If you’re an interior design lover, then SJ Axelby won’t need too much of an introduction. Her delectable watercolours of period homes ooze charm and style, featuring the cosiest corners of renowned interior designers. A painter with an antique restoration heritage; SJ has art in her bones. As someone who captures the delight of other people’s properties for a living, we wanted to delve a little further into her own rooms that she calls home.
Welcome to the Style Journal, SJ! Before we get into your own interior, could you give us a rundown of your background as a painter? Where did it all begin?
From an early age my Grandfather and mother actively encouraged my art as they too loved to paint and ran the family antique restoration business together. I’ve been watercolour painting since I was a child and can’t remember a moment in my life when I haven’t had some sort of creative project on the go. I have a degree in textile design but can also turn my hand to ceramics, print making and anything practical. I have a roll my sleeves up kind of attitude to most things. I now love exploring mixed media in combination with watercolour, the effects are truly wonderful.
You come from a long lineage of creatives, including Henry Corbould who designed the Penny Black and his son Edward Henry taught watercolour to Queen Victoria’s children. That’s quite a legacy. How has this knowledge impacted your life as an artist?
Every now and again I wish my Grandfather could see what I’m up to now, I know he would be chuffed to bits. As for my ancestors I am in awe of their work and achievements, it must have been quite an honour to work for the royal household. I love to visit EH Corbould’s work at the V and A Museum in London and I would love to see some of the palace’s private collection of his work, that would be a dream.
Your training in textile design emerges in your work in that the images feel tactile and alive, as though you could turn a handle and step into the page. Tell us how you layer a room with colour and texture to make it sing in real time.
In my work that’s entirely what I try to do. I want the viewer to feel the room as well as see it. Just like a painting filling a room with things is a process, layer upon layer until it feels right. A friend always said to me once you think it’s right…take one thing away. It seems to work every time. I couldn’t live without textiles and textures in my home, from the vintage madeleine tins I glue gunned onto metal beams to the tartan wool blankets that are thrown over the back of each kitchen chair.
Many of your paintings feature a rich tapestry of pattern and antique style. How important are vintage treasures in your home?
It’s hard for me to buy something new, it’s in my blood to find old antique and vintage finds. One man’s treasure and all that…
When you were designing your own decor, was it hard not to view each corner as a vignette of sorts? Or did that help you construct the space?
I do have to tell myself to stop. My husband is a minimalist and over time he has mellowed to my bits and bobs. He will chuckle when I come home with a new find. I sometimes start with a painting or a fabric or wallpaper I know I want to use in a space and then work everything around it. Although I don’t like things to be too matchy matchy.
Do you have a favourite room of the house?
Right now, it’s the kitchen, we are lucky to have views over the garden and fields beyond and springtime is such a joyful time of year with all the daffodils out. We recently changed the décor in here from quite a neutral palette to a softer warmer scheme of butter and red. It works really well with all the brass fittings.
Styling paintings we love in the home can be tricky. Do you have any tips for our audience who are keen to introduce artwork into their decor but aren’t sure where to start?
Frames are everything, my go to is @aprinart, he made me a special range of zigzag frames for an exhibition last year and I have these dotted about the house. I try to make my work easy to fit standard frame sizes to keep the costs down so most of my work will fit straight into an A4 nicely without the need for a mount. I would always just buy what makes your heart sing, after all its you that’s going to be looking at it most of the time.
Oh, golly these were perfect for the kitchen. I’d been looking for ages for something brass that would work with the DeVol kitchen, and these ticked every box for me. I don’t like fuss and this classic design is timeless.
Finally, a few quickfire questions…
What is your top tip for making a house a home?
Fill it with the people you love, a dog and lots of blankets (one can never have too many).
Can you describe your personal style in three words?
Homely, jolly, and eclectic.
We must ask…what’s your favourite Jim Lawrence product?
Ooh where to start, my lights are fabulous, but I really love all the other details too. I have used brass dolly switches and sockets and the floor sockets too which are perfect for hooking up a laptop and for the Christmas tree in the kitchen.
What are you most looking forward to in 2023?
I have so many lovely projects on which I’m hugely grateful for, a new book coming out in the Autumn and lots and lots of travel plans from Egypt to India and some interrailing too!
Discover SJ’s endlessly endearing artworks on her website and follow along on Instagram @sjaxelby. To stay up to date with Jim Lawrence, follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Browse our website to see all our hand forged and finished lighting and homeware.