Interior designer Sophie Rowell of Côte de Folk talks to Jessica Jonzen about swapping fashion for floor plans, celebrating imperfection, and why antiques and vintage are so important for sustainability
A SEALED PLASTERED WALL IN SOPHIE ROWELL’S LIVING ROOM ADDS TEXTURE AND WARMTH TO THE ROOM. IMAGE: SOPHIE ROWELL
When it comes to creating homes which tell a story, interior designer Sophie Rowell is fast becoming the go-to storyteller. Having worked in the fashion industry for more than 20 years, in 2016 Sophie made the move into interiors with the launch of Côte de Folk. What started as a pop-up homewares store in her home town of Folkestone in Kent has developed into an interiors consultancy and sourcing business (she recently sourced a fabulous vintage porthole window for Laura Jackson), working on both residential and commercial projects.
Celebrating the wabi sabi philosophy of aesthetics, Sophie’s work has a charming, welcoming and rustic feel. She shows the beauty in the imperfect bones of a house – an unpainted wall, an off-centre fireplace – and fills them with antiques, vintage finds and the odd surprise contemporary piece to create homes with character. Sophie talks to us about her how antiques are the future of sustainable design, how a mistake can become a house’s greatest asset, and where she goes to find those perfectly imperfect pieces.
(LEFT TO RIGHT) SOPHIE HAS COLLECTED PLATES OVER THE YEARS FROM MARKETS IN THE UK AND FRANCE, THE PENDANT LIGHT WAS TAKEN FROM AN UGLY CEILING LIGHT AND HUNG ON A JUTE FLEX; THE PARQUET FLOOR WAS RESCUED FROM A POST OFFICE IN KENT; SOPHIE LOVES THE COLOUR YELLOW AND USED IT ON THE INSIDE OF THE KITCHEN DOOR AS WELL AS ON THE FITTED JOINERY AT THE OTHER END OF THE ROOM. IMAGES: CÔTE DE FOLK / INSTAGRAM
You had a long career in fashion before moving into interiors – what inspired you to make the shift and how does your background in fashion affect your approach to interior design?
Lots of different things fell into place: friends and family had been telling me to do if for years and I had done up three of my own properties. But for me personally, I had suddenly become a single mum and my life in the fashion industry with long hours and lots of travel just wasn’t conducive to my new set up – something had to give. I am a big believer in trusting the universe and I decided to make the leap and I’ve not looked back. All the travelling I did in my old job and all the amazing locations and location houses I shot in over the years must at some level have influenced me and continue to do so.
How would you describe your interiors style?
I love the imperfect, I always have, and I like to celebrate it. Nothing is perfect in life so why strive for it? I like to be guided – be that by the client and their family, the space, or one item that’s important to them – whatever it is, it starts the process for me. It’s important to celebrate the authenticity of each home and find beauty in its imperfections which in turn, I believe creates more unique and individual projects.
Sustainability is now a central issue for both the fashion and interiors worlds. You use a lot of reclaimed, antique and vintage pieces in your projects – are there any other ways that you think people can be more sustainable in interior design?
I always ask: ‘Is it durable?’ ‘Will it last?’ That’s why I’m always drawn to antiques; if it’s lasted this long, it’s going to last that long again and then some. They made things so simply back then – no glue, no quick fixes – it was about craftsmanship and longevity. I think it’s all about making considered purchases now and realising that less is actually more. I always steer away from over-manufactured pieces, although don’t get me wrong, you will find me following the yellow arrows in Ikea now and again. But, like fast fashion, it may tick lots of boxes in the here and now but will you still love it, or will it even still be around in years to come? I would also always check the journey it needs to take to get to you. I recently found a set of Maison Regain French leather chairs that were perfect for a project but they were in Nashville, USA. After some more digging I found another set in Surbition, of all places! It just takes that little bit more effort but it’s always worth it.
(LEFT TO RIGHT) SOPHIE EXPOSED THE RAFTERS IN HER BEDROOM TO GIVE A SENSE OF GRANDEUR; SHE ADDED A VINTAGE SCALLOPED CURTAIN PELMET TO THIS WARDROBE AND PAINTED IT IN CALKE GREEN BY FARROW & BALL; SOPHIE ADDED THE MARBLE FIREPLACE AND ANTIQUE FRENCH TILES TO THE SITTING ROOM. THE 1960S CONVEX MIRROR CAME FROM A LOCAL ANTIQUE SHOP AND THE OTTOMAN IS FROM ANTHROPOLOGIE. IMAGES: CÔTE DE FOLK / INSTAGRAM
We love how you find beauty in the imperfect and that there is a rawness to your work. Do you think that our obsession with ‘perfection’ and things looking finished is what drives the wastefulness we so often see in home renovations?
