FoundHer: Laura Butler-Madden, Interior Designer
In the last 10 months, we've all spent a lot of time at home staring at our design choices. We may have even wondered how to be savvy and re-decorate without spending too much of our hard (or hardly) earned cash. Perhaps, like me, you’ve turned with yearning eyes to Laura Butler-Madden’s stunning Instagram squares, awash with impeccable interiors in restful tones.
Over the last decade, property developer and interior designer Laura has built an impressive portfolio of 11 projects with her photographer-turned-developer husband, Patrick. She offers clients a full package from property finding to styling, both in the UK and the Balearics (where she has a home in Menorca).
Laura talks to Storytellhers about her style and inspirations, how she’s built-in being a mum alongside being a businesswoman, and why having a serene master bedroom has never been more important than now.
How did you fall into property developing and interior design?
I started my career as a journalist and then moved into publicity, working with a variety of celebrity clients. I did a degree in English Literature at Cardiff University, followed by a masters in Broadcast Journalism. I then got a job in the regional BBC newsroom doing the subtitles for the evening news – not hugely glamorous, but you have to start somewhere! I then got a job at Newsround in London, which I loved, and a few years later was offered the opportunity to move into publicity, which was fun but also exhausting!
In 2008 I was suddenly needed in Mallorca to help with my family property business – I had no experience in property prior to that and was completely out of my depth. Suddenly I was having to oversee the build of a large house on the north of the island and get it ready for sale before the credit crunch full hit. I discovered that I loved the design, but also the finance and costings side of it. The career shift I had was completely unexpected, but I quickly learned I had the skills for it and loved all elements of the work.
Why did you start blogging?
I set up the blog because I was surrounded by builders and mud in Mallorca – nothing glamorous – and blogging was a bit of an escape. Back in 2010 blogs weren’t so much about your own life and sharing your own imagery. Mine started out much more like a magazine – working with press releases and images of houses I loved that I had seen online.
You work with your husband, Patrick – how did that come about?
My husband and I met at a friend’s wedding (even though we had been three years apart at the same school). He came with me to Mallorca - he’s a photographer, but we worked on the properties together. Both of us loved it. We moved back to London and wanted to carry on. Our first property development here was a cottage in Battersea, a loft conversion. We managed to sell it quickly and made enough profit to do the next one - and then we just got on a roll. After a few projects, I started to share more pictures online. Patrick’s photos are so beautiful and I started to use Pinterest more. A few of the photos went viral and I was so surprised! I started to feel more confident when people shared them and I got messages asking for interiors advice. I began using Instagram in 2016 and my following has grown steadily over time – I love the community on there still find it great for inspiration.
How do you describe your style?
It’s so hard to describe your own style, but I like to think it’s quite ‘calm’ and ‘elegant’. I like to keep the colour palette generally quite soft and then introduce interesting artwork and lighting. I wouldn’t say that my style is either traditional or contemporary - I enjoy a sense of quality and timelessness. If you go for something that’s too in fashion then it tires. For me it all starts with the building – I love architecture and history and I use the original features of a property to influence my design process. I love texture, natural materials and pops of colour. For example, for our recent renovation in Oxfordshire, we were working with a charming cottage that is hugely unique in style for the area – instead of being traditional Cotswold Stone, the house was built with a red brick frontage in the Victorian times. It is set in the most magical plot, hidden away from the village, and I wanted the design to reflect this uniqueness and charm. Initially, I wasn’t sure where the designs would take me - the cottage really developed its own personality and is now a lovely cosy space in winter, but also full of light and fun for the summer months.
What’s your development and design process?
Initially, I was inspired by magazines for design ideas, but now the creative journey starts from within. I might see a fabric or a colour which will then start me thinking, or even a piece of art. My development process starts when I walk into a building and get a sense of whether there’s potential. Patrick and I see potential in almost everything though, so we can easily get diverted! The Dorset Carriage House was a heart-over-head decision. Even though it was dark and drab when we viewed it, it was such an architecturally interesting building. It’s a good example of how we work because it was an evolution of initial ideas and it grew as we did the building up. Our first idea was to move the kitchen into the huge central room that no one ever used. I was nervous of the size - it was 16m by 4m with an 8m high ceiling – and I wondered if I could make it a comfortable and cosy space the two of us could have dinners in. It worked though - it’s a hugely special house and we were sad when we had to leave it. We lived there for three years, but once I’d had my daughter Lily it just felt a bit isolated and too early in our lives to be somewhere so rural.
How do you fulfil your role as a mum and a businesswoman?
It’s really hard. When you work for yourself you don’t get maternity leave, so I went back to work part-time a few weeks after Lily was born. I found the guilt of working very hard to bear. I’d see other mums on Instagram who’d had babies at a similar time to me, who looked like they were managing to do it all - work, being a mummy and producing lots of Instagram content. I struggled to share a picture every few days and wondered how everyone was doing it! We then got a part-time nanny two days a week, which really helped. I don’t know why as women we put so much pressure on ourselves, thinking we should be able to work and be a full-time mum without help. It almost feels like childcare is a choice if you work for yourself, but I realise now that the most important thing is having the clear divide between work and life, to really enjoy time with Lily without any guilt.
You sadly lost a baby before Lily. Why was it important for you to speak openly about it?
I had to have a medical termination at 23 weeks, and it was a horrific time. I think it is important to share: the glossy world that we all portray on Instagram – ultimately the escapism that we want to go onto the platform for - doesn’t tell the stories behind it. So, when I announced the pregnancy with Lily, I shared our story of loss as well as our long fertility journey that Patrick and I had been through. I didn’t want other people to just see me announcing my pregnancy in my shiny, newly renovated house and thinking that my life was perfect. It’s really important to be honest and offer hope and support to others. I waited until 27 weeks to announce I was pregnant with Lily, as I had been terrified to say anything or jinx my pregnancy. It was a relief when it was in the open; lots of people got in touch to say that our story had really helped them cope with their own journey and given them hope, which was lovely to hear. The online community around fertility and loss is constantly growing, and I think it’s really important to keep on talking to help normalise it as much as possible. There is nothing worse than feeling like you are going through it alone.
What piece of advice would you give to people who are thinking of getting started on a refresh or renovation at home?
You can really change a space simply by changing fabric colours and/or artwork. So, if you have a pale and simple colour scheme and want to add colour, instead of fully redecorating you can just change your accessories, artwork, cushions to give it more personality. My mother has some friends who have winter and summer curtains and cushions that they switch each year, which is a fun idea to change the mood of the room according to the season.
Which room is your favourite to design?
If I have to pick one it would probably be a master bedroom. I love to create a really calm and luxurious space in each property I design, and this tends to be the master bedroom/suite. If you have a family and the rest of the house is slightly chaotic, I think that the main bedroom needs to be a sanctuary. You can go and run a lovely bath or read a book and have a pause from it all for a moment. I tend to choose very calm colour schemes for bedrooms, but add texture and colour to make them pretty and uplifting.
Now that there’s less divide between home and work, how do we make a calm space?
Calming is about the tone, rather than the colour. I’ve done rooms in dark colours that can feel calming, like a big hug. It’s about not cluttering a space too much, and about maximising the light. If you’ve got beautiful windows, then let them be beautiful – I’m not someone who goes for heavy curtains and I don’t put too many cushions on a bed. I like to keep things clean. To keep things simple I don’t include too many different fabrics in a room, and I usually make a statement with just one pattern. We all need the headspace now – and keeping it uncluttered and the colour scheme soft and tonal will help enormously.
Laura and Patrick Butler-Madden offer a find, design and renovate service to clients in the UK and the Balearics. www.laurabutlermadden.com