In her new book, Nomad at homecompulsive wanderer Hilary Robertson, New York-based interior stylist and journalist, offers inspiration from the homes of like-minded design-led travelers.
Here, Hilary introduces us to the extraordinary decorating ideas in the artistically inspired home of painter and self-proclaimed nomad Heather Chontos (opens in new tab). Located in a hamlet in the French countryside, the home benefits from simple and creative updates that ensure this space reflects Heather’s desire for self-expression. For us, it’s a lesson in every aspect of interior design, from making a mood board to displaying artwork.
‘If you’ve ever longed for somewhere, an elusive place where you feel you belong, then you’ll love the concept of hiraeth, a word Heather strongly identifies with. Heather, a self-appointed nomad, lived her life following that longing, moving from destination to destination, never knowing where the journey would end,’ says Hilary.
‘Heather has made homes in London, Paris, New York, Barcelona, Maine, Montana, Berlin and Bolzano, Italy, with extended stays in New Zealand and Tanzania. She found her latest abode in the small hamlet of La Tour-Blanche, Cercles, Nouvelle Aquitaine, France. This house, some old rustic stone buildings, is where Heather, a mother of two daughters, was able to combine family life and her work as an artist.
‘After much online research, she bought it without being able to view the property in person, realizing it had solid legs and trusting her gut for the rest. Since serial homemaker Heather is skilled at improvisation, her make-and-make attitude to decorating results in a delightfully individual space where rules don’t apply. Currently, the two unconnected stone buildings serve as studio and home.
‘Ask if this is the place and she might blurt out an answer. For such a talented and energetic creator of worlds, perhaps “the place” is always with her; wherever she goes.’
Hilary Robertson is the author of Nomad at Home: Design the home more traveled (opens in new tab) (published by Ryland Peters & Small). With photography by Mike Karlsson Lundgren, the book showcases 10 unique locations and tells their stories. It offers inspiration from homes around the world, and includes Hilary’s favorite shopping destinations around the world, with an address book for every country covered, every story told.
1. Add picturesque detail to refurbished furniture
‘Because of the pandemic, when Heather moved here, she couldn’t buy furniture. However, she made friends with the owners of Ali Baba, the local vide grenierfull of stuff picked up from house clearances.
‘No wall or surface escapes Heather’s decoration. A particularly striking piece is this monochrome cabinet, repurposed and transformed by Heather’s creative hand, painted a light gray and fitted with Cy Twombly. (opens in new tab)-style doodles.’
2. Be inspired by organic shapes and natural materials
‘The stone shed next to the main house became her studio and sculpture laboratory. Sculptures that echo the amorphous forms of Heather’s paintings are made from pieces of charred wood or rubbed with intensely colored pigment.’
3. Be adventurous with paint finishes
A section of the upstairs hallway that doubles as an office is decorated with Heather’s dreamy decorative powder pink wax wall art. During the lockdown, she couldn’t easily buy artist materials, but ever resourceful, she found a way to continue painting with her own concoction of children’s gouache and acrylics from the local supermarket mixed with house paint.’
4. Make a small change for a big impact
‘Turning the buildings she bought into a viable home required no small amount of physical labour. The garden and barn were full of rubbish that needed to be cleared, walls needed insulation, open spaces were divided with recycled doors, and windows, and precarious wooden steps were added. And Heather’s striking pieces of art add vitality as a wonderful contrast to the building’s traditional, natural materials.’
5. Make a mood board for inspiration
‘Walls are collaged in doodles, scraps, ideas and ephemera. Arriving with nothing means being resourceful with items found at the local.dépôt vents“.’
6. Be adventurous with bold patterns
‘Although Heather bought the house sight unseen, it proved to be a perfect canvas for her – literally. Heather’s inventive decorating style incorporates many of her artistic flourishes; no surface escapes her signature biomorphic shapes and splashes in beautiful saturated shades of scarlet, pink, ocher and indigo. As seen here with the freestyle painted wall.
‘The sofa in this main living space next to the studio is covered in a dyed linen prototype designed by Heather for the French fabric house Pierre Frey (opens in new tab)an abstract explosion of color and shapes that reflects her signature artistic style.’