I met Michele at Pietermaritzburg University, we studied Economics (yes Economics!) together. With both of us taking a creative path in our lives, I was keen to catch up with her and find out how she has become one of the most sought after interior designers in South Africa.
Michele Throssell Interiors is based in Ballito KwaZulu Natal (KZN). Her team of designers offer direction in architectural style, spatial planning, interior decoration, bathrooms and kitchens. They recently won the Caesarstone Kitchen of the year competition. Michele’s unique style of laid back glamour is inspired by her love of natural organic elements and her love for South Africa’s beaches, bushveld and culture.
Michele, you I and I were in the same Economics class at University how did you end up becoming an Interior Designer?
Well, after completing a BA in Philosophy at UCT, my sister and I started an African bead business called Out of Africa, we worked with people from Zululand and we started beading. The business took off and we did that for about two years and then I married Bruce (Bruce and Michele met at University in Pietermaritzburg). Bruce was working and living on the South Coast of KZN so I moved there.
While I was there I got into the clothing industry, I had a few friends who were clothing buyers and I sourced items for them. We stayed on the South Coast for three years until Bruce got a job in Johannesburg. I continued with the clothing lines and became an agent for some big clothing companies, one of the lines I was an agent for was French Connection. I started my family and was in my thirties and decided I wanted to move on.
I interrupt here (something I must work on not to do!)
I remember your room at university, the rooms were small very basic, but somehow you managed to make yours look like a real bedroom. Not at all flashy but beautiful in it’s simplicity, all done in shades of white. You obviously had an interior design gene.
It’s funny, having my family I just loved decorating my home. Friends that came over to visit loved what I did and asked me to help them with their homes. So I started decorating as a friend and then I began to get more involved. Friends started asking me to quote on bigger jobs. I did a drafting course to assist me. So that’s really where I started, on a small basis helping people choose fabrics and couches at first and it grew from there. Then my folks had a place at Leopard Creek which was washed away, they asked if I would like to redo it. That was my first real big job 15 years ago and everything grew from there. As I got more clients and the business grew, I hired people with more technical skills as I have no formal training as such.
It’s not essential to have formal training in interior design to become a great designer, just like an artist does not need to be trained as an artist. What would you say your strengths are?
I think you need to have a spatial personality and luckily I have a natural feeling for a space. Working in the industry I have gained a lot of experience and over the years the studio has grown, and with growth has come the opportunity for us to work on a variety of high-end projects both locally and internationally. In the last year we have been working on three Game Lodges, which has been a fresh challenge.
Do you use any local South African designers?
Yes I absolutely love supporting South Africa’s local designers. Especially our up and coming young designers. I have always been a fan of James Mudge, Dokter & Misses, Mia Woodlake, Jono DuPlessis, Andrea Kleinloog, to name a few.
Our design speaks the language of an international market as well as a flare of inspired South African design, Whether we are working on an international or local project, we tend to lean firstly into South African designers. We love sourcing new products, especially items that have yet to be seen. These always add curiosity or become a talking point in a space.
Have you noticed that people are tending to go for neutral colours, playing it safe in these economic times, or looking for colour to uplift their spaces?
I am loving deeply moody tones at the moment. I have just recently painted my son’s room in a rich emerald green colour, and added textures and tones of navy, black and white into the space. We are also working on an apartment in Johannesburg which we are focusing on more vivd, vibrant and moody tones, blues and bottle greens. The whole kitchen we have done in emerald green tiles. I find that neutral tones can be stunning, if done correctly, but if not, you find the room tends to feel cold. When we have finished working on a house, I want it to have life and soul.
Interestingly, I went through a phase where I was working on a lot of babies rooms, at the moment I am working a lot more on the rooms of teenagers between the age of 14 and 20. They are loving colour! We are doing patterned wall papers, wrapped up the walls onto the ceilings, bright pops of colour in accessories like cerise pinks, again emerald greens, and interesting patterns and bold prints.
What do you think about bringing colour into furniture?
If I am doing a big TV sofa I tend to stick to neutral colours with texture – charcoals, creams or stones, but not always. I have just done a sofa in an emerald green washed linen, sitting in front of a dirty dark blue wall.
I went to Rooms on View in Johannesburg recently, and Weylants had done this incredibly rich rusty terracotta velvet on their sofa which created the mood for that space, it was completely fabulous! I have been finding inspiration in the colours of rust, terracottas, deep maroons, and loving the rustic, raw textures coming through.
What inspires you most when you first get a project
Often the architecture will set the tone for the house, but I like to get a feel for the space. Then a lot depends on the personality of the owner, we like to get a good brief from the owners, their likes and dislikes. Sometimes we recommend our clients do a board on Pinterest so we can get a clearer picture of what they have in mind. Inspiration for a project can come from the use of surface materials, fabrics, trends, etc. We do a presentation booklet for all our clients which we present to them with the direction and vision. Every space is a canvas waiting to become an art piece, and the creative process is an exciting aspect of every project.
Personally what do you love to do that inspires you?
I really enjoy spending time in the kitchen, trying out new recipes. I stick to eating healthy organic natural foods, and so I am always testing out cake recipes or cooking in the kitchen for guests and family. Another love is exercise, swimming lengths in the local Salt Rock tidal pool, going for walks on the beach, and doing yoga. I love the costal lifestyle and living close to the beach. It makes waking up every morning something special.
Then like old friends catching up we talked about our families. Michele is delighted that one of her sons has recently joined her business as a designer, her other son is a lawyer and her daughter is also studying design.
With so much of our social interaction on social media it is great to catch up with old friends face to face. I highly recommend it.
Wishing you a wonderful week.