If you haven’t yet seen the work of hip homewares-customiser Lou Rota… well, you should. Lou forages for cast-off crockery and furniture, reinvents it using collage, découpage and a healthy dose of imagination, and produces some of the most intriguing eco-chic artworks around today. Plastic stacking chairs are given fabulous floral makeovers and chintz-patterned china that would make us wince in a boutique-hotel setting is reinvented by a trail of beetles crawling across or a beady-eyed raven peering out from the plate.
We’re not the only ones enamoured of Lou’s creations; take a trip to Staying Cool Rotunda – the tower-topping collection of self-catering apartments in Birmingham city centre – and see her lovely flower wrap chairs for yourself.
We caught up with Lou and talked space travel, fossils and the Great British seaside…
If money were no object, what would be your ideal mini-escape?
I’d take my husband Gavin, and two daughters, Rosie (10) and Ava (eight) out to the Kennedy Space Centre and catch a shuttle to the International Space Station, where we’d spend a few days floating around looking down at Earth.
What are your favourite places to shop while you’re away? (Given retail opportunities are limited in outer space, maybe stick to the earthbound).
Has to be the souks of Marrakech for tea glasses, beaded slippers, wonky dark wood bowls; beautifully smooth and irregularly shaped chopping boards, hooded cotton pyjamas (always buy two-three sizes too big as they shrink a lot!) and other treasures. There’s also a not-to-be missed architectural salvage market early every Thursday morning in Marrakech – it’s where the interior designers go to find amazing centrepieces for the riads they’re decorating.
Speaking of interior decorating, what does your fantasy holiday home look like?
I find the sea very inspirational and find I often come up with good ideas for my designs when I’m there. I’ve always loved Camber Sands; it’s only two hours from London and has that wonderful faded British-seaside feel to it, with a greasy caff on the beach, a seafood stall and bucket and spade shops.
So I’d have a big, white clapboard house right on the foreshore with at least four bedrooms so that we could pile on down there with lots of friends.
The front would be glass, so that from up- and downstairs the view would be all sea and sky. Huge sliding doors would open up the house onto a deck with driftwood sculptures, a fire pit and large rusty pots full of grey-green dune grasses and Tamarisk.
Inside there’d be a wood burning stove, big white sofas and fake fur throws, making it just as appealing in winter as in summer.
Wow. Detailed… Do you have any packing tips/travel essentials?
I like to take plenty of sarongs as they’re so versatile, doubling as towels, beach mats, blankets, skirts and headscarves. Blow-up balls/balloons are great toys that weigh almost nothing; eight-hour cream (natch) for its myriad uses; English breakfast tea bags (I hate that dusty Lipton world tea); prescription antibiotics (my daughters are both prone to ear infections…a trip to Borneo was once marred by five visits to the doctor in six weeks). On trips to Africa and Asia I always pack extra T-shirts, toys and beach shoes that we can give away.
And it’s always worth checking www.stuffyourrucksack.com before travelling. It’s a website that was set up, by Kate Humble, ‘to enable travellers to give practical help to places they visit by bringing things that are really needed’ – things specifically needed by local organisations that get little or no assistance from government or NGOs.
That’s what you take with you, what about what you bring back? What’s your favourite ever souvenir – why/where did you get it?
I’ve got two – both from the same trip. In my previous life as a television producer, I was filming with a team of palaeontologists from Chicago University deep in the Moroccan Sahara, near the Algerian border. One day we came upon a plateau covered in thousands and thousands of tiny but perfectly formed fossilized shells which turned out to be from the Jurassic period. Being in this vast, beautifully barren place hundreds of miles from the sea and finding such clear evidence of it once having been coastal was both humbling and awe-inspiring. I kept one for my nature table – a treasured collection of driftwood, stones, shells, seed pods and bones. All these bits live in my other favourite souvenir – a huge, old, terracotta Berber couscous dish which I bought from a little shack on the way back through the Atlas Mountains. It’s so big I had to strap it into its own seat on the plane to get it home. Luckily, the flight was almost empty!