5 minutes with … Robyn Donaldson & Emma Hopkinson

Balance Awareness Week continues as the Push Team turns to interiors. It’s fair to say that our homes have played a bigger role than ever this year as we found ourselves confined to the same four walls.

With countless articles during and post lockdown about mental health and wellness, we looked beyond our inner-consciousness to our surroundings and how they effect our mood. And because we love opening the conversation, we spoke with interiors-obsessed Emma Hopkinson and Robyn Donaldson about how our homes can play a key role in helping us find balance in our everyday lives. Will you be on the minimalist or maximalist side?

How did All Up in My Space start?
Emma: It sort of started way back in like 2005 or something when we met in Nottingham, where I grew up and Robyn wen to university. We met after I took, and I quote – ‘The best cover letter in the world’ – into the shop Robyn was managing and she decided that we should be friends, so we did. We both like writing a lot and had always had this idea that we might do something together, so 15 years later, over some fish tacos, we decided to combine our love of words, shopping and being nosey, and create a blog all about home and headspace.

Robyn: That’s when the magic really started to happen. We basically had license to be nosy, rambling around people’s houses, quizzing them on their homes and, inevitably, their emotions. We’re firmly of the opinion that all our interior choices are lined to our mental health and that tapping into that can lead us to create living spaces that work for who we are and the lives we lead. Digging down into why people make the choices they do is our favourite hobby.

How do you think interiors can enhance our wellbeing?
E: Oh, home is everything. Or rather, environment is everything. Put me in a lairy space with lots of nooks and crevices, painted neon yellow and I’ll show you an uncomfortable person. It will be me. It took me ages to work out just how much of an effect my homespace had on my mental health, but there’s something about feeling at one with your surroundings that just feels right. You’re comfortable, you’re relaxed, you’re stimulated in the right ways – it just makes sense. There are loads of studies into colour and the way it affects mood, but I’m less science, more feely. That’s a thing, right?

R: I mean, it’s the space we choose to spend most of our time, so it goes without saying that interiors have a massive impact on our wellbeing. It’s so important to look at how your home makes you feel as well as the aesthetics. I’m a person with a busy mind so I need lots of visual stimulation, tons of mementos to spark stories and oversized/over-patterned accessories to provoke joy, but you stick someone like Emma in that space and they’d feel like they were in the funhouse at fair. Not relaxing. Equally if you put me in a tonal, minimalist space for more than few days I’d feel like I’d been locked in a sanatorium. You need to create surrounding that speak to you personally and soothe/stimulate you accordingly.

Are there any particular interiors colour patterns which you think aid in our wellbeing?
E: For me, it’s anything that comes from nature and feels gentle and calm, so think soft neutrals, the odd brown and at a push, green. But if being friends with Robyn has taught me anything, it’s that what one person feels great about their space isn’t what everybody will feel great about. That, and always wear large hats.

R: Weirdly, I’m with Emma here, but I take it to the other end of the scale. Nature is, for sure, the thing I bring into the home when I want to feel cocooned. That means loads of green, plants and botanical prints. I want to pretend I’m actually in the jungle. I’m all about living the pages of a story book and the delicious escapism that comes with that.

Minimalist vs maximalist interiors – is there a winner in promoting wellbeing in our home?
E: Wouldn’t it make for good reading if we chose this moment to finally have it out in a fight to the death? I mean, I love all things calm and pared-back, and my ideal home is just a lot of recessed concrete with expensive chairs, so I’m always going to plump for minimalist interiors. I’m a very anxious-minded person, so my home needs to cocoon me and soothe me and bring down my adrenaline through the medium of beige. I feel like the maximalist Robyn’s answer is going to be the opposite of this. Genuinely through – there is no right way to do interiors – if you want to feel jazzy and excitable at home and brights help you do that, go for it. I promise I won’t come over while you’re out and paint everything greige.

R: Yep, as Emma said, what enhances your feeling of wellbeing will be fiercely personal. You just need to look at what works for you. For me, it’s being really inspired and entranced by something, getting lost in a moment, whether that’s a piece of art, an incredible piece of furniture or the spine of an old book. My mind fits. But other people just want chance to powder down after a long day and that’s essential too. I think whatever you are at your core will come out in your interior choices. But I will say that maximalism probably appeals to a less broad demographic as it’s such a lot to process. Don’t tell Emma I said that though.

