Jordan Cluroe and Russell Whitehead met as professional actors in London. And we talk a bit about their careers in that world, which is really interesting. But then they made a big life change, together, to enter the world of design. And their book, Making Living Lovely: Free Your Home with Creative Design is about exactly that. How to free yourself up from any expectations or impossible-to-replicate perfect-homes seen on Instagram, so that you actually create a home that works very specifically for you. As I say in the beginning of our conversation, there just aren't that many design books out there talking about this stuff and really connecting the goals you have for the kind of person you want to be with the interior of your home environment. Which is, as I've said, is totally aligned with everything I believe so it's a true honor to have these guys on my show. Anyway, a few things you should know first. One is that we were so busy chatting and connecting before we officially got started that I basically forgot to welcome to the show. And two, their sweet dog, Buckley, makes an appearance a few times. But hey, we're all working from home these days with dogs and humans who aren't usually in our space, so I figured you'd just roll with it. Oh, and one more thing, Jordan and Russell are not only business partners, they're married as well and their design company is called 2LG which is short for the very cheeky name, 2 Lovely Gays. And yes, they really are truly lovely human beings. Ok, let's go.
PHOTOS FROM "MAKING LIVING LOVELY" by Russell Whitehead and Jordan Cluroe
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Zandra Zuraw: I just want to say to both of you that you're both is so fabulous. And you know, there's not a lot of books out there like it that people aren't talking about homes in this way and really giving people the power to really imagine what they want for themselves. And so, congratulations, it's a great book.
That is really that's really lovely to hear. Because we did it was quite a sort of struggle to sway the publishers. It was definitely a challenge to persuade the publishers that that was a direction to go in.
Zandra Zuraw 9:39
Oh, okay. Really interesting
to hear that you know, was that landed?
Zandra Zuraw 9:46
Yeah. Well, otherwise it would be like every other interior design book you know, this Yeah, this is really standing out. It's something different.
Yeah, I suppose our, our approach because perhaps we this is a second career for us. Yes, we had a very different first career, I think we came to this one with no inhibitions. And it allowed us to have a kind of freedom in the way we approached design.
Zandra Zuraw 10:13
And that's such a good point. Yeah, you you weren't you didn't come with preconceived notions of the industry.
Yeah. And I think when we were because we both trained formally in our previous career as actors, and I think you can be very judgmental on yourself very hard on yourself, when you know, when you've done a formal training, and you've spent years doing that
is incredibly freeing. I think that you know, the idea of a second career is incredibly freeing.
Yeah, you let go of those, you let go of those judgments and allow yourself to
win. Also, I think when you've achieved a certain amount to a certain level in one career, if you apply that to something else, it's bound to be success. I think we both had a really strong work ethic. You know, the entertainment industry is very difficult used to Taking knock backs, it hardens you off. So I think we've Yeah, I think it's sort of a really good, almost training for our career now.
Zandra Zuraw 11:06
Interesting. Yeah. So can you speak a little bit more about that about the, what have you? What have you brought with you from one career into the next?
Definitely I love people, I think it's really actually it's not too dissimilar in a way of, it's like working in a company with you know, builders, plumbers, decorators, lots of it's like being in a theatre company in a way and, and also that, that that love of people the idea of getting into a character finding out about somebody how they tick what they like, what they dislike, and that's, that's also very similar in a way.
Yeah, a huge part of our training as actors was learning how to get inside a character removing our own ego and and not judging the character that you're trying to embody. So that is very useful when we're approaching a new client that we've never met before.
Zandra Zuraw 11:57
Oh, you know, I'm I shouldn't be surprised by this. Answer. Because your whole book is so centered around the person who is living in the home, you answered me in such this person focused way about how an actor, you know, the fun part really is doing that research and really getting the head of a character and then, you know, figure out how to flesh that out fully. And that's what you do as designers, which makes so much sense. But what I was expecting you to say was, Oh, well, we learned a lot about interiors, because of the sets that we worked in, or we we learned a lot about, you know, decorative elements from different time periods because we worked across you know, in place that that spans the centuries but of course you didn't answer that way. Don't start with the visual you start with the person and the interior of the person. Yes, so refreshing.
