We caught up with Tom O'Dell, interior stylist, production designer and fashion stylist, to talk about how he shapes his personal space at home in Camberwell and the strategies he uses to feel supported + protected.
Brendan: Great to see you again Tom. Tell me, we’re obviously living through strange times, how have you found the last three months?
Tom: I was about to start various productions and projects including styling a new television production, everything was cancelled. It was upsetting, but you know, I’m still positive.
Brendan: What have you been enjoying during this down time?
Tom: I enjoy being quiet and it has encouraged me to be still. I love London a lot, I’m passionate about the city, so I've missed the vibrancy and being immersed in wider city life. But it has been nice to be more settled in Camberwell, not shooting around London, killing myself rushing around from A-Z. I appreciate my home more, the space I live in, and my garden has benefited hugely from my time. The lockdown has taught me that quietness has become a necessity. Waking up to the dawn chorus at 4am, listening to the birds, when the sunlight is breaking, not hearing the planes overhead: I appreciate all of it. I’ve more time for cooking, reading in the garden and exploring my local area. I’ve also rediscovered my love of running
Brendan: As an interior stylist, how does your personal space support your wellbeing?
Tom: I looked at the space and began adapting it to suit my new needs. Normally, I would be out all day, but with more time at home I created new seating areas; outside for morning coffee or moving the sofa to give it a view of the garden. I like the idea of rotating the space to suit each day. I moved the chair into the bedroom so I can sit and read with the sun on my face. I'm always changing things around, I’m always adapting and trying to make my space as comfortable as possible. My front room needs to be like a gallery really, I have collections of ceramics and plants on the surrounding shelves. Everything's out on show, whether that's records, artwork or books.
Brendan: What's your favourite spot within your home?
Tom: The living room. It has original Victorian windows, floor to ceiling, that look out to the garden, which isn’t overlooked and gets the sun all day.
Brendan: Should we consider rearranging our personal space more often?
Tom: What’s that old saying: tidy house, tidy mind? Even when I was in student accommodation, as soon as I came home I would give the house a quick five minutes. It can make a big difference; whether that's adjusting the lighting, putting out a diffuser or spraying a home fragrance. Just those few little tweaks - tidying up the cushions and lighting a candle or incense - can actually help me relax quite a lot. You don’t have to dust and polish the whole house to feel calm.
Brendan: So, what are your tips for creating a safe, well designed space?
Tom: A place that’s not too precious or particular, but somewhere you can see the things that make you happy.
Brendan: Outside, what do you find inspiring at the moment?
Tom: I'm lucky where I live in Camberwell, there's three lovely parks and a local garden. I've loved watching the changing seasons. My local park, Burgess Park, has a Victorian house with wonderful gardens. It has colour schemes that run out throughout the house through the year and that inspires me. I found some beautiful streets that I never knew existed, they all have ponds in the front garden and I’ve seen some beautiful vintage cars. If you've seen a nice street or garden, it makes you so inspired about just painting your own front door. Simple things.
Brendan: How does your garden make you feel?
Tom: My travels around Camberwell inspire me to spend time in my garden, to grow vegetables and flowers and to watch them, nurture them and love them.
Brendan: What are you growing currently?
Tom: I’m growing tomato plants, runner beans, lots of herbs, chilli and lettuce. If the slugs weren’t as bad, we would have more fruit. Lots of flowers, alliums, fox gloves - that are just on their way out. And a large old grape vine, which is beautiful. Every September, it probably gives 50 bunches of grapes that you can eat. We give them to a place in Lambeth that makes wine. So, that's pretty nice.
Brendan: Inside, what are your favourite artworks or objects?
Tom: I purchased some lovely drawings recently by Justin Knowles. He’s shown his work at the Tate and other galleries. I have a sofa, which is my pride and joy. It looks Scandinavian but it’s from Greaves & Thomas of Bond Street London. It has a davenport mechanism that turns it into a daybed. I have a lovely shelving system made out of reclaimed oak by a London carpenter called Mark Willet which is quite well documented on my Instagram. I'm lucky that over the years I've collected bits of furniture, artwork and ceramics from flea markets and trips.
Brendan: Tell us about the plants in your home?
Tom: I've become a little bit more particular about plants. It used to be more about greenery and now it’s more about architectural structure to fit with my furniture, ceramics and sculptures. So I've got a lot of these plants here, extraordinary angel wings and begonia in a lovely bespoke pot a ceramist made for me. I do accumulate all these indoor plants. The two really sculptural ones came through a friend, Matthew Wright, who’s a gardener. All the other plants are from local garden centres in Peckham, Dulwich, Woolworth and Penge.
Brendan: So, what is your morning routine?
Tom: I’m usually woken up about 5am because the cats are scratching to be fed. I go back to bed for a couple of hours, then I get up and it's a short shower. Then I'm ready for the day, take my vitamins and moisturise. I can get ready and have coffee and I’m done in 12 minutes.
Brendan: When do you feel the most energised during the day?
Tom: I’m most energised in the early evening. I’m a better runner in the evening than in the morning, because I’m not a great sleeper. But this is improving with the help of anatomē sleep aids.
Brendan: So, let’s talk about your sleep routine?
Tom: Sleeping has always been a problem for me. I'm doing my best to tackle that. Usually we'll go to bed around 11pm. I don't always fall asleep, and that's fine. Even if I do fall asleep, I'll wake up plenty of times in the night, and I'm okay. Some people who don’t sleep are ruined, I think I've got used to it. I can do a whole day on set or I can go run around town on little to no sleep. But I know that if I sleep better, I would be less anxious, less worried. I’m hoping to change things with the help of a sleep expert.
Brendan: Dr O’Riordan at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital talks about simple steps; bringing a plant into the room, changing the visual language of the sleeping space to tell the brain it is time to sleep. Simple changes can have an impact, and from the physician's perspective, it's easy for patients to follow. It’s about training your brain and positive associations.
Tom: I think I’ve come to associate going to bed with feeling frustrated or irritated. I think if I could try and change that to being a joyous place, where I can’t wait to go - instead of worrying I won’t sleep.
Brendan: Is this something that has got worse or better during lock down?
Tom: The lighter days don’t help. Normally I fill my days so much, whereas, because I haven't had so much on, I've had that frustrated feeling of not achieving or succeeding. And actually quite a lot of times I’ve been lying in bed thinking I can’t sleep but I can't wait to get up and start gardening and do the one thing I need to do for the day.
Brendan: How often do you exercise?
I feel good after it. It makes me feel less sluggish. It gives me a good platform to try and relax and to sleep better.
Tom: I'm trying to run four or five times a week. I listen to a podcast for 40 minutes, come home, shower and then I can relax. I use Strava to keep track of distances and speed. I'm quite competitive. My Dad coaches the Cambridge University running team, that’s his job. Some of his runners have represented Great Britain. He’s a pretty successful coach so me and my sister have that ambition and competitive edge instilled in us. He’s not pushy. We just love competition.
Brendan: Do you run competitively?
Tom: No. When I'm running, I sort of follow my nose and I like seeing street furniture rather than the park. I like going through Peckham, seeing the architecture and I do about 8k.