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In conversation with Michelle Ogundehin, internationally renowned authority on Interior Design

Michelle Ogundehin is a writer, creative consultant, TV presenter and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of British ELLE Decoration.

Michelle, what’s your story, what sparked your interest in Interior Design?
Even from a very early age, I think I intuitively knew that my surroundings had a profound effect on me. I was always moving my bedroom furniture around, somehow knowing that if I could just shift this here and shunt that there, the room would be all the better for it, meaning it would feel better, to me.

It was almost a given then to go on to study architecture. Plus, at the time, my Dad had this thing about the importance of choosing a vocational degree, by which he meant Architecture, Law or Medicine. I was way too squeamish to be a doctor, thought law sounded boring, so architecture it was. Combine this with a passion for magazines and with the benefit of hindsight, my path into publishing and then editing ELLE Decoration (I was Editor in Chief from 2004 to 2017) seems nothing if not logical!

What mistakes have you learnt from? How do you transform your struggles into strengths?

I absolutely subscribe to the mantra of there being no such thing as mistakes, only lessons learnt. The key there being to learn the lesson! Stuff happens, get over it. I’ve only ever suffered when I’ve hung onto some sense of my own failure, or stupidity. When you look back at most things, they become so small in the face of the bigger picture, so my real growth has been in recognising this earlier and earlier.

For this reason, I consciously use the word challenges, rather than problems or struggles. This inspires not only the motivation to keep going, but also instils a sense that whatever the challenge may be, it will be temporary. And through it, I will move forwards.

Michelle Ogundehin originally trained as an architect and a contributor to prestigious publications worldwide, including The Financial Times and online design magazine Dezeen. Michelle is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends, colour and style. She is also the lead judge on the BBC Two / Netflix landmark series Interior Design Masters, as well as c0-presenter of Channel 4’s Grand Designs: House of the Year.

Can you share 3 key takeaways from your new book?

  • That home-making, when it is understood to be in pursuit of a home that both sustains and supports, is not frivolous, it is fundamental to your mental wellbeing, health and happiness.
  • That the power inherent in harnessing this possibility, can be a game-changer. In fact, it can be your secret super-power in an increasingly uncertain world.
  • Finally, that toasters are seriously bad for indoor air pollution!

In-light-of the Covid-19 Pandemic…

What’s your biggest entrepreneurial/ business/ personal challenge?

As a single parent who suddenly couldn’t call upon the resources of friends, family, school or after school clubs, juggling the work involved in launching my book with home-schooling and entertaining an extremely energetic six-year old plus all the usual stuff of walking the dogs, keeping the house clean and running and us fed, has basically added up to a very ‘challenging’ period. I’ve had to really dig deep to hold it all together, to hold onto my sense of self, as well as find new ways to work, even exercise.

How has the current situation changed or impacted the way you do business?
I was already set up to work from home so in that way I was one step ahead. I have a dedicated and very lovely room to work from, great internet connection, working printer et al. So the pragmatics were all covered. What I don’t have is the ability to concentrate for any length of time. Ordinarily, I work during the day in complete silence, which allows me the space to deep dive into my thoughts and surface with something meaningful on the page. Now I have a constant background soundtrack of either the TV, or my son requesting snacks, attention or playtime.

On another level, all my forthcoming TV projects are on hold, so in theory I should have loads of extra time for personal projects and downtime, but it doesn’t seem to have worked out like that!

What do you do for encouragement or to keep you motivated?
I’m pretty self-motivated, but I love my Circle 3 Goal Setting Journalas a way to prioritise myself. It’s designed to cover a 3-month period and at the front you record three key goals, further breaking them down into the step by step actions required to achieve them. Then there’s two pages for each day divided into sections for you to organise your time, as well as setting yourself daily targets, as a pathway to achieving those goals. I find it a really constructive way to chip away at stuff, from realising dreams to admin, that might otherwise seem insurmoutable. I use it as a way to pace myself too. A lot of my work is deadline based so I have to be careful that I don’t take on too much.

What inspires you to get out of bed every day? -Do you follow a certain morning routine or daily schedule to maximise productivity and wellbeing?
It may be a cliché but my son is my inspiration. We start each day with what he calls ‘cuddle time’ a little chat and a bond in my bed before we leap into the day. Then, while he gets dressed and before I prep breakfast, I sweep and mop all the downstairs floors. We have two dogs and they seem to shed a lot overnight! I also have a rather beautiful dark wood parquet floor which I literally wept over when it was first installed, I loved it so much. Restoring this to clean and clear every morning is my morning meditation — in restoring my home to order, I ready myself for the day.

From then onwards, the day unfolds as it will, but I always aim for 30 mins of exercise a day, 10,000 steps, to stand up at least once an hour, and at least 10 mins of meditation daily (I use the Calm app). Regular meal times sat at the table is also imperative to me — always home-made, vegetarian during the week, a roast at the weekend — pots of verveine tea, no caffeine and all devices off by 9.30pm. I believe that if you follow the night towards evening you help your body to do the same. As a result, I have to say I regularly sleep like a baby. I also refuse to use wi-fi at home. But that’s a whole other story!

How do you balance business, family/friends and your wellbeing?
It’s a balance that I could definitely do better at. My self-care and seeing friends habitually come bottom of the list. It’s hard as my son is my priority and I love what I do, and the combination doesn’t leave a lot of spare time. But I try to be rigorously efficient during the week so I can properly switch off at the weekend.

With #PlasticFreeJuly just around the corner, what sustainable systems activities do you personally practice?
I recycle, I compost, I try to buy only what I need. My biggest weekly expense is food as I believe this is literally fuel for life, and my greatest indulgence is either art or books, although I don’t really consider them indulgences, they are essentials. They are both food for my brain and soul. Other than that, I fancy myself as a bit of a forager, so I’m fond of collecting nettles for soup, elderflowers for cordial and I’m currently trying (and failing) to make a sugar-free dandelion jelly that actually sets!

And finally

What Podcasts do you listen to or inspire or learn from?
As I’m pretty time poor, I’m relatively new still to the podcast scene. I don’t have a commute in which to listen to them, and I don’t believe in multi-tasking — it’s just not possible to do two things at once and do either of them effectively.

However, I’ve devoured every book by Malcolm Gladwell so if I do make the time, I love his Revisionist Histories podcast; I want to start listening to the legendary editor Tina Brown’s TBD with Tina Brown. as I’ve always had the greatest respect for her career path. I also love The Great Indoors from my friends Kate Watson-Smyth and Sophie Robinson; the variety of interviewees on Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place podcast about mental health; and I always find Guy Raz’s How I Built This‘s guests pretty fascinating too. I love to understand people’s stories, how they became who they are. We are all, after all, the sum of our experiences and how we have chosen to deal with them.

Huge thanks to Michelle for taking time out of her intensively busy time table to answer my questions. I’ll be back soon sharing my thoughts on THE BOOK. Order one now to join the discussion!


Discover more on Michelle via her beautifully curated Instagram feed and Website.  
Happy Inside is available via Amazon.


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