Inside Story: Cassandra Ellis

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Cassandra Ellis in her home.

Cassandra Ellis in her home. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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The home uses an understated palette of soft greys, sage green and bright blues, with natural timbers.

The home uses an understated palette of soft greys, sage green and bright blues, with natural timbers. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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"I saw this Italian dresser at one of the Fontaine Boys' fairs and I was so thrilled because it was the first time I could afford to pay full price."

“I saw this Italian dresser at one of the Fontaine Boys’ fairs and I was so thrilled because it was the first time I could afford to pay full price.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Books play a large part in Ellis' living room.

Books play a large part in Ellis’ living room. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Objects and artefacts from her travels give a rich sense of history to the home.

Objects and artefacts from her travels give a rich sense of history to the home. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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"Portraits of Ed’s and my family. Seaweed from the beach in Sussex, alongside a kete from New Zealand, stones from places we go, a crystal from my godchild."

“Portraits of Ed’s and my family. Seaweed from the beach in Sussex, alongside a kete from New Zealand, stones from places we go, a crystal from my godchild.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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"This is from my furniture collection and is covered in 1950s Colefax and Fowler printed linen."

“This is from my furniture collection and is covered in 1950s Colefax and Fowler printed linen.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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"When my husband, Ed’s parents died he received an inheritance and instead of buying a flash car we bought this beautiful Howard Hodgkin painting."

“When my husband, Ed’s parents died he received an inheritance and instead of buying a flash car we bought this beautiful Howard Hodgkin painting.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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"When I make my wooden furniture there are always off-cuts, which get turned into these Henry Moore-like cutting boards."

“When I make my wooden furniture there are always off-cuts, which get turned into these Henry Moore-like cutting boards.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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"Lily the dog is an old lady now, but she’s lived in NZ with us and came with me to London when she was a puppy."

“Lily the dog is an old lady now, but she’s lived in NZ with us and came with me to London when she was a puppy.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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"Leaf  light, a 1960s’ Italian design. I grew up on a farm, and nature is incredibly important to me; it balances me out. There are aspects of nature in everything I create."

“Leaf light, a 1960s’ Italian design. I grew up on a farm, and nature is incredibly important to me; it balances me out. There are aspects of nature in everything I create.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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"I love this painting. It’s of the view on the way to Whakapura in the Far North, where my family used to have a bach."

“I love this painting. It’s of the view on the way to Whakapura in the Far North, where my family used to have a bach.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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"Bronze walnut by Peter Hone, a plaster cast artist in his 80s. His apartment was covered in casts and he made bronzes from them; this walnut is one of them."

“Bronze walnut by Peter Hone, a plaster cast artist in his 80s. His apartment was covered in casts and he made bronzes from them; this walnut is one of them.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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"The last house we bought was in Peckham Rye. The garden was just a mound of rubbish and we dug it all out and this planter was underneath everything."

“The last house we bought was in Peckham Rye. The garden was just a mound of rubbish and we dug it all out and this planter was underneath everything.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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London-based designer and furniture maker Cassandra Ellis mixes nature and timelessness in her own home. Here, she shares some of the objects she loves.

Books play a large part in Ellis’ living room. Image:  Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Find the place where you can truly be yourself and then work like a maniac till you achieve your goals” has been an essential mantra for New Zealand-born, London-based interiors, furniture and homeware designer Cassandra Ellis.

The fresh-faced and elegant Ellis combines that no-nonsense straight talking of so many a New Zealander with British style and refinement.

Her apartment building was once the studio of photographer Bob Carlos Clarke, made famous for his risqué black-and-white portraits of latex-clad women. Clarke also took the pictures for White Heat (by Marco Pierre White), a classic cookbook which helped launch the image of the chef as rock star.

Given this pedigree, the building has retained a mix of luxury, glamour and rock ‘n’ roll attitude and Ellis has stories of stumbling on semi-naked supermodels in its pristine gardens.

Her own home, however, is more a calming sanctuary that makes the rush of central London feel far away. She has cleverly partitioned the separate areas while also maintaining a flow between them.

“Leaf light, a 1960s’ Italian design. I grew up on a farm, and nature is incredibly important to me; it balances me out. There are aspects of nature in everything I create.”  Image:  Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

The substantial and sunny kitchen leads to a secluded dining area, onto a book-lined corridor which turns onto a large sitting room that also doubles up as a workspace. All of these nooks are made continuous via the right mix of interesting objects, which include a walnut cast by artist Peter Hone to a collection of Panama hats, and an impressive art collection.

Ellis’ colour palette throughout is muted and natural – soft dove greys and sage green, mixed with the occasional bright, electric blue and beautifully polished wood. The casual visitor might long to settle down on a cosy armchair and while away the afternoon reading from her extensive library, but it’s unlikely that Ellis herself has much time to do that. Her business is booming, with new projects that she’s announcing in the coming months.

As she says, “I spend my life driving to meet with the people who hand-make my frames, the upholstery and people who dye my fabrics. We spend a great deal of time making beautiful things, and the rewards are starting to be reaped now.”

London is probably the most important character in Ellis’ life; the view from her sitting room looks out across terraced houses and tower blocks and is unmistakably London.

The home uses an understated palette of soft greys, sage green and bright blues, with natural timbers. Image:  Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

“London has given me the chance to be exactly who I want to be; you have to find the city or the place that makes you become you,” she explains. “I said to my mum ‘look, mum, all of the grandparents were European; one of us surely has to have something that pulls us back.’”

Growing up in New Zealand she felt like the proverbial black sheep; “I wasn’t popular. I used to make all my own clothes. I was dreaming about Christian Dior while everyone else was thinking about rugby.”

Yet, it has not all been an easy road in the UK: “People have no idea how hard it is to survive here. I came back to London when I was 36 and it wasn’t easy. A lot of my friends now aren’t English – they may be American, Polish, Greek, and we’re all outsiders.”

Ellis may adore her adopted home of London, but she epitomises many of the best New Zealand characteristics: hard working with a down-to-earth love of nature, which is reflected in both her own designs and the objects she chooses to collect.


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