When I was growing up I used to want to be a vet. This was despite the fact that bovine animals kind of freak me out and so having to put my hand up their anus would probably cause me to have the kind of panic attack that Lawrence Lywellyn Bowen would suffer if you asked him to decorate a room without using any flocked fabric. With that dream dead in the water I moved on to environmental law where ironically my first case involved defending a rogue meat renderer (aka the people who turn dead cows into dog food/soap/cleaning products). My real (bovine free) dream is, however, to open my own interiors shop selling Scandi/Vintage items against a backdrop of soothing whites and greys somewhere by the sea (not Skegness just to clarify). Bar the absence of ocean, Belinda Fulton’s shop Of Special Interest in Crouch End, London, pretty much sums up my dream. Belinda agreeing to let me come and look round her house for my blog was, therefore, on a par with Ryan Gosling turning up on my doorstep and offering to give me a naked footrub (to clarify he would be the naked one in that scenario as not sure I would be able to enjoy said footrub if I was worrying what Ryan might be thinking of my overgrown lady garden and mum tum).
Since discovering OFSI 5 years ago, I think I have spent, on average, about 33% of my monthly salary in there. When on maternity leave, I seriously considered asking Belinda to erect an electric fence around the entrance to prevent me from frittering my meagre statutory maternity pay away on candle holders and gloriously realistic yet still reasonably priced faux foliage instead of nappies and baby wipes.
Belinda started off life in Malpas in Cheshire but has been a city dweller ever since leaving home at 18. She is, like me, more of a gastro pub and café than fields and sheep kind of lady. I start to get sweaty when I am more than 5 miles away from a café with a filament bulb, bare brick wall and flat white (I don’t actually drink them, I just like to know I am somewhere urban enough to serve them). After studying textile design at Leicester (whilst secretly really wanting to do Fine Art), Belinda moved to North London with her then husband buying a flat and opening the shop together. It started off life as a junk shop selling a mix of auction house finds and their own possessions. If I had sold my possesions age 24 it would essentially have been a shop full of Ikea crockery, posters of Kurt Cobain and Bob Marley (RIP Kurt and Bob) and a CD collection that lent heavily upon the work of 90s Indie Bands. Despite divorcing they still run the business together today, a fact I marvel at. Running a business with my significant ex boyfriend would almost certainly have ended in me wanting to run over him in a tractor (as it was he was lucky to escape with my best friend just using his tooth brush to clean the toilet when we parted ways). Though, to be fair, it sounds as though Belinda has been tempted to reach for the tractor keys herself a few times over the years.
These days she is happily married to husband Lewis (who, along with daughter Mack (18) she describes as the love of her life). She spotted him in a bar over twenty years ago and plucked up the courage to ask him out, figuring she would be unlikely to be returning to that bar again so had nothing to lose. Luckily he said yes and turned out not only to be a great cook but also a builder too. He has carried out pretty much all of the renovation work on their house himself and is currently in the process of building them a studio in the garden. Am thinking that I need to persuade Mr Malmo to swap professions if I want to progress my own Grand Design dreams. Working in banking law he could whip me up a great loan finance agreement if I wanted to buy a shopping centre in Grimsby but a studio in the garden not so much.
Belinda was living in a one bedroom flat in Tottenham at the time and managed to persuade Hampstead boy Lewis to leave the Heath behind and come and join her. When Lewis was away on a work trip to Greece, a pregnant Belinda spotted their current house and loved the garden so much she put in an offer that day. She therefore met Lewis from the station slightly nervous about telling him that a) she had bought them a house and b) that said house was opposite the slightly notorious Broadwater Farm estate. Luckily he took the news well and they have never looked back, loving living sandwiched between two beautiful parks and surrounded by warm, friendly people from all walks of life. In fact I am wondering if I can borrow Belinda’s West Indian neighbour Hyacyinth who brings her a bottle of wine if she has had a bad day (unlike my octogenarian Jeovah’s witness neighbour George, who is more likely to pop round with a copy of the Watchtower and tell me that the world is about to end).
Like all good wives skilled in the art of “Renovation Deception”, Belinda promised Lewis when he viewed the house that they would wait until after the baby was born and they had lived in the house a while before embarking upon any major renovation work. Needless to say Belinda was still pregnant when she set started removing doors and demolishing a polysterene mock brick fireplace. Over time a loft extension was added which is now Mack’s domain and, when Lewis finishes the garden studio, Belinda is looking forward to having somewhere to paint again.
