If you're an admirer of the cottagecore trend, odds are you've come across the work of British design influencer Paula Sutton, who left behind a life in the fashion publishing industry to embrace slow living. Known for her approach to country house style at Hill House, her home in Norfolk, England, Sutton's @hillhousevintage Instagram account has become a go-to source of inspiration for all things pastoral. For proof, just take a look at her 500,000 followers.
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Yet, as we all know, there is more to Instagram than meets the eye. That's why Sutton has written a book called Hill House Living: The Art of Creating a Joyful Life. Debuting on October 14 in the U.K. and October 19 in the U.S., it will educate readers on how they can create their own version of joyful country house living (a predecessor and close relative of cottagecore). Along with tips for embracing the four seasons, curating an antique collection, and uplifting the five senses, Sutton delves into her personal life — something you don't fully see on Instagram.
"In my book, I open up about my background and childhood. The early years that influenced the way I see beauty in the timeworn and pre-loved, and the bumpy start that led me to create Hill House Vintage," Sutton tells Hunker. "I hope that [readers] realize that my journey to creating a warm and love-filled home at Hill House took time and consideration, and is a story about layering, reflection, and patience." Sutton emphasizes that creating a home you love doesn't have to break the bank or happen overnight. It's all about enjoying the process.
When delving into how her past affects her present, Sutton reveals that her parents were born on the Island of Grenada in the Caribbean. This part of her heritage greatly influences Sutton's love of color and patterns. "The checks and stripes and floral chintz may seem European, but the color is definitely from my West Indian side," she says, adding that this is also how she expresses joy.
Speaking of that three-letter feeling, joy is something that Sutton explores in all her work. "Joy, to me, means making an effort to carve out time and space for me to do the things that I love, surrounding myself with the people and things that bring me comfort, and remembering to appreciate and savor the simple things in life," she says. It's about living in the present.
After 2020 and throughout the pandemic, racial uprisings, and stream of hard-hitting news headlines, Sutton has found that her Hill House ethos resonates now more than ever. "Life post-pandemic will likely continue to be hectic and challenging at times, but now that we know what it is like to expect the unexpected, I think that we owe it to ourselves to make sure that we have the tools at hand to ensure that self-care, mindful happiness, and simple home comforts are a priority for when (if) times get tough in the future," she explains. Learning to slow down, finding joy in the seemingly little things, and creating a comfortable, cozy environment are just a few of the tools you can acquire when reading Hill House Living.
Within the book, Sutton also mentions that she utilizes vision boards and specific words to help her on her journey. Right now, the word "embrace" has become her mantra and in terms of vision boards, Sutton is all about creating a home gym — Hill House style. "I want it to have the vintage feel of an old-fashioned Edwardian boxing gymnasium with lots of aged brown leather, swan-necked brass light fittings, and a large multi-paned factory window converted into a mirror (which I already have)," she says. "As much as I love all things floral and pretty, this particular mood board has a distinctly 'steampunk' element to it, which is incredibly fun and challenging and probably not something most people would expect from me!" We can't wait to see this come to life.
In addition to discussing her own history and lifestyle, Sutton makes a point to delve into the connection between race and country house style. "I am aware that due to historically socio-economic factors, Black faces like mine are not the type often associated with classic country house style, and there is an assumption that there are only certain areas of design that certain ethnic groups tend to focus on," she states. "However, and I've said it many times before, as with all things, the Black experience covers a wide range of styles and tastes and influences, and is not a monolith to be lazily cataloged under the generic umbrella term of 'ethnic interiors.'"
Sutton continues, "There is also the connection between many older country houses and periods of history where Black people would not necessarily have been the owners of certain properties at the time that they were built. It's important to acknowledge that while we may appreciate the architectural and interior craftsmanship of many historical houses, the fact that some may have been built on the back of oppression must never be forgotten."
With this in mind, Sutton hopes that the mainstream will highlight Black creators more often — after all, she explains that there are plenty of Black cottagecore lovers. As for country house style and more traditional interior design themes, there is also a lot to be desired when it comes to inclusivity.
"It's not due to a lack of interest from certain ethnic groups, but more that the magazines and publications that reflect and showcase these styles need to perhaps cast their nets wider when they are featuring the people behind the examples of these trends," Sutton says.
While continuing to promote diversity in the design space, Sutton wants to further embrace and educate others on the connection between our homes, happiness, and personal wellbeing. "I can remember what it was like to treat my home simply as a base to lay my head in between work and other commitments, and I also remember how unhappy it made me," she says. "Anything that I can do to encourage a positive and joyful mindset when it comes to creating the spaces that we live in will be time well spent."
In terms of future plans, Sutton is also considering fashion and homewares projects that encapsulate her Hill House aesthetic and philosophy. (She actually just released her first collection with Brora, a cashmere clothing brand!) "I worked in the fashion industry for many years, and my love of fashion has never left me," she says.
In the meantime, you can expect to see Sutton on Instagram amongst some of her most prized possessions (aside from her family, of course): her late mother's musical jewelry box, an Edwardian button-back chair that she recovered in a red check fabric, and the three French armoires that she uses for storing her vintage china.