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Sophie Hitchens

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Cassandra Ellis: The story behind the paints

Sophie Hitchens Monday 11th May 2020

Cassandra Ellis, owner of new Light Location Upper Barn is a true creative. Interiors stylist, contemporary homewares designer and author of 4 soft furnishing books. Cassandra has taken a vibrant journey to the creation in 2018 of her paint company Atelier Ellis. Throughout every stop on her journey, Cassandra has encouraged people to use their memories to tell stories through the choices you make in the fabrics and paints you use in your home.

We caught up with Cassandra to delve into her memories and learn more about her own story.

The ethos behind Atelier Ellis is the stories behind the people – the people who choose and utilise your paints to make their homes emulate their memories. Tell us a little about the start to your story – growing up in New Zealand. How does a childhood from the other side of the world compare to a typical English childhood?

I had quite a tricky childhood – single mother when it wasn’t the done thing, not a lot of $ and so life was hard. But we had lots of animals and the sea and my mothers garden. I know this was the start of my fascination with home. I knew at a very young age what was important and what wasn’t. I think New Zealand in the time that I was a child, was a lot freer. I still hate wearing shoes! New Zealanders are different – we are direct and unafraid of the unknown. It’s built into our dna.

Which memories of your childhood have seen their way into the Ellis Paint collection?

All of them. I was a watcher, reader and a maker from an early age. I’m still most comfortable reading, writing and making. Everything comes from landscape, art and books. Garden Party Green is from Katherine Mansfield – my favourite NZ author. If you haven’t read ‘A Garden Party and other stories’ – you have missed something incredibly beautiful.

Ellis paint includes a palette of 52 colours inspired by personal memories, marks and fragments – of people, places and tales. Could you tell us the story behind one of our favourites – Boro

Boro is the best descriptor of what I do. I call it the colour of humanity. Boro is a Japanese term describing cloths that were stitched and restitched to make these pieces that lasted generations. You would have been born on it and possibly died on it. They are incredibly beautiful visually – but even more so humanly. This is what I am interested in – the human aspect of home, not the ‘decoration’ of.

Tell us about the story behind Upper Barn. Which of its charms drew you in?

It was only the location. The barn had been ‘ruined’. Renovated in a pastiche of what someone thought a gastro pub/barn would look like. Every on-trend thing, light and colour. Disaster, – but there is the beautiful woods and the sea. And of course the South Downs. That’s what drew us here.

How has its story changed since you moved in?

A mammoth unpicking of poor ‘modernisations’. No structure changes, but everything you touch or use has been changed. And I think the barn is happy.

Sitting in its current chapter, which is your favourite room or space within the barn?

The library – I am very, very happy in there.

You help people to tell their stories through the walls of their homes and the palettes they choose to adorn them with. How do you tease out the stories they hold within?

If we are doing a colour consultation, then I have a (long) set of questions that we ask, before I visit. This tells me a huge amount and I am much more interested in the why before the what. When we visit, we have a different way of talking through colour. Clients are always surprised, but by the end of the time we pretty much always create something beautiful together.

What phrase sums up your philosophy on life?

Home – that’s all there is.

What 3 things could you not live without?

Of course my dogs and Ed, my partner. I can actually happily leave everything else.

And whilst ice breakers traditionally start a conversation, we are going to finish ours with a classic – if you could have dinner with anyone (dead or alive), who would it be and why?

Oscar de le Renta because I was obsessed with him from a very young age. Janet Frame (although she probably wouldn’t come), Edmund de Vaal and my sister Melody – who died such a long time ago, I want to know what she thinks of it all.

Follow Atelier Ellis on instagram

Cassandra Ellis and her favourite colour Boro.
'Toile' palette pack: Colour on right is: Double Quiet Grey
Colour left: Kanreki. Colour right: Half Mouse Grey
'The Waves' palette pack: colour on right is: Ash
'Il Fiorista' palette pack: Colour on right is: Bell Pink
'Quiet Beauty' palette pack: Colour on right is: Brown Getty
Colour samples: A4 and A3 hand painted colour cards
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