co~owner of hauntingly beautiful
Ghost Furniture (with husband Harvey)
is Di Overton.
We got together for a chat.
Hope you'll enjoy listening in,
as she tells a bit about her life's journey.
She is an inspiration!
R) Hi Di, welcome!
Can you tell us where you grew up
and what was it like?
DB) I was born in London and lived there until I was 10. It was basically a bomb site, it being only 6 years after WW2 had finished, not at all the London we know now. Until I was 5 we lived in a big Victorian house which was split between the family. The landlady lived in the basement, my mother, father, sister and I lived on the ground floor, my grandparents lived on the first floor and my auntie and her husband lived in the attic. My parents were on the housing list for 11 years before we got a prefab, when I was 5 years old, these were temporary houses but lasted until the 1970s, a few still remain and are now listed buildings.
London was not a great place for a child in those days and I loved my holidays to the North East of England where my mother was from, it had sea and countryside for me to run around in. I was more than pleased when we moved North in 1961.
R) Were you allowed to decorate
your room as a child?
DB) I never had my own room. I always shared with my sister. I was a typical kid and the bedroom was messy all the time. When we lived in London almost every street had a house that had been bombed and you could see the wallpaper and the shape of the rooms, a part of what they used to be really. I would stand and imagine what I would do with those rooms if only someone would let me.
My mother was very creative and turned our little prefab into a lovely home. She made all our clothes and knitted for us constantly. My father had no creative skills at all but had the great skill of making me laugh.
R) Sounds like you got your ironic sense of
humor from your father then! Could you
tell us a bit about your creative journey?
How did you get to where you are today?
DB) I was expelled from school at 15, went to art college for 3 weeks and didn't like it, I was a child bride and had 2 children by the age of 20. I worked in a butchers shop part time to make money, I promised myself then that I would be master of my own destiny and use any skills I had to make a much better life for me and my kids.
When I was in my mid 20s I started to knit and experiment with my own designs, this caught on and I found myself selling these items. Within a year I found a business partner and opened a shop - Dizzy's -
selling these designs along with designer labels such as Jean Muir, Janet Reger and Jasper Conran. It took off in a big way and I was selling wholesale as well as retail. I don't think I ever worked as hard as I did then. Bringing up 2 kids and running a business that size was exhausting.
In the mid 1980s the UK hit a massive slump and when the coal miners went on strike the whole economy collapsed. By this time I had met Harvey, who did all my advertising, we got together and I went into business with him and shut Dizzy's. A year and a half later Charlotte our daughter was born and my next 20 years were spent in the advertising business where we launched
wheredidyoubuythat.com a luxury lifestyle website.
After we launched it the dot com bubble burst, but we held on to it by the skin of our teeth and came out the other end. This is how I came to be given the title of one of Internet Entrepreneurs of the Decade on 2004. This was a massive honour as I was given this title along with The Top 100 Stelios of Easyjet, Brent Hoberman of Lastminute.com, Natalie Massinett of Net-a-Porter,Peter Gabriel and even the inventor of the internet Tim Berners- Lee.
In 2006 Harvey and I decided to close the ad agency and sell wheredidyoubuythat.com and move to our country retreat in the Northumberland National Park. When you are in your 50s and have spent as long running your own businesses as we had it starts to take its toll, it was affecting both of us health wise and was no longer enjoyable. The kids had all left home and we decided to have a new life together without all the stresses and strains. So here we are and we wouldn't change a thing.
R) Can you explain to us how you gained
your knack for zoning in on beautiful things?
DB) I suppose my mother was a big influence on me though I didn't know it at the time. When I was a child in London my mother had ideas above her station. She would pretend we had money and would takes us every Saturday into the West End of London and parade around the big stores trying on mink coats and expensive dresses. My sister and I would sit on the big chairs and pretend we were the children of very rich parents. It was a game but it introduced me to a world I would otherwise not have known.
My mother was always beautifully presented, she was a civil servant and would go to work dressed to kill. I loved to watch her dress and put on her makeup. Her clothes were never expensive but she would hunt for beautiful fabrics at bargain prices and make them herself. She would tie pretty ribbons around curtains and could even make plastic flowers look good. I suppose she influenced me without me even knowing.
