really worked when we mismatched patterns on the walls, blinds and furniture. Laying Glithero’s Blueware tiles on the wall of a bijou guest bathroom felt more like installing an artwork than merely having a practical purpose. I like the way the muted tones of Marthe Armitage’s wallpapers help other pieces in the room to pop. Walls should always be just the backdrop – it’s the furniture, fabrics and people that are the essence of a space.
What inspired you to launch your own paint collection?
I wanted to create a collection that took the angst out of what to choose – I worked with eco-friendly paint specialist Damo to create 14 colours, all with a grey scale base, which are designed to work together in both old and new buildings.
And what are you working on now?
We’re busy with five house renovations, three of which are Victorian conversions, one an Edwardian villa and the other a courthouse conversion. We’re also about to start on a family flat in an unusual Art Deco building, which will definitely need some new creative thoughts. That’s going to be fun!
For more info, visit sigmarlondon.com
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT Ebba’s schemes for a Sixties house included this unusual cladding in the living area and vintage furniture in the diner; Damascus rug in Celestial, £1,250 per sq m, Tim Page Carpets; Nanna Ditzel dining table, £940, Sigmar; and...
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT Poul Henningsen’s iconic PH Artichoke suspension light for Louis Poulsen is a Sigmar favourite – find this copper version, £5,445, at nest.co.uk; Ebba’s redesign for a family home in Surrey. Details include Dinesen flooring, an...
FROM LEFT Ebba used a mismatched selection of rugs to help zone an open-plan living space; and bold pattern gives this Ebba Thott redesign its cool edge – the fabric is Imperial Trellis 2643763 linen, £249 per m, Schumacher at Turnell & Gigon. The...
FROM LEFT Bamboo and brass floor lamp, £1,525; and wallmounted wardrobe rack, £3,400, both Carl Auböck at Sigmar