Inspired by nature, folklore and children’s literature, Bell’s west London apartment is full of surprising elements.
Photography by Theodore Clarke
Living in a basement flat has its pros and cons,” says Bell. “A pro is that the two bedrooms have double doors that open into the garden, so on the weekends I open my curtains and doors, sit in bed with my coffee, and look out into the garden. A con is that we have a lower ceiling, which means I need to create as much space and light as possible from the inside.” The illustrator and designer co-owns her Ladbroke Grove flat with her sister but now shares the property with her best friend Ellie, who she’s known since school. “She’s a natural nester and homemaker,” reveals Bell. “She has wonderful taste and is a fantastic cook. My favourite thing to do after work is to come home, light the candles, make dinner with her, and catch up over a glass of wine.”
Bell moved into the flat following the first lockdown of 2020 and soon got to work on making it her own, removing much of her sister’s furnishings including carpets and cupboards. “We have pretty different tastes!” she says. “I wanted the place to breathe. By moving out these ornaments, I was able to create space. They absorbed a lot of light, and I wanted to brighten things up. I painted the bedrooms in tender green and light sage greens to give the feel of clean, fresh air in the flat.”
Anyone familiar with Bell’s work will know that the natural world is central to all she does. And just as her illustrations depict bold botanicals and fantastical outdoor scenes, so her apartment reflects her love of nature. “I’m a country girl born and bred,” she says. “I’d trade a large kitchen for a large garden any day. The bigger the garden for me, the better. I love working out there, chilling out there, pottering about and planting flowers, and I love nothing more than hosting dinner parties in the garden on a warm evening.”
Describing the décor as “a complete evolution”, Bell explains how the look has come together organically over time, and jokes that she’s essentially made it up as she’s gone along. “Learning on the job, as with most things in my life!” She explains that the way she decorates mirrors her process of making art. “I have a strong knowledge of what I love and what inspires me, but I never know what the result will be. There is always an element of surprise in my style.” And the flat is full of surprising elements, from the intricately hand-painted wall friezes to the detailed woodland dioramas that sit on top of side tables and chests of drawers, not to mention pieces from her own shoppable collection, including a beautifully hand-painted floral jug that sits between trailing spider plants and a bunch of dried hydrangeas. “From painting willow trees and mushroom forest floor scenes on the walls, to pressing flowers and framing them, to drying out bouquets of hydrangeas and keeping them as decoration, nature is everywhere you turn. Maybe it’s the inner country girl within me needing and craving that medicinal dose of nature,” she smiles.
Bell’s furniture choices too are far from ordinary, with a carefully curated selection of vintage finds and pre-loved antique pieces in the apartment. “I rarely buy something brand new,” she says. “I never really go out looking for things, but if I happen to pass something that I love and can picture in the flat, I’ll bring it home.” And the magpie-like artist is perfectly positioned to stumble across unique pieces, with Portobello Road Market on the doorstep, not to mention wider Notting Hill’s wealth of antique treasure troves. In fact, for Bell, it’s an inspiring area all-round. “Golborne Road is my favourite street in London”, she says. “I love its hustle and bustle, and its strong sense of community. It has a lot of creative dwellers and great places to eat, drink, shop vintage and shop antiques. I live less than two minutes away, and it still feels just as exciting and stimulating as it did when I first moved here.”
Naturally, visual art plays a huge part in Bell’s life and that’s also reflected in the flat, in which no wall is left bare. The cosy living room acts as a gallery space with its vibrant mix of contemporary artwork, photography and graphic illustrations. “My art pieces are pretty special to me, and I have a real addiction to buying art from artists I love,” she admits. “It’s an expensive habit but so timeless and worth it. I love creating a mini gallery and to be surrounded by works that inspire me. My Tuesday Riddell’s Cherry Snake is my pride and joy, the closest thing I own to treasure. I also have a Ralph Steadman print from Hunter S. Thomspson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Steadman has been seriously influential and is the reason why I fell in love with illustration as a teenager. I could go on about more pieces I have on my gallery wall…”
Bell’s favourite spot in the flat is her bedroom, which she describes as a sanctuary-like space in which she can read, relax, switch off completely and simply be herself. “It’s like my little bubble, which I can escape to, be still and have some peace. I have many moments of overwhelming gratitude that I have that room to myself, and it has the best city in the world on its doorstep. I love my bed and its baby pink scalloped headboard, and it’s covered in my cashmere cushions and throws from a collection I did with Madeleine Thompson. I also love how I can have my doors open onto the garden in the warmer months. When I sleep, I feel closer to the outside world, which I love.”