Pillow Talk: Claire Warren, The Grey House

We first met Claire Warren of The Grey House at our first Boutiques Fair pop-up in 2018. Her booth was directly across ours, and we found ourselves admiring her beautiful rugs and handmade glassware on display every time we had a free minute.

We recently had the pleasure of visiting her black-and-white bungalow where we got to enjoy a delicious homemade cake and play with her beautiful dog, Biscuit, as we chatted about the story behind The Grey House, the challenges of working from home, and the challenges of parenting.

Claire, your life is an exciting flurry of activity! From working in fashion (with the likes of Chanel!) to starting The Grey House, how would you say that your experiences have shaped your foray into interiors?

I studied economics and business management in university, so it was really far from fashion and interiors. Working with Chanel was incredible as it definitely trained me and taught me that a strong brand identity and key brand values are so important. I was only 22 when I began work in the press department there and I stayed for 8 years. It felt like going to school, a very chic one. It gave me an incredible foundation and I learnt so much. The company has one of the most identifiable aesthetics and their monochrome branding sets the tone for a rich and luxurious brand that is aspired by many worldwide. It was a great way to start my career!

When I moved to Singapore, I freelanced a bit with some magazines and then worked with Club21 for a few years... but I had my family and my life was changing. My own expectations were changing and my time between my family and career had to be split.

When we moved to this black-and-white bungalow, I needed to find pieces that would work in versatile environments — whether it’s this house, the next apartment we move to, or when we move back to the UK — that were neutral but also had longevity. I couldn't find beautifully designed pieces here in my price bracket. All the European designers brands are stunning but they are expensive, even more so when you factor in shipping, customs, etc. On the whole, I knew what I wanted in terms of design so I thought best to use my contacts — my family is from India and my husband's family lived in Indonesia for years — and get items made for our home.

I started with rugs because my floors are so ugly! [laughs] Because I needed the pieces to work in different settings, I always offer neutral pieces. I want things to transpire and have multiple uses.

It slowly grew from there. When I joined Boutiques, Charlotte, the founder, advised me to carry more accessible pieces to create different entry points. So I slowly developed more of the homeware side of things too. In general, my palette is very neutral so they can easily fit into people’s homes.

Claire and her collection of rugs in her home office.


The Grey House carries handmade products from local communities and family-run businesses. What draws you towards such products?

I like picking things out from my travels and incorporating them into my collection. Mungo, for example, is a South African label I came across when I travelled to South Africa. I chose them because their designs are really beautiful but they are also of great quality and still great value for money. Mungo is a family-run business. They own their own mills just outside of Plettenberg Bay; they yarn their own cotton and they also weave their own textiles using traditional processes ⁠— there is an element of storytelling and heritage that makes their products stand out. Obviously, they have bolder colours in their collection. I just buy according to what would suit The Grey House and bring in more neutral, muted pieces. The colours of their tumblers and carafes are exquisite.

Maison Balzac is another one. The brand is founded by a French lady based in Sydney, Elise Pioch, and all her products are developed as an ode to her childhood. She started her company with beautiful scents and now the collection includes stunning glassware mouth-blown in Mongolia.

With all my products, I try to source or work directly with family-run businesses because they are part of the local communities. My rugs are made by a studio in India and my furniture is made by another family-run business in Indonesia. Those businesses support the local communities. It’s important to give back.

What do you think transforms a space into a home?

Whether you work with an interior designer or you choose to style your home yourself, the most important thing that transforms a space into a home is your individual standpoint and the little memories that you weave into your space: the fabric you bought from a trip to Mexico that you turned into a cushion, a piece of art your friends gifted you, or even photographs of you and your family. A designer can use beautiful furniture and furnishings, but these are just the building blocks. You need to incorporate pieces that speak to you to make your space feel like your home.

Efficient and clever use of space is also important when designing your home. It isn't always easy working on layouts but take the time to try different combinations as it will be worth the effort . When working with a large, sometimes awkward space, try using rugs to segment and define the different areas. We have an L-shaped living room but have divided the room up into four areas: the living area, a dining area, a TV area, and a reading nook. It all sits relatively close together but it is an efficient use of space and feels intimate.

 

How would you describe your decorating style?

Contemporary with a traditional touch. I like a more neutral, minimal aesthetic, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. I love combining so many different textures and patterns within the same colour palette.

What pieces in your home are you most fond of?

It’s probably the art piece that my gorgeous friends gifted me for my 40th birthday. It’s a print by a New York-based French artist, Frank Bohbot.

I also love those grey chairs. My parents gifted them to me but when I first received them, I thought they were absolutely bonkers — they were pink velvet. So I reupholstered them in grey linen and now they look lovely. It became a running joke in my family because my dad could never understand why he gave them to me as he absolutely loves them. They are so comfortable.

I also really love our custom-made buffet. I had it made for our last apartment, but when we moved here, it fits perfectly in that space.

 

Left: Claire sits in one of her prized grey chairs with a Frank Bohbot's art print behind her gifted from friends. Right: Glimpse a snippet of Claire's custom faux shagreen console.

 

You’ve been working from home for a few years now. How do you balance work and home responsibilities?

I’m not very good at it. It’s one of my new year resolutions actually!

I try to be strict and not work when the kids are home, but in reality, when a message pops in from a client, my first reaction is I have to reply straight away. I recently installed Whatsapp on my computer and learned how to mark the messages as unread, and that has changed my life! I started treating Whatsapp messages as emails... something to do on the computer during work time.

I’ve actually just joined a club just so I can have an office that is away from home. I find that when you work from home all day on your own, it can be really monotonous and quite boring — your productivity dips. So, by combining some work time outside of my home, I create a routine that helps me be more productive and define the boundaries between work and family life a little bit more.

In honesty, I don’t have the answer, as I am sure most people who work from home will tell you. But at the beginning of the year, I set out a schedule for work, exercise, etc. and I am finding that the schedule is helping me give my weeks more structure, making everything a little easier to manage.

Do the kids ever complain about you working from home?

 They do. They are kids… they have school all day and when they come home, they just want to spend some time with me. A lot of it is on me too. I need to be better at saying to myself, you know what, I can’t do that now, I just need to deal with that later. I basically work in the day during the time that they are in school and at night when they are in bed.

 

Claire and the family's 3-year-old cockapoo, Biscuit.

 

How do you unwind?

Exercising! It’s been such a good way for me to just shut off. I’m not necessarily sure that I get fitter, but it’s one-hour I get to spend away from my phone ⁠— not feeling guilty for not being at your desk or for not being with my children⁠ — just an hour I get to spend for myself.

Can you share more about that guilt?

I think all mothers have mother's guilt, it's in our DNA. Whether you work or not, you want to be able to give the children the best of you. I am not sure I even find the right balance as when I'm working and they are home, I feel like I should be with them. If I'm with them and a work thing comes through, I feel like I need to address it.

 

 

How do you spend your days off?

My weekends are always busy with kids stuff. We love hanging at home and enjoying our garden. Family bike rides are a regular feature... but if I can sneak a mid-week lunch with my girlfriends, that is always a bonus. I do also love a good foot reflexology; a complete indulgence but a heavenly hour to myself!


 

Pillow Talk is an interview series done in collaboration with Public Culture, an editorial experience studio that believes in connection over communication.

Leave a comment