What I loved so much about Belinda’s house is that whilst it is ridiculously stylish it is also most definitely a family home, with the stunning gallery walls that line the stairs mainly featuring daughter Mack’s artwork from age 3 onwards (Mack seems to be far handier in the art department than me though, a gallery wall featuring my early and, if I am honest, current artwork, might look like Morph had been let loose with a crayon after one too many Barcardi Breezers). Throughout the house there is a great sense of light and space as doors have been removed so that as you step into the hallway you can see straight through to the garden beyond and clever tricks like a glass panel on the stairs keep the light flowing through the rest of the house.
Although Belinda can never see them leaving Tottenham, if they were to move it would be down to their little place in St Ives (insert link) which they head to whenever it is not rented out or perhaps to a warehouse in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham with it’s vibrant mix of old buildings and beautiful metal cladded armadillo type modern architecture. I feel like I should give Birmingham another chance as Belinda is not the only person to sing its praises to me. I just have terrible memories of the environmental consultants conference I was forced to attend there 5 years ago where, inbetween talks about the latest developments in contaminated land identification (pointers it smells bad and your hair stands on end when you step on it) I was forced to watch two balding middle aged men called Colin and Andrew put on a medieval jousting display. 3 hours of my life I will never get back and the image of paunch straining to escape chainmail is still seared on to my retina.
Over the years Of Special Interest Interiors has grown from a junk shop into the interiors gem it is today, taking over two neighbouring shops as their owners moved on and then the annex behind when it came up to rent. Lewis has also joined the business, taking on many roles, including, on occasion that of Judge Judy if the Of Special Interest Exes are locking horns. In the shop, Belinda is inspired by the Dutch look of muted colours mixed with gorgeous natural textures but I love the fact that nothing is too regimented and it is very much not the kind of shop where entering with a buggy causes the owner to pull a face at you like they have just accidentally chewed a 3 year old piece of bubble gum.
As a fan of concept stores that mix interiors with fashion, gardening and other lifestyle products such as Daylesford Organic, Belinda would love, if she had the space, to be able to offer something similar in Of Special Interest Interiors (although without the hefty price tags found at Daylesford along with hordes of chauffeur driven Range Rovers and women called Clarissa Fortesque-Bowles-De Montfort-Hedges). Having fallen in love with some gorgeous Spanish jewellery at a recent Trade Show, Belinda may yet dip a toe into Daylesford waters or, alternatively, if it doesn’t sell, be turning up at work like Crouch End’s answer to Mr T (if Mr T favoured delicate Catalan crafted jewellery in muted colours). When she is not in the shop, Belinda loves both Instagram and Pinterest and enjoys following both interiors and artists accounts. Favourites include Cornish Artists like Kurt Jackson and Gareth Edwards, the interiors photographer Paul Massey (whose holiday home in Mousehole I have a stonking insta crush on), Hans Blomquist and Sally Denning (whose other account Black Shorestyle is also one of my all time favourites).
Local places Belinda likes to eat out include the Banc Café in Downhills Park minutes from their house. Our kids love this park as it has a mini roadway for scooters and bikes that they can zip around whilst you tuck into Union Coffee, big breakfasts and roast lunches. Although Belinda is a veggie (having grown up as the daughter of a butcher and being put off meat by early encounters with offal and other dubious offcuts) if Lewis is missing meat they go to The Westbury in Turnpike Lane or The Maynard in Crouch End, both of which do great burgers. Down in St Ives favourites include it’s Porthmeor Beach Cafe,The Alba and Porthminster Kitchen.
As well as letting me look round her amazing home, I must also take this opportunity to thank Belinda for having introduced me to the wonders of Primark pleather leggings. I spotted her wearing some on a previous visit to her shop and was delighted to discover they were £6 from Wood Green Primarni rather than £600 from Armani. Their ability to make me feel a little bit like Chrissie Hynde whilst also being wipe clean have made them a “Rock Mum” wardrobe staple (even if my husband never fails to ask if my legs have been abducted by Doreen from Birds of a Feather when I wear them).
Whilst it may yet be a few years before I am Open All Hours (as a shopkeeper that is) drinking tea and chatting with Belinda in her lovely garden has helped keep my dream alive. I now just need to convince Richard Branson instead of spending billions trying to fly Clarissa Fortesque-Bowles-De Montfort-Hedges and pals into space he should, instead, be investing his cash in my coastal modern rustic interiors empire. Failing that, maybe the shop will have to be in Skegness rather than Salcombe.