Michelle Ogundehin is Head Judge on the BBC’s Interior Design Masters, which is back on our screens now. An internationally renowned thought leader on interiors, style and wellbeing, she is a trained architect and former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK. Her book Happy Inside: How to Harness the Power of Home for Health and Happiness is a game-changing guide to living well. Melanie Franks caught up with her about the importance of home.
Hello Michelle! Where are you and what are you up to today?
Michelle Ogundehin: Today I’m at home in East Sussex, very much my happy place, especially when I’m writing. I find the process of writing very soothing, it’s the only way for me to put my thoughts in order, whether constructing an article or trying to work out something more personal. I love to journal every day for this reason too. A scribble a day can help keep the doctor away in my opinion!
Let’s talk about ‘Happy Inside’ What a brilliant and comprehensive book on making your living space your haven! Why did you create this much-needed guide?
Michelle Ogundehin: Thank you! I poured my heart and soul into this book. The science and methodology of wellbeing has always been incredibly important to me, and I’ve always believed that home should be seen as the third pillar of wellbeing, as important to your health and happiness as good food and exercise. And yet it’s so often overlooked.
Perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic is that the importance of a health-boosting and emotionally supportive home is perhaps more easily understood now?
Michelle Ogundehin: Yes, but even before the pandemic, I’d been looking at data showing the rising levels of chronic disease, cancer and diabetes in the UK and beyond. I was thinking, wow, we’re really getting something wrong here. This can’t be normal. Happy Inside was born of the desire to share my belief in the power of home and its ability to supercharge your health.
For too long, many people viewed their homes only as somewhere to race out of in the morning, and then slump back into of an evening. This is a huge lost opportunity and what I explore and share in the book goes way beyond the notion of home decor as just a vehicle for self-expression.
The book is primarily about asking yourself, who do I want to be? And then getting your home to help you become that person.
I was blown away by its attention to detail, from plant choosing to cleaning. Did you know from the outset that it was going to be so detailed?
Michelle Ogundehin: I did a chapter plan at the very beginning but as I sat down to write each one, I let it flow in whatever direction felt most relevant. Creating a truly supportive home is an entirely holistic endeavour, so it was important to me to come at it from all angles. I didn’t want to miss anything out!
I think a good example of my stance is probably in chapter 8: Retreat, In Praise of sleep, where I cover bedroom decor last, because no amount of fancy bedlinen will make one jot of difference to your ability to sleep well if you do not sort the fundamentals first. Likewise, in Chapter 7: Harmony: Making Space to Rejuvenate, I start with a discussion about the importance of rest. We need to think about this before we rush out and buy a sofa!
It is a very timely approach to living. How much of this message of sustainability is filtering through into your industry and on to the consumer?
Michelle Ogundehin: I hope we’re all learning together. From not treating our toilets as bins to understanding that what we throw away might go straight to landfill. There is no ‘away’! If you buy something, can you be sure that you’ll keep it forever? Or be able to pass it on to someone else? Or repair it? Ask yourself, do I really need it?
I talk a lot about developing your own palette, the colour, materials and finishes that ignite your soul because once we do this, we can be more considerate about what we buy and then at least shop more mindfully.
But what we really need are the big brands to consider every point of their supply chain from the safety and care of the makers at one end, right through to the manufacturing processes, to packaging and display. It’s no good developing something wonderful, then shipping it wrapped in expanded polystyrene and bubble wrap. We all have a duty to demand proactive solutions and insist on speed of change.
There is much talk of the dark side of the fashion industry. Is there still a lot of work to be done in the world of interiors?
Michelle Ogundehin: There’s always work to be done in every industry because the parameters keep shifting. Times are changing, faster than ever. We simply know more today than we knew yesterday, and any smart industry stays fleet of foot and flexible.
There are some great brands out there who aren’t afraid to admit ‘we’re not perfect but look, this is what we want to do, this is how we want to change’. Even IKEA are committed to being a circular business and climate positive by 2030. We’ve run out of time for excuses.
Bottom line, the planet may well survive another apocalypse, but we as a species will not. At that point, who cares about profit shares!
Your winner of the 2011 Interior Design Masters, Lyndsey Ford, was very much into upcycling. Was this a key factor, apart from her talent and demeanour that helped her win?
Michelle Ogundehin: I think upcycling has to become expected, not be seen as slightly quirky. There is so much good stuff out there already, why always buy new? I love the idea of a piece with history. Ultimately, the best designs, rooms and spaces combine a mix of all things. And in terms of being a worthy winner, Lyndsey combined a great can-do attitude with originality and organisation. She had great ideas and she knew how to keep a team on board and motivated. Design is very much a team effort so those skills are crucial.
Series 3 is now showing on BBC1. Congratulations! You must be excited about its success.
Michelle Ogundehin: Yes, and it’s a real corker. The designs were out of the park! If I say so myself, I think Interior Design Masters gets better and better each year. It’s a real privilege to be able to be a part of the designers’ lives for the four months that each series takes to film. It’s a massive commitment for them. Some can take time off completely to do it, others are also juggling full-time jobs! They are extraordinary and I love the teaching and sharing aspect of my role. And filming for Season 4 starts in June 2022!
How is it for you to be recognised now you are a television personality?
Michelle Ogundehin: I still find it quite strange, to be honest. I’ll be out walking the dogs and someone will say something about the show. It tears me away from being in a private world of my own to the public me they see on TV (who is also a lot more groomed than I maintain in daily life on the school run!).
Sometimes it’s hard to make that switch as I’m a private person, happiest when quietly at home. But I love how engaged people get. They really care about who goes through and get very opinionated. The tricky bit with TV is that a viewer can never experience how a room feels, which is crucial.
In this Instagram era, it’s relatively easy to get one great shot of a space. It’s a lot harder to make that space feel like somewhere you actually want to hang out. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about for me – helping people make spaces that enable them to be their best selves.
Michelle is currently appearing on Series 3 of Interior Design Masters on Wednesday nights at 9 pm on BBC1.
Photo: Michelle Ogundehin photographed by Ben Anders.