I believe there is a place for everything. That ‘perfect’ finish within interior design has a very strong place within the industry but it’s just never been my desire to create anything that feels formulaic or too ‘done’. I would hate to create an interior where the kids couldn’t sit in a certain chair or run from one room to the next. It’s like a dress saved for the perfect day – I say wear it any day and enjoy it! With regards to waste, I like to think we are all much more aware of making the industry as environmentally conscious as possible.
We love your use of colour – what’s your starting point for working out a colour palette for a project?
It all depends on the space and light and then it depends on the function and feel the client wants to create for that room or space. Finally, it comes down to how brave the client is willing to be. Sometimes you just need the ‘right’ white. Sometimes there’s opportunity to add a coloured ceiling or door – it just depends on each individual project.
You renovated your own home in Folkstone in 2016 – the same year that you launched your interiors consultancy. Can you tell us more about your own home renovation and which room or part of the house are you most pleased with?
Back in 2016, my home was my biggest project. I hired just two men and we did the whole thing ourselves in 16 weeks. It’s a four bed, four-storey Georgian house and it was completely gutted – every floor, wall and ceiling was replaced and a new roof was put on. Steel beams were added, all new electrics and plumbing, and a new kitchen and bathrooms were installed. I absolutely love this house so to pick one room is difficult but currently I’m going to say the master bedroom. I vaulted the ceiling so it has a sense of grandeur and it has incredible sea views through the double aspect Georgian windows. On a clear day, I can see all the way to France.
(LEFT TO RIGHT) THE ANTIQUE PORTHOLE WINDOW WHICH SOPHIE SOURCED FOR LAURA JACKSON; SOPHIE’S TICKING STRIPE BEDHEAD; SOPHIE LEFT THE BRICKWORK EXPOSED AND THE STAIRCASE UNFINISHED IN HER HALLWAY. IMAGES: LAURA JACKSON / INSTAGRAM & CÔTE DE FOLK / INSTAGRAM
What advice would you give to someone planning their own renovation project?
Be open. Things change, mistakes happen, you need to think on your feet and make quick decisions to avoid unforeseen costs. At the time, these things seem to be the problem but I have always believed that it’s in these decisions that you can create aspects of your home which will become your favourite bits! Once, a client exposed the brick fireplace in her bedroom only to discover it wasn’t symmetrical. This threw her off and her builder came up with ways to box it in and ‘hide’ it’s irregularity. After some convincing, we left the fireplace as it was and embraced its imperfections. It’s now the best room in that house, in my opinion.
Do you tend to only work in period properties? What would your approach be for adding in character to a new build?
Funnily enough, I have just picked up a job for a penthouse in a new build in Clapham. My client has bought it off-plan and it will be completed in summer 2021. There are two phases to the job – currently we are deciding on lighting positions and bathroom accessories and kitchen placement while construction is ongoing. Then early next year, I will be creating the interiors to create a less sanitised feel that new builds can sometimes have by adding colour and texture with wallpaper and fabrics.
What has been your favourite interiors project so far?
The one I’m currently working on in the Cotswolds. For me it’s all about the client: if they are open and trust me then that’s my dream scenario. The house is beautiful so to be able to fill it with beautiful things and make some enhancements to what’s already there is a lovely process. It’s a big one and the completion date got moved forward quite substantially, which has been intense but I can’t wait to share this one with everyone on my website and Instagram page.
(LEFT TO RIGHT) IN THIS SEAFRONT APARTMENT, SOPHIE EXPOSED THE ORIGINAL HORSEHAIR CEILING WHICH CONTRASTS WITH THE SMOOTH POURED CONCRETE FLOOR; A VINTAGE LINEN AND LACE SHEET USED AS A SHOWER CURTAIN; DIFFERENT SHADES OF WHITE ADD TEXTURE. IMAGES: CÔTE DE FOLK / INSTAGRAM
You do a lot of sourcing for clients – where do you start when you’re looking for a very specific piece?
I have built up a ‘little black book’ of addresses over the years. There are also great sites now where a lot of traders put up their items from all over the world such as 1st Dibs, The Hoard, Vinterior and Pamono. Instagram has also become an amazing tool for finding new suppliers and collaborations.
Can you share some of your favourite places for sourcing antiques and vintage pieces?
For antiques fairs – iacf.co.uk – antique fairs; for French and Swedish antiques – decorativeantiquesuk.com and antonandk.co.uk; for eclectic English and European furniture, art and accessories – cart-house.com; a Folkestone favourite for furniture and accessories – thepottingshed.shop.
What do you find is the question you’re asked most by clients in your interiors consultancy and what’s your advice to them?
‘Is this possible?’ And the answer is always: ‘anything is possible!’
Get the Côte de Folk look…
You can share this feature using the buttons at the top of the page. For more interiors inspiration, look here…