An interview with Jecks Lea, ethical and vegan Interior Designer

Jecks Lea talks to us about her ethical interior design practices, frustrations regarding disabled access and her ambitions for an inclusive and ethical design industry.

Photography by Jecks Lea.


How long has Jecks Lea been an interior designer?

Officially I have been running my interior design business, Persona Abode, since April 2018 but unofficially for three years. Before that I was involved with an environment charity but I always wanted to do interior design as a career as I am fascinated by the effects of design on other people.

I also work for the Church of England which is all about conservation and respect for history in that it preserves what was here before continuing into the future.

Jecks says – This is a special room of my own. The headboard is upholstered in a fabric bought a number of years ago, at a local fabric store. It adds a constructed palette of colour and shapes without being overpowering or distracting from the calm feeling I wanted in the bedroom.

Jecks says – This is a special room of my own. The headboard is upholstered in a fabric bought a number of years ago, at a local fabric store. It adds a constructed palette of colour and shapes without being overpowering or distracting from the calm feeling I wanted in the bedroom.

My approach

My approach is unique in that I am not just looking at interior design as a cosmetic application but also aiming to improving health and well-being as well as respecting the building. There are other elements that I bring into play that not all other interior designers use. One of these is that I want the suppliers to benefit too. In return I like my suppliers to be consistent and for them to not just be green-washing what they do and their approach. Because of my ethical approach I need for their whole businesses to be ethical too. I establish this through conversations and visiting them and checking on what they are doing.

Both wallpapers are non vinyl A+ Quality wallpaper, meaning they have a top rating for VOC emissions which is important for maintaining good air quality. Visually Congo wallpaper lends a tropical element that is biophilic due to its use of greenery and animals

Both wallpapers are non vinyl A+ Quality wallpaper, meaning they have a top rating for VOC emissions which is important for maintaining good air quality. Visually Congo wallpaper lends a tropical element that is biophilic due to its use of greenery and animals.

My approach is also driven by my background as a child when I witnessed domestic violence. I also experienced this as an adult and this has made me super-aware of the effects of the home environment. Whilst I was going through those experiences a lot of the time I did not want to walk in through the front door so now I want a home to be a sanctuary, definitely not something you want to run away from. I like to redefine the idea of a home as it affects how you see yourself in the world in both positive and negative aspects.

I am fascinated by what home is to us and I have my own definition of it. My hang-ups about home and the past experiences all gets incorporated into what I do. This is the case even if it is a temporary home, for example, for somebody renting as you can still create a place in which you make happy memories.

Ideal type of client

This would be someone with strong ethical beliefs who likes to be creative and who likes to make an individual statement. They would not be someone who wants something from a catalogue – a cookie-cutter! It was interesting to see the effect of Abigail Ahern when she first became well-known as there were people who wanted her exact same décor with no regard to the house in which they were living. So despite the dramatic and individualistic style of Abigail her copiers were not being really individual at all.

My ideal client is fluid, wanting a challenge and is not repeating something they have seen before. I like working within all buildings – I do like old buildings because of their history. My goal is to live in a tree-house- although I am not sure if this will be in the UK!

If I had to choose between domestic and commercial buildings I do prefer working on homes as I like helping individuals. Having said that obviously I have my Church of England work in churches which I really enjoy although there is a lot of red tape involved. There are some projects I would not undertake eg ultra-Scandi – I would not be at all excited about that! And that goes for a look that is like Ikea too.

I have great empathy with creative people such as musicians and artists and I relate well to them. I do love my music although I can’t sing!

I worked with a lady recently who had had cancer and recognised the benefit of wellness through her surroundings. She was very aware of toxins in the home and wanted to clear a lot of these away. Her objective was to incorporate wellness goals into a look that was “her” and in a rented house too. For her it was a combination of passions and it was lovely to work with her as she was flexible and open to suggestions. As this was a long-term rental this client allowed a very decent budget but she needed the designer’s eye, i.e. someone who knew how to bring together all the pieces.

For this project the client wanted to feel relaxed and incorporated around the house were the things she most liked – hotels, travel and a music influence. This was done not through just posters on the wall but was conveyed through patterns and artwork so it was all about creative expression.

This blue wallpaper in my own favourite vegan room is called tribal and is an ethnic inspirited paper with a texture that helps disguise uneven walls

This blue wallpaper in my own favourite vegan room is called tribal and is an ethnic inspirited paper with a texture that helps disguise uneven walls.

