I am very excited to start the first journal conversation with Abi Dare from These Four Walls. Not only is she a talented stylist, photographer and writer, but Abi has also played a huge part in my artistic journey straight from the very beginning. She was my very first customer when I created Iya Gallery back in 2017, she has continuously encouraged me and supported my work and more recently she commissioned an original piece for her living room renovation. I am glad to share a bit more about herself, her journey and ways of working with you all.
Can you tell us a little about your background and journey?
It's been a bit of a twisting journey, and definitely not an obvious one. I studied modern languages at university, spending time living in Paris and Barcelona as part of my degree, and went on to work in PR and then travel writing. I eventually ended up as the deputy editor of a boutique accommodation website, and although I loved it I got a bit frustrated at always having to cover what other people wanted me to write about, rather than my own passions. That spurred me to set up my own design, travel and lifestyle blog, These Four Walls, and it must have resonated with people because within a couple of years I had readers all over the world. In 2017 I took the plunge and left my job to focus on it full-time, and although it's not been an easy ride I've never looked back.
Nowadays I do various different things - I still run my blog, but I also take on freelance photography, styling and writing projects and I offer e-design packages to help people create homes they'll love for years to come. Basically I tell stories and create moods, whether that's through words, photos, styling or interior design. And the same calm, simple and relaxed style runs through everything I do.
(commissioned original piece by Iya Gallery)
Have you always loved interior design?
I’ve always had a creative streak, and as a child I loved to draw and paint. It began translating into interiors when I was a teenager, and my poor parents often used to come home from work to discover I’d rearranged all the furniture. On one occasion I even ripped up the carpets to see if there were nice floorboards underneath (I wasn't very popular that day!). My particular interest in minimalist, Scandinavian-style design started aged 14, when I went on a school exchange to Copenhagen. My host family took me to a barbecue at a relative's 1960s bungalow, which was filled with Danish mid-century modern furniture. It was the most beautiful, welcoming and liveable home I'd ever seen, and that was it - I was hooked.
I've long had a passion for photography, too. When I was growing up I was obsessed with taking photos to record memories and moments, but I only really discovered the artistic potential of it when I was 17 and bought myself a black and white disposable camera to take on a school trip to Paris. The images were awful, but I had so much fun experimenting! I love the power of photography and the way it brings together art and science. I've never been particularly technical, but I've enjoyed the challenge of learning how light interacts with the camera.
What does a working day look like for you?
I start every morning with a coffee, in bed or in the garden if it's warm enough. I might read or catch up on social media, but it's always a bit of quiet time that helps set me up for the day ahead. Then I'll have a shower and start work properly - whether that means setting up a photoshoot or heading to my desk to do some design work or writing. I often work with soft music in the background, and I try to go for a walk to clear my head at lunchtime. I also like to light scented candles throughout the day - an invigorating one in the morning, and then something more relaxing in the late afternoon to help me unwind.
How do you structure your day/week?
It varies enormously depending on what I have on, but I try to stick to roughly the same hours every day and not work during evenings or weekends unless I have to. I also tend to break my week into blocks to ensure I have dedicated time allocated to each project, and whenever deadlines allow I build in enough time to leave something for a day or two and then come back to it with fresh eyes. It always helps me see new possibilities and find the best way forward.
As a freelancer, what are some of the main challenges you face?
Trying to keep some separation between work and leisure is always tricky. I'm very lucky to have turned my passions into a career, but that does mean it can be a struggle to switch off, and work inevitably spills over into my home life. Self-doubt is a bit of a monster to grapple with, too - and I'm sure most creatives would agree with me! It's so tempting to spend ages comparing yourself and your work to others, or listening to the critical voice inside your head - especially if you're working on your own. I find having a support system really helps, whether that's being part of some kind of official group or network or, in my case, just having friends in a similar situation who I can chat to.
Do you have any preferred type of project or room to design?
I love the variety of what I do, so I don't have a favourite from photography, styling, writing or interior design. I do always love the challenge of working on small or awkwardly shaped rooms, though. Helping clients make the best use of whatever space they have - and create a home that works for them and the way they live - is an honour.
You have a condition called synaesthesia - can you tell us a little about that and how it affects your work?
Synaesthesia is a neurological condition that means one sense merges with another rather than being experienced separately. It can manifest itself in all sorts of different ways - some people might experience certain smells or tastes when they hear different sounds, for example. In my case, it means I see each letter, number and day of the week as a different colour – and not just ‘green’ or ‘red’, but very specific shades. It’s given me a strong appreciation for colour and design, and not only on a visual level. Our surroundings can have a huge impact on the way we feel, and I’m a firm believer that good interior design is as much about wellbeing as aesthetics. I also think it's one of the reasons muted, minimalist design appeals to me so much. My head is constantly buzzing with colour, so being in a simple space, looking at calm photography and even wearing clothing in neutral tones is a bit of an antidote to that!
Are there any activities outside of your practice that help you to relax or re-energise?
Spending time immersed in nature always helps me unwind and refocus, whether that's going for a long walk in the countryside or just sitting in the garden listening to the birds. And although photography is a big part of my job, I love taking my camera out and about in my spare time, too - it's a chance to be creative just for the sheer joy of it, without any deadlines or pressure. I also started learning to weave during lockdown, and I really enjoy that - it's fun do something tactile and hands-on, and there's something very meditative about the repetitive, almost rhythmic processes involved.