At Home With Jessica Bellef
Welcome to KAS' new blog series 'At Home'. Each week we will be chatting with interior designers, innovators and influencers to take you into their home and finding out how they get their home inspiration. This week we are talking to Interior Stylist Jessica Bellef.
Could you give a little intro into who you are and your career so far?
I’m a writer and a photographic stylist. I spend my days writing and styling stories for magazines and brands, and I create copy for websites and advertising, working with photographers, editors, designers and art directors. My career started in advertising but switched into visual merchandising and then interior styling. I’ve taught at design schools and was Temple & Webster’s founding Head of Styling. My debut book ‘Individual: Inspiration for creating a home that is uniquely your own’ was released in 2019 by Murdoch Books, and it was a dream to create.
I live south of Sydney in the Royal National Park, with my husband and my fuzzy rescue dog Charles Barkley. When I am not working, you will find me on the beach or in the bush or rifling around in second hand stores and op shops, the dustier the better.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey from working in visual merchandising to teaching and then to styling and becoming an author?
I jumped out of advertising as soon as I realised I didn’t want a regular office job! During my retail work throughout uni, I loved watching the visual merchandisers weave their magic and reinvent the stores, so I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I started in VM for fashion and then added homewares to the mix. I met great people who taught me so much, and I worked my butt off. Someone suggested I’d be a good teacher and introduced me to the Head of Styling and Creative Direction at the Whitehouse Institute of Design. I ended up teaching there for a few years while also freelancing as a VM and stylist.
I met the creative director of Temple & Webster, who was also teaching at Whitehouse, and he asked me if I wanted to style for T&W. The T&W site was only just newly launched, but I jumped at the opportunity and started styling photoshoots with them and became the full-time Head of Styling.
I went part-time in 2017 and threw my everything into my book- creating a book was something I had wanted to do for a long time. I found all of the homes, I spent time on the road with photographer Sue Stubbs, and I wrote tens of thousands of words. It was such a joy to meet so many amazing people and share their story. Murdoch Books did such a beautiful job of the book design and layout, and Sue’s imagery is so perfect for the mood of the book. At the start of 2020, I went full time freelance as a stylist and writer, and my clients now include magazines like Home Beautiful and Inside Out, as well as designers and brands. So, that’s the journey!
Have you always wanted to work in a creative space?
Absolutely. I was that kid who would continuously rearrange their room and experiment with craft (i.e., make a huge mess). Even though I detoured by studying marketing and psychology at uni, I knew deep down that I would end up doing something creative. My uni degree has informed my creative work, and my fascination with human behaviour still holds firm.
What does your normal day look like?
Because I do two very different jobs (writing and styling), how my day looks depends on what project I am working on.
On my writing days, I work out of my home office from early in the morning (with a heart-stopping amount of coffee) through to whenever my brain tells me it’s time to stop (which sometimes isn’t until well into the night). I try to break up the desk-time with a run at lunchtime or a walk with Charlie.
If I am booked on a styling job, the work begins well before the shoot day. I spend prep days driving all over Sydney, to stores, studios and florists, to source the perfect props and florals. Shoot days will start with a drive to the location (wherever that may be!), and then it’s non-stop on my feet until we get the last shot and everyone is happy. And then I tetris everything back into my car and do the returns in the following days. Styling ain’t glamorous, don’t be fooled!
I like breaking up my week with the different pace of writing work and styling. I love exercising different parts of my brain and am all about balance!
How do you think the styling industry has changed over the years?
It’s such an interesting question, especially if we look at the photographic styling side of things (rather than interior styling/design for spaces). The industry has changed an enormous amount in the last twenty years, and opportunities exist now that weren’t there when I was a teenager in the nineties trying to figure out what to do with my life! There definitely weren’t any specialised courses or training available.
There’s no doubt the proliferation of the internet and social media has made us more hungry for visuals. More value is placed on imagery and its importance in the overall marketing strategy for brands. It’s also interesting to think about how technology will continue to change the styling industry. Did you know the IKEA catalogue is made up 3D renders? Their catalogues are filled with completely styled rooms that are total digital creations, right down to the saucepan on the stove or the hairbrush on the bench. It looks so real- it’s insane what can be achieved. There will always be a need for a real-life stylist, but who knows what that looks like in ten, twenty, thirty years.
