Isabelle Palmer is the brains behind the brilliant The Balcony Gardener – a site selling everything your heart could possibly desire to turn even the smallest outdoor space into a place of beauty. Here you will find everything from seeds, tools and books to ready-made container gardens (brilliant for those of us lacking in the green-fingered department). And, do check out Isabelle’s inspiring book, which makes it all look eminently do-able.
Her London flat certainly reflects her ethos which is that a. gardening is stylish and b. outdoor space is an extension of your indoor room. It’s gorgeous and completely inspiring – thank you so much for sharing it with W&W, Isabelle (and to Tiffany Mumford for the beautiful photos).
The Balcony Gardener
The website was inspired by Isabelle’s lovely two-balcony flat. “I loved living with my two balconies, but found it difficult to buy stylish small spaced furniture, everything was either slightly old fashioned or over manufactured or hugely expensive,” explains Isabelle. “I couldn’t find a go-to retailer, somewhere selling stylish products aimed at a growing green-fingered urban market. So I took the leap and set up The Balcony Gardener, an online shop for the stylish gardener! As for what’s next, I’m working on my second book “The Indoor Gardener” and am having a great time playing with terrariums, drying flowers and arranging indoor displays.”
My flat sits on the top floors of a converted church, and many of the original features have been retained. There are arched windows in the bedrooms alongside exposed original stonework, I love the fact that there is so much history attached to the building and lots of character. I moved into the flat over ten years ago, it’s been “The One” for a long time! I think you just know when you walk in if it’s home.
The decorating palette
I always use brilliant white, it has a great finish. My decorating palette is forever changing and evolving, I have always used a light background accentuated by small areas of deep colour. It’s always fun and creative to paint a corner or small wall, in the past I’ve chosen rich deep colours. Looking forward though, I’m already changing my mind again and think I might go for more pastels – something more serene and peaceful!
The living room
My living room is definitely my favourite room. It’s a lovely open space with lots of natural light and high ceilings. It’s very open and airy, and I’m very fortunate to have a view across Hampstead Heath from my living room. The table was one of my first purchases when I moved in, it’s a design icon piece – but I can’t exactly remember where I bought it from! The rug is from Habitat, sofas are made to order by Laura Ashley, the chairs are by Tolix and the table is off Ebay. I love to mix and match old and new finds.
I love spending an afternoon catching up on style blogs and Pinterest, they’re such a great source of inspiration, especially to catch up on international style and trends. At the moment Australian blogs and stylists are really interesting to watch. For other inspiration, I also love visiting National Trust properties, photography location houses and, of course, my friends’ houses!
Isabelle’s go-to shops
I have always been a Conran devotee and a huge fan of Liberty; both are my first go-tos – even if just to browse and window shop. I’m also a regular at antiques fairs, and have been known to drag myself out of bed in the middle of the night to be the first arrival to haggle with the sellers. I often scour ebay for unusual and quirky finds, it’s good to keep an eye on what’s being sold!
Show off your treasures!
I’ve kept lots of old pictures of my family, and have framed them around my flat. They’re very dear to me. I love to be surrounded by family mementoes and keepsakes, pictures and trinkets loaded with memories. Nowadays it’s easy to fill your home with flatpacked furniture so I think it’s important to make your flat feel personal to you. I like to feel like it’s my own little space, bookshelves with my favourite books, sepia photographs of my beloved Grandmother as a little girl and bits I’ve picked up from an antiques fair. This makes it a home.
The aim behind decorating my bedroom was to create a peaceful and calm retreat! I think it’s essential to have a nice space to lay your head. I adore cushions and can never throw them away. I find them everywhere and am always picking a few up. I just think they’re a lovely, inviting addition to the sofa and bed, and very relaxing! I would like to say the picture are a well-planned and designed gallery, but it would be a lie! I never think too much about decorating – it can be a bit stifling if you over-think. I like to try out a few different ideas and styles, and keep it evolving.
My interiors always come first, they’re always the starting point in terms of style and look. I use my indoor interiors and inspiration for outside, I like to think of my balconies as extensions of the indoor rooms – stylish outdoor rooms.
My top balcony is an extension of my living room, I like to keep the doors open and look out on an array of blossoming flowers and plants. I’m fortunate to have a lovely view across London rooftops and out to Hampstead Heath. The bottom balcony is different, it’s where I can sit, eat and read the paper. Think about how you want to use your outdoor space and create a picture that reflects this.
I have different planting schemes for each balcony. For the top balcony I take inspiration from my living room in colour and form; it’s very much part of my living room, the planting is more architectural. Whereas downstairs is slightly more wistful and enclosed. Both have a selection of window boxes, containers and bell jars. The great thing about container gardening is that you can move the containers around to create a new look and keep it fresh.
The planting schemes
My main starting point for both balconies is looking at colour combination. Each year I try to do something new to keep it fresh, and always bear in mind space, site and style. What colours work well together? What style/trend do I want to create? Do I want a meadow look? English country style? Modern with colour blocks? I find a starting point and then pick my plants and flowers, checking the growing conditions and making sure the plants grow well alongside each other.
What to plant in a small space
Herbs grow particularly well in small spaces, they’re easy to care for and very low maintenance. Even better you get to reap the rewards! They grow well in containers and window boxes, on the Balcony Gardener website we sell a very popular Edible Window Box containing tarragon, thyme and rosemary amongst others.
All images courtesy of Tiffany Mumford/Red magazine