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Set your heart on fire

Words by Dan Warden

‘Brave’ and ‘bold’; the style characteristics of renowned Interior Designer, Anouska Lancaster.

Noushka Design is so much more than a business. “It is part of me. I don’t have a ‘work persona’ and a ‘home persona’ – I am who I am; whether I’m working or relaxing with my family.” These words, self-penned by Interior Stylist, Anouska Lancaster, immediately ring true as I pick up the phone for our scheduled interview. It’s almost six months since the country was placed under a nationwide lockdown, and as is inevitable whenever I speak to anybody, we ask one another how life’s been, both in and after lockdown.

© Chris Fletcher

“My work’s still really busy, lots of people are making their homes as great as they can be, because they can’t go anywhere else. So I can’t complain!”

Anouska Lancaster

Anouska Lancaster is an innovator and the creator of a unique and inspiring brand – one who has become known around the UK, after numerous television appearances and interviews in some of our favourite lifestyle titles, for her bold and brave stamp of interior design. It’s a style that, as she later tells me, you either love or you hate, and that in itself is intriguing. And so when I heard that Anouska had recently completed the interiors of her own two homes in Port Isaac, I absolutely had to find out more.

I start, as always, by asking a little about her background. As it turns out, Anouska’s earliest years were spent with her parents showing dogs, and in fact she won her first award at the early age of six! “The whole doggy show life finished when I was about ten, when my parents separated. But when you grow up with dogs, you always have dogs – it makes a house a home.”

That’s an important point. Not necessarily the dogs, but the idea of making a house a home – it’s one that’s embedded in the very foundations of Anouska’s design style, and as we find out later, far outweighs the importance of what’s in vogue.

© Chris Fletcher

Anouska’s creative background lies in art. “All I wanted to do when I grew up was to paint and draw, particularly horses and dogs,” she laughs, “so I trained fully as an artist. I didn’t go down the interior design route until much later, after I’d had my children.”

In fact, her first interiors job was designing a nightclub, which, she tells me, “I did as a favour because they knew I was arty and passionate about anything creative”. That project would become highly acclaimed and even nominated for an award, and sure enough, Anouska was quickly asked to do another club. This time, her designs helped her client win ‘Best Nightclub’ in London’s 2007 Nightclub Awards. “It was really bizarre!”

It wasn’t, however, until Anouska and her first husband divorced that she decided it was time to move into the interiors business full time. “It’s really hard being an artist and for me, there wasn’t enough money to make a living. I noticed that my designs were really out there and in my style, and that people loved it! I also noticed that everything else was grey, and I think that my style really caught people’s attention. My designs were really colourful, bright, vivid and quirky, and there was certainly a market for that.” In short, she continues: “I found my feet.”

© Nick Huggins

Noushka Designs started out with lots of residential work, steering away from the nightclub route. “Residential jobs could easily be done around my children’s school, so I started small in 2011 and built and built my business to where it is today.”

What really set Anouska apart was how she stood her ground. “I wanted every single design to be different,” she reveals, as opposed to today’s rather formulaic standard of design that’s largely led by what’s on trend. “For me, your home has to be a reflection of you and your personality, your favourite colours and your ambitions; it has to reflect you. That’s what’s really exciting about Noushka Designs – no two projects are the same.”

I ask about Anouska and her husband Greig’s connection to Cornwall. “It’s like our passion place,” she tells me, “and the long term plan is to move down to Cornwall eventually.”

© Nick Huggins

That dream started in 2015. “For our wedding present, we were bought a weekend in Port Isaac, and we completely fell in love with the place. We loved the community, we loved how beautiful it was – everything about it – so we immediately began searching for a holiday home there. It did take a while,” she admits, explaining “I wanted the classic ‘chocolate box’ cottage”.

They purchased their first Port Isaac home, called Hillside, in 2018, but it wasn’t their first choice. Anouska and Greig had previously looked at another called Rose Cottage, and had even booked to go and see it. “Our heart was already set on it, but as we were driving down for the viewing, we had a call from the agency to say it had sold.”

Disappointed, but ultimately determined to continue their search for a home in Port Isaac, they instead found and bought Hillside cottage, and embarked on its complete renovation.

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that Anouska’s design style is a far cry from the usual whites, blues and boats that characterise a large proportion of Cornwall’s seaside homes. And she wasn’t about to change her approach for Hillside. “I wanted to show people in Cornwall that you don’t have to be scared of colour. In Port Isaac, Hillside was just so different, and it really got people talking. It opened up their eyes to stepping outside of their comfort zone, to create something that’s really exciting.”

