Designer and mother of two young boys Donna Wilson shows us around her stylish family home
Words The Modern House
We moved here four years ago, from a small rented flat just off Brick Lane. We were looking for about a year, trying to find a family home that we could make our own, but it proved very challenging – I think we were pretty unlucky.
We started looking around Walthamstow as lots of our friends were moving there, and increased our search to the surrounding areas too. My partner Jon saw this on another agent’s website, but it was photographed really badly and looked run down and overgrown. I saw it was a detached house, so I decided to take a punt and see it anyway. As soon as I walked through the door into the hall I fell in love with it. And that was that.
I think the hallway might still be my favourite part of the house actually. It feels like such a luxury to have that space. It’s turned into a bit of a full-time job to keep it clear of jackets and shoes, but it’s the one space that I like to keep really empty. The house was a complete blank canvas when we moved in. Both my partner and I are designers, so it was an exciting project for the two of us to take on. We’ve been working on it pretty continuously since we moved in. That said, we still have loads of plans for it, but very little time to put them into action. We’ve got two young boys, so they keep us pretty busy.
So far, I think my favourite additions inside are the two log burning stoves – we’ve got one in the living room, and the other in kitchen, next to the dining area. There’s nothing better than a real log fire to keep you cosy through winter. Actually, John also recently made two amazing bunk beds for the kids. Their height can be adjusted as they grow; they’re pretty great too.
We worked with an award-winning garden designer – Howard Miller – to redesign our outside space. He came up with a plan that made it feel like a country cottage garden. I grew up on a farm in rural Aberdeenshire, so it’s amazing to have a tiny piece of that in London. We’ve got a hedgerow, paths and flowers beds that echo the surrounding allotments. I can’t wait to see what pops up in the spring. The next idea is to install a wooden Japanese hot tub… I really like Leytonstone. We’re on a lovely street in a conservation area, which means it’ll never really change; it’s almost like stepping back in time. There’s a great sense of community, it’s more like a little village than a London suburb.
We use the kitchen for pretty much everything. It’s really high and spacious, and it’s a perfect family space. We play games, make clay sculptures, do homework and eat all around the table, sometimes all at the same time. I work from home sometimes too, but only when I really need to concentrate. My studio is open plan so there’s always a lot going on. The studio’s been running for 12 years now. A lot of the textiles in our house are my designs, especially in the kids’ rooms – the trees and big knitted random things. The armchair in the kitchen is one of mine too. I guess a lot of the artwork is also by me; the framed prints and the mounted plates in the kitchen. Actually, it’s really lovely to look at it all and realise how much the studio has grown over the years.
There’s also a lot of stuff in the house that I’ve collected. I have a weakness for anything tactile, regardless of what it is, if it’s got an interesting texture it always draws me in. There’s a red and black Finnish textile in the living room that I discovered recently in a shop in Hastings – I instantly fell in love with the strong colour and repeating pattern.
I’m always trying to stimulate creativity in my family, and myself, so that means we always have lots of art materials around and we keep lots of stuff around that people might generally throw out. Our house has lots of little ‘installation areas’ on shelves or in the cupboards, which are a mix of nice found objects and things we’ve all made.