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The beautiful home of Mia Reay

“I was born in Finland, the country of northern lights and Father Christmas. We moved abroad when I was nine. My childhood was spent living in various different countries and cultures. All the way from Saudi Arabia to England. At the age of ten I was haggling in the gold souks for a pair of earrings, when my father was offered a few camels in exchange for me. He obviously thought they could have offered a few more camels, so said no.

“I do not think I ever spent more than two years at any one school. I always joke (although it isn’t really a joke) that I am an expert in French Revolution but my knowledge of WW2 is a little hazier. Direct result of the many international schools I attended and covering certain syllabuses a number of times, whereas missing others -almost- totally.

“This travel taught me to appreciate and get on with different kinds of people and cultures. My love of people has remained and I still get so much of my energy from talking to, travelling with and meeting new people, as well as seeing my old friends. The travel also gave me a deep appreciation and love of all things cultural, beautiful and interesting.

“The other thing that happened with the travel and moving around was that I remember being so envious of my friends whose families had lived in the same spot and the same house for hundreds of years. Although my mother always made every house we ever owned beautiful, I missed out on the ‘forever’ family home. So having a long term home and making it warm and inviting became of significant importance to me.

“I was always very artistic and started painting regularly when I was about 12. My aim was always to study fine art. However, as often happens in life, things don’t always go to plan and when I was accepted to study at Cambridge University, my parents made an executive decision that this is where I should go. Despite never stopping painting and drawing, I can bore people at parties for hours when they ask me what careers I have had since leaving university. I always fill my glass (and theirs) and then proceed to ask them ‘how long do you have?’. I will keep it short: since leaving Cambridge where I studied Social and Political Sciences, I have been an accountant (I still haven’t told my accountant that I was an accountant) and worked in finance (venture capital). I then moved on to work in luxury goods PR (a very obvious step I hear you say) for Hermès and for Asprey & Garrard, then the Crown Jewellers. Afterwards I headed marketing for Selfridges department stores. All whilst attending painting courses and finishing an interior design course. Oh, and I forgot to mention a little stint in property. It was only when I set up my own wallpaper company that it all came together and my various career paths accidentally made sense: the maths and finance training, all my marketing and PR experience and my creativity and painting.

“The move to wallpapers happened very organically. My husband inherited a beautiful large old house in the English countryside called Whittington Hall. I spent a lot of time years in fact, in the library, trying to figure out whether the person who had specialist painted the very high walls in the 1960’s had been high on LSD whilst listening to ‘Yellow Submarine’ or really just didn’t have a good eye for colour. It was the most depressing kind of yellow brown. Best described as a ‘diarrhoea’ colour. So one evening I had a lightbulb moment: I would make my own wallpaper that I will love and that I would like to live with. The end result was my Utopia wallpaper.

“I am a complete obsessive and a perfectionist. I have sleepless nights about shades of green. So I set out to find out everything possible about wallpaper making. The types of paper; the best way printing hand painted panels. The best printers. And I then called an old friend called Graham Carr (who in my opinion was the best furniture painter in Britain when he was working, and who used to work with John Fowler) and asked him to paint with me. We both share the deep unspoken understanding and belief that everything that is created for Mia Reay Ltd has to stand the test of time. In my opinion the best type of interiors are those that look just as relevant today, as they did 100 years ago.

“The best example of this is our Ainu range of wallpapers. The eldest surviving indigenous Ainu textiles are from around the 18th Century but majority of people who see our design are convinced it is from the 1960’s or perhaps aboriginal art. They cannot place the origin or the date, which is how I love a design to be, the most beautiful items, whether old or modern, never date.

“I have so many things that have had and continue to have an influence on my style. I look at things when I travel. I am also lucky to have visited an immense amount of beautiful private houses. Sometimes it is walking in the woods that will give me inspiration. I love coming across a designer who has amazing taste and does something out of the ordinary, and love looking back at the trailblazers and pioneers of interior design, in order to also learn from them. I have so many ideas in my head that when I started my company, my very supportive husband (and here I am not being sarcastic for once) said to me, ‘Darling, before you get to the second collection , please could you sell just one of the rolls first’.