Anouska’s belief is that “your home should make you happy”, particularly a holiday home. “You need to wake up and feel alive – surrounded by colours that make you happy. It should be a place that you can escape from reality.” The same is true for those letting their homes out to holidaymakers. “Just make it fun. People that stay in holiday homes aren’t there day in, day out – it’s an escape from the norm. You have to take them to a different place. That’s why I use bright colours – because I want to break the rules that everybody else lives by.”

The result at Hillside is staggering, and while the interiors may be seen to contrast with the seascapes and maritime heritage that define Port Isaac, they do, in their own way, complement the locale. “What I say about my properties in Port Isaac is that they are nautical, but they are nautical with a modern twist,” Anouska explains.

As an example, we’ll move onto Rose Cottage. Despite initially missing the sale, as they forged ahead with the renovation of Hillside, Anouska and Greig received a call from north Cornwall property agents, John Bray, to say that the sale of the cottage they’d originally fallen in love with, had fallen through. “That’s how we’ve ended up with two!”

Nods to the nautical can be found throughout Rose Cottage, including green and pink fish, as opposed to the traditional blue, but not just that. Anouska and Greig were also keen to complement the location by supporting local industry, and when designing Rose Cottage (and, in fact, Hillside), Anouska explains: “I used all Cornish tradesmen; I wanted to source the art from Cornish artists, and the fabrics from Cornish producers.”

But Rose Cottage was never destined to simply repeat what had made Hillside so successful. In fact, having had such an overwhelming response to Hillside, Anouska decided that Rose Cottage was her chance to take things even further. “I wanted to step it up and see how far I could go with my style. It’s a lot edgier,” she laughs, highlighting details such as neon lights, quirky artwork and vintage accessories, and a beautiful art mural that’s been turned into a wallpaper.

In fact, Anouska has taken it so far that it might surprise you to learn that Rose Cottage (and Hillside) are currently listed as holiday lets! Available to rent through John Bray Cornish Holidays, the goal, reveals Anouska, is to offer something unique to those seeking something a little different during their stay by the sea. “Appealing to the masses, I probably would have calmed it down a little bit, but because we want it to be our forever home, it was like ‘well this is who we are, this is who I am as a designer’. If you love it, brilliant, come and enjoy it, and if you don’t, that’s fine, because it’s going to be our home anyway.”

© Chris Fletcher

Anouska does admit that she’s “nervous about renting Rose Cottage”, having put so much into it. “But I think there’s a massive market out there – particularly Londoners who like boutique hotels and cool places like Soho House – who want that same level of design and inspiration. And I don’t think many places in Cornwall are offering that at the moment.”

Whilst she clearly has confidence in her style as a designer, what really shines through as I speak with Anouska is a sense of self-awareness, and she tells me that “people either love my designs or they hate them”. This is because she’s not led by what’s in vogue, and when I ask whether she’s at all influenced by current trends, she says: “Definitely not. With all of my clients, I have to get to know them really well before designing for them. It’s such a personal thing, where you live; that interior has to reflect the person, so I think it’s really dangerous trying to fit the trend.

© Christine Taylor

“Some people are so keen to follow a trend that they go for something that isn’t necessarily their style. Because interior design can be quite scary, a lot of people end up seeking comfort by adhering to what’s in the magazines.

“If I had a top tip, it would be that you have to trust your gut instinct and really go with what you like. It’s like fashion – a lot of people wear the same tried-and-tested clothes that work for them, but they shouldn’t be afraid to push the boundaries.” Anouska’s philosophy centres around the notion that whether you’re traveling from London for a holiday by the sea, or merely returning home after a day’s work, “you should be excited to get there”.

Sticking with current trends, it’s interesting to hear that, while Anouska has long been a reader of one of the interior industry’s leading magazines, she has, of late, found herself wondering why. “I don’t know what’s happened to it – all the pictures are just white! It just feels so uninspiring and I’ll flick through it in ten minutes, whereas I used to tear pages out for my mood boards! I don’t know whether it’s a movement or just conforming, I’m not sure, but it goes back to what we’ve been saying; whether you love it or hate it, it needs to cause a reaction.”

© Chris Fletcher

Anouska affirms that when all’s said and done, it’s your home. Your friends may not like what you do, but that doesn’t matter. As long as you love it – as long as it “sets your heart on fire” – that is what great interior design is all about.

Instagram @noushka_design


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