How lucky am I that because I write this blog I can just connect with professionals and people passionate about interiors, anywhere in the world and write about them, and I do regularly.
However, when am writing to people who live a couple of hours away, like this lady in Perthshire, Jennifer Devaney, the creative force behind the Instagram account One Alchemy House, it feels extra special. My focus is Scottish interiors and when Lockdown is over, Jennifer and I can meet and chat and have a coffee with almost no effort. I can’t wait.
I was particularly motivated to get in touch with Jennifer in the first place because I could see that she used fabric on walls.
One of my most formative experiences as a teenager was going on a French exchange with a French family called the Raguenauds. I spent two weeks in their holiday home in Brittany but their main home, where I spent a brief 24 hours, on our way to their flat in the Mediterranean town of Villefranche, was an amazing Penthouse flat in Paris. It had its own lift, floor to ceiling windows overlooking Paris, surrounding a sunken seating area in the living room and the girls bedrooms were lined with fabric. I have never forgotten the strange, spongey feel of those fabric walls, but I have also never seen it again, until I discovered Jennifer’s Instagram feed!
Please enjoy my interview with the fascinating Jennifer Devaney.
AG: Where and when and what you have studied?
JD: I originally won a bursary to Norland College to become a nanny, when I was 18 years old, but my love of dramatics led me to decide to study Musical Theatre just outside Glasgow instead. I then went on to train as a manager for Pizza Express and became an assistant manager at 21 years old. I was in the opening management team for the new Pizza Express on The Shore, in Leith, Edinburgh. However, after having 2 children I left the restaurant trade and missing creativity studied Theatre Costume Design and Interpretation in Edinburgh. I studied an online diploma in Colour Therapy two years ago and I am currently studying an advanced diploma in Holistic Interior Design.
AG: So tell me a little about your practice?
JD: I have been primarily a surface designer up until last year, using traditional and modern techniques. I work with fabric, upholstering furniture and more recently, walls and ceilings as well. I have also, long used, decorative plaster techniques like Venetian plaster, specialist paint effects on furniture and walls, alongside decoupage and resin pouring. As of last year I offer Interior Design services for homes and businesses, concentrating on creating Holistic Interiors.
AG: I would love to hear more about your experience in theatrical costume?
JD: My studies in Theatre Costume Design and Interpretation in Edinburgh covered not only the making of costumes but also the history of costumes and design. I was particularly inspired by how much interior and furniture trends have always been led by clothing fashions of the times. Also how styles come back around in different eras. I also loved the 3D aspects of the course like making Elizabethan ruffs or a Tudor head dress and, of course the set design aspect. It was at the end of this I decided my passion was actually in interiors and surface design.
AG: You also upcycle and sell furniture ?
JD: When I first started out I sourced furniture to redesign and upcycle and then sold them. I soon found that people had pieces of furniture with sentimental value and began to focus on working with clients to create a perfect piece of furniture with what they already had. I enjoy working with clients on the design process and I work solely on commissions now.
AG: So what is exactly that you currently offer?
JD: In a nutshell, I redesign furniture and spaces using a 360° process with an essence of a dramatic flair. I look at many different facets to execute a design. I don’t just look at the personality and brief of the client, the space and the light. I look at the background behind the client. Their sleeping patterns, star sign, favourite views in nature, favourite countries, films, clothing, times in history and more. All of these give me a much wider view of who I am creating for and allows me to widen the design brief to a place they hadn’t thought of but actually suits them perfectly. If someone wants a very specific design or one following the latest trends I am not the designer for them. There needs to be trust in my process that I will create the perfect design for them. Like looking in a mirror, what you see is not what others see. It’s the same basis I work from. What you think would be your perfect space or design is not necessarily your actual perfect space or design. Most clients who ask me to create something for them tell me a story about it. It is that part I need for the magic to happen.
AG: You talk about fabric a lot – your love of it run deep doesn’t it?
JD: Fabric for me is a wonderful thing. It is one of the oldest processes in the world. I love how it gives warmth, atmosphere and movement to a space. It is also the most luxurious of coverings. Using fabric in unexpected places is one of my favourite things to do. I have recently pleated fabric around the back of a mirror to give a soft sculptural elegance to a wall area.
AG: I know you use it on walls and ceilings, what is your technique exactly?
JD: I had a 16m2 wallpaper mural printed onto velvet to upholster my sitting room ceiling and my library walls have been entirely upholstered. It changes the feeling in a room in a few ways. It warms the room up in a practical way ( why it was originally used on walls) and also stops sound from bouncing around.
