JLife speaks to Fiona Lee, founder of Prestwich lifestyle brand Rose & Lee Interiors to discover her Tuscan farmhouse project, and her tips on navigating trends and developing your personal style.
When Prestwich lifestyle guru Fiona Lee left St Monica’s to undertake a postgraduate degree in nuclear disarmament, little did she know she would be returning to her family’s lifestyle roots: “My dad is an antiques dealer, and he’s been teaching me the secrets of the trade since I was five, which has really given me an appreciation for design. My husband and I opened our luxury vintage interiors boutique on Bury New Road seven years ago, and since then we’ve moved into floral arrangement workshops, design consultations, restorations, and a whole lot else in between.”
It was Fiona’s connection with her father, who was recently diagnosed with a serious illness, that has encouraged her to take up her biggest project yet back in the family village of Caprese Michelangelo: “Like many families during COVID, we were looking at how we could change our lifestyles. We tried moving up the housing ladder in Prestwich, but the prices were just becoming exorbitant, so we decided to renovate a house out in the Tuscan countryside.
“It’s a detached three-bedroom 18th century farmhouse in the village Michelangelo was born. It comes with an acre of land, and at the bottom of one of the fields is a granny flat. The house is spread out across three floors, and one of the biggest selling points for my husband was the wine cellar!”
Fiona is back and forth from Prestwich overseeing the project, and is currently speaking with her architect to commission a new outdoor pool: “We’re very much trying to retain the farmhouse styling, trying out a million different wallpapers with pops of English accents to create a nice juxtaposition with the old Italian of exposed beams and terracotta floors, just to make it a little bit more interesting, as opposed to standard whitewashed walls. I’m known for not being afraid of colour – I’m sure there will be a cheeky neon sign above our bar!”
The first thing Fiona advises her clients is to create a sense of continuity throughout the house: “From the minute you open your door, you want elements that tie it all together to create flow and a sense of place. People will often throw everything they like at a room, but much of the time, these things aren’t speaking to each other. I take a more holistic approach, and believe every home needs to tell its own story. Rather than being prescriptive with colours and styles, you need to drill down into what you want from your home and how you intend to use it.
“I always encourage clients to step out of their comfort zone and pick out fresh new design elements they may not have thought of, but I also encourage economy. Not in the Marie Kondo sense of throwing everything away, (collecting antiques all my life, I find it a struggle to get rid of anything!), but in making what you already have work for you. If you still love your cool sofa complete with bum groove – rework it back into the situation.
“You don’t want a show home, you want a space to feel comfortable in. I have a five year-old and a cockapoo – so when people ask for a £1,000 allthe-rage material for their cushions, I’ll drag them back and beg them to use a fabric that pops, but is hard wearing and isn’t going to cost a fortune, which you can just wipe down when your little one inevitably spills juice all over it.
Despite being a keen follower of trends, Fiona doesn’t adhere religiously to fads, and prefers to apply her approach towards fashion to home styling: “You don’t want to buy something in season that you’ll only wear once – you want something beautiful that you love and will wear whatever. I wouldn’t encourage you to ignore trends, but just be more conscious about what you want to cherry pick from them. Mid-century is still going strong and people are loving blue shell with warmer fabrics, mustard colours and dark brown furniture, however the time for shabby chic is well and truly over!”
Rather than advocating complete overhauls, Fiona is a big believer in finding ways to incorporate the trends you like into your current scheme: “That restyling of smaller elements keeps things fresh and invigorating, but cost effective at the same time. Work in that palette or texture through accessories – incorporating a new lamp with funky colours that have come in this season, or layering some chunky fireplace throws for winter. It has to be more purposeful, and less wasteful, and I think that that message is being reiterated in every part of our life now.
Broaching 40 years-old, Fiona admits she has taken decades to understand her likes and dislikes, and believes personal style is something that comes with time: “My house was featured in a homes magazine last March, and received a lot of kudos, but it’s taken me 10 years for it to look like that – from slowly evolving my style and collecting curios – it doesn’t happen overnight.
“I’d sooner spend good money on something I’m going to live with for a long time, than something I’m just going to change in a couple of months. We live busy lives, and if you’re just trying to keep up with trends, you’re just going to be caught in a loop. What you want to ask yourself, is ‘does this give me some sense of happiness in my home?’”