Capturing the community: an interview with our Head of Visuals
“I bought an old Volvo. One day I want to put my kids in the back of it and take them to the beach.”
There are some people who just have life figured out. Josh, Swoon’s Head of Visuals, is one of them. He’d be the first person to bashfully deny that though. Sat in the living room of his three-bedroom Edwardian terrace in North London, Josh is telling me about talking to his plants.
“Every morning I get up, have a coffee, jump in the shower and come out to talk to the plants.” We both start laughing as Josh explains that he loves nature. His morning ritual is merely a way to keep him connected to it.
Growing up just outside of Leicester, Josh always had quick access to the countryside. “I don’t think London’s a natural environment for me at all so it’s really nice to have some green space.” He tells me as he proudly shows off his garden. “The only thing that was here was all this ivy. It was a really hard landscaped courtyard and we wanted to soften it a bit so we took up some of the slabs around the edges and dug down and planted all of these plants. I bulldozed my way into the role of being the main gardener. I said ‘I’m going to make a garden for us and I’m looking after it.’ (he laughs) Mentally it’s just so nice to have a green space in London – getting a bit of a closeness to nature in the city is really nice.”
Being an avid nature-lover, most weekends are spent packing his surfboard into the car and taking off for the coast. His childhood home was a housing estate built on the grounds of an old farm, that he remembers fondly.
What was it like where you grew up?
“I lived in a little close of about 20 houses and there was a really nice community vibe. There were lots of children the same age as me and my sister so every night we’d be out on the street on our bikes and building ramps and stuff. We had a street party every year too. That’s one of my fondest memories – all the kids would play, we’d have banners up and music and all the parents would get sloshed.”
That sounds awesome, and like a really nice sense of community – do you miss that?
“The sense of community is harder to find in London, but we’ve actually kind of stumbled into the friends and resident’s association in our area. There are regular meetings and we were actually given a hosepipe to go and water the flower bed at the end of our road during the heatwave. It was put in by the association and they asked us if we wanted to help care for it and we were like ‘yeah, of course, we’ll help.”
Moving to the big smoke after studying photography at the Cambridge School of Art, Josh has lived in a few places dotted across north London; “I’m that classic ‘never go south of the river’ person. Mainly because it takes so long to get back to Leicester from there.” He moved to Seven Sisters just over a year ago where he’s been enjoying building a home.
Has that made you feel more settled in London?
“Definitely! The combination of buying a house and then knowing there’s a community you can get involved in has made me feel much more rooted here. Everyone’s really friendly around here and you meet some really interesting people. There’s this guy who’s about 65, he’s just retired and he was working at the Natural History Museum for years. He says hello to everyone and he’s just so nice. Ultimately, though, I want to buy a plot of land and build a house on a cliff near the sea somewhere.”
Josh lives with his girlfriend Molly, who works as an architect and grew up in London’s Spitalfields. “I’d like to be on the coast so I can surf every day, but Molly’s from London and we’d both need to work so we’d need to be somewhere that’s not too disconnected.”
Even though they both have a different connection with the city, it’s clear that the couple’s creativity and shared passions have created a strong bond. “With Molly being an architect, we’ve both got quite a keen eye for design and interiors. For building and changing things.”
Clearly very fond of his family, Josh starts showing me around the place starting with the most sentimental thing he owns. It’s an old Schweppes soda bottle.
“My grandad (Jack), on my mum’s side, was quite a big whiskey drinker. He bought a bungalow and then every few years when he had a bit of cash, he’d just add a few more rooms on to the side and one of the rooms was a bar, so he had his own bar in the house. You could sit at one side and someone could serve you from the other, there were optics all along the back with glasses underneath. This is one of the old school Schweppes bottles which you used to get refilled with soda. One of my memories was of him just spraying it into his whiskey so he could have whiskey and soda. It’s probably the only thing I’m sentimental about. I’m not that sentimental really, I don’t like clutter. But that’s one thing I’m really sentimental about.”
Tell me about these paintings too?
“This is a painting by one of Molly’s mum’s friends. She’s sadly not with us anymore. Her name is Joey Price and she was quite a successful artist in London. Here’s another one that’s an observation of men in the City. You can see them getting kicked up the arse – her art was quite humorous. We love them, they give the room a nice pop of colour.”
The living room is painted in a calm shade of green (Wattle II – The Paint and Paper Library) and little details like bespoke, untreated plywood shelves and plants bring Josh’s love of nature to life even inside. Muted, earthy colours dominate the house with pops of colour from artwork (there’s a David Hockney print above the bed) and Josh’s own photography from his travels across India.
Tell me about your memories from your childhood home?
“The décor was a bit ‘chuck out the chintz’ when we first moved in (laughs) but I remember we’d never sit watching TV with dinner on our laps – my mum and dad were quite traditional and family dinners around the table were really important. My mum works in a school and my dad used to work in sales. Me and my sister, Jess, used to come home from school and everyone would talk about their days. I think I’d do the same if I have a family in the future.”
Do you have anything here from your family home?
“Not really, but there’s a chair we have in our bedroom that my mum’s auntie used to sit in. It’s actually another sentimental piece of mine. Her name was auntie Flo – it’s a tiny chair because she was a tiny little lady and that was her armchair that my mum remembers her sitting in. We’ve had it reupholstered – I think my mum likes the idea that is has a new life in London now.”
You’re clearly close to your family. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Yeah, I am. I think the best piece of advice I’ve had was from my dad. He’s always said to me ‘If you want to do something, just do it. Worry about the consequences later on.’ It always gets me because I think he maybe wishes he could have done that more when he was growing up. His morals and work ethic are definitely things that have inspired me. And my mum actually – both of my parents. At a young age, they encouraged me to work. I had a paper round at 13 where I had to get out of bed in the pitch black and freezing cold on a Sunday morning. Being made to do that gives you a strong sense of work ethic. It’s something I’m really proud of. That and positivity. They both come from my parents – they both have a really good set of morals and values. Also, the way you treat people, my mum’s the most compassionate person I know and has always inspired me to treat people well.”
It’s clear Josh has a close connection with his parents and that they’ve had quite an impact on him. Is having a family of his own one day on the horizon? His answer to my next question says it all.
Can you name three things you can’t live without?
“It’s really hard to narrow it down to three. I think, definitely, coffee – I love it. The outdoors in general. For me, physically and mentally, I’m really glad that there’s oceans, mountains and beaches to visually take in and use for exercise. I’d really struggle to live without that. Also my old Volvo. I bought this old Volvo estate that I’ve been slowly renovating. I’ve rebuilt the engine and upgraded some other areas with modern components, in my head, it’s going to be a family heirloom. One day, I want to put my kids in the back of it and take them to the beach. “
Josh is one of those people who just knows himself. Even when I ask him what he likes to do to relax he tells me “I wouldn’t sit in front of the TV or anything. I don’t really sit still, I’m normally doing something when I’m relaxing. Whether it’s walking, surfing, even just driving – I really enjoy exploring. Getting in a car and moving, there’s something about moving forward that I love the sensation of. You feel like you’re making progress.”
It’s this passion for adventure and ability to go with the flow that makes Josh so easy to talk to, and as we draw the interview to a close, he leaves me with a little nugget that encapsulates his attitude to life perfectly.
“I try to live by that ‘it’ll all be ok’ philosophy and not worry too much.”
To read more about our inspiring humans, take a look at our blog here.