Meet the interiors expert: Michelle Ogundehin

Michelle Ogundehin is an internationally-renowned authority on interiors, trends and what makes a good home. She is the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK, and familiar to interiors fans as a presenter on TV shows including The Great Interior Design Challenge and Interior Design Masters.

We invited Michelle to chat about all things to do with home-making and how it relates to mental wellbeing - including good lighting, mindfulness and her gorgeous new book Happy Inside (which we thoroughly recommend).

Here's Pooky's exclusive Q&A...

How did you get started in the world of decor and interior design?

Even from a very early age I think I intuitively knew that my surroundings had a profound effect on me. I was always moving my bedroom furniture around, somehow knowing that if I could just shift this here and shunt that there, the room would be all the better for it, meaning it would feel better, to me. It was almost a given then to go on to study architecture. And as a true child of the media age, once I realised that I'd probably be waiting another 20 years before I achieved much of note as an architect, I switched to what I recognised was my true passion, magazines. Creating something new every month was a joy, and a much more satisfactory time scale for tangible gratification! 

You’re a writer, an influencer and the former editor of Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK. What do you most enjoy about your various roles?

Today I see myself as a classic hyphenate, in that I'm currently rocking Author-Writer-Consultant and TV Presenter! But each of these roles is about communication. And that's what really gets me fired up. Just as it did when I was editing magazines. For me it's the desire to share potentially complicated things in such a way as to get the maximum number of people not only understanding what you're trying to say, but also excited about it. I don't really like the idea of being an influencer though. I'd prefer to be thought of as a passionate expert!

Dining with dogs': inside Michelle's house. Photo: Marianna-Wahlsten

Your book ‘Happy Inside’ explores the connection between ‘home-making’ and mental wellbeing and happiness. Can you tell us something about that philosophy - and perhaps how it can influence interior design?

To my mind the purpose of our journey through life is to learn how to become happy inside. In other words, to achieve a sense of balance and contentment, so that instead of reacting in times of stress, we're able to weather the inevitable curve balls of life with a more thoughtful outlook. And it's my sincere opinion that taking charge of the space in which you live is a very good place to start. I also believe that our homes act as a mirror to the current state of our emotions: whether you’re happy or stressed, tired or relaxed, your home will reflect, and magnify, it all.

Happily, this can be turned to your advantage by harnessing its positive power and putting that to good use, as guided by the nine simple steps in my book!

How does lighting play a part in good home-making - and do you have any tips on using lighting in the home?

I often say that the brain needs shadows to think, by which I mean, light creates ambience and atmosphere as well as enabling concentration and focus. You can also use it to add drama to any space or to distract from less than perfect walls. We can effectively sculpt space with light. But lights also have to look as good when they're off, and when they're on! Plus, for me, mindfulness applied to the creation of a home is about really leaning into the choices you make about what surrounds you.

We are sensory beings, and yet many people's concern is only for what their home looks like, as opposed to how it makes them feel. We need to turn our attention to making homes that stimulate us positively on every level, from the sounds you wake up to, to the scents which surround you, as well as every one of our possessions. This enables a truly holistic connection to the space in which you live, and thus you will, by default, be able to create a home that is uniquely tailored to your needs and desires. Which to me is the only point of any level of interior design.

Images by Emma Harris from Michelle's book 'Happy Inside'

How would you describe your own interior design style - in your own home or perhaps on projects you’ve worked on?

I'm pretty obsessive about texture. I always want to be surrounded by surfaces that thrill my fingers and eyes. As mentioned above, it's never just about the way something looks, it has to be how it makes me feel emotionally as well as literally. I want to be cosseted and comforted by my environments which is all about putting in the work at the start of any project to create a perfectly balanced palette of materials, colours, finishes and fittings. And then using this consistently (but differently as appropriate to each zone) throughout any space.

It's also all about extreme efficiency of layout and a sense of curation and containment. I love to display sentimental things, but my home never feels cluttered because of adhering to this mantra.

Inside Michelle's house. Photos: Marianna-Wahlsten

What are you working on next?

Oh gosh, what I love about my life is that it's rarely predictable, although that does sometimes make it quite hard to plan too far into the future. But a few projects in the pipeline are to film the second Series of Interior Design Masters. Plus, I'm contemplating turning Happy Inside into an online course, with a gorgeous accompanying journal/workbook to use to plot, plan and record your home health journey. And then of course there's the intention to start on the next in the #happyinsider set: Colour Inside: How to Harness the Power of Colour for Health and Happiness!

But before that, I've done a home-shot (i.e. on my phone and possibly a bit crackly!) talk for Fearne Cotton's Happy Place Festival which will go out on 6th July in the Talk Lounge at 6pm. It's also about now that I start thinking about trends for 2021, if not through to 2030! So, plenty to keep me busy.

Read more about Michelle's work on her website - and you can buy her superb book Happy Inside (2020 Ebury Press, £18.99) here.

Portrait top - Photo by Marianna Wahlsten