A typical project

A project that would be typical of one that I would like to do more of is a room that is actually one of my own and all of the images here are of this room . I wanted a vegan room which was completely non-toxic and with no, or almost, plastics and using organic materials. This was for my health and for my husband who is paraplegic. As my husband spends a lot of time in the bedroom I wanted him to have access all over the room and for it to be a creative environment. I see so many spaces are that are for disabled people and they are are just boring.

In this room, all the bedlinen is organic cotton and certified by Oeko-tex. It was important to purchase healthy sheets, quilt-cover and pillow cases as they all have contact with our bodies. I was able to find a range of different styles from La Redoute but opted to keep the design pretty plain as other elements in the room are busy.

The pillows however are filled with organic buckwheat hull in a organic cotton case. They’re based on the natural pillows traditionally used in the East.

The Congo wallpaper I have used might look like an unusual choice however its clash against the more mellow dotted wallpaper is a nod to my rebel nature. The blue wallpaper is called tribal and is ethnic inspirited paper with a texture that helps disguise uneven walls.

In terms of the glue I used Auro, an eco friendly alternative to wallpaper glue that’s found in DIY stores. Often glues contain animal products however Auro is completely plant derived and safe to use for craft and decoration projects.

A mirror and plant in Jecks’ own room which is vegan and uses non-toxic elements as well as Biophilic ones – as seen here by the panel of contrasting plant-and-animal inspired wallpaper.

A mirror and plant in Jecks’ own room which is vegan and uses non-toxic elements as well as Biophilic ones – as seen here by the panel of contrasting plant-and-animal inspired wallpaper.

Frustrations

I get very frustrated that other designers do not think of how to create inclusions for disabled people. I am passionate about this especially because of my husband. I believe that even if you are catering for disability you can still have an interesting design – one that is not clunky and purely functional. Many spaces that I see, especially public toilets, are just ticking boxes i.e merely allowing enough space for a wheelchair. Often these spaces are combined with a nappy-changing facility which I disagree with as the different types of users have very different needs. Extra time is needed for breast-feeding and combining disabled people with breast-feeding mothers is nonsensical. Dedicated space needs to be provided for disabled people and for this not to be an afterthought or squeezed into a corner.

My husband and I see people limping out of the disabled toilets to try and pretend they are disabled which makes the whole thing very silly as a disabled person should be able to have the same experience as an able person in the first place. Often domestic design is OK for the disabled person that lives there but not for anyone to visit so the concept of socialising is not incorporated. Disability is not new so why aren’t we designing for the future? We should be designing homes that are flexible and that can alter to fit different abilities and that don’t have that “disabled look” which my husband hates! Also, designs are often for the elderly which is a different disability – disability is not universal and the design should accommodate that.

The most important skills for an interior designer

I believe that interior designers need to be excellent at problem-solving as we always have to find a way around issues. Also financial skills are essential and that includes being respectful of the financial budgets set. A good example of this within the work that I do with the church – I offer them some great ideas but always have to explain how it will (or won’t) fit the budget. Interior designers have to be able to do this. Communication skills are also absolutely key qualities.

Part of a community?

I do belong to a fantastic support group called Metier Rendezvous which is run by Siobhan Casey. We get together every 2 months for brunch which might be at a carpet maker’s or a gallery or Soho House. We attend workshops, a bit like CPD and it is a good way of getting out of our of bubble. We share information and challenges like finding the right insurance provider or if we’re stuck on an issue.

Ambitions

I want to set up a platform to highlight the minorities. In the UK I find there is not much limelight or recognition of designers with diversity – Asian, Caribbean, African whether they be a ceramicist, textile designer, or artist. I would like there to be diversity in the UK with there being as well as recognition to be education as I feel that the interior design industry still has the image of being a housewife’s choice. My view is that everybody deserves design and that means people of different backgrounds. We all have differences in how we live and what we aspire to.

My aim is also to use design to engage with children. In school children who are taught highly academically and yet not how Maths and english fit into everyday life and the real world.

In the realm of design it includes Maths and English.

Design is a realistic way to understand Maths and English and how to use those skills – including for the employers who don’t know how to use those skills in their recruits!

And lastly I would like furniture and accessories to be labelled the same way that food is with regard to ingredients. All suppliers and manufacturers should be transparent regarding vegan and non-vegan components of their products.

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