I mean, I think inevitably the the sets and in that part of our lives, does feed into it some somehow. And we do go into some detail in the book about architecture and about fashion and and movies.
Well, I guess there's a theatricality to that anyway, isn't there because that's who we are. But also it's Yeah, it's very much about the person, which is why it's so interesting and keeps it so exciting.
Zandra Zuraw 13:19
I wonder if you could tell me just a little bit of the story of how you made this transition like what, you're both you're going along, you're have your careers going you meet each other you, you find you have a mutual love of, of design, I think, and then what happens, how do you move on to this whole other life?
I guess it started when we bought our first home together. We, we sort of we bought a very small flat and started to decorate that and was looking for inspiration. We sort of started to make our own, didn't we? I think it was, we've never really been shoppers in a way of like, we're shopping for a particular item.
Yeah, we made we made it our business as a kind of hobby and hobbies are underrated nowadays. But we because we were working hard as actors, we wanted something that was our joint passion. And on the side if you like, and we we took sort of so much joy out of doing our first time together. And we spent a lot of time going to design shows and galleries and just trying to indulge ourselves in that process. And I suppose it just started, you know, from that moment, and then it was a very slow transition it took it took five or six years before we began moving into a different industry, but and that's where it began.
Yeah, we sort of started doing some screen printing and textile design, which we loved. And it was really creative and fun. But then we realized we didn't necessarily want to just focus on products, we wanted to think about the whole picture. And so we were selling our textiles and we were approached by a hotel that liked our designs and wanted them for one of the suites. It was a bridal suite, actually So we took that on, on a wing and a prayer very much learning as we go as we sort of went flying by the seat of our pants very, very much.
I mean, at this point, I was still doing eight shows a week in the West End. And we were doing television work. And so we were sort of fitting this in around that. And we very quickly realized that we at that point, we were sort of moving into a design and maker realm, and we didn't enjoy the making as much as we enjoyed the design.
Well, in the hotel that that grew, so we did the bridal suite, they loved what we did, and we actually ended up doing sort of 19 rooms bar restaurant for the whole thing. So you know, they took a huge risk on us. It was a huge risk on our part and, and it sort of paid off and then you know, slowly but surely wanting to go over the other.
Zandra Zuraw 15:51
That's what happens when you say yes, even if you have no idea how you're going to do something.
Yeah, I think that is maybe that's useful things.
I don't know if we would have dived in so brazenly. Well, we knew everything that we liked on the way. Yeah. It's sort of I think, actually starting off in our career, it was all about the power of Yes. And no, we literally said yes to everything that came our way. And then actually, now that we find the six years into our career, we're beginning to realize the power of No.
Zandra Zuraw 16:24
I love it. Yes. That Yin Yang, you need both don't? Absolutely.
Yeah. So let's dive into the book a little bit. right from the very beginning, the very first line of your book, is, this is a book about empowerment, identity, kindness, and pride. I mean, when's the last time anyone has read an interiors book that starts like that? It's so wonderful. So you fill the book with examples of what you know what you mean by all of that, but tell us what you believe is The connection between those things empowerment, identity, kindness and pride and someone's home, how do you make that connection?
I suppose the connection is a very emotional connection. And certainly that section of the book in the introduction, we, you know, we deliberately wanted it to be moving in some way because I think we are very moved by wonderful interiors when they're finished. And so we wanted to flip the interior narrative on its head and go back to how a space makes you feel. And I, one of the phrases that's really important to us, is Be the change you want to see. So we, we wanted the book to do that. And we also want our interiors to do that. We want people's homes to reflect the change that they want in their life and help them to grow into that. Please, Bucky is having a little sneezing fit and
Zandra Zuraw 18:08
what did they say never get on stage with a child or children.
