she's so sophie…

Knees shaking…dry throat…and the ever-present threat of two ill-behaved dogs on the verge of hysterical barking…

You guessed it! That was me dialing the phone to call my design idol–Sophie Conran–who kindly agreed to be interviewed. When I heard her cheerful, “Hello”, I was instantly at ease–she’s even more personable and interesting than I imagined.

Sophie’s accomplishments are vast in the world of design and good taste, including work as the entertaining editor for In Style, writing entertainment and recipe features for Living Etc., and writing for House Beautiful about what makes a house a home. Not to mention all of her cookbooks and designs in tableware, glassware and wallpaper.

Sophie also turned a 15th century manor into a retreat–Sophie Conran for Temple Guiting–for country weekends in the Cotswolds. It’s looks and sounds absolutely idyllic–I can just imagine how beautiful it would be for a wedding! (Mark…if you’re reading this…take it as a huge HINT for our 25th Wedding Anniversary…no point being subtle anymore!!!!!)

Sophie Conran for Temple Guiting

Sophie Conran for Temple Guiting

Before I go any further, may I offer my advice for the best way to read this interview? Make yourself a pot of tea, sit in a comfy chair, and drink out of one of Sophie’s irresistible cups. Or feel free to fill it with jelly beans and munch away, like I did during a photo shoot a few weeks ago!

photo by Janis Nicolay for Nicole Jane Home

Jennifer: Sophie, your tableware is wildly popular in Canada and the U.S. What was your inspiration for the beautiful organic shapes and colours?

Sophie: One source of inspiration came from my childhood. My family used to drive from England to our little house in France and stop off in Limoges on the way. My mom would visit the ceramic factories to buy seconds of their porcelain, which were always plain white and wobbly and each piece was individual. Another inspiration came from the Japanese, who have amazing potters. I really love the way they hand-make such delicate pieces. They have a saying that if something is perfect, then it’s not beautiful.

Jennifer: I’m most impressed by the fact that your tableware is strong and delicate at the same time. How were you able to achieve that balance?

Sophie: It has to do with the material it’s made with. It’s pure porcelain, which is fired at really high temperatures, making it incredibly hard and durable. All the pieces can go in the oven, dishwasher, and microwave. When we were making the samples, I kept on asking, “Can we make it thinner? Can we make it thinner?” because I wanted that delicacy. When you drink a cup of tea, and you have a very thin cup, somehow the tea tastes better.

Jennifer: Your cups are the ones I drink my coffee with every morning.

Sophie: That’s lovely. I’m delighted that my website has a picture of Mrs. Obama drinking out of one of my cups during a visit to England.

Jennifer: One of the best things about your tableware and glassware is that they are truly multi-purpose. I frequently reach for one of your teapots or glass jugs to hold bouquets of flowers. Do you have any suggestions for unique ways to use any of the other pieces?

Sophie: All of the pieces can be used in the oven, so I’ve made berry crumbles in little tea cups and everyone gets their own personal serving. I also use lots of tumblers filled with tea lights and flowers on my table during dinner parties.

Jennifer: You’re a member of a highly creative and accomplished family. How did your parents foster creativity and encourage you and your siblings in your creative pursuits?

(Sophie is the daughter of UK designer, Sir Terence Conran and cookbook author, Caroline Conran, and her brothers, Sebastian, Jasper and Tom are all renowned in their respective fields.)

Sophie: My parents were always showing us things, getting us involved, and asking us our opinions. The business very much revolved around our home with my dad’s design studios based there. We moved to an old school when I was little, and the old classroom blocks became the design studios and workshops. The carpenters who made all samples would come over for a drink and dinner and stay the night. It was our playground and we were all involved in the photo shoots for my father’s catalogues. It was a huge deal when a new design or new piece of furniture came in–very exciting.

Jennifer: Did you appreciate it when you were a child? That it was something very special?

Sophie: I don’t think so. I didn’t do well at school, but home was fun for me. My mom was always cooking and writing recipes for books and magazines. When we moved into the school, it was pretty derelict, so we lived in a “building site” for a pretty long time. There were old walled gardens, which had been a Christmas tree farm. They were all cleared out and we built a huge vegetable garden and remodeled all of the greenhouses. It was pretty amazing actually. There was always lots of creativity around us.

Jennifer: It sounds wonderful, but it also sounds like a lot of work.

Sophie: I really enjoy work. I’m happiest when I’m working.

Jennifer: As a mother and businesswoman, you are an inspiration to women all over the world. What advice would you give to someone just starting out in a career or building a business?

Sophie: I always put my kids first. Be patient, always be true to yourself and don’t be scared of making mistakes. And always work with great people—make sure that you interact with reputable companies, it’s very important.

Jennifer: Do you get to travel very much for your work?

Sophie: I don’t travel very often. I’m a bit of a homebody. I’m in my office right now, but it’s attached to my home.

