All photos by Susie Lowe for The Pink House
I bloody love a pink door. But of all the pink doors I’ve ever seen, one stands frame and fanlight above the rest. And that is the hot pink, be-googly-eyed front door belonging to hip handbag label Hill & Friends’ fabulous founder Emma Hill, behind which she lives with her 12-year-old son.
I admit – a couple of years ago I stalked Emma’s front door. I got the address from a seasoned Instagrammer (such sleuthing!) and headed to Holland Park with my photographer friend Susie, where we proceeded to Gram the shit out of it.
But I don’t just love Emma’s front door - I also adore her handbag designs. From the days when she was creative director at Mulberry and responsible for designing the hit hands-free Alexa handbag (I have it in oversized grey), to her designs for her own label, Hill & Friends, which she started four years ago with business partner Georgia Fendley. I bought my hot pink Happy bag right after H&F launched, and its combination of the perfect neon pink, just-fits-my-Smythson-diary size and cute winking smiley gold postman lock means it’s still my favourite handbag to this day.
Last week Hill & Friends announced that next year the brand will be taking a new direction with lower price point bags, every one of which will be made in England. But they’re every bit as gorgeous – I’ll be making a beeline for the pink leopard Riley bag when it goes on sale in the spring…
Given my obsession with pretty much every aspect of Emma Hill, it won’t surprise you to learn that when The Pink House was offered the chance of a guided tour round Emma’s home, I leapt at it like…well like the black glitter leopard Emma keeps behind her dining table. And of course I couldn’t go behind THAT pink door without once again bringing my mate, interiors photographer extraordinaire Susie Lowe, to capture everything that caught our eye.
Fancy a tour? Come with us…
THE FRONT DOOR
One of the first questions I had for Emma was: how did the door come to look like THIS?
“When I moved in I was going to paint the house pink and the door black,” she explains. “I put the first coat of black on the door and a neighbour came by and said snidely, ‘ohhh black, the new Notting Hill pink!’”
Hating the idea that she was perceived as part of the gentrification of the Notting Hill/Holland Park area (in the 1960s hers was one of the biggest slum streets in London), Emma rebelled:
“I’m such an arse – I was like, you don’t know me; I’m no banker! Fuck it - I’m going to paint it Barbapapa pink!”
Turns out French children’s Barbapapa, a character from the eponymous 1970s French kids’ books, is one of Emma’s all-time favourite characters. Not being the kind of person to do things half-heartedly, she decided not only should the door be the same colour as the pink creature (whose name means ‘candy floss’), it must also have matching eyes.
But how does Emma cope with the hordes of people who flock to her front door on a daily basis? Doesn’t it get irritating? Her answer is typically humorous and big-hearted:
“It doesn’t annoy me. I don’t think you can make your door into Barbapapa and then be like, ‘GET OFF MY FRONT STOOP! GO AWAY!’”
Though Emma does object to brands staging full photoshoots outside her door without having the courtesy to ask permission, she positively relishes the positive attention her door attracts:
“I came home once and someone had added a red tongue to the letter box, beautifully done in thick red card. I turned it over and in gold letters it said: ‘You have the best front door I’ve ever seen, thank you.’ It was just so lovely.”
Such is Emma’s devotion to her door that she keeps a box of spare googly eyes to ensure it stays in tip top condition. Of course I had to borrow a couple for that all-important front stoop shot…
Right, shall we go inside?
The first thing you see upon entering Emma’s four-storey house is the wow-factor hallway and stairs, which have been cleverly designed to double as shoe storage in the section that leads to the basement kitchen. Running up the stairs is one of the most impressive gallery walls I’ve ever seen, a wonderfully arranged melange of imagery featuring friends, family (including a few famous faces – hello there Justin Bieber) and assorted artwork. There’s even a shot of Emma receiving her CBE from the Queen in 2012.
But how on earth did she decide what picture should go where? Turns out even a creative genius like Emma isn’t averse to calling in a bit of help every now and again:
“I will confess totally cheating on this gallery wall. You can’t lay it out here on the stairs which makes it really hard to plan. My friend’s husband is a kind of curator – his mind works that way – so I asked him to help. I told him the things I just hadto have – there were loads more to choose from than you see here.”
As wonderful as the space is, Emma’s creative mind is already at work interior designing the stairs of her imaginary future home:
“I love rainbow stairs. I’m obsessed. And I’d love to have a house where each room is a different colour. But then I’d need to cut down on the pictures and stuff – just one picture per room otherwise it’s too much.”
