People with Passion: Annabel Astor
Q1. OKA has become a hugely successful and renowned interiors brand with classic, timeless signature looks brought into our homes by yourself, Sue Jones and Lucinda Waterhouse. Quintessentially British styled interiors with influences from all over the world was a completely new and unique offering and remains as fresh as the day it was launched. You have been working together since 1999, what is the key to continuing to work together so successfully and creatively?
The three of us were great friends before we started and remain so today. We each brought different but complementary skills to the business and we work well together. Perhaps most importantly we have a shared aesthetic and we share common goals. Good communication is obviously key, as is a sense of humour!
Q2. Many people may not be aware that from the outset you personally designed each piece and scoured the globe to find craftsmen and women. As a pioneer in natural paints and mindful interiors, working with brands who are equally ethically minded is very important to us. At a time when many companies were going the other way and offering cheap goods how hard is it to ensure OKA keep on brand? What crafts and places have inspired you the most?
Quality and craftsmanship has always been paramount and that’s something that we’ll never compromise on. Over the years we’ve travelled miles (often far from the beaten track) to find the artisans and skilled craftsmen and women that we regularly collaborate with. So whether it’s block printers in India working with natural vegetable dyes (and drying their fabrics in the sun – which precludes any work during monsoon season!), artisan potters in China or skilled furniture makers in Vietnam, they’re all inspiring in their different ways.
Q3. OKA has a busy and thriving interior design service, what do you think is the key to creating a stylish home?
I like an eclectic approach, mixing up styles and influences (blending antiques and more modern pieces for example), rather than sticking slavishly to one theme, as I think that avoids a scheme becoming dated, plus it makes it much easier to add things or make small changes down the line. I think it’s very important to pick individual pieces that you love.
Q4. OKA has become one of the success stories of British design, a household name which has expanded throughout the UK with a loyal following and fantastic ecommerce website…what is next on the horizon for OKA?
We’re continuing to expand our network of shops in the UK with several store openings on the horizon. This is very much in response to demand from our customers who want to be able to see and touch the products before buying. Our overseas customer base continues to expand and we find that we are shipping more and more items internationally. Our Interior Design Service is also growing and taking on projects both in the UK and, increasingly, abroad.
Q5. What do you like about the Edward Bulmer Natural Paint range? Which is your favourite colour and why?
The reassurance of working with paint that you know has no hidden ingredients or nasty chemicals in it. Above all though it’s the colour palette. Edward’s colour knowledge (especially in the context of historic houses) is second to none and that shines through in the range. My favourite colour at the moment is Cuisse de Nymphe Emue.
Q6. What would you see yourself doing if you weren’t running OKA?
I have always been an entrepreneur (before OKA I set up and ran the jewellery company Annabel Jones for 30 years). So, if I weren’t running OKA it would probably be another business, and most likely a creative one.
Q7. What has been the best bit of advice you have been given?
The best interiors advice I have been given is not to use the same fabric for your curtains as for your upholstery or curtains or anywhere else in the room, which is critical if you want to avoid that too perfect, everything matching look. Choose your curtain fabric in isolation and then choose different (but complimentary) fabrics for use elsewhere in the room.
Q9. As a truly talented designer, what other talents do you yearn for?
I would love to be able to paint.
Q10. Could you name someone who has inspired you and who you would like to have lunch with? Where would you take them?
John Fowler and specifically his early post-war work, in the 1950’s. Then, access to fabrics was very limited (and nothing like the range that we have today), yet he managed to create beautiful interiors, caringly and sparingly – sometimes even painting patterns on to calico to create fabric for curtains. His work was the embodiment of a ‘less is more’ philosophy, which I think that we are perhaps moving back towards today. I would like to take him somewhere quiet and peaceful (but with delicious food!) so that we would have the time and space for a good conversation over our lunch. – perhaps Scotts in Mayfair.
Q11. Slightly philosophical but you are well known for many things… so if you could be remembered for one thing what would it be?
A successful, creative, female entrepreneur.
Posted: November 2016