In his new book, nomad at homecompulsive wanderer New York-based interior designer and journalist Hilary Robertson draws inspiration from the homes of like-minded travelers.
Here, Hilary takes us through the extraordinary decorating ideas in the art-soaked home of painter and self-proclaimed nomad Heather Chontos. (opens in a new tab). Located in a hamlet in rural France, 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 all aspects of interior design, from creating a moodboard to displaying artwork.
“If you’ve ever dreamed of a place, an elusive place where you feel like you belong, then you’ll understand the concept of Hiraeth, a word that Heather strongly identifies with. After leading her life by following this desire, Heather, a self-proclaimed nomad, moved from destination to destination, not knowing where the journey would end,” says Hilary.
“Heather calls London, Paris, New York, Barcelona, Maine, Montana, Berlin and Bolzano, Italy home, with extended stays in New Zealand and Tanzania. She found her final resting place in the small hamlet of La Tour-Blanche, Cercles, Nouvelle Aquitaine, France. This house, a couple of old rustic stone buildings, is where Heather, mother of two daughters, was able to combine family life and her work as an artist.
“After much research online, she bought it without being able to see the property in person, perceiving she had strong bones and trusting her instincts for the rest. As a serial housewife, Heather is adept at improvisation, her make-and-fix attitude to decorating resulting in a gloriously individual space where rules don’t apply. Currently, the two unconnected stone buildings serve as a workshop and living quarters.
‘Ask if this is the place and she might fake 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: Designing the Most Traveled Home (opens in a new tab) (published by Ryland Peters & Small). With photographs by Mike Karlsson Lundgren, the book features 10 unique places and tells their stories. It’s inspired by 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 painterly detail to upcycled furniture
“Due to the pandemic, when Heather moved here, she was unable to buy furniture. However, she befriended the owners of Ali Baba, the local garage salefull of objects gleaned from the clearances of the houses.
‘No wall or surface escapes Heather’s beautification. A particularly striking piece is this monochromatic wardrobe, recycled and transformed by the creative hand of Heather, painted in pale gray and applied with Cy Twombly (opens in a new tab)-scribble style.’
2. Be inspired by organic shapes and natural materials
“The stone barn next to the main house became his studio and his sculpture laboratory. Sculptures that echo the amorphous forms of Heather’s paintings were crafted from pieces of wood charred or rubbed with intensely colored pigments.
3. Be adventurous with paint finishes
‘A piece of the upstairs hallway that doubles as an office has been accented with Heather’s dreamy powder pink decorative wall art. During lockdown she couldn’t afford art materials easily, but still resourceful she found a way to continue painting with her own concoction of children’s gouache and acrylic from the local supermarket mixed with some home paint.
4. Make a small change for a big impact
“Transforming the buildings she had purchased into a viable home did not require a small amount of physical labor. The garden and barn were full of rubbish to clean up, walls needed insulation, open spaces were partitioned with recycled doors and windows, and precarious wooden stairs were added. And Heather’s striking artwork adds vitality as a wonderful contrast to the building’s traditional, natural materials.
5. Create a moodboard to inspire you
“The walls are pasted in doodles, leftovers, ideas and ephemera. Arriving with nothing meant being inventive with objects found locally”deposit sale“.”
6. Be adventurous with bold patterns
“Although Heather bought the house without seeing it, it turned out to be the perfect canvas for her – literally. Heather’s ingenious decorating style incorporates her artistic flourishes very well; no surface escapes its signature biomorphic shapes and splashes in gorgeous saturated shades of scarlet, rose, ocher and indigo. As seen here with the freestyle painted wall.
‘The sofa in this main living space next to the studio is upholstered in a painted linen prototype designed by Heather for French fabric house Pierre Frey (opens in a new tab)an abstract explosion of colors and shapes reflecting his signature artistic style.’