A lot of grand homes had fabric covered walls in the rooms people congregated in after dinner. It allowed for groups of people to sit together and chat without the sound carrying over to the next group so secrets could be shared. To traditionaly upholster a wall you need to fix slim batons to the perimeters of the walls and add batting/wadding. Then the fabric is stapled to the batons. It is finished by using braiding to hide the staples. It’s also good for people who rent a property as you can soak the fabric in a starch mix and paste to the wall. Once the starch dries the fabric will stay up. When it is time to take it down just wet it and it will come off without damaging the wall underneath.
AG: You know my French exchange story Jenny and my ‘thing’ about France, what is yours?
JD: Aah, I also have great affinity for France and French interiors. I am talking Versailles style interiors! Their love of fabric walls has been an inspiration to me. The gilt and decorating with mirrors I am also drawn to. I have a couple of splashbacks that are made with mirrors rather than tiles. I also went on a French exchange when I was 14 years old and stayed in a beautiful old farmhouse with small doors and crazy walls and it was magical. The walls were washed with pigmented clay and felt soft and warm. I remember still how that house made me feel. Each morning we were given a bowl of earl grey tea with milk and sugar to have with our croissants and it tasted magical. From then on I only drank earl grey tea with milk and sugar and still do, in a tea bowl. It is those memories of how that house made me feel that leads me to design how I do. It is not just about how things look it is about how it makes you feel. Your rooms should make you feel wonderful.
AG: Crumbs, I also love Earl Grey tea! And we also drank coffee from a bowl on my exchange but had baguettes and jam for breakfast. I have never forgotten that we had no plates at breakfast time – the mum would just sweep the table. Like you, the memories from that trip have stained my soul.
AG: What about the future?
JD: Well, we have managed to find our dream house in the South of France. It has 10 bedrooms and we will be doing that up soon . I plan to hold design retreats in the future where you can learn how to look to design for your inner self and take nature as your inspiration.
AG: Gasp – when do they start???
JD: Ha ha – give me a minute!! In the more immediate future I plan on holding workshops in design and decorative surface techniques in my workshop in Alyth, Perthshire .
AG: These will be brilliant! Please keep us posted. Do you have a garden at your home in Perthshire?
JD: We are in a maisonette and so we have a small front garden where our front door is. I have changed the space into a courtyard setting with an outdoor fireplace and chinese pagoda.
We also added a balcony onto the library that looks onto the courtyard. It is a good place to show just how much you can do with a small area. I am trying to be a good gardener but have a long way to go.
AG: Well you have a lot on your plate, once your kids are up and left you can do some gardening! Are you interested in cooking and food?
JD: I am definitely a foodie. I love cooking and trying new things. I have started a collection of artists cookbooks. I have Da Vinci’s, Salvador Dali’s and Monet’s . It is filled with their favourite recipies and their stories. I hope to work through those cookbooks soon when I get time. I would love to throw a Dali dinner party!
AG: Can your tell me a little about your family?
JD: My husband is from the Republic of Ireland and originally studied architecture. He then went to Edinburgh to study to be a Quantity Surveyor, which is where met him. He was out with his friends in a pub on The Shore in Leith where I was with my friend drinking teacup cocktails. We got talking and were married 4 years later. We have three children now and two dogs, a Harlequin Great Dane called Bangle…
and Scottish Deerhound called Rufus, below. Both are rescue dogs.
AG: They all sound gorgeous! Just to torture me can you tell me a little more about your French escapade!!
JD: I have always dreamed of having a house in France. I did find out a couple of years ago some my ancestors were French. They are known as the Buldoc Apothecary Dynasty and my 8th great grandfather was Apothecary to Louis the XIV and was present at his death and also looked after Louis the XV . One became the Alderman of Paris. Their portraits hang in the Paris college of Surgeons. Knowing that made a lot of sense to why I am so drawn to France and that era. We had some money left to me by my grandfather and decided to search for a second home in France. I love the Occitane region and when looking, one house jumped out at me. A massive fixer upper but a beautiful old property on the private road to the town’s Chateau.
It’s over 4 floors and has 22 rooms and a large outbuilding that had permission to take the roof off and turn into a walled garden. We had 5 properties to see but after looking at this one we didn’t go any further. We immediately put an offer in that was accepted and all the paperwork is ready to sign it to us in a month! It’s some challenge but we are ready.
AG: Wow Jennifer, just wow…
My Post are not normally as long as this are they? This took me a while to write if I am honest, my own life story and dreams just seemed to be entwined in it. I have to say, I am NOT going to buy a 22 room ‘fixer upper’ in the south of France, but then my husband is not trained architect AND Quantity Surveyor. I think we will buy a little modern cottage nearby and visit the Devaney family occasionally and weep with envy but then go home and put our feet up with a cuppa and curl up with a book.
All images in this post were sent to me by Jennifer Devaney.