Ethical jeweller and social anthropologist Pippa Small has lived among the Batwa pygmies of Rwanda and the San bushmen of the Kalahari, so a fifth-floor balcony flat in North Kensington must be tame by comparison.
© Photographs by Alun Callender
"I looked for two months at these tiny places in Notting Hill that I couldn't afford so I came further up the hill, and now I have a lot more space for a lot less money. In fact, there's so much space I can do cartwheels," says Montreal-born, Wiltshire-raised Small, who has a shop in nearby Westbourne Grove as well as Los Angeles, and counts as her clients some of the most glamorous women in the world: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon and Julia Roberts.
Some years ago, her passion to get human rights for indigenous tribes segued into her life-long love of stringing together pebbles and stones, so that, to her delight, she was able to set up jewellery-making workshops for the communities she had originally helped, generating their income and self-sufficiency.
Though she favours the soft, buttery warmth of yellow gold, rough-cut precious stones and rainbow crystal for her costly bracelets, necklaces and amulets, Small's latest project is rather different.
She has shown the young women of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in the centre of troubled Kabul, Afghanistan, how to hand-craft gold-plated brass with amethyst and rose quartz to make a large diffusion collection for Monsoon; most of the profit will go to the school, and the line is already so popular that the company have requested a second collection.
She is used to travelling for half the year, but Small is settling more at home, due to her 10-month-old son and daughter, Madu and Mac, but her surroundings, packed with light, colour and pattern, reflect her global adventures.
"I don't understand why people live with white walls when they can surround themselves with colour. In Asia, Africa and India, people use colour to enrich their lives and they're not scared of it. Colour energises me," says Small, who surrounds herself with uplifting lavender and aqua walls as well as an abundance of delicious Jaipur pink.
Power of paint
Not surprisingly, when the RHS was looking for creative craftspeople to transform a series of wooden huts for the artisans' retreats section of the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show, Small was corralled into painting a garden shed her trademark hot pink.
With the help of her artist sister Alex, she has given it pavilion status with a mural of cobalt-blue peacock and golden tree of life; brightly-coloured textile bales from Designers Guild serve as a bench, and shelves are laden with stones and artefacts from different lands that make up her jewellery. It could almost be a blueprint for her home, although converting the flat from its original condition was somewhat trickier.
"When I moved in three years ago, the flat was new-build and there was black shiny plastic everywhere. I think the developers thought it would appeal as a bachelor pad." Small's friend Gail Arnold, a specialist painter, was able to camouflage the black kitchen units by using an all-purpose primer that gripped on to the melamine surface, from Leyland Paints; for the walls, to achieve the crisp, saturated colour that Small loves, she mixed powder pigment from Green & Stone into traditional lime wash from Francesca's Paints.
Just like the basic corner-unit sofa that Small swathed in Designers Guild hot pink linen, the walls serve as a fitting backdrop for her colourful and eclectic souvenirs. "I have an attachment of memory to material things, so wherever I go, I bring back masks and paintings and fabrics and toys," says Small.
"Cushions can be like little works of art; each one has a story. I rarely buy anything over here, but pick things up when I travel. I'm the messy one on the plane with all the bags and bundles."
Her coffee table, cobbled together from a slab of wood and heavy art books beneath, is covered with a woven alpaca carpet from Bolivia; her dresser, which belonged to her adored late mother, is laden with pottery from Morocco, delicate blue ceramics from Japan, recycled glass from Egypt and painted figures from Panama.
The richly embroidered floor rugs are from Tibet and Turkey. And where the developer helpfully pointed out a place on the wall for the TV — Small doesn't own one — she has a woven hanging of the tree of life from Egypt.
Made of memories
For a jeweller, spaces to store and catalogue stones are paramount. Small keeps her stash cleverly concealed within a multi-drawer cabinet from Ikea that fits neatly beneath the kitchen's wooden work surface.
She works on her prototypes at the light-filled end of the well-worn dining table, which also belonged to her mother and had to be lifted in by crane. In the corner of the dining area, however, is her greatest treasure — an elaborately carved ecclesiastical cabinet that her great-great-grandparents bought in Brussels.
"It was originally painted white to hide its antiquity and protect it from thieves, then passed down through my family. That's the wonderful thing about inheriting pieces of furniture, whatever their condition: they're full of memories, which for me makes them priceless."
Photographs by Alun Callender