You can take Fifi McGee out of the countryside, but you can't take the countryside out of her. This stylist and interior design blogger recently opened her own studio with her fiancé and is busy discovering the challenges that come with renovation, as she fixes up her first house in sunny Brighton. We were lucky to pin her down and seized the chance to quiz her on art, achieving her modern farmhouse dream and moodboarding for inspiration. Read on for Fifi's genius top 5 home re-styling tips.
You've recently moved into a delightful modern farmhouse. What have some of the highlights and challenges been?
Oh there have definitely been more challenges than highlights so far. We bought a 1930s fixer upper this time last year, and it was so dated it didn't even have gas central heating. We've been working on the house room by room, taking inspiration from the South Downs that are right on our doorstep and trying to make our farmhouse dream a reality (minus the view!). I think the biggest challenge so far has been living in the property while trying to renovate it. Some real highlights have been discovering pre-war newspapers under carpets in one of the bedrooms, and ripping out a rather ugly fireplace and replacing it with a cosy log burner. There is so much left to do but right now I am relishing the peace before the chaos recomences!
Rumour has it you've opened your own studio... What's involved and how's that going?
Ah, yes we certainly have. I recently took the plunge and quit my full time job to progress my styling skills and partner with my fiancé (he's a professional photographer) on our studio – Elements. For the last 5 years I've worked with Neil to style shoots for his clients and my interior blog. We knew we loved working together and one day just said, "come on, shall we make this more of a serious thing?" Fast forward to me quitting my job and now we continue collaborating with small business clients and truly lovely brands. We feel blessed.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration in the woods and country lane walks behind our house. I try to escape there every week and I find that with the seasons brings new colour ideas, and with the peace and quiet brings lots of ideas. I also get a lot of inspiration when I'm sitting in a cosy pub chatting to Neil over a pint. We've had some of our best ideas and made wild plans over a few drinks like this.
Is art an important feature in your new home?
That is such an interesting question that I've been thinking a lot about recently. Art has always been an important feature in my life - I studied Art at A-Level and occasionally draw or paint. Given we still have lots of work to do on our house, I haven't found homes for my favourite pieces of art and mirrors on the walls yet. I think part of me is scared to ruin the fresh plaster work with nails but a bigger part of me just yearns for more personality in our rooms. I have just had a picture rail installed in our office to help me combat the fear, and I plan to hang a whole gallery of Neil's work, art and memories in there without a nail needed.
We see that you're engaged... Congrats! When is the big day?
Thank you! We've been engaged for 3 years and still no plans – once the house is looking a bit more finished and we get the chance to save again, it will be a beautiful occasion. But for now, simply enjoying ‘engagementhood’.
Do you have any decor advice for new homeowners? What would your top 5 tips be?
Decor advice is my favourite conversation to have over a cuppa and I have accustomed plenty of advice over the years from my wonderful interior friends.
Work out your unique interior style... and don't feel like you have to follow trends too much
A great way to work out what sort of designs you love is to reflect on what you love to do. For me, I go on lots of country walks and when I had a nicer kitchen in my old flat, I baked every weekend. I love picnics, wicker baskets, and I collect cushions and crochet blankets, so a modern farmhouse design has always fitted with my way of living. It makes sense that I surround myself with things that remind me of the countryside, and you should do the same depending on what you love
Search on Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and eBay for unique pieces
Whether you're on a budget or not, I would always encourage you to look at what people are selling locally. If you're keen on solid, charming furniture with a story or history to it, this is a great way to find unique items. Remember to find the potential – can it be painted? Reupholstered? Also, remember that if it doesn't quite fit with the rest of your room or you get bored of it down the line, you can always sell it on. Solid furniture doesn't usually lose much value.
Create a mood board to see how things look together
This is particularly helpful when you're starting a room from scratch with zero features you'd like to keep. It's impossible to visualise fully how colours, fabrics and furniture styles will look together in real life, but at least this is a close start. If anything feels "off" then change it. I recently wrote a post about how I create a mood board, the tool I use and why I do it. It takes me about 10 mins and is super fun.
When testing paint samples... go large on all walls
I got this tip from my friend Maxine Brady who has a wonderful blog called We Love Home. Maxine said in passing that when she buys paint samples, she doesn't just put tiny splodges in discreet places, she paints big pieces of paper with the tester paints, then sticks them to each wall to see how the paint works in different light. Genius.
Treat your decoration project like it's a business you're about to launch
OK this is a bit of a crazy tip, but for some people who struggle to make progress fairly quickly, I think having the mindset of your home decoration being as important and vital as the success of a new business gives you major motivation to take it seriously and get stuff done. I think it's easy to slip into lazy habits (I need to listen to my own advice…!) and things can take a long time, leaving you demotivated with no drive. As soon as you plan it, budget it and schedule it like you would a business, magic happens.
Inspired by Fifi's favourite artworks, we've curated a collection of artworks to bring that modern farmhouse look home so have a browse.