Credit: Victoria Adamson

At home with Pandora Sykes

The journalist, author and broadcaster talks vintage shopping, decorating on a budget - and the one piece of interior advice she wishes she’d taken...

Written by Clara Strunck September 8, 2021
What always makes a house feel like home to you?

Tactile fabrics and warm lighting.

Do you have any tips for shopping for interiors on a tight budget? Similarly, where do you think it’s wise to invest?

I prefer not to spend much on furniture unless you are getting joinery built in – which is not cheap and is worth doing well. It’s often the same price as a high street brand chair to buy an old chair off Gumtree or Etsy – anything you like the bones or shape of – and then re-upholster it in a fabric that works in the room. You can get something so much nicer and cheaper if you go second hand – I have a beautiful sideboard, which cost less than the IKEA one it was replacing! As for investing, I think on rugs (unless they’re sisal or seagrass, and then Etsy have fab made-to-measure sellers) as they can really ‘make’ a space, and picture framing. A poster, or a doodle from a junk fair, can look regal in a decent frame. I have a brilliant framer near me, J White Framing, which paints mounts and frames to match and has an extensive catalogue of moulding including waves, scallops and bobbins, so you can get something totally bespoke, and it’s a very fun process.

You have a knack for sourcing vintage homeware. Where would you suggest that a first-time buyer looks?

I think you have to commit to the trawl, first off, as it can take yonks. My favourite places are eBay, Etsy, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace as they haven’t been ‘sourced’ so to speak, so you’re getting something without the mark-up from a tastemaker. But if you want the hard work done for you, and are willing to spend a little bit more, then there are loads of curated stores with delicious selections like By Alice, The Old Cinema, Anemone, Rococo Interiors, Dig Haushizzle and Blue Cottage. TAT London is also great for really affordable, junk-shop vibes. I also recommend sniffing around any town in the UK that you visit, because there is almost always a charity or junk shop scene!

What are your favourite pieces from The Sette, and how would you style them?

I love the gingham tablecloths – a classic and you can’t go wrong. I don’t really bother with super-styled tablescape so I’d probably just whack on some lovely pottery from Hot Pottery or some of my many ceramic bits that friends have given me over the years, or that I’ve found abroad in pottery barns, and some Murano glasses that I found on eBay. I also love the paper bag vases; they would look lovely with some paper flowers peeking out the top, on a sideboard or even in a bathroom or on a hallway table.

How did you start decorating your house? Did you have an overall vision, or did you start with pieces you loved and work from there?

I was on some sort of nesting speed when we moved in, as I was six and a half months pregnant and determined to get it done before my daughter was born, which meant I did everything a little too fast for it to be either enjoyable or stressful. Almost five years on and I feel like I really understand the space and how it needs to accommodate our growing family and I really enjoy slotting bits in and out. I never chuck anything, I always re-sell, and that’s always easier to do with second-hand finds than brand new. I never did anything like a Pinterest board, but I do screenshot stuff on my computer and rip bits out of magazines and keep them all in a box. I don’t tend to ‘start’ with one piece deliberately, but if you have a bed, or a sofa, it sort of necessarily dictates the design! I gravitate towards statement pieces and patterns, so the key for me is to keep the rest of the room complimentary, as I don’t actually like lots of clutter, or a super-maximalist style – although I’m addicted to picking up little curios everywhere I go.

You are brilliant at introducing colour to interiors. What advice would you give to someone who’s nervous of anything but neutrals?

Spend an hour trawling Beata Heuman’s Instagram, it’s a masterclass in colour! I don’t try to shove a rainbow into every room – I use a palette of maybe two or three shades. In my bedroom, for example, that’s pink, blue and yellow. In our sitting room it’s dark red, mustard and bright blue. Always make sure one colour matches up with another, even if it’s just a splodge of colour in a picture or the piping on a cushion – that keeps it all in sync. To be honest, I also find colourful design much easier – I think making neutrals work, in a way that’s inviting, unless you’re on Rose Uniacke’s budget, is very difficult! I find it easier to make a cosy layered space when you use colour.

What’s your favourite room in your house, and why?

My bedroom. It doesn’t have too much stuff in it and I love looking out onto the road (I always find it weird when people want to block out the outside world! I love people watching, especially in London.) My favourite thing to do is spend hours in bed, reading.

Ready, Sette, Go – Our Quickfire Questions

Sette store by… what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Live in a house for a year before you decorate. I did not, sadly, do this.

Sette your mind to… what’s something you’d like to achieve in the next ten years?

I would love to write documentaries for television.

Joining the jet-sette… what’s your favourite holiday spot?

St Mawes, in Cornwall, in a cottage right by the sea.

Sette the record straight… what’s something people might not know about you?

I am addicted to Wham Bars. Oh, and I can ride a unicycle.

My heart’s sette on… what’s on your wishlist right now?

A bobbin mirror by Alf Newall.