Q&A with Jess Ibbett
Rifle paper cards from shelf/life.
After leaving school Jess Ibbet wasn't sure what she wanted to do, only that it ought to be something in the art/design/architecture fields. After dabbling in a couple of degrees and a few seasons of snowboarding in Canada, Ibbet and her now-husband happened upon the idea of opening a shop that showcased her favourite designers and makers of ethical products. Now running for three years, shelf/life also has a lovely blog that captures all things homewares, design, inspiring - and plenty of snaps of Ibbet's dog Buddy. Here she shares her design philosophy, how to create a beautiful blog, some ideas to try and discusses what, exactly, makes a house a home.
When did you start blogging and what inspired you to do so?
I started the blog when I opened the shop in 2009. It seemed to me a great way to interact with customers and provide information about our products and how they are designed and made. I also liked the idea of shelf/life relating to a certain lifestyle, or at least, being an extension of my life as I endeavour to make more ethical choices, and having the blog was a way to capture this. It's also a great excuse to share the things I love the most – travel, food, home decorating on a budget, flowers and my dog Buddy.
Jess outside the shop.
Your blog is beautiful. What do you think are the key elements of a beautiful interior design/homewares blog? Is it a mix of aspirational and achievable? A unique take?
These days there are so many ways to access beautiful aspirational images through the Internet and various magazines that sometimes it can feel a bit like a beauty overload. A lot of the time it can also feel like you would need to spend an inordinate amount of money to replicate these images or not actually 'live' in your home to ensure it remains pristine and styled all the time. For me, the most successful blogs are those that speak with an authentic voice and provide a realistic view of interior decoration and personal style. Aspirational images are great in that they give us a way to dream and explore ideas, but I love blogs that show processes, be they home renovations, repurposing furniture or small DIYs. I know for myself it's a lot of fun to dream up ways of achieving a look on a tight budget, taking elements of interiors I love and reimagining them with my own spin.
You sell a lot of gorgeous things for the home in your shop. What advice do you have to create a beautiful home? Is it to be unique? To be a bower bird and gather pretty things in your travels? Keeping it simple?
I believe that your home should be a reflection of your life. I love the idea that the pieces in your home have their own unique story. I think if you've chosen them for a special reason they will just naturally fit together to create a seamless and unique style. It's for this reason that I like to share the stories of all our products in the shop. I love to tell people about the designer behind the product, they way a piece has been crafted and what country it originates from.
Rather than rushing out to do a one-stop-shop for matching, perfectly coordinated furniture and decor, I believe that you should invest in pieces you just can't live without and allow your style to grow organically.
What makes a house a home?
Houses that look lived in and loved by their owners. I find people that buy into a specific style and then attempt to rigidly maintain it end up living in showrooms rather than homes. There's nothing more inviting than entering a house and feeling the warmth and soul of the people that inhabit it.
Rugs, cushions, textiles etc are great ways to add texture, difference and change to a room. How can people make the best use of these items? Any great new ideas to try?
Be confident in your choices. Don't be afraid to experiment when mixing colours, textures and patterns. I often find customers in the shop are hesitant to mix and match their cushions, for example, but I always coax them to try something a bit different and unexpected. The colours and patterns should be complementary, not compete for attention, but don't have to be too matchy-matchy. Don't worry about symmetry when it comes to cushions either. There's no rule that says you have to have two on each side of your lounge in perfectly coordinated designs – play with different shapes and fabrics to create interest and impact. I like the idea of having a floor basket near your lounge with extra cushions so you can swap them around depending on your mood.
Rugs are a great way to soften an interior, anchor a space and create a more intimate atmosphere in a room that feels a bit empty or sparse. Hard angles and surfaces can also be softened by adding textured pieces such as chunky knit throws, sheer drape-y curtains and rounded cushions. I like to have a fairly neutral canvas to work with – white walls, understated timber furniture – and then build on the textures and patterns and think about interesting ways to create focal points through smart lighting and grouping objects.
What are some of the key homeware and interior design trends that we will be seeing this season? What are people buying in the shop?
Coming into summer I think we will continue to see a riot of colour and interesting colour combos. Neon shades and brights will still feature heavily, but paired with neutral shades and natural materials will make the 'statement' trend more accessible. Metallics - dashes of gold and bronze, on everything from ceramics to furniture - will also be on the rise.
At shelf/life we try to promote conscious consumerism, offering items that are classic, well made and that won't date quickly, so I find handmade ceramics like Eucaplypt Homewares and our range of Fair Trade natural jute baskets are always very popular.
A great way to indulge in current trends (without re-mortgaging the house) is to use coloured and printed tea towels as inexpensive wall hangings. Customising existing pieces of furniture or second-hand finds with a lick of paint and new knobs is an easy way of adding interest and updating your surrounds.
What influences your home style? And is it always changing?
My home style does change but I like to think it is being refined rather than changing from one style to another. As I get older I am finding myself drawn to more subdued palettes and well-crafted pieces, rather than all the bits and bobs I thought were quirky when I was younger. I am definitely influenced by all the blogs I read - I follow bloggers from all over the world and love to see how trends and styles are interpreted in different countries. I have also been influenced by designers and architects from the Mid Century period ever since I inherited some beautiful pieces of Mid Century modern furniture from my grandparents years ago.
What are your three favourite items in the shop right now and why?
We recently started stocking Scandinavian textiles brand Kauniste which was very exciting for me as I have been a fan of their designs for a long time. Their Sokeri tea towel in pink is my all time favourite for its simple graphic style. I will always have a soft spot for Perch! Design's ceramic Mason jar in grey as it looks equally amazing with a bunch of brightly coloured flowers in it as it does in the kitchen filled with wooden spoons and servers. I also currently love the terra cotta tumblers from By Joost which look a little like flower pots. The rustic handmade clay forms and runny looking glaze make for beautifully honest tactile pieces.
What are the five items that everybody should try to own (one day!)
A house that inspires you to create a home; a wonderful piece of original art; that statement piece you've coveted forever - whether it be a chair, lamp or table – a classic that will never date; beautifully crafted tableware that you aren't afraid to use every day ... and a little canine companion (but that's just me!).
Read Jess's blog here. The shelf/life shop can be found at 1/50 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills, NSW. Phone: 02 9211 2858