MADE.COM’s latest designer collaborator, Rhonda Drakeford, is half of Darkroom London - the duo famed for painting their London shop black before it was a thing. She now runs Studio Rhonda creating inspiring spaces for private clients, and most recently, worked with us at MADE to design a line of encaustic tiled tables for her Vitti collection. We visited her small two bedroom rental flat in Hackney and found out how she transformed a rundown former shop into a space with bags of personality and a very Instagrammable exterior.
Transforming a generic rental flat into a space that’s anything but is something of a skill. But it’s second nature to Rhonda Drakeford whose designer eye and clever use of scaffolding planks turned a once grotty shop into an Insta-worthy home. “The flat was typical rental fodder with a cheap kitchen and cracked laminate flooring. I just loved the location and tried to see beyond the décor. I asked the landlord if I could do some work on the property to improve it in exchange for a couple of weeks free rent, which they agreed to.”
Black features heavily in the flat, but rather than being overbearing, it acts as a neutral against Rhonda’s other, bolder touches of colour. “I ripped up the laminate floor revealing nice wooden floorboards which I’ve painted black.”
“I also tore down the upper kitchen cabinets which were practically hanging off the wall and replaced them with shelves made from cheap but strong scaffolding planks.”
A flat with a shop front window has the advantage of plenty of light but the flipside is compromised privacy. “I used scaffolding planks to build some shelves for plants to give the large shop-window a little screening from the street without blocking out any light.” The effect? One very snappable plant-based view from the street. “I now find passers-by stop in their tracks to look at the plants and take photos, even peering right in! The plants make me feel such calmness and really create a dialogue between the indoors and outdoors.”
“Your home should talk your language, not be a soulless show-home of brand new stuff. It takes time, collecting, curating possessions, souvenirs from travels, furniture from old family members. All your stuff, however disparate can be grouped and made to work in interesting ways and give it soul and a history. If you are struggling to make sense of it, get help, it’s more affordable than you think to get professional advice on decluttering and creating a joyful space.”
“My home needs to be a balance of somewhere between visual stimulation and calming sanctuary. My taste is for oddness and contrast — it’s not really about being daring or tasteful, it’s about being creative and comfortable.”
In such a small space, using every nook available for storage is essential: “I built a high bookshelf around the top of the tiny hall which allows me to store many books without taking up any valuable floor space. Always look for nooks and crannies that can be commandeered for clever storage.”
We loved the stand-out pops of colour on Rhonda’s walls: “I’ve painted the decorative coloured panels on the rental-standard white walls using paint I sourced from the bargain bins of my local DIY store where accidental colour mixes are sold off cheap.”
“Every home I’ve lived in has been an evolution of my personal style. Boldness, contrast and texture are always key features, and I always start with and work with whatever the interior architecture of the place offers.”
“Black has been my neutral and base colour for most of my spaces for some years now, and I work in a sculptural manner, building shapely compositions of furniture, artwork and objects that create a visual journey through each individual room.”
“I was brought up on German Army bases. Due to constantly moving, we had few possessions. My dad made furniture out of wooden packing crates, and my mum made soft furnishings. It taught me you can create a home out of practically anything."
"My last workspace was in a basement. In winter, I’d arrive and leave in the dark and get no natural light during the day. I realised when I moved into this studio cabin how conducive to working it is to be surrounded by nature. When I’m here I’m so productive, it’s magic."
"I like to treat the decor of a workspace in the same way I’d treat a home — comfortable chairs, rugs, plants, interesting artwork and a healthy dose of colour. I personally need a decent sized window, ideally with a view of some greenery or sky — it’s really therapeutic to look up from your computer screen or desk and be able to rest your eyes on a long view. There’s a tree directly opposite the window I sit at with a veritable soap opera of different birds to watch."
"I did a degree in Graphic Design and had a design consultancy called Multistorey. We started working on the interiors of the shops and restaurants we were designing the branding for which started my evolution into interior and product design."
"In 2005 I launched a range of cushions made from African wax print dress fabrics, teaming them with chunky contrast coloured piping - they were nominated for the Elle Decoration Awards. These eventually became a signature product at Darkroom.”
“I’m drawn to clean modernist lines and bold shapes, but like to roughen and soften these lines with texture and planting. “
“My first graphic design job was in the art team at Elle Decoration when Ilse Crawford was the editor. She has been a constant inspiration ever since. I particularly love her philosophy that interiors should always be looked at from the perspective of all the senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.”
“I would have been an architect if I could have been bothered to do 10 years training. I’ve travelled a lot for architecture - if there’s a building I want to see that’s a reason to go to the place to see it. I went to the Gio Ponti hotel in Sorrento. It’s so amazing to be able to go and stay in a space you really like and be able to wake up surrounded by it all.”
Rhonda’s collection for MADE features encaustic tiles in graphic black and white with shots of bright colours on some tables “I’ve absolutely loved designing this range of furniture and textiles for MADE because they are not afraid to do something different and create statement furniture.”
Article written by: Pat McNulty
Photography by: Anna Batchelor