What do you personally love the most about interiors?
E: I love the stories they tell about a person – the ways different people create spaces to nurture them. We chat to a lot of people on our blog about how and why they created their spaces, and the answers are endlessly fascinating.

R: Can I just use Emma’s answer? And for me, it’s a big chance to show off, which I love. It’s playful and it’s creative. I’m rubbish at ‘real art’, but coming up with a great room-setup is my version of painting a masterpiece. Bringing a load of things together to create a thing of beauty. It makes my heart sing.

During lockdown, how did you go about creating a zen-environment at home?
E: Oh man – by crawling under a blanket for a few months? Lockdown has been super intense over my way. I live with my partner in a one-bed open-plan flat – he’s a personal trainer whose entire business moved online, and I’m an introverted writer who needs total peace and quiet to function. So a lot of it has been logistics and working out who’s going to have access to which bit of the flat at any given time. That and keepint it tidy. And candles. Always candles. And little furnitue bits we can move around to suit us – side tables, trolleys, stools – if it’s portable it’s doubled-up as something unusual in our space through lockdown. Actually, one thing I’ve noticed I’m doing subconsciously is getting rid of things. Clearing space, removing clutter, so that the only things I can see are the ones I really love. I feel like I might not be alone in that, too. There’s something about being in one space for a long time that almost forces you to clarify what you want from it.

R: I massively failed. I found everything so stressful I didn’t just take stock and sort out the space to make it work for lockdown. Apart from creating a mini workspace for my husband, but that was an actual emergency as there was a very real chance I was going to kill him if we were in close proximity anymore. Now I’m making preemptive changes for winter. So, I’m doing up my bedroom to make it more enveloping, taking down the noisy colours that used to make me spring out of bed and swapping them for rich earthy tones, tons of texture and nods to nature so I have a nest to retreat to when the outside world feels too much.

Many search social media for interiors inspiration – including from both of your profiles – but what would be your one piece of advice on how to create a space that’s right ‘just for you’?
E: Start with the feeling. We can all get sucked into Pinterest and Insta-holes of beautiful interiors, but it’s so often about getting the look, or buying into a particular style, that we forget home is primarily a space that needs to sort of emotionally hug us every time we walk in the door. For a while there, I thought I was a mid-century maximalist who loved plants, but when I had that vibe going on, I was over-stimulated by all the stuff, so I ended up starting again. Once I’d worked out that I needed my space to chill me the heck out, finding the right things to do that was easy.

R: Look at the things in your life you make active aesthetic choices about and then marry them up with the lifestyle you lead and work back from there. For example: got a wardrobe full of neutrals and are heavily into yoga? A massively cluttered space with tons of furniture and prints is probably not going to please the eye or work when you want to do a little downward dog on Zoom. Go Sherlock Holmes on yourself and see what makes you feel good then transfer that to your space. Of course you can get tons of inspiration online, but be sure to take a breath and work out if that beautiful image would work for the home you want to inhabit.

How do you find balance in your daily life?
E: I don’t, always! Balance can be a slippery bugger, and I don’t always manage to take the steps I need to find it. But when I’m being good to myself, I journal, I walk, I take long baths to get away from the world. I’m pretty strict about phone time, too, and take a couple of days a week off Instagram, which definitely helps me to switch off. I think the word balance conjures up images of women in linen, eating salad, but it looks so different to so many people. Some weeks, if I get out for a walk, that’s a victory. Some weeks, saying no to one too many social things is the win. I think the hard part is working out what balance actually looks like for you, and I’m still very much a work in progress over here.

R: I am so crap at it. I’m either all in or in a heap. I try to carve out time for myself and let myself say no to things when I feel overwhelmed. Walking a lot is good for me, and exercise when I can be bothered. I think being kind to yourself and knowing your limits is what you should always loop back to when you’re trying to find that elusive balance. And don’t get too focused on finding balance too, we put loads of pressure on ourselves to have it all sorted and that can be really damaging.

You’ll find us shopping for some new furniture and paints this weekend ready to create our own little slice of heaven at home. Love this dynamic duo as much as we do? Head over to their blog All Up in My Space and click ‘follow’ on their Instagrams @around.robyn and @thecrapflat.

Push Team x

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