De­sign pro­file

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 sig­mar­lon­

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; 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

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