DB) Without a doubt no one. If you are inspired by one person you are on the road to dissatisfaction. You can never be someone else you can only be you.
R) What is you favorite color combo and why?
DB) Black and white because you can use it as a background and it will never be evident. As soon as you put a colour with it the colour becomes prominent. I love when this happens and it happens with no other colour combo.
(above: Blue Blanc Rouge)
R) How and when did you come to start
your blog: Designer's Block?
What are the best things that
have happened since?
In late 2005 I became aware of blogs and started Designers Block on wheredidyoubuythat.com. It was intended to be a design magazine hence the tag line - extracts and ideas from a designer's life. When we sold wheredidyoubuythat to Bodie and Fou they asked if I would keep it going for a while, the rest is history.
The best things that have happened since are - meeting other bloggers both in person and via email, becoming aware of the amount of hugely talented people that are out there, finding a platform to share the knowledge I have accrued during the last 30 odd years of my working life and being fortunate enough to sit at my computer each day looking out of my window at the most stunning view and actually enjoying what I now do for a living. Designers Block and Ghost Furniture go hand in hand and neither one of them is more important than the other.
( Bruxelles Antiques above)
R) What is your favorite piece of
design advise you can give us?
DB) Look up. Every step you take offers you the opportunity to experience something that can help you in your quest for good design. Nature is the best designer out there. Textures, colours, smells, wildlife, buildings, rocks, sea and sand, all of these things are outside your front door.
(Christophe Gilbert above)
R) Can you tell us about your
Ghost Furniture line? When did you start
your company? How did you choose the name?
DB) When we decided on our new way of life a seed had already been planted. I wanted to start a range of exclusive furniture for wheredidyoubuythat.com by taking vintage pieces and revamping them. I never had the time back then to bring it to fruition but after closing the business I started to experiment. It took over a year to perfect the process. When selling to the public you can't just paint it, it has to be immaculate and hard wearing. It takes days and days to apply layers of paint and give it enough drying time at the right temperature. I takes time to get a design right for the piece you have found. Some pieces I bought 2 years ago and I still haven't decided what to do with them.
I started the company in 2007 but even now it still hasn't been promoted to the extent that it needs. I am having too good a time at the moment to push too hard. I will know when the time is right but even then I don't want it to be anything massive that gets out of control and becomes just a job.
The name came from a brainstorming session between Harvey and myself. We used to do this for clients back when we had the ad agency. It's fun and you come up with some crazy stuff but out of it comes the end product - Ghost Furniture. Harvey came up with the tag line - bringing quality furniture back from the dead and making it hauntingly beautiful.
R) What is the thing you enjoy the
most about your business?
DB) Having options. I don't have to worry about deadlines, staff, overheads, bills or any of the other stuff that used to keep me awake at nights. I love the thrill of finding a piece of furniture or an accessory and knowing immediately that I can make it beautiful again. I love to take the scenic trip to my upholsterer's workshop and see the transformation from old chair to wow that's an amazing chair. I love to apply the first coat of paint to something and see it come back to life. I love, at last, being me.
(above: Blue Lily)
R) Can you tell us a bit about your home?
DB) I live in a tiny cottage, in the Northumberland National Park, that is so old we don't even know when it was built. We are putting a 2 storey extension on it at the moment and an archaeologist had to be present on the first dig, he reckoned it could be 400 years old and we found a totally intact flagstone floor that used to be a byre that was attached to the cottage.
When you buy a property like this you are given the huge task of taking great care that you do not spoil anything from the past. Our walls are being made from the dry stone walls that surrounded our garden. These stones were from the byre that stood there hundreds of years ago, so really we are putting back what was already there. It is a wonderful process to go through and we are enjoying every minute of it. The only part I am not looking forward to is when they knock out the wall that links the 2 buildings. We are off to Paris when that happens where I will be meeting up with the lovely Tara of Paris Parfait and buying some finishing touches for the cottage.
R) What is your dream for the future?
DB) I don't dream I just take one day at a time and try to enjoy what I have. We are all given far to short a time to spend it dreaming. My motto is and always has been - Seize The Moment. One other thing that has gotten me through the bad times is - Shit Happens and it does to each and every one of us.
R) Thank you Di! for saying "Yes" to
the interview! It's been great learning
about your colorful life!