Successful women, narrated by their own homes

Heide Middleton in her home in Sydney

Heide Middleton at the easel in her home in Sydney’s Northern Beaches

A Room of Her Own, a new book by Thames & Hudson lets us into the homes of well-known creatives, and into their hearts

Twenty successful women, narrated through the interiors of their homes and studios. A creative short circuit between interior and interiority, spaces for life and places for the soul. A Room of Her Own is a new book for Thames & Hudson by the Australian writer and photographer Robyn Lea. The title is an overt homage to the bestseller of the same name by Virginia Woolf, who in 1929 denounced the subjugation of women in a patriarchal society. Now, almost a century on, the issue is still topical, and unresolved.  The book, subtitled Inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women, works along two dichotomic lines: words and images. While the latter serve to illustrate the style of their residences, with insights, iconic pieces and works, the texts serve as a very intimate autobiographical diary of the different protagonists of the story, one or more women, if they belong to the same family.  Often these beautifully designed and lived-in rooms are counterbalanced by very tough accounts of self-realisation, intended by Lea to underscore the fact that, despite appearances and public success, overcoming the gender gap is still often a battle for some women on a daily basis. They also highlight the fact that femininity can also fuel the conversion of unhappiness into energy and creativity.

Living room in Marta Ferri’s home in Milan

Living room in Marta Ferri’s home in Milan. Photo/s: Robyn Lea

One can almost hear the voices of these famous creatives who have opened their hearts to the author echo through these rooms - a Poul Kjærholm chair and a brocade fabric here or a contemporary artwork and an 1800 mirror there - as if the walls themselves could speak.  In one chapter, the Sicilian artist Fiona Corsini di San Giuliano says she believes that “homes are a portrait of their owners,” a sentiment echoed by the stylist Marta Ferri, who says you should “do whatever makes you feel good” with your own home, remembering that even as a child, her mother, the well-known interior decorator  Barbara Frua De Angeli and an advocate of monochrome, encouraged her to seek out her own style, furnishing and decorating her bedroom her own way with patterned fabrics, which are now her hallmark. The protagonists also include Alice Stori Liechtenstein, JJ Martin, Lisbeth McCoy, Claire Basler, Sue Townsend, Beatrix Ost, Camilla, Amber and Claudia Guinness, Heidi Middleton, Lucilla Bonaccorsi Beccaria and Luisa Beccaria, Anna Maria Coronato, Fiorina and Francesca Golotta, Jessica Grindstaff, Petah Coyne and Dev Stern. They are stylists, designers, artists, chefs, theatre directors and much more besides, all of them entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to blazing their own trails. Robyn Lea sets out her aim in at the very beginning of the book – these women all come from eight different Western countries, but she hopes they will be examples of global emancipation for women everywhere. The author believes we are witnessing a new renaissance. In 1300, a pandemic, the Black Death, raged causing the economic and social collapse of civilisation, from which we emerged with renewed vigour, triggering one of the most prolific and enlightened periods in global culture. Now, alas, history seems to be repeating itself but, according to Lea, the new technologies are enabling creative women to forge new paths towards greater visibility and self-affirmation. As these 20 women have shown.

Bedroom of the artist Claire Baisler in the Chateau de Beauvoir.

Sitting room in the Chateau de Beauvoir guest wing, artist Claire Baisler's home in France . Photo/s: Robyn Lea

The book can be consumed on a number of different levels: as a coffee table book with stunning images, a story about collective education, an overview of design. Some of the themes are recurrent – Italy for example, where the interior decorator  Camilla Guinness and her daughters Amber and Claudia have spent intense years of their life in Tuscany, to which Amber returned, restoring a family friend’s villa and making it into an artist’s home. Then there’s the story of the stylist Luisa Beccaria and her eldest daughter Lucilla, who is following in her mother’s footsteps. They split their time between Milan and Castelluccio, in Sicily, where Luisa has renovated an ancient house belonging to her husband Lucio Beccaria, which originally had four rooms, not nearly enough for her, her husband and their five children, but which is now an enchanting large refuge where they can all gather. In Italy too, JJ Martin, American-born but Milanese by adoption began a second life as a stylist and designer and is now an international style star. JJ has another thing in common with many of the women in this book, which is a strong sense of spirituality. A sense of destiny as a life lesson from which to learn a regenerative message. She practices yoga and meditation, the artist Beatrix Ost consults her pendulum - which also suggested where she should move to - on a daily basis, and Ayurveda helped the filmmaker Jessica Grindstaff step away from the abyss of a difficult family. Then there are the stories of Petah Coyne, an American artist who creates hyper-contemporary flower displays, working her magic with the Ikebana her mother taught her when she was a child, and Alice Stori Liechtenstein, who would never have dreamt of going to live in the fairytale castle in Austria inherited by her husband until she had children, but in that bucolic setting not only felt the urge to allow them to grow up there but also to make it into an important design hub. Their lives are many and different, but they all begin with and return to a location, their favourite place, curated and designed for and by them, but always open to the world. Now they’re a feast for our own eyes. The Danish multimedia artist Lisbeth says that apart from dancing, her favourite thing is rearranging the furniture in her home like a collage. Because, when it comes down to it, furnishing a home is like building  a world. These women have fantastic ideas on how to change it.

A Room of Her Own, Book Cover

A Room of Her Own, Book Cover

A room in the New York apartment of the artist Beatrix Ost

A room in the New York apartment of the artist Beatrix Ost. Photo/s: Robyn Lea

Living room in the New York apartment of the artist Lisbeth McCoy

Living room in the New York apartment of the artist Lisbeth McCoy. Photo/s: Robyn Lea

Kitchen in the villa of the stylist Luisa Beccaria in Castelluccio, Sicily

Kitchen in the family villa of the stylist Luisa Beccaria in Castelluccio, Sicily. Photo/s: Robyn Lea

drawing room in the home of Alice Stori Liechtenstein

One of the drawing rooms in the 12th century Schloss Hollenegg, now the home and creative hub of Alice Stori Liechtenstein. Photo/s: Robyn Lea

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Title: A Room of Her Own, Inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women

Text and photos: Robyn Lea

Published by: Thames & Hudson

Published: 2021

Pages: 240

30 November 2021