The mama behind Wonder and Rah shows us around her new coastal home
Words & Images Natalie Cardew
Absolutely Mama: You’ve recently moved house. Was it stressful? What were you looking for in your new home?
Natalie Cardew: We have! Last summer we made the move from London down to the south coast of Dorset. It was a huge change that involved selling/buying and relocating jobs, so managing the timing of it all was super stressful. We wanted a lot out of relocating; the forever home, a seaside location, studio space for my business and school places for the kids. I don’t think you ever get the full list with any house (unless you have endless budget!) and so ours has needed lots of TLC and building work, which has only just finished. In hindsight it was a crazy year for a renovation, but I always think when you’re in the midst of chaos you may as well go hard and get it all done – and now we’re looking forward to a slow, relaxing summer with no dust or DIY. At least that’s what I’ve promised my husband! The kids have been brilliant and it makes me really happy to see them settling so well into their new home by the sea. Both my husband and I grew up this way and giving them that lifestyle was the main motivation behind the move.
AM: Have you always been an illustrator? What’s your career background?
NC: Actually, no. Art was always my main focus growing up and I went on to study illustration at university, but then did a U-turn and decided to start a career in fashion retail. Fashion has always been a big hobby of mine and I felt at the time I would be better suited to it for a career. Working my way up over 13 years, my most recent job was as Senior Merchandiser at Kurt Geiger. It was a very analytical role that focused on range planning and trading. It was really interesting and with lots of lovely perks but completely different to what I’m doing now. I decided against returning to work after having my second child, Robyn. I had returned to work four days a week after having my first, Leo, but a combination of working hours, commuting and nursery fees made me rethink my career path. I took a year’s maternity leave with Robyn, which gave me lots of thinking time. I knew I really wanted to get back to my creative roots and have always had a huge passion for interiors, especially in prints and pattern. Gradually the idea to create my own nursery prints evolved.
AM: Why the name Wonder and Rah?
NC: For me the word “wonder” perfectly encapsulates childhood; both my children are asking questions all the time. They marvel at everything new and it’s a joy to watch. It’s been my favourite thing about becoming a parent, if not sometimes really tricky to find answers for! The “rah” represents their playful, crazy side. I honestly think we had a week where they didn’t say a single other phrase than “rah”! Charging around the house, “rah” all day!
AM: When did you decide to launch your own store?
NC: After my maternity leave with Robyn I had begun designing my first collection of nursery prints. I didn’t really have a plan and I don’t know if I would have had the confidence at the time to even call it a business. I just announced to friends on social media that I would be selling them on Etsy and it went from there. Soon after that I joined Not on the High Street and then as sales grew I set up my Shopify store.
Gradually I became more confident and began to focus on developing the kind of business I wanted to create. I also took on collaborative illustration work, which I’ve loved. I wanted my brand of children’s prints to be an antidote to the cutesy, more mainstream designs I had come across during my maternity leave. Since then I have also ventured into more grown-up abstract themes, so something for the mums, too!
Ultimately I design for people who like the things I do, which I think is the best way.
AM: How would you describe your style?
NC: Like most people I am such a chameleon and it changes with my mood. I guess it’s eclectic, alternative, fun and pattern-focused. Nothing too matchy-matchy.
AM: And how do you apply that to your own home?
NC: I love interiors to a fairly unhealthy degree, and I’m completely obsessed with pattern and texture in rugs, cushions and prints. Because I know how much I love to play with soft furnishings
and switch up the feel of a room with cushions and prints, I keep the basics fairly neutral. I have a range of grey walls in my house, from the very dark to the very light, and I love how they allow a print to pop and are so easily adapted. That said, I’m about to paint a green/blue half-wall in my son’s bedroom – pretty daring for me, but maybe it’s the start of something new!
AM: How much has becoming a parent influenced your interior styling choices?
NC: It’s made me focus more on the style of my home. I spend so much more time here than I did before. I focus on the practicalities more, too; I need good storage so that in shared spaces I can hide all the toys easily. It’s made me more playful as well; often I’ll buy something for the children’s rooms then decide I like it too much and want it in the living room! I rarely invest in expensive décor, as with two small children and cats things do get damaged. For furniture and longer-lasting items, I tend to stick with simple Scandi or mid-century shapes that won’t date.