He knows exactly what he's doing.
Zandra Zuraw 18:19
While we're talking about the dog really quickly, I love your your dogs and wallpaper and your jackets. I just Oh, thank you. We're gonna have to put a photo of that under the show notes page. That's wonderful.
Yeah, that was something that we you can do that, didn't you and Jordans very interested in fashion and always has been and so I suppose you've some of that fashion influence has fed its way into the work that we do, hasn't it and even into the clothes that we wear.
Zandra Zuraw 18:50
So I'm sorry, I didn't interrupt you. What what Where were you going?
I think it's just in fundamentally what we sort of truly believe and I think people sale, you know, an interior can change the way that you feel and, and sometimes people throw that around so flippantly, but it's so true. And it's something that we've seen time and time again, with our clients, the sort of emotive response that not only the reveal, because that's something that is kind of for television, it doesn't really happen that way. You know, a reveal that moment that we see in these TV shows isn't necessarily how it happens in real life. And it's it, the process is emotive and we really enjoy that process. And you know, at times it can be really difficult and stressful and all of those things, but it's, it's so rewarding when you get across the mark, and the interior is finished. And you see how somebody enjoys the space and a lot of our clients end up being friends, don't they?
Yeah, I mean that that opening gambit of identity and pride and kindness. It's really a way of us trying to key you back into yourself at the very beginning. And that's always what we tried to do to kind of say, let's stop, let's turn off all the noise. And let's just go back to what makes you tick and where you see your going and what you would really like out of this space, and that can be applied to any space, because it's about new and making the most of the space that you have.
Zandra Zuraw 20:10
Yeah, I think you've really challenged us to say, you know, if you want a beautiful home, you actually going to have to invest yourself in it, you're going to have to invest time in yourself, figuring out who you are, you know, there's, there's you got to you got to put that work into it. Otherwise, okay, you might have a beautiful home because you might hire designers who know how to make beautiful spaces, but if you really want that home that feeds you, and that is the place you want to be all the time, then you've got to invest yourself in it and then that's, that's up to the people who live there.
Yeah, ease about investment. That's a very good word to use because it's a huge emotional investment to go through a renovation or even a small project in your interior. And it's, you know, there is huge value in that personal emotional investment. Definitely.
And I think that's the thing that always takes our clients by surprise, because I think they're prepared for the fact that it's going to be a financial investment. But lots of them aren't necessarily prepared for the emotional investment.
Zandra Zuraw 21:20
Exactly, exactly. Because I just don't think we talked about this very much. You know, you were talking about the TV shows where there's the big reveal the big makeover, and it happens in seven days. And I think that's we're coming we're becoming very accustomed to that way of designing a home.
Yeah. And I think we're also being encouraged to constantly look outside of ourselves. And there's so much inspiration out there digitally now. And we're sort of bombarded with it on a daily basis. Beautiful, perfect interiors on Instagram, and pin And then I can, obviously we love that that's kind of how we started our business. And we're just as obsessed with Instagram as the next person shows up. And I think it's it can be quite dangerous because you lose all sense of yourself and you can start to feel very overwhelmed. And there is a sense of anxiety of I don't know what I like anymore. And I can't remember why I'm doing this. Because it can be the trends and sort of, you know, outside exterior inspiration ends up being a crutch, to kind of get you through that wobble. But we want to encourage you to let go of all of those branches and try and go back to yourself, which is a slightly more challenging thing to do, but it's hugely rewarding.
Zandra Zuraw 22:47
Yes, I love the wobble that you talked about.
So true. It happens at different points in every single project, but guaranteed there'll be one more than one often but it's Yeah, and it's and sometimes We like oh, and this is the wobble. We were wondering when this was going to happen. And it's often the thing that you think it's not going to be you think, oh, God is going to be like relocating the kitchen that's going to be the wall, you know. And then it could be something really silly like the, the blinds in the guest bedroom, I should.