“Another wonderful design with an interesting story is the Queen’s Necklace wallpaper. Graham was given a piece of fabric by John Fowler which was believed to be printed in the 1780’s, just before the French Revolution. It depicts the immensely valuable diamond necklace that Marie-Antoinette was trying to procure herself. Alexandre Dumas (who also wrote the Three Musketeers) wrote a book called The Queen’s Necklace Affair about this fascinating historical story. Again, the pattern is timeless. It could have been designed last year.

“My greatest achievement, no doubt, is having my three wonderful children, who make me proud – and give me a headache- every day. My family and friends mean everything to me. I am a strong believer in ‘what goes around, comes around’ – in essence good karma. If we are kind and considerate to others, those things will follow you wherever you go. Same goes with business. I believe that there is plenty space for everyone in the market. And we should all help each other. There is a little bit of my life philosophy.

“I live my creative life at work, then look after my children and Basil the yellow Labrador (who the rest of the family always claim is my favourite child and gets better food and treatment than the rest of them). I spend an awfully long time dealing with builders and leaks and plumbing and missing sheep or escaped cows – the sort of thing that an English country house brings along with it.

“I work half in the countryside where a barn has been converted into an office. Lancashire is well known for its historic textile industry. It still has the most wonderful textile and printing factories, which is rather handy for me. It was also one of the late Queen’s favourite areas in the UK as it is beautifully unspoiled. The rest of the time I work from London, where I have another office and also a showroom.

“The designer Givenchy, who had such a great eye for interior design, had the most wonderful apartment in Paris, with a dining room that was bright yellow, with heavy luxurious green curtains and wild pink flowers on the table. It was such a lovely room that I always wanted to create one exactly the same colour. I never got my bright yellow dining room, but mixed a similar yellow for my Utopia range, which has instead been hung in the countryside office. It is now so lovely and bright that I sometimes wonder if the team will need to be provided with sunglasses as they walk in.

“I also have my alter ego outside the wallpaper world, when I attend events like the State Opening of Parliament with my husband (a sitting peer at the House of Lords), which is a ceremonial event attended by the King which formally marks the beginning of each session of Parliament. The United Kingdom still does the pomp and circumstance like no one else and a visit to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey is highly recommended.
Politics aside, one of my favourite haunts in London is Clarke’s Restaurant on Kensington Church Street. Always great food and cozy atmosphere. If I feel the need for a cocktail I occasionally hop to my club 5 Hertford Street, although my absolute favourite is entertaining and having dinners at home. Also, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Royal Academy of Arts are always more than worth a visit.

“I still love travelling. Some of my favourite haunts are owned by my friends. A family owned home away from home kind of thing is my thing. Cobblers Cove in Barbados is just so charming, with some rooms decorated by the very talented Lulu Lytle of Soane Britain. And then the Enasoit Camp in Laikipia and TusiJri Dhow in Lamu (both part of the Enasoit collection) are the most breathtaking ways of discovering Kenya.

“My life has never been boring. I have been through a major car crash, the 2014 tsunami, a 7 point Richter scale earthquake, an avalanche, three emergency caesareans and a large ear operation where half the hearing in one ear was lost. My children quite often look at me and say, ‘Mum, did you not hear me, are you deaf?’. To which I reply, ‘absolutely’. You have to look at the positives in everything: it is as if I now have a natural ear plug when it’s noisy outside. When I am unable to sleep, all I need to do is to move so that the deaf ear faces up and voilà, the best night’s sleep ever!
 Apart from being lucky to get through all of above, I also consider myself so lucky to be able to work in the creative industry and produce beautiful artisan products. And now that I have sold my ‘one roll’ I am happy to say that there are plenty more collections to come.”

Globally for You
International lifestyle magazine

Globally for You
May 2024