I saw Anita’s home first on ‘gram and loved how she nailed the not-so-often seen dark decor. Anita Mackenzie nee Kumar is the founder of Plum Chutney, an online home decor store inspired by India, set up in 2010.
Plum Chutney is a very personal attempt to celebrate my love for Indian colour, patterns and imagery. We sell cushions, throws, table linen, gifts and art. Vibrant and beautifully crafted each piece tells a colourful story for your home.
Anita takes us through the journey of decorating her home, her styling tips, and where she finds inspiration. Over to Anita:
I am Indian and have lived, studied and worked in India for the first 31 years of my life. Fate had a westward move up its sleeve for me. In 2005, I moved to London for an expat stint with my then employer Unilever. During that time I met my husband Alistair and the rest as they say is a bit of Indo-British history.
About the home:
Type: Owned. A 3 bedroom semi-detached house.
Size: 1,300 sq.ft
Years lived in: Since October 2017
Our home was built in the 1950’s and as we found out almost accidentally it is one of the most pristine examples of modernist residential architecture in England.
While the bare bones of the house are quite modest, the principles of modernism ensure that the flow of light and space is very well thought through. At 1300 sq.ft and spread over two floors the house isn’t particularly big. But with a beautiful wrap around garden on three sides and with big windows facing both east and west to the front and back of the house respectively – it is a home that makes the most of every ray of sunshine we get in an often wet and gloomy Britain.
How would you describe your design aesthetic? Are you more of a DIY person or otherwise?
Interiors has always been a passion and, my home, my creative canvas. Even, back home in India, I was forever experimenting with textured painted walls, rope jhoola chairs hanging in the middle of living room, blinds made from colorful chataais and a whole host of other little design ideas.
Having moved to England, my work and meeting my husband has sparked an enduring interest in art, architecture and 20th century design. Original art, vintage lamps and mid-century furniture are a shared vice for my husband and me. But we never buy objects or art as an investment only because we love them. So, in our home, a £5 find from eBay gets equal prominence as a £1000 oil painting (we have very, very few of those). A battered old chair or chest of drawers will sit comfortably next to a designer piece of furniture.
My design aesthetic has evolved and changed considerably over time. But I think the key elements have remained the same. I love color; I am drawn to interiors with a bit of drama and I like to surround my self with eclectic objects that have history and a story to tell.
More recently I have set out on a journey exploring dark decor. And it has been an absolute delight. Several rooms/walls in my home are painted in inky shades of mysterious blue greens and I absolutely adore how art, plants, honey colored woods and anything textured stands out against them. Dark walls have an amazing ability to make rooms feel cocooning and held together. I can liberally indulge my love for intense saturated colour against the dark backdrop creating a uniquely stylish look for my home .
I do love a spot of decorative DIY. But less the kind that involves building my own kitchen from scratch and more the sort that requires painting patterns on the wall – be it a wall mural in cheerful colors for my kids bedroom or using large geometric shapes in smart grey blues to uplift a tiny guest room.
Another aspect of creative DIY I love is putting together gallery walls. I work by instinct with only a rough sense of color guiding me along the way. I have two gallery walls in my home and each is completely different and yet both work very well for the space they are in.
Just over a year ago, I also started screen printing at a local art school myself. I also sell my art on Plum Chutney. In my art, I explore once again my love for pattern, color and architecture.
What came first – Plum Chutney or the way you were doing up your home inspired you to start Plum chutney?
Well, chronologically Plum Chutney came seven years before we moved into our current home and my journey into dark decor. But this question is very pertinent one because in the last year I have slowly but surely moved the aesthetic of Plum Chutney to reflect my personal aesthetic and my home.
The decor journey for my new home and planning new collections for Plum Chutney and also a new design aesthetic for the website went completely hand in hand. One fed off the other and I think both have come out much richer as a result. Instagram was a very rich source of inspiration and ideas in this journey.
You are fascinated by dark colors and make it work beautifully. How does it feel in the winter months, though? Do you change the way you style for seasons?