I should explain the wallpaper to anyone that hasn't yet read the book. It's that period
in a project and it can come at any point unexpectedly when you have perhaps invested in it financially or emotionally or both. And it hasn't come together yet. So very often, it can be quite scary and stressful because you're thinking everything's good out, but nothing's come back in yet.
And even the most intelligent hardened person can have a wobble. Yeah. That's so good
Zandra Zuraw 23:49
to hear. Right. And I think the fact that a designer even designers such as yourselves, you don't necessarily know everything at the start of the project. You don't Shouldn't he answer? Yes, yes, that's so that's so freeing, I think for people who just are trying to do it themselves and just want to, they need to play around, you know, you need to experiment. Yeah. But
the thing that changes could be the most wonderful part of the projects that the thing that you haven't decided on and that suddenly clicks or appears and you think, yes, that's that that thing? Well, in our house, for example, the we call it lipstick for doors with the pink squiggle motif that we painted around our kitchen doors. It's that was last moment of madness that we had then just fell at the I think at the time, it was a rebellion against the renovation because we, even though we've been through many with clients, we were
We just did that moment for ourselves to say we're
in space. It's just a simple connection between yourself and a paintbrush and something fun and freehand and joyful. And yeah, it definitely was.
Zandra Zuraw 25:00
Yes, yes, we'll be sure to show a photo of that too in the show notes page. So because it is it's so fun. And you're right. It's like you guys really left your mark and claimed those those that particular little area around those doorways. It's wonderful.
Yeah, but you couldn't have known necessarily that was coming at the very beginning. So it's kind of nice to leave some space in the initial design phase for those little surprises.
What good advice that's great, really great advice. I love your idea of giving your home a title which which so throughout the book, you besides your own home, you also interview other people and you ask them what their colors are, their three colors, their three materials, and what the title is for their homes that they've kind of come up with. Through talking with you. I talk a lot about how your home is meant to be a visual autobiography and so I think it makes With the title would be fair homes autobiography is, it's just so great. Can you give us some examples of some of your favorite home titles that people have come up with?
Yeah, absolutely. And one of my personal favorites was Smash Hits of Soho. And this was I just thought it was brilliant. It was a couple that they first met in Soho, and one of them was a collector of Lego. And under his bed, we found all of these vintage Smash Hits magazines, which were amazing. And we ended up using framing them all and making a gallery wall. They looked incredible, but I thought it was so witty and so fun and so personal to them as a couple. And it was a really good fun one. And then what else we got and who run who runs the world girls who rules the world girls was another one. That was a gay couple. They were business owners, they had a you know, they were loads of fun and it was just all about them. They were so sort of they were great to work with actually their businesses creative themselves. So it was a really freeing process. And that was a really good one as well.
Yeah, I mean, our own house, we gave a title when we started this process of joyful minimalism, which has gone on to become a chapter in the book. Because we don't like the idea that you have to fit in one particular box of style. And we've always been these people who have quite different style tastes. And we wanted to be able to sort of bring them together. And there's we feel quite strongly that there's kind of no reason that you can't have a minimal approach to function whilst also layering on some joy in the color and the pattern that you choose to fill the spaces with. Yeah. So that it started out as a title, which helped guide us at the beginning and then it's become so much more.
Zandra Zuraw 27:51
Right, right. It's become a whole direction. So this this leads me into my next question, which is about the peanut butter and jelly analogy, which is so great. So yeah, we get it so quickly. So tell us what you meant by that. It's very much the idea that
peanut butter and jelly or jam, as we say in the UK don't necessarily seem like the most sensible mix. Nor does joyfulness or minimalism, but but sometimes really opposing ideas can make for something wonderful. And, you know, it can be all the more tasty if you have that sort of salty and sweet and combination. So we encourage that in all of the interiors that we create. And we sort of, again, in the book, we wanted to empower people to not compromise and to allow the fullest versions of themselves come together with those that they live with. Or if you're living on your own, and then just be your best self. But yeah, it's it's that juxtaposition of different opposing ideas, creating attention. That's really exciting. Yeah.
