Welcome to the Mignonnette Tea Talks, where we speak to wonderful women who inspire us and explore what it means to be a modern day enchantress.
Today’s guest is the wonderful Ana Engelhorn - Founder and Creative Director of London’s Ana Engelhorn Interior Design. Ana blends the old and new to create truly unique interiors - celebrating a love for the beauty to be found in imperfection.
She manages to draw out the magic in all of her varied projects - whether it's an elegant Chelsea period townhouse, a private family Victorian Surrey estate or a 16th Century Catalan Farmhouse - so we feel she is the ideal person to tell us more about enchanting the space around us.
Ana, can you tell us what drew you to the world of interior design and how you got started?
I come from a family with an innate interest in and love for interior design, art and home décor. Growing up, my parents always dedicated time to making our homes and surroundings beautiful – it was just a normal part of life. When it came time for me to buy my own home, it was thus natural for me to do it up, and as I began to buy different properties, renovating, redecorating and later, selling them, I started to get attention from magazines and people were telling me that I could do this for a living.
In retrospect, given my early immersion in beautiful interiors, while it’s perhaps not that surprising this is the career route that I ended up taking, I had not imagined or expected it’s what I’d be doing for a job! However, I welcomed the prospect of spending my days doing what I loved. So, with the encouragement from these initial personal properties, I left my job organising classic car events, and went on to study interior design formally. Soon after, I moved to London and started my own business, wanting to be able to set my own timetable and take care of my children while I pursued this dream.
You’re half-Spanish and half-German, though spent much of your life in Switzerland before settling in London. Do you feel you draw inspirations from those different cultures and design aesthetics?
Yes, absolutely. Being raised amongst different cultures and languages – and ideas about how to live life – I have absorbed many ways of thinking and taken these varied influences into my own designs. Spain, Germany, Switzerland and England, while not geographically that far apart, each have distinct cultures, styles and aesthetics. The differences can be quite funny – perplexing even – to those from the other countries. The English love of carpets, for example, is contrasted starkly by the Swiss affinity for bare wooden floors. Cultural preferences and design traditions aside, however, we as humans have unique habits and ways of being which also influence how we organise and design our home. When it comes to the aesthetics of a house, where it’s purely a question of decoration, I draw inspiration from many countries, including ones I have visited on my travels.
You talk about the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi - can you explain more about it and how you use it?
Wabi-sabi is about seeing the beauty in imperfections. Similarly, the traditional Japanese art of Kintsugi is about repairing broken objects in a way that respects their origins and meaning. This overarching philosophy of embracing flaws or imperfections resonates deeply with me. I believe that when a building or an antique is restored, its heritage and history should be honoured. In owning it or living in it, we become caretakers of that piece of history, entrusted to look after it for a while until we pass it on to the next person. When restoring a building, it’s thus really important to me that every possible effort is made to restore it in the purest sense, respecting its heritage, rather than thinking only about how ‘efficiently’ it might be done. I apply these ideas to my interior designs every day, with my ‘perfectly imperfect’ approach.
And of course, what do you love about London and British culture and design?
I love how this country can be so white and beige while at the same time have the most amazing antique destinations and funky designers who splash colours around without rules or restrictions. Its various styles cater for every taste. Other countries that try to copy the UK’s unique aura and eccentricity fall short, often hemmed in by more classical cultures or traditions. And London – it’s huge! Modern buildings sit alongside grade-listed ones, there’s a heady mix of funky and classical, rich and poor, old and young – and despite its size, has maintained areas that look and feel like the villages from which it’s formed. It’s a wonderful hotchpotch, which gives London a special vibe that I love. Here, whoever you decide to be, I really feel you can find your space and be accepted.
With Mignonnette London, deeply embedded in the core of our brand, is that when you put our clothes on, they bring our your inner enchantress, you transform. It starts with the design process as a way of telling stories, with the intention of drawing out different parts of the wearer’s personality. Your projects can be huge transformations that also seem so personal and unique, so we’d love to know where you start - is it with the building itself or the owner?