THE KITCHEN/TV ROOM
In the basement of the house, the kitchen/tv room, and its double-height patio area, is home to a collection of outsized fashion show props from Emma’s Mulberry days. Among them a giant gnome – “he had to get craned over the wall because his tummy was too big” – and a big (huge!) red apple, which also references Emma’s love affair with New York (her son is called Hudson and her French bulldog, Bleeker).
There are a few trees on the patio that look like they’re struggling slightly – do they not get enough light?
“The ones at the back were blighted by that caterpillar invasion – which they called the ‘middle class plague’; they only attack box hedges,” Emma grins. “The only way to get rid of them is hand pick them off and squish them.”
At the other end of the kitchen is the stylish all-white seating area and display shelves. What’s with the monochrome?
“I went all white in here because it feels like you can have more stuff if it’s all one colour. That’s a hoarder’s secret!”
THE LIVING/DINING ROOM
The darkly dramatic double ground floor reception room is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Railings (despite her builder brother’s objections – “he was like: ‘are you sure about this Emma? A black room?’”) and is home to many of her most treasured possessions, including a collection of mysterious balls on the dining table.
“These are the magic 8 balls which rule my life! Ask them a question, shake it, go on! There’s a lot of them so everyone can do it at the same time.”
The ceramics speak to the fact that Emma’s mum was a ceramicist; Emma herself has inherited her passion for clay.
“The French bulldog was one of my best-ever presents from my friend Kevin. I’ve always wanted a Frenchie so that was what I had for the longest time before I got my dog Bleeker.”
Emma points to the pink neon NYC sign as one of her favourite items in the house; it’s made using a copy of her handwriting.
THE UTILITY ROOM
Heading up to the first floor we stop so I can stare slack-jawed at Emma’s neon pink utility/cloak room, complete with shelves stacked with magazines. Rarely have I seen a room so joyful. But where did the colour inspiration come from?
“I have lots of neon masking tape, that was the reference I gave for the colour of this room when it came to mixing the paint,” explains Emma, who is something of a world expert on fluoros. “Neon pink is really difficult – it has magnetic particles in it so as soon as you spray on leather or anything, any dust particles in the area get attracted to it. That’s why more people don’t use it.”
Which is why painting the utility room was something of a surgical operation: “The guys came to spray the room pink and it was like something from body removal; it had to be hermetically sealed,” she laughs.
As we climb higher up the house, the colour palette becomes more restrained, the better to show off Emma’s treasures, many of which were presents from friends.
The bedroom is white and minimalist, with what looks like a Damien Hirst spot print above the bed?
“No - my friend made it for me,” Emma explains. “Generally I hate fakes but this is different because my friend made it.”
This is the one room in the house that Emma has barely touched since she bought it in 2013.
“I wanted to redo it but just ran out of steam. It’s perfectly fine, though. And I love the bath. And the fact that it’s big, unlike my last bathroom.”
How would she design it, given the choice? “I like black and white bathrooms, subway tiles, a mix of old and new – I’d love one of those lovely old toilets.”
THE SPARE ROOM
As we’ve moved up through the house, it has become increasingly apparent that Emma’s brand Hill & Friends is aptly named; friends are clearly a huge part of her life – and her home. So it’s no surprise she has a beautiful spare room ready to receive her many treasured guests. Who wouldn’t want to sleep in here, under a Mulberry fashion photo?
Finally we reach the very top of the house - this is where the magic happens! As well as being the place where Emma dreams up her designs and creates handmade birthday cards for her many friends using the gold typewriter she picked up in New York (“I love the clunk and the ching and changing the ribbon - it’s just so delicious!”), the study is home to her impressive collection of awards.
There are also shelves laden with lookbooks featuring fashion collections Emma has worked on during her fabulous career (she’s also worked at Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Gap). Unfortunately, it was a fashion portfolio too far for the original storage unit…
“I came home and the whole shelving unit had fallen off the wall! It looked like I’d been burgled! The carpenter came round and was like, ‘If you’d told me you were going to put all THAT up there…!’”
On the other side of the room is a magnetic board which Emma had made bespoke, and where she keeps prized postcards, notes and mementoes of her son’s many swimming successes.
Finally, I can eke out my stay no longer and it’s time to leave, passing assorted gnomes, Miffys and friend-fabricated gifts on our way out. It’s been an absolute joy hanging out with Emma at her home for a morning. Having met my handbag hero, I can confirm she is every bit as witty, smart, warm and stylish as you might imagine. And she has a house to match.