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Matthew Williamson

From fashion to interiors: how Matthew Williamson became the King of Maximalism

Matthew Williamson’s designs reflect a love of pattern and colour inherited from his mother. “My mum used clothes and bright blocks of colour to express herself and always stood out,” the fashion-turned-interior designer says. “She was like a firefly, never a wallflower. People gravitated towards her like moths to a flame. I’ve never seen her in jeans, trainers or jogging bottoms. She’s always taken pride in the ritual of jig-sawing together an outfit. You have to have the will and confidence to wear scarlet rather than beige, and she had both.”

Williamson is talking to me from his home in Majorca, which he shares with his partner and five-year-old daughter. In 2017 a friend lent him her house there, from which he visited the village of Deià, fell in love with it and settled in six months later. Ever since, Deià’s natural beauty and well-heeled, stylish crowd have provided a fertile setting for Williamson’s creativity.

Williamson’s mother did more than influence his style choices: “She left me with ambition oozing out of my pores and a gritty determination to succeed.” His first Electric Angels fashion collection was an instant hit, modelled by Kate Moss, Jade Jagger and Helena Christensen.   “Naivety gets you quite far because I just went for it,” Williamson says. “Kate’s always ahead of the curve. Back then she was all into monochrome androgyny but saw my boiled sweet pops of colour were something different and new. I was deconstructing power dressing, showing you didn’t have to be strong. The collection was a feel-good, whimsical, optimistic embrace of femininity.”

Fashion and interior design have always been very connected. Why would you wear a £3,000 gown, then go home and sit on a crappy cushion? They’re both part of the same design universe – Matthew Williamson

Williamson’s transition from fashion to interior design began in 2003 when the Rug Company invited him to design a carpet. “Fashion was my first love and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. But I was flattered by the Rug Company’s offer and anyway interior design was with me from the start because my mum took as much care of our home as she did of her appearance. Our house wasn’t a psychedelic lair but had brocade furniture and hessian walls. For me, fashion and interior design have always been very connected. Why would you wear a £3,000 gown, then go home and sit on a crappy cushion? They’re both part of the same design universe.”

Matthew Williamson first interior design project at Blakes Hotel in London
The courtyard of Blakes Hotel, with its distinctive birdcage, was Matthew Williamson’s first interior design project

His first real foray into interior design was when he refreshed the courtyard at Anouska Hempel’s Blakes Hotel in London, hanging a birdcage cascading with flowers. Then he redesigned the bridal suite at Aynhoe Park, the 17th century hotel in Northamptonshire, England. “It was a beautiful interior with good bones but unloved,” says Williamson. “I made it decadently glamorous and gave it an electric blue bathroom.”

After his move to Deià, Williamson made friends with the owners of Nama, an Asian restaurant in the village. They wanted to add a cocktail lounge and asked Matthew to design it. Using intricate patterns and vintage furniture, Williamson created an intimate, colourful paradise, which brought him to the attention of the manager at Deià’s world-famous hotel, La Residencia. He asked Matthew to redesign Suite 67.  “‘Do your worst,’ he said,” laughs Matthew, “so I threw my heart and soul into it, creating a fantasy jewellery box. It was an assault on the senses and shook things up a bit.”

Offers poured in as people moved away from minimalism. The pendulum will always swing between minimalism and maximalism, but I’ve kept consistent and stayed away from minimalism, which will never light my fire,” he explains. “You need to know what you’re good at and stay in your lane.”

I have this desire to express joy, optimism and whimsy and to make people smile. I can tell stories with gusto through colour and pattern – Matthew Williamson

A collaboration with Les Ottomans Homeware followed. “I loved the challenge of getting my DNA onto tableware,” he says. “I have this desire to express joy, optimism and whimsy and to make people smile. I’m not a magician and my designs won’t work if you’re a moody old bastard, but I can tell stories with gusto through colour and pattern.”

He works with Pooky Lighting, where his chandeliers, bases and lampshades are flying off the shelves, and with Obeetee, who make hand-tufted and knotted carpets. “I realised my vision was fractured and I needed rugs to complete my universe,” he says.  Now, he’s planning to focus on displaying and selling his art, which will be a new departure as few people know he paints. He also has a book coming out next year, published by Thames and Hudson, with practical tips on how to achieve his look. 

However much Williamson already has on his plate, that ambition instilled in him by his mother continues to drive him. His ultimate aim is to create a one-stop mini-department store for the home, designing absolutely everything in it from wallpaper and paint to lights, furniture, rugs and ornaments. “My plan is to have a portal with everything in one place. I want to be an arbiter of what goes on,” he says.

“Pre-pandemic, home was somewhere you ate, slept and washed. People didn’t give a monkey how a vase looked on a table or what was in the bookcase. But now people are realising that home is far more than just a roof over your head, it’s precious and valuable. People are looking at their homes afresh and wanting more things,” he says. “I certainly take pleasure in moving things around and little touches make all the difference, like slippers at the end of the bed or a carafe of water on the bedside table.’  

For a man who is doing so much, Williamson is relaxed, almost in a holiday mood. The designer admits to being happy because his creative spirit has found the multiple outlets it needs to thrive. “I’m so busy but I love it,” he laughs. “I seem to have six fingers in six different pies all the time but I’m pretty good at juggling.” As if on cue, he finishes the call to attend to his little daughter, whom he informs me proudly is wearing a fabulous flamenco dress. I wouldn’t expect anything else.

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