Jennifer: Whenever I visit England, I’m always so impressed by the bold British design aesthetic—particularly the exquisite paint colours and wallpapers. In Canada and the U.S., we’re seeing a strong resurgence of wallpapers, and I’m excited to see your new collection. What inspired your designs?

Sophie Conran wallpaper collection

Sophie: I absolutely love nature. The wallpaper hanging in my office at the moment is based on a Japanese kimono book. It’s full of beautiful irises, which were inspired by the exquisite floral designs and embroidery on the kimonos.

Sophie Conran's "Fleur" wallpaper

The inspiration for another collection that I designed was from a childhood stay at a chateau in France. It was completely falling apart. Each of the rooms had incredible paintings, fabrics, and such fabulous fading wallpapers.

Sophie Conran's "Belle" wallpaper

Sophie Conran's "Juliette" wallpaper

Colour is also a really big inspiration for me. Contrasting colours always get my creative juices flowing.

Sophie's home featured in the April '08 edition of Australia Home Beautiful

Jennifer: [The interview with Sophie took place two weeks prior to the royal wedding] Will & Kate‘s wedding is just around the corner and we’re getting very excited about it in Canada. My 77-year-old mother is even planning to wake up at 1 a.m. to watch the ceremony on TV. How will you be celebrating the royal wedding?

Sophie: They’re such a sweet couple—always smiling. We’ll be attending a big party that a friend is throwing at his home in the Cotswolds. Lots of people are organizing street parties, and I think that 10 million visitors are expected to be in London for the wedding. People are baking and decorating—it’s really, really nice actually.

Jennifer: If you had a day all to yourself, what would you absolutely love to do?

Sophie: We have a home in the country, and I love to be down there with my family. I spend time gardening, and visiting the gardening centre–just doing nice stuff around the house with my kids and husband. I really enjoy cooking, and friends often come over with their children and we’ll have a big meal together.

Jennifer: Imagine that it’s Monday afternoon at 2:43 p.m., and you’ve been hard at work. Do you reach for one of your delectable Whoopie Pies and a piping hot cup of coffee?  Or is it an apple muffin and iced tea calling your name?

Sophie: I don’t really like a lot of sweet things. If I was busy, it might be a little piece of avocado on toast with a squeeze of lemon. Or it might be some humous and carrot sticks, or a smoothie.. I normally have something already prepared in the refrigerator, like lentil salad, so I might have a bit of that. Those are the kinds of snacky things I like to eat.

I’d like to thank Sophie for taking time to chat with me. She’s such a dynamic person, and I look forward to seeing many more amazing things from her in the future.

CONGRATULATIONS, Anita T: You won the Sophie Conran giveaway. You were lucky #9.

SOPHIE CONRAN GIVEAWAY!!!

I’m such a huge fan of Sophie’s products (we use her tableware every day in my home) and I want to celebrate her interview by hosting a GIVEAWAY. One lucky winner will receive one of her gorgeous white cake plates, a set of 4 white dessert plates, and a white teapot!!! Everything you need for tea time!

All you need to do is:

* Visit Nicole Jane Home and sign up for my newsletter (don’t worry, I NEVER send spam. If you’re already on my newsletter subscribers’ list, you’re automatically entered.

* Leave a comment below to let me know you signed up.

Here’s the small print: You need to be a resident of the U.S. or Canada (we’re not allowed to run contests for residents of Quebec), 18 years or older. Good luck everyone!

Draw Date: May 25, 2011

shiny vinegar hair…

Just had to share some of Heloise’s helpful household tips that I found on Good Housekeeping’s website. I was particularly impressed with the uses for good old-fashioned natural vinegar! If you already know these uses, can you come over and help me clean up?

photo courtesy Enigmahippie blog

Who knew that you could get shiny hair just by rinsing with a solution of water and vinegar? (Here’s a shout out to my Twitter friend @HammocksHighTea, who saved me from the worst case of greasy hair I’ve ever experienced. Remember? I accidentally put bodywash in my hair instead of shampoo? Hammocks and High Tea suggested red wine vinegar & water. It worked instantly and my hair felt fabulous!!!)

Here are Heloise’s ingenious tips for using vinegar:

photo courtesy Good Housekeeping magazine

  • Eliminate paint odors: Place a bowl or two of vinegar in a freshly painted room to dispel the odor. (Did not know that)
  • Clean chrome: To remove soap or hard-water buildup on chrome fixtures, put tissues over stained areas, then pour full-strength vinegar over them. Let sit for about five minutes before removing and rinsing. (Did not know that)
  • For a crispier crust: To improve the crust of homemade bread, brush the top of the loaf with vinegar just before baking. (Did not know that)
  • Wash away odors: If your hands smell from handling fish or an onion, wash them in apple cider vinegar. Odor gone! (Yeah. Knew that)
  • Stop the itch: For relief from insect bites, soak a cloth in vinegar and place it over the affected area.(Did not know that)
  • For shiny hair: Rinse freshly washed hair with a solution of 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 cup water to get rid of soap buildup and give shine (figured it out after above-mentioned hair catastrophe)
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