At home with Debbie, exploring our collaboration with John Lewis & Partners
‘Sometimes, small but bold detail is everything.
That’s a theme that underpins the whole collaboration’
It’s a warm Wednesday morning and we’re excited. We’re walking at pace to the East London flat where Debbie, our co-founder, resides with her Boston Terrier, little Bertie. We toured their home in 2018 but, recently, there have been some striking additions: three dreamy designs from our new collaboration with John Lewis & Partners.
The collection launched in March across 11 John Lewis & Partners stores and online – and it’s quite something. Velvet sofas, cocktail chairs, parquet storage and flashes of brass are just some of the treats designed by us and produced and sold by John Lewis & Partners.
So today, we’re talking to Debbie about travel trinkets, the collaboration and how this original new collection fits into her (quite remarkable) little space.
Hi Debbie! Thanks for taking us around your lovely home. It’s amazingly put together – though we’d expect nothing less from Swoon’s co-founder! What made you fall in love with interiors?
Trips to far-flung places like the Caribbean, India and South-East Asia. I was mesmerised by the beautiful craftwork! It was happening all around me – people creating pieces which really treasured heritage and tradition. I’ve brought back ridiculous trinkets and treasures over the years – a gigantic candlestick, a huge mosaic mirror from Indonesia. The mirror was this big (she gesticulates to show its sheer size). I don’t know how they let me on the flight with it. It was this love of travel that inspired me to think about a love of spaces – and I love the idea of bringing your travels home.
You’ve got lovely ornaments! It’s clear you really have an eye for detail when it comes to accessorising your home.
Thank you. This is my grandmother’s carving set, which I’ve always loved – I had my eye on that for a while! And this green vase is quite special to me – it belonged to my great aunt. Its styling was very common in the 1970s. Even from a young age i’d rearrange my parents’ living room, my grandmother’s house – just to have a better flow of space.
Even in my halls during my first year at university, I spent so much time figuring out how to dress the walls of my room to make the most of the space. When you start to get compliments about how people feel in a space, you realise that you’re really creating an experience – you feel good being there and don’t want to leave.
It’s all about the detail – even the light switches from Buster & Punch make a huge difference. I changed the radiators in here when I first moved in. I drove down to a farm in Sussex which had reclaimed cast-iron radiators, and I picked out these ones and they reconditioned and coloured them for me. They were so heavy that it took four people just to get it upstairs!
This old bar trolley is very unique! Where’s it from?
It’s a Swoon piece! It was our first ever bar trolley, which we launched about four years ago. It probably looks a bit older because Bertie has been scratching and nibbling away at the edges for years! We now have so many beautiful bar trolleys, but I can’t change this one because it has that reminder of Bertie – her special marks.
Aww! Well, she’s a special dog.
And this new bar trolley – wow. This must be our bar trolley from the John Lewis & Partners collaboration! It’s absolutely stunning.
Yes, it is! It’s a real work of art from Sam and his team (our Swoon Studio). The perfectly arranged parquet of triangle slices create that extra level of detail. It’s really mesmerising. It just goes to show that you don’t need to embellish something excessively for the sake of it – take what’s there, keep it simple but add a little interest in decorative details. Sometimes, small but bold detail is everything. That’s a theme that underpins the whole collaboration with John Lewis & Partners.
Do you have a favourite from this collection?
The three pieces I’ve got here! I’m truly in love. It’s the Sartre coffee table, the Lovelace bar trolley, and this pink velvet cocktail chair – the Olive. The coffee table is a typical Swoon aesthetic – a combination of materials, refined detail in its green marble half-moon, and true slickness with great execution from John Lewis’ production team. And it happens to work beautifully in my green theme!
It really does! Is there a particular inspiration behind the collection?