Dark decor has been an absolute revelation. I would find it hard to go back to completely light decor ever again I think. I think the main reason I love dark decor is because of the sense of drama it gives to a room.
The way larger pieces of art or plants or lighting pop against it in an uber stylish way. With very little investment a room can get a dramatic and total makeover. Just to give you an example when I switched to dark decor in our new home – I did not buy a single new piece of furniture, or art, or lighting. And yet every time we have friends visit they are gobsmacked by the change they perceive. Just selectively going with dark walls has made the things we already owned look refreshed and more stylish.
My main bit of advice to anybody wishing to try out dark decor is to very carefully think through the lighting in the room. That is the only pre-requisite to making dark decor work.
Dark walls require lighting at multiple levels – ambient, task and mood lighting to create the beautiful cocooning effect that dark walls are so effective at. You aren’t aiming to banish away every dark corner in the room – that would kill the beautiful sense of mystery you can create with dark decor. You are aiming only to use soft lighting at relevant intervals to give different parts of the room clear purpose, add warmth and open it up just enough.
In winter, dark decor actually comes into its own. In London, in winter, the sun will typically set by 4 pm. You go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. Coming back to a home that has dark walls and a few soft lamps lit is truly one of the most welcoming sights you could hope for. Whether you wish to then curl up on the sofa with your cup of tea or a GNT a room with dark walls will make you feel cocooned and cozy – protected from the cold outside. By contrast on a dull and grey day a room with pure white walls will still look dull and grey. A dark room on the other hand feels dramatic, inviting and full of contrasts.
Dark decor also works beautifully for small spaces. It is a myth that dark walls will make a room look smaller. Light walls may alter slightly the perception of size of a room but dark decor will dramatically alter the personality of a room. You can’t change the size of a small room but you can give it a big personality.
Another notable feature is the geometric pattern – walls, furnishing in subtle ways. Can you elaborate on that please?
Well, geometric pattern is an instinctive and enduring love. It expresses itself everywhere. If I am choosing a bedspread or a throw I will always reach for one with a geometric pattern over floral or even abstract. Even when I started creating my own artwork I realized pretty soon that color and pattern were what I was instinctively drawn too. The subject of the art was subservient to those two.
I have a belief that some may find bizarre. But I can’t help but feel in a previous life I was a bricklayer or tile layer somewhere in central Asia. When I see the stunning tile work and patterns on architecture in countries like Turkey or Spain I honestly feel it calls out to me in a way that is hard to explain by the limited experience of this lifetime. Sorry if that’s a bit spooky!
A less grand interpretation of course is because I am pretty crap at drawing anything that requires beautiful curves or figurative drawing. So when it came to doing the wall mural in my kids room or indeed the wash tape pattern in my bedroom – straight and geometric was really the only option. ;-) !!
Your easy styling tips for all of us on an everyday basis – like what colors to choose for runners/cushions etc.
Well I don’t think there any rules to styling to be honest. But the few things I would say:
Always buy things you love instinctively not because they are trendy or someone else loves them
When putting things together avoid being too matchy – experiment with mixing patterns and color. A geometric will quite often contrast very nicely with a floral. Just vary the size of motifs, If the floral is big use a small geometric pattern or vice versa.
If struggling with color look in your wardrobe – you will often find you are drawn to a few instinctively. Find the interior equivalent of those.
When styling a table or any flat surface vary heights and shapes. If you have a lot of rectangles and squares in a vignette find something circular to break it up and vice versa.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with asymmetry – it can introduce simple interest points all over your home.
Plants are one of the most sculptural objects you can add to a home – they soften decor and are healthy for you too.
If you aren’t already into vintage items please do explore them through antique shops, flea markets, or eBay. Or just try being nice to grandmas and aunts so they gift you some of their well kept treasures. Nothing can give your home individual character like mixing in a few vintage pieces. An old chair or a vintage mirror or any little object from the past will add enduring charm to your home.