Every project is different. Sometimes there is a very clear starting point that stems from the building; other times it comes from the person. My latest project in Surrey, for example, was a Grade 2 listed house and was an instance where I took my lead from the building. It was screaming out to me to be restored and taken back to its origins as much as possible. The building had been added to five or six times so the more modern parts didn’t matter as much, but at its core were original elements that had been hidden, which I thought were important to revive. This started with restoring all the open, wood burning fireplaces and uncovering and restoring the flooring in the entrance, which had been covered with more modern tiles. From an owner perspective, some have a clear idea about what they want and may thus kick-start the creative process by sharing their vision. Others have no idea who they are, what they like, or which direction they should go in, and its only when you show them the design possibilities that they discover their style. I enjoy all iterations – it keeps my job interesting!
Before taking on a potential client, I’ll start with an initial meeting where we meet and decide if we are the right fit for each other and can get on (this is like a marriage, in the end!). If yes, my next step is to go through a lengthy questionnaire with them where I find out about their likes and dislikes, their way of living and what they want to achieve. In a way, it’s similar to your design process at Mignonnette where, through the clothes, you draw out your client’s story and personality. When I have a good understanding of who my client is and what they’d like to achieve, ideas and action plans blossom and we dive straight in to creating the interior design.
Where do you find inspiration for your different projects?
Everywhere! I recently watched the movie ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and in one scene she wears this amazing sea green dress with a pink/purple sash that I am going to try to get replicated and use on my office walls. It’s absolutely stunning.
Do you think through transforming these different interiors, and all the research that goes into each individual project, that there are elements of yourself that have changed over time?
Yes, I think we all evolve and change as time goes on. Like it or not, there are trends that influence us, and elements of our unique style and approach that alter as we grow, and our outlook and preferences shift. I’ve also noticed, as I do more homes and get to know more people, that it’s not just me imparting knowledge, I learn from my clients as well!
Can you tell us about some of your favourite projects?
The last house I designed, which was featured in The Times, I loved doing as I was able to go all out with it and really let my creativity fly. On a different scale, I recently did a 5-hour design consultation with a client who was fearless – similarly, this was thrilling as we could really push the boundaries!
You’re also an eco-friendly interior designer - can you tell us more about what that entails?
It’s really important to think about waste in any interiors project. One easy way to be more sustainable is to incorporate existing furniture or antiques into the scheme, rather than buying all new. This works well with my design ethos, which is about blending the old with the new; I always encourage my clients to mix contemporary pieces with antiques. I also prefer natural materials to synthetic ones, including wood, metal and stone, wool and linen. Fabric, for example, is an area where you can be sustainable, using recycled materials for carpets or upholstery. In addition to thinking about sustainability, I also try to incorporate a sense of health and wellbeing into the home, and I think eco-friendly materials can help on this front too. For example, I use eco-friendly paint that literally helps to purify the air in the rooms. And to infuse a sense of calm, I love to bring nature inside with plants and greenery.
With your interiors you love blending old things with contemporary touches - is that something that carries through to your personal wardrobe?
Ha, yes! Funny you should say that. I actually own clothes that I have had for 20 years. With quality items that last, there is no need to throw them away. I prefer buying more expensive clothes than changing my wardrobe every four weeks with cheaper items. My style is a mix of traditional with fun, naughty touches.
What do you love to wear - either when dressing up or on off duty days?
I actually wear a lot of black. Sometimes, when I am feeling provocative, I’ll incorporate a piece that’s extremely colourful into the outfit, like a bright yellow jumper. I also love wearing flowy dresses. I commute to work on a motorbike, so come into the office in leathers, but I have a bag with me and get changed while putting on the kettle. Feeling feminine yet strong is important to me.
What does style mean to you?
I think how we present ourselves reflects who we are and how we feel. While I have standard ‘get-up-and-go’ outfits for day-to-day wear – basically trousers and top! – I also have special items that come out from time to time. I wear these items on occasions where I want to put in an extra effort, or to reflect how I feel inside that day – I may simply wake up and feel inspired to wear something a bit different! To me, style is a mirror of ourselves.
Who are some of your personal style icons?
I am terrible with names actually, I can never remember designers’ names, and I would never look at someone else and think, I want to copy their style. I do look at other people and what they are wearing and think ‘would that dress suit me?’.
What’s your favourite Mignonnette dress?
I loved the Willow the Whisper dress in dusky pink and had to have it! It is very feminine and beautiful, and complements curvier figures very well, smoothing out the edges and showing one’s best side, I think. The way it flows when I walk and the slit down the front is suggestive yet demure.
Ana is wearing the Willow the Whisper Wrap Dress in dusky pink crinkle chiffon silk
You can discover more about Ana and her work at:
@anaengelhorn / anaengelhorn.com