I think one of the reasons John Lewis & Partners were keen to work with us is because they were intrigued by our signature aesthetic – it’s bold but not ‘in your face’, it showcases a mixture of materials, and its design details are never superfluous, whether they add structure or come together to make a handle on a chest of drawers. The designs within the collaboration are inspired by winning designs we’ve tested over the years as per our unique business model. So they’re the best of our best. We’ve taken winning attributes and added doses of the daring Deco-inspired design that our customers love.
And John Lewis & Partners has a brilliant reputation.
It really does. I’ve always loved them – their brand promise of ‘never knowingly undersold’ is inspiring, their range of products is fantastic – whether fashion or food or beauty – and their stamp of quality is important. I was very proud when we agreed to do a collaboration. They came to us because they’re currently looking for key emerging brands in each area, and I’m so happy that they see us as a key brand within furniture design.
What do you love most about what Swoon does?
I think my favourite thing is when customers post their homes on Instagram and tag us in the photo – that exact moment. The finished product. We’ve designed it, it’s been crafted by our specialist workshops around the world, they’ve bought it on our site and then sent us a picture. It’s a proud moment. And we love to feature our Insiders’ photos on our own Instagram, so please keep tagging us.
What does Bertie think about the pieces in the John Lewis & Partners collaboration?
She loves them! Luckily they’re not wood so she’s not attacked them yet. Bertie, look at Josh!
(Bertie looks up at the camera but is reluctant to pose – she knows that her air of mystery is her USP as both pet and model)
What’s the next step for Swoon and John Lewis & Partners?
We’re launching a beautiful autumn/winter range in September and collaborating on an initiative around how people use space. There’ll be concepts in dozens of different stores – we think family and small spaces are two top ideas – with Swoon-designed pieces integrated into these sets. It’ll give us a greater presence across the UK, integrating our design prowess with John Lewis & Partners’ strong retail presence. We’re really honoured they’ve asked us to be part of this next adventure!
It’s all happening at the moment!
I can see you’ve got a lovely outdoor space here. Have you considered putting any furniture designs in it?
It’s a little small, but luckily we have a few petite editions of our garden furniture made for just that! They’re designed with little balconies and patios in mind. I want to put the Kennington lounging chair out there, perhaps with the footstool. And the rocking chair too! I love the colours it comes in.
Your creative vision for the coming years – how will Swoon evolve creatively?
Our design philosophy will never change, but we’d like to experiment with palettes – textures, colours and material mash-ups. So, expect lots of new looks across our launches from autumn onwards.
What’s your favourite moment in this flat?
I think it’s when I had the royal wedding BBQ here. I invited friends over and we had a champagne brunch – twenty of us, watching the wedding and having a big party afterwards. The flat is ideal for socialising because it’s open-plan and we can spill out to the front.
Do you have any current home projects or obsessions?
I’m a bit obsessed with collecting artwork at the moment. These are Alex Cole pieces. And I’ve been buying pieces from a website called Partnership Editions, which features upcoming artists. That one (she points across the room) is by an artist called Rugman. He’s just been featured at the Saatchi Gallery. I went into a little shop once, near our old office in Southwark, and I saw some of his features and asked where they’re from. They told me and gave me his number. So I called him and we met for coffee! He’s a really interesting guy, an artist and illustrator who’s gone into canvases. He also does t-shirts, which Tom Hardy wears!
I’m also mad about colour on walls – even this off-black I have here! Brian laughs at me – he says it’s either black or it’s not black.
Bertie! Give us a smile! Hmm. Seems she’s more interested in sniffing our shoes…
What’s your favourite thing to do with her at the weekend?
We have a little routine on a Saturday. We walk down the canal to Victoria Park and have breakfast at the Pavilion cafe – it’s really good, Sri Lankan-influenced. You sit outside overlooking the lake. We do that every Saturday morning – a girls’ trip for brunch!
Bertie, you’re a dream! Wait – is she falling asleep?! Are her eyes drooping?
It seems Bertie’s a bit over her photo shoot – and our conversation. So we leave it at that, give her a little stroke, continue poring over parquetry and head back to the office to put pen to paper.