Steampunk, urban, vintage and classic design

We recently met up with interior designer Jessica Olsson-Zabel to discuss urban interior styling

Jess creates unique living and work spaces in central London with a combination of vintage and industrial influences in both her up-cycled furniture and renovated homes.

According to Jess it’s a mix of old and new that’s on trend right now.

One emerging style is Steampunk, derived from the science-fiction genre in which technology and aesthetic design are fused into a look inspired by 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery. Playing with artistic allusions to the British Victorian era or the American ‘Wild West’, the essential fantasy being created is a part-imagined world that could easily be a dreamscape of H G Wells or Jules Vern. Old world maps, large rustic clocks from railway stations of an era long gone and chunky metal chandeliers are the sort of thing that add Steampunk charm to a space.

A big upside to this design approach is that almost anything, and anyone, can be included. The very best of vintage furniture, unusual found antiques or discarded early industrial technology can be mashed together to create new objects with a surreal, subconscious dimension – calling to mind a world gone or a future world imagined. The craft process itself; creating simple and unusual objects by juxtaposing items already manufactured, invites everyone to participate in making their own time-travelling pieces. So many styles and decades can make an appearance in a space assembled this way, as long as the final effect conjures up an impression of comfort, old world intelligence and echoes of an emerging, early modern era. It’s practical, nostalgic, romantic and humorous.

Out in ‘the country’, away from the urban Metropolis, there is something of a resurgent appetite for the classic look of old country houses, formal but comfortable. Perhaps it is simply Steampunk without the surreal industrial twist that urban life brings, but the manor house and country estate flavour is definitely filling the pages of the lifestyle magazines of the home counties. Decoration is unashamedly traditional rather than modern.

Back in the city, in the heart of New York or London’s own inner districts like Bermondsey, Aldgate, Kennington these classic tastes are abstracted, furniture and metals modified or tastefully beaten up to reveal beautiful original colours and patinas that reflect old London in a new era. Warehouse apartments, bars and restaurants across the capital are leaning away from the Mary Quant age for the unexpected weighty substance of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The minimalist white and black glossy finish, or the magnolia all-round look still pursued by many developers preparing to market their properties is not the style tenants and the next wave of buyers are looking for. Property developers, landlords, home sellers, restauranteurs who are brave enough to renovate their properties in exciting ways are more likely to reap the rewards, moving their property quickly at the best price, or filling their venues with delighted guests.

Born in Sweden, Jessica Olsson-Zabel has a natural Scandinavian touch to her work. The easy Nordic ‘lagom’ (balanced) style, soothing colours, natural fabrics, well-organised spaces with inventive storage and bright accent colours are all second nature to Jess. She travelled widely in Europe, the United States and Asia and brought back to the United Kingdom all those cultural influences which she channelled into her training in Furniture Design & Technology at London Guildhall University.

“I really enjoy creating quirky,
cosy living spaces

‘I really enjoy creating quirky, cosy living spaces,’ explained Jess who has an eye for hand-picked eclectic objects and influences, hence her brand name urban Rook. Like a magpie, Jess is in her element when exploring the corners of London and bringing back the unexpected into the homes she is working on. Her skill at refurbishing furniture with a twist of colour or style is a talent she honed extensively at university.

Since then she quite literally set up shop in London selling interior design solutions, anything from up-cycled dining tables and chairs, revamped kitchens and bathrooms to full turn-key property development. Each client and space invites a unique stylistic response but, as one might expect, central London properties often share a similar challenge; the need for ingenious space-making solutions within a realistic budget. Many of Jess’s clients are looking to stage a property to sell or let and simple ideas can make a big difference to rental revenues or sales prices.

One of her recent projects, a four-bedroomed apartment, needed a total makeover. An ex-local authority property that had been rented for years had become a dark and musty accommodation that would struggle to achieve a good sales or rental price without some care and attention. Jess and her small team of hand-picked builders set about knocking down walls, re-organising spaces and installing stylish lighting throughout to breath fresh life into it. Two new bathrooms were fitted and a simple low-cost kitchen with a handful of quality bespoke features that added quality and value. After 7 weeks the project was complete and Jess handed back the keys to the owner. With a total budget of just £65k the sales value of the property had doubled to £675k and the accommodation was then successfully rented out, achieving a much improved £2,900 per month.

Which goes to show that whatever the interior space, there can be significant returns when the stage is set with style, creativity and finesse.

Jessica Olsson-Zabel
Interior Design
t: 07899 658903

Other Stories