You published your first book last year, Individual, about styling your house to fit your individual personality. What would be your one key tip when finding your own niche style?
Listen to your gut. Go with your instinct. We get bombarded with images of perfectly styled spaces and jaw-dropping designs (Thanks Instagram! Thanks Pinterest!), and it’s easy to lose a sense of what it is that makes us happy or is a true reflection of who we are. When we take a moment to shut out the noise and listen to ourselves and take in our immediate surroundings, our homes will develop into an expression that makes us truly happy and content.
Now onto the home questions, how long have you lived in your home?
Coming up to 7 years.
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?
We painted every room, ripped up the old carpet and updated the lighting fixtures. Oh, and we designed and installed our built-in shelves. We are such huge fans of the original character of the 1976-built home, so we’ve retained much as possible, including the timber panelling and our retro yellow kitchen.
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior and how did you choose the initial colour palette for your home?
It’s been a slow, organic process of decorating. The egg-yolk yellow kitchen benches and the rich timber panelling direct the look in a really strong way, towards the seventies! I knew I wanted to keep the paint colours neutral, to let the warmth of the timber details shine. I’ve always been drawn to vintage design and grew up in a house filled with antiques, so this throwback home is the perfect fit for my nostalgic soul.
What are your favourite pieces in your home?
Ooooooh I have so many faves. I love the coffee table (an op shop find), the red velvet modular sofa that was a hand-me-down from my grandparents, and the built-in shelving that spreads across an entire wall. I also cherish my books and my art collection, especially the pieces created by friends and family.
What was your favourite room to style in your house?
The whole house! I continuously tweak and rearrange all the spaces, and our home constant evolves. The sideboard gets a good styling work out, as vessels of fresh flowers and foliage (usually leftover from shoots) come and go. And since the coffee table is central in an open-plan space, I always make sure it’s showing off an arrangement of things that make me happy when I catch a glimpse of them.
What are your top tips for styling a living room?
Comfort and functionality should be the top priority. You need seating that you can sink back into, and the right sized coffee table or side table to hold cups, books, mags, and whatever else you need easy access to. No matter how stylish the room is, you won’t enjoy spending time there if it doesn’t function properly for you.
My other tip would be to play with texture. I am a big fan of contrasting different textures and finishes to create spaces that look layered and interesting. It can be as easy as adding a fringed cushion or a chunky knit throw.
What are your top tips for someone styling their home with a small budget?
Little updates, like changing the cushions or adding new decor, can make a huge difference and can be done in a wallet-friendly way. And never underestimate the power of paint! A change of wall colour will bring a whole new dimension to the space.
Shop your house and experiment with what you already have. For zero dollars, you can give a room a new look by bringing in furniture and decor from other rooms and swapping around the pieces. It’s all about reusing and reinventing.
Go second hand. Check out Gumtree, eBay, op shops and Facebook Marketplace for awesome bargains and unique pieces, and hunt down specialty vintage or antique stores. Shopping second hand is win-win; you save money while doing something good for our environment by rescuing an item before it becomes landfill. And you are likely to find something unique or one off, which will help in the quest to find your own personal style.
What colours do you think work well in living rooms?
It depends on the basic elements of the space (like the size of the area, the existing furniture, and the amount of natural light) and the mood that you want the room to evoke. Deep dark blues, lush greens and rich berry tones will add drama and create a cocooning den-like room, while soft neutrals and muted tones invite calmness and freshness.
What will the trending colours of 2021 be?
Yellow. After the craziness of 2020, we are going to need extra sunshine and happiness in our lives! Taking a hint from the 1970s, shades like saffron, turmeric and wattle yellow will add warmth and positivity.
Shades of earthy brown and rich, dark timber tones (like walnut) will get us grounded and reconnected with nature. The calm, soothing effect of gentle warm whites (buff, linen, bone) and the softest of greys (stone, dove) will also help us regain balance in 2021. The overall feeling is of embracing the natural environment, resetting and getting back to basics.
Lilac, violet and mauve will provide a welcome diversion from pink, and offer sweetness while still feeling sophisticated and very versatile.
What are your favourite KAS products?
I love the Linen Cushion for its feel and the selection of colours, and I am a fan of the ceramics, especially the fun sculptural designs by Ben David.