Zandra Zuraw 29:00
That visual tension and and you do talk quite a bit in the book about working with those that you're living with and and for each of you to kind of almost really fight for what it is your vision and then figure out a way to make them work together and then the the two pieces have become this whole that is so much more interesting than one person's vision only
hundred percent i think the Yeah, I mean, so often we are met with couples and we do very often work with couples that are perhaps I don't know if they're drawn to us as a design job because we're a couple but right and we often find that when we meet with clients, they are struggling to meet in the middle. They're struggling to understand each other's design style, they're you know, and our viewpoint is rather than you ending up with a muddy version of something that is not what either of you would love let's let's try and take what you both love Bring those things together. And it might be an insane clash, but maybe something beautiful will happen.
Yeah, it's just for us. That's where the magic happens that what happens if we're also used to compromising and what happens if you don't?
Zandra Zuraw 30:15
Yeah, it does, it opens up a brand new way of being in the room that you might not have had otherwise. Mm hmm.
Absolutely. And also, it's sort of, it's a great bonding exercise. It's a really great communication tool. Sometimes, you know, we're so used to talking about communication in terms of speaking to each other and understanding each other's inner emotions, but it can be really useful to communicate in a visual way as well. And you're certainly a very visual communicator, whereas I am, yeah, and I communicate with words. And so it was, it's been quite interesting learning each other's different ways. And we've always tried to help the couples that we meet, you know, better benefit from that as well.
Zandra Zuraw 31:01
Yeah, I was gonna say you guys are like therapists. Yeah, marriage counselors.
It's definitely we definitely say that about ourselves. I think it's part part designer, part therapist part marriage.
I'm always nervous to say that because obviously, we're
trying to get therapy, but hopefully we can help empty some of the knots that you're in.
Zandra Zuraw 31:21
Yeah, you Well, you can act as the intermediary when things get really heated. And I'm sure you have some great stories. So there's this one little tip that you have in the book that I really liked, because you know, I've read a gazillion design books. So I've heard a lot of tips, but I've never heard this one, which is for people who are what you call micro shoppers, which I would you know, I think what you mean by that is sort of impulse buyers who just can't help the next little shiny, trendy thing and they just buy it and bring it into their homes. You assign you say To assign everything a weight, a physical weight when you're deciding whether or not to buy it. And then the metaphor, I believe, is that then do you feel like carrying that weight? You know? Yeah, yeah. Tell us a little bit more like how, what what, what exactly are you suggesting people do in their minds? I think
I think this one owes a lot to Jim Henson and the seminal movie Labyrinth, which was, which was one of my favorite movies of all time, and there's a scene in a sort of trash land where this there are these trash people who are kind of carrying all of the possessions of their life on their backs. And the central character is kind of persuaded to have all of her things back a panda slippers and, and, and we even have a photo of that in the book, which is quite fun. But I suppose it's this idea that do you want to be tied down by This piece does this piece mean something to you? Is it important in your life? Or is it just another thing? And we just want to free you from that constraint? And that becomes a kind of process for how you live. have everything that you encounter in your life. Does that mean enough to you to come home with you? Or is it something that you can enjoy in the moment and then move on?
I should apply this to my own shooting.
Zandra Zuraw 33:28
I think we all have a few things that we weigh a lot that we can't help but carry around.
Zandra Zuraw 33:38
But it is it's such a great visual image of you. Do you feel it in your gut? Do I want to carry this thing on my back? What What a great question is you're standing in line at Target and target over there?
Very well. Yeah, I totally agree. It's like Yeah,
Zandra Zuraw 33:58
what's your target called? You must have a
homesense Oh, yeah. habita Oh,
Zandra Zuraw 34:09
no, you guys have traveled the world designing for clients. And that, you know, you've therefore you've seen a lot. And you've I know, you've also worked with small budgets and small homes, as well as big grant homes and big budgets. So, and I know you're not all about the money, so other than money, what is the difference as creative people? What lessons have you applied from small homes, small budgets to big ones, and vice versa?
