This age-old phrase tells us “home is where the heart is,” but what if your heart is in multiple places at once? In her new book Nomad at Home: Designing the Home Traveled more (Out July 12), interior designer and creative director Hilary Robertson explores how investing in lots of homes, not just the one you spend most of your time in, can lead to a fuller sense of life — and a better-designed primary residence. Although if that’s not in the cards, simply picking up tchotchkes from the small town you’re driving through or pulling a color palette from a scenic vista will do the trick. Each chapter explores what happens when a certain type of nomad designs their home base.
For example, in her introduction to artist Liselotte Watkins’ space in Rome, Robertson says: “Nothing but full immersion will suffice. If you don’t speak the language, you’ll learn it quickly. Open! Join in! Make a fool of yourself!” And from Sweden to Texas, New York to Paris and then on to Italy, Liselotte did just that. In an excerpt, we get a glimpse of Liselotte’s gallery-style apartment and how her travels influenced the semi-final (a home renovation in Tuscany is next on the list).
I’ve heard Liselotte Watkins’ story of the nomads many times. It’s the “early departure” story of a teenage iconoclast, a sort of gypsy who “throws caution to the wind,” picking up his bags and following something or someone without a backward glance, too young to question the wisdom of make such a move. Imagine leaving Sweden for Texas at 17 with no money and no plan. “The worst-case scenario was the way back,” says Liselotte. “I was a sponge ready to soak up anything.” A full-immersion nomad indeed.
She left Texas for NYC while her then-boyfriend returned to Sweden and promised to return. She ended up at the YWCA on 14th Street across from the Chelsea Hotel, a hip neighborhood ideal for new Yorkers. Chance encounters surviving from day to day, gig to gig meant operating in the present. “Days went by and you were a winner because you were still there,” she says.
After befriending an art director who worked for Barneys, the temple of New York chic, Liselotte devoted herself to illustrating the store’s weekly beauty ads The New York Times. The friend didn’t return, but the fashion illustration stuck. Liselotte met another Swede, now her husband, who kidnapped her to Paris where she had her first child and another shortly after. But before she could settle into life in Paris, they moved to Milan and her Italian odyssey began.
In terms of color temperature, I imagine Sweden as monochrome and Italy as rainbow. Looking at Liselotte’s apartment in Rome, vibrant with citrus yellow and tangerine, it’s clear that she feels exuberantly at home in her Roman surroundings. She has a closet full of maximalist patterned La DoubleJ silk dresses of all shades. Her distinctive palette runs through all her work, from the bold vessels on which she paints stylized female characters and cubist patterns, to the most recent large-scale paintings in soft sherbet tones, commissioned for a solo show at Sweden’s Millesgården during the pandemic -Gallery were painted. These show detailed interiors inhabited by voluptuous female figures: mothers, goddesses and their offspring, imaginary characters drawn from their observations of Italy and the Italian way of life. Liselotte, the outsider, celebrates the obsessions and rituals of her adopted country; the Italian penchant for routine, tradition, craftsmanship, food and of course style.
Not surprisingly, the delicate domestic scenes are in sync with her 19th-century apartment, where a centrally located dining room connects to a wedge-shaped living room that sings in sun yellow on one side and a plain white on the other Kitchen where Liselotte makes it colorful Ceramics add a decorative flourish. “Housework or nesting is my coping mechanism,” she explains. It’s more of a feeling she wants to create than a specific style. She strives for a sunny atmosphere that reminds her of her grandmother’s Swedish summer house. Even in this discreetly bourgeois neighborhood (the apartment overlooks the magnificent facades of the embassies), Liselotte will scream “Buongiorno!” to the locals as protocol requires. “Community is important here,” she says. “You have to make an effort”
Their roots may have grown in Rome, but recent events have allowed the family to spend time in the Tuscan countryside near Siena, where they are renovating a house. Like many others temporarily relieved from big city life due to the pandemic, they thrived in a rural setting; Liselotte’s daughter can ride horses there and she paints in her spacious studio, facilitating the transition of her work from commercial fashion illustration to fine art. In fact, the family has adapted to country life so easily that they plan to ditch city life for this version of la dolce vita, another colorful full immersion.
Out of Nomad at Home: Designing the Home Traveled more by Hilary Robertson. Ryland Peters & Small 2022. Photography by Mike Karlsson Lundgren © Ryland Peters & Small 2022.
Nomad at Home: Designing the Home That’s Traveled More ($40)