Kassia St Clair Interview with Mylands

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair

Q: When did you decide you wanted a career in writing and working with colour?

A: The idea of writing and researching colour had been bubbling away vaguely ever since I was at university, although I probably first became aware of colour much earlier. (My mum was a florist and brought vases full of her work home with her.) I actually had the idea for the colour column back in 2012 and the first one appeared in Elle Decoration the following year.

Q: Tell us about the first book, The Secret Lives of Colour?

A: When I first pitched it I had a very clear idea of what I wanted The Secret Lives of Colour to be. It had to be a beautiful object, with a gorgeous cover, lush paper, and printed in full colour, obviously. The colour stories themselves — there are 75 different dyes, hues and pigments included in the book — I wanted to be almost like character sketches, so quite personal and with a lot of texture. With the help of the brilliant team at John Murray, the book has turned out to be so much better than I imagined. I am really proud of it.

Q: You regularly write a column for Elle Decoration on colour. Tell us about the feature and what makes it special?

A: Well, a different colour takes centre stage each issue. Sometimes the colours are broad — red, for instance — at other times they take a much narrower focus. My editors at Elle Decoration have worked hard to make the tone of the feature just right, with enough design and contemporary interest to be relevant, and enough odd historical angles to make each one a little bit surprising.

Q: Do you have a design hero who influences your work?

A: I have lots, but for this book one of the people I had in mind the whole way through was Judith Schalansky. She is a German designer and author, whose book ‘The Atlas of Remote Islands’ I find incredibly inspiring, both the look at and to read. I took my copy with me when I first met my agent and said: “My dream is for my book to look half as good as this one.”

Q: Tell us about your design process, and what makes your style and service so special?

A: I love stationery and write all my notes longhand in brightly coloured notebooks with one of my collection of fountain pens in equally lurid ink. My training as a historian means that I always dig for the roots of things, to try and see where cultural or design ideas come from. I’ve also been very lucky to work with a broad mix of editors, most excellent, some appalling, which has made me far more rigorous and thicker skinned — essential for freelance writers.

Q: Paint features in your work, do you have any favorite colours?  

A: Because I now spend a lot of time looking at colours, my favourites change constantly. Like everyone else I do love a pale, smoky grey, but at the moment I’m veering between twinning it with a rich, almost jungle green (Primrose Hill No.201), a moody blue (Bond Street No.219) and an almost-too-pretty pink (Threadneedle No.262).


Q: How would you describe your own style?

A: Eclectic and, sadly, changeable. I aspire to timeless but I’m too much of a magpie.

Q: How does colour influence our home environment and mood?

A: Fundamentally. I work from home and we recently moved into a flat where every room is a different shade of beige. It’s classic, but not me at all. I’m itching to paint everything.

Q: What colour(s) would you recommend to create a welcoming hallway/ relaxing family space/sitting room?

A: A friend of mine who is an interior designer has her hallway in a very dark grey. It sounds dreadful, but it’s actually very welcoming and cosy and has made me completely rethink using darker colours in hallways. With good lighting and colourful pictures or prints, it can look fabulous.

Q: There are several major cultural and arts events scheduled for 2017 how do you think they might influence people's choices in colour? 

A: I’m guessing that in the wake of the American election and Brexit, coupled with ‘The American Dream’ exhibition at the British Museum, they’ll be a lot of bright, pop-art colours on view. I think people will either embrace them or retreat to paler, more soothing colours, perhaps toned down versions of the more adventurous hues. Personally, though, I’m excited by the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the National Gallery next autumn. I’ve always had a soft spot for the fuller-blooded, jewel-like colours that they used so brilliantly: colours like Arts Club No.281 , Golden Square No.131 and Observatory No.34.


Find out more about Kassia St Clair on her website here.