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When interior design brings out the beauty of imperfection

Chris Read 2

Old stone lintels, exposed pipework and the original sink all have the elements of imperfection. I like the way the carved dove echoes this, but adds a level of art the scene

When asked how to describe my personal interiors style, I have to stop and think, says Chris Read, interior designer.

Not because I don’t know what it is, but because I find it very difficult to describe. There is also a danger in an interior designer disclosing that information because people assume that’s the style you would do for them.

In reality, most designers want to find out what best suits their clients, and this is often one of the most interesting parts of the job. I can enjoy and appreciate any style, as long as it is done well. Those designers that have a signature look must be truly bored!

If you looked round my house, you would say my style is rustic, and that is in part correct – but I live in the country and in a cottage, so it sort of makes sense to have a country style.

What I think is more important to me is the imperfection of rustic things: the rough edged tactile nature of materials, the wonky shape that says ‘hand made’, the depth and complexity of aged, worn and patinated finishes. I like the human fallibility displayed by this, and the way these things catch my eye to bring little moments of joy to everyday life.


I looked round my house to find some good examples and found so many I would need a book, not an article. One of my favourite things I own is the little pot shown here, by German ceramicist Johannes Peters. It is entirely unpretentious – small, unimposing, beige and a very simple shape.


I remember seeing it in an exhibition – in fact, almost missing it, but what snagged my attention was the little drip of glaze that runs down the terracotta base.

I wavered about buying it, not quite sure if I liked it, and, now having owned it for over a decade, I still love it – that graduated toasty brown of the unglazed base, the wonky line around the rim and the random dots and marks. Having soup or a salad in this bowl always pleases me.

This liking is not confined to useful items – I find that most of the art I have in my house has a level of connection, based on all those visual layers and complexities.

I can’t often afford his work, but artist Lewis Noble is one of my favourites, and it is his layering of paint and seeing the landscape through his essentially human understanding that I love. You can look at this work for years and still find something new in it.

image: http://www.nottinghampost.com/images/localworld/ugc-images/276368/binaries/Chris%20Read%204.jpg

Vintage or antique items are instant signifiers of this look – these salvaged American paratrooper pendants used by the US Army in 1943 during WWII are from Skinflint

Such things most often have a natural element – harking back to what’s outside the door. Despite being an interior designer, I get a huge amount of inspiration from the natural world.

Imperfection in man-made things gives a hint at our evolution, grounds us in the world. Many of the things I own could seem half-made – this close up of a vase made from an Australian fence post, complete with eyelet for barbed wire is a case in point.

Or I go the whole hog and use found objects – a feather, a sea shell, even a couple of animal skulls found on the moors [they were thoroughly clean, I do have my limits!]. The water worn remnants of wood shown here are, to me, a thing of total beauty. Utterly useless, they sit on a ledge and make me smile as I pass by.

READ MORE: See the Notts house where you may catch a glimpse of deer at the bottom of the garden

It’s been interesting for me to analyse where this love of imperfection and asymmetry came from. I think it was partly growing up in the 60s, when the cool new styles epitomised by the likes of Lucienne Day didn’t quite translate to suburban Leeds, where everything seemed to be plastic, shiny, all surface and no interior.

Terence Conran became one of my heroes, and the early Habitat shops are a joy. I remember going to France for the first time in the early 80s and finding handmade plant pots – in Britain [or Leeds, anyway], you couldn’t find a clay pot for love nor money. That inherent interest in something textured just grew.

image: http://www.nottinghampost.com/images/localworld/ugc-images/276368/binaries/Chris%20Read%203.jpg

There has been a resurgence of interest in craft, either making one’s own, or investing in artist craft pieces, and it has been attributed to a foil to our busy, urban, quick quick lives. Which I am sure is true, but for many of us it never went away.

It’s only recently that I came across the Japanese way of life called ‘Wabi sabi’ which embodies many of the concepts I’m talking about, imperfection, authenticity, about accepting the natural cycle of growth, death and decay. I hadn’t realised I was an adherent, but maybe I should just start my own movement!

And as someone growing up in the 60s and 70s, I just have to finish with a quote from Leonard Cohen: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.