I think for us the first thing that we don't necessarily talk to the client about money initially, and for us, it's always about creative creativity first. So in sort of, we like to take it as far as possible, creatively, where can this go? What is the wildest places could go and then sort of as we start to tease through a budget, and You know, the boring mundane side of designing a space? Yeah, sort of all falls into place and other, you know, weight might be placed more heavily on one thing that's more expensive. And then you have to find something else that works. But it's always about creativity for us. First and foremost. Yeah,
I think, coming from a theatre background, again, going back to that training, and as an actor, you have to learn to be incredibly resource resourceful. And so it's huge. That was very, very useful. Because sometimes in theater, you can create a, you know, a huge landscape with giant animals walking through with only a few sticks and some noises, you know, and I sort of, we've always wanted to come at it from the approach of the creative first, and then we'll work out how, how do we put this jigsaw together afterwards? And how can we make this creative endeavor fit to your budget, and sometimes those
constraints force you to be much more Created and you end up with a much better result as well actually, we found that quite often, you know, if you've got an endless pot of money, you end up with something super generic. There's no there's the same sort of places that people go to for super high end this, that or the other. And actually, when you're forced to be creative in certain instances, it's wonderful and very exciting.
Zandra Zuraw 36:21
Yeah, I love that image that you just created about that. Like, you know, if the background to the scene, especially in a theater as opposed to a movie needs to be you know, the fear of a tiger walking near you and you just do it with lighting. Yeah, a couple of stencils that are that are used on the lights and a few sticks and some noises that sound when someone's coming. Yeah, it's scary and it's in it. It's so much more creative for sure.
Yeah, absolutely. One simple statement. Can you know be worth so much if it's if it's tied into the creative idea? It doesn't have to be an expensive item.
I think also like in just really simple terms, the more wealthier client or the more budget there is, the less sort of the more they want to service the less sort of hands on they want to be and actually, that generally doesn't interest us. Anyway. we're much more hands on as designers we want to get in there. We want to see all the gritty bits, you know, we want to we want to delve into that and get you something you're gonna love forever, not just for now.
Yeah, I suppose for better or for worse. We are creatives first and businessmen. And we, yeah, we never wanted to be salesman. So we've always avoided that approach that you know, we're just selling this item because we get the best Commission on it. And that, that is definitely not not the way to design in our opinion. So we we've always tried to, you know, start with the creative endeavor.
Zandra Zuraw 37:53
Yeah, that's great. I want to talk about the word lovely. It is in your business title, which is So fantastic to lovely gays. So wonderful, so playful. And so it's so well it's lovely is what it is. Now your smile. Yes, you can about smell, making living lovely. You got this really interesting reaction from sort of the insiders in the interior design industry. You know, I, there was some pushback. Mm hmm. I love the word, I find the word to be perfect, because it's exactly the feeling we all want to have when we're living inside our homes. Right. It's lovely. I mean, what a wonderful word. So what was the concern that these insider industry insiders had and why would they advise you against using that term? I think initially,
you know, we, this was five or six years ago, and I suppose we were in a period of time where excellence and luxury were the keys being extremely Ordinary going above and beyond and and I and mystery was very important to a lot of designers then and the sort of creating the magic and I suppose our standpoint was that lovely is kind of open and real and nice needn't just be near it's nice and loveliness that can be excellent that can be the very best. And I suppose also my dad when I was when I was much younger gave him a piece of advice saying you know, you sometimes nice people do when I because there's there is often this idea that you've got to be hard and fast thrown cutthroat and mysterious and, you know, dramatic,
dramatic and create magic and we wanted to do something that was real and honest and open and lovely.
I guess we ruffled some feathers. We sort of changed the scene a little bit. I think we were very open and honest and transparent in the way that we worked. And maybe that was just a bit shocking at the time.