Counting My Blessings for 2016

Posted by Phoebe Oldrey in Story of Us

Design mood board

Poor old 2016 has received a bad reputation in the news this year due to a high celebrity death rate, some of the most horrific humanitarian issues in history happening around the globe, and– actually, I think it would be best if we just skipped over the whole politics thing. Will this be the most vilified year ever?

As every year closes, I always find that I go into a cocoon over the Christmas break and mull over the year behind me as I plan for the one ahead. Like all years, 2016 has been a mixed bag of events. Though I luckily haven’t personally experienced anything really bad this year, the general state of things has sometimes felt as if I’m wading through mud. Despite the general awfulness, the highs outshine the lows, so I wanted to share my top three 2016 moments which will leave me with happy memories for the rest of my life.



When it comes down to it, it’s my design work that’s at the heart of it all. I love to design and I love working with clients to create beautiful spaces that they want to live, work, and grow in. I still get such a buzz when I get a call from a stranger who has come across my work and likes it so much that they want me to be involved in their next project. It’s an honour to take part in the whole process, from the initial consultation to designing each room with them, seeing it all unfold as it’s brought to life, and then sharing it here with you after that final stage when the completed house is photographed. It’s only with these types of projects that I get to see my work fully realised and every step of these design projects is such a delight as my client’s dreams come to life before our very eyes. Each stage is so different and brings its own set of rewards and I feel so blessed to be able to design every single day for a living. This year, Smartstyle celebrated 10 years and as each new year brings new and interesting projects, I’m very excited to see where 2017 takes me.

We completed a grade-II listed renovation in Battle earlier this year and the first summer our clients spent in their holiday home brought them much comfort and joy (left). Our last project of the year was a more grown-up look for a tweenager’s bedroom (right). Moody colours and thoughtful furniture create a space he can truly grow in. Both photos by Daniela Exley.


I’ve been invited to some very exciting press events over the years and I really enjoyed each and every one of them. Press events allow me to learn what’s launching in upcoming collections which informs my work and keeps my designs ahead of the pack, plus I get to meet up with some amazing fellow bloggers and have a good time. Two of my favourite events this year came as a complete surprise when I received the invite. The first came in the summer when I was invited to the press morning at the Serpentine Gallery for the opening of the Summer Pavilion and new Summer Houses. That baking hot summer morning had special written all over it and attending the event was definitely a highlight for me–not only for the year, but for my working life. It was amazing to get a glimpse of these visionary buildings and meet the architects who created them and it felt wonderful to know that someone read my blog and decided to include me on the prestigious list of press attendees. I also go to to share the morning with Kate Sims who is my right-hand-woman on the blog. She made it even more fun to attend the opening because she is great company and, surprisingly, some of these events can be a little lonely if you don’t have anyone to share them with.

The second surprise invite came at the end of the year when Habitat invited me to their VIB (Very Important Blogger) in-store Habitat Christmas Supper Club. I sat at the table with a handful of other wonderful bloggers and enjoyed an amazing meal in the window of the Tottenham Court Road store, which was all decorated for Christmas and made the whole experience feel incredibly exciting. It was such a special evening and sitting around that table, I knew I was involved in something truly unique that I would treasure forever. Habitat has set the benchmark for high street interiors for so long and now they set the benchmark for special events in my life too!

The Habitat Press Team caught me making cocktails at their VIB Christmas Supper Club.


I’m proud of each blog post I put together but my Christmas gift posts became very personal to me this year. I made the decision early on in the lead-up to Christmas that I wanted my gift guide to not only help the shopper, but to be something that made a difference to the people behind the brands I featured. I’m an independent business so I know how much it matters to other small business owners when a consumer chooses to purchase from them. By shopping with small companies, you’re supporting someone’s dream and giving them opportunities. I wanted my gift guide to do the same for other small companies. Every time I phoned a small business to ask to borrow products for the shoot, the call was picked up by someone who was similar to me in that they too were trying to build their vision into a working business. I was speaking to the owners, not some person in a call centre, and they were all so passionate about what they do and the products they produce.

Many of the lovely people behind the brands I featured also want their business to support others by commissioning work from cooperative women’s groups or by re-investing profits into communities that help provide a livelihood for rural craftspeople. As I built the post and again spent the day with the lovely Kate who photographed the gifts (she is also an independent business lady!), I was proud that I was introducing my readers to the stories behind these hard-working and inspiring companies, and it made me feel good that I was using my platform as a blogger to shine a light on their work. As a blogger, I believe it’s my duty to support others who find themselves in the same independent boat as me. After all, we can’t weep the loss of the independents from our high streets if we don’t do anything to protect them while they’re still here.

A wooden rabbit and gorgeous monochromatic napkins by Happy & Co were featured on my Black & White Gift Guide. Photos by Kate Sims.

My work in 2016 is now done and though I’ve weathered a few storms this year, my silver lining moments more than make up for them and will be treasured for a lifetime.

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