We chat to the imaginative force behind the Relaxed Maximalism interior design style that's taken Instagram by storm…
"...A Relaxed Maximal home is a home that tells a story about the people who live there... It’s a constant work in progress and yet it’s wonderfully worn..."
Sarah Laming’s account @ahometomakeyousmile is an Instagram interiors phenomenon – a daily blast of colour, pattern and design imagination that she calls ‘Relaxed Maximalism’.
Pooky and Sarah have long been mutual admirers so we thought it was about time we caught up for a chat. Here's Sarah on Insta, why you should actually keep colours simple, and how a home can tell a story…
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to start @ahometomakeyousmile?
I live with my family in a rambling, old, far from perfect, Arts and Crafts House in South East London. When we moved into this house (about 17 years ago) neutral, Scandi style, minimal homes dominated most of the glossy mags and I really struggled to find inspiration to decorate our own new home. It was only when I looked back through old World of Interiors magazines – filled with homes that were rich in history, colour and pattern that I realised what I really loved.
Before long, I had painted my first room in a colour, studied on an Interior Design course at Chelsea College of Art and bought my first floral sofa. Friends soon began asking me to help them decorate their houses and eventually someone suggested that I put some photos of my interiors on Instagram. Reels came along, people around the world seemed to like the relaxed, quintessentially English atmosphere of my home and my love of interiors moved from a weekend hobby … to side hustle … to taking centre stage in my life!
What is Relaxed Maximalism, and how did you go about creating that feel in your home?
Relaxed Maximalism is about creating a home where you surround yourself with layers of the things you love. It’s about creating a home that is joyful and good for the soul. It’s a home where nothing quite matches, but it all sits together in harmony.
A Relaxed Maximal home is a home that tells a story about the people who live there. It’s the kind of home where you can kick off your shoes and curl up with a book … or chat comfortably with an old friend. It’s a constant work in progress and yet it’s wonderfully worn. So, my own house is filled with rugs we bargained for on holidays to Morocco, chairs inherited from my mum and dad, paintings found at antique fairs - all mixed in with colourful Pooky lampshades, woollen throws from big department stores, well thumbed books and pots that overflow with fresh flowers.
Vivid, eye-popping colours and patterns abound in your home, from the yellow kitchen to the amazing floral wallpapers. Many readers wouldn’t feel brave enough to introduce such maximalist decor. Any tips for how to go about bringing bolder colours and patterns into a room?
My biggest tip for using colour and pattern in your home is to keep the colour palette in any one room incredibly simple and harmonious. I always begin with a beautiful warm background colour and build layers on top of it. I introduce just a couple of toning colours into the scheme and then create a bit of interest by adding an accent of, say, a pop of yellow or a flowery throw - these will add the vibrancy to the room.
Alternatively find a patterned fabric that you love - a cushion, a throw, a lampshade, a piece of wallpaper … or sofa, and then choose from the colours from within it for your colour palette. You can even mix more patterns on top just as long as the colours are all similar.
Where do you find your materials and pieces - and any particular favourites you’ve picked up?
All my pieces are carefully considered and most of them tell a story. I have furniture we bought when we lived in Singapore and I have sofas covered in carefully chosen floral fabrics that we spent years saving up for! I love trawling antique fairs, auction houses and vintage shops.
Some of my many favourite pieces would have to be all three(!) of my floral sofas, my 1970s wicker elephant table, and the rugs I bought on trips to Fez in Morocco.
Pooky recently teamed up with Morris & Co to create some exclusive lampshade designs, and you have several in your home. Is William Morris a big influence for you?
I grew up in a house which was filled with William Morris prints - my mum was a huge fan and the fabrics covered at least two sofas whilst the wallpaper hung in our dining room. Now, we live in a house that was built during the Arts and Crafts movement (of which William Morris was one of the leading influences) so I feel totally at home when I’m surrounded by the beautiful patterns and fabrics of Morris & Co. The history and timelessness of these classics are staples of the relaxed style that I love to create.
Pooky's Ernest rechargeable lamp with a Pooky x Morris & Co shade in bayleaf & manilla silk pimpernel; and a Pooky Ambrose table lamp with a Pooky x Morris Co shade in cowslip marigold linen
How big a role does lighting play in your interior design? Any lighting tips to share?
Oh, how I love lights! Adding plenty of lights at different heights gives so many intriguing layers of interest to a space. I love a mixture of pendant lights, floor lights, table lamps, candles and fairy lights - each with its own purpose, each giving its own glow, each bathing its own spot in its own pool of cosiness.
Which is your absolute favourite place to be in your home - the space that most reliably makes you smile?
My absolute favourite space is on my floral sofa, under my big windows, curled up with a dog and a book …. or in the same spot but drinking tea, and with a person to chat to.
What ambitions do you still have for your home? Or is it perfect now?
My home is far from perfect, deliberately! I dream of a new bathroom and a decorated landing! Even the rooms that are “finished” aren’t perfect. They are constantly evolving, but slowly and naturally. In fact I wouldn’t want a perfect home, I don’t think I would be able to relax. So my home is to me, perfectly imperfect!
Has being an instagram star changed your life?
Yes! It really has. Instagram has opened up a world of possibilities that would never have otherwise existed for me. I spend my days doing jobs that I love - styling interiors, taking and editing video, writing, and working with brands like Pooky. Brands that I love and have been buying from for years. I have one really exciting big project this year … but I’m afraid I have to keep it a secret for now!
Finally, do you have a favourite Pooky light, and why that one?
How to choose just one Pooky light when there are so many to love! But seeing as you’ve asked me to make a decision … my favourite would have to be my little Ernest rechargeable table lamp because it is just so versatile.The fact that it doesn’t need to be plugged in to be on, means that it lights up some of THE most awkward spots on bookshelves or on windowsills, in fact it’s frequently moved between them all! The rechargeable battery lasts forever, it’s dimmable … and is super pretty too!
The Ernest rechargeable lamp pops up as a bedside lamp
Follow the ever evolving story of Sarah's home on Instagram.
Get the Relaxed Maximalism look with Pooky and Morris & Co...
Dotted throughout the pictures of Sarah's home above are lampshades from the Pooky x Morris & Co collection. Find your favourite here.
All images by Sarah Laming (@ahometomakeyousmile)