Design inspiration: don't let renting strip the colour from your life, says French artist Camille Walala

Ooh la la! Undaunted by having to rent, vibrant French artist Camille Walala lives her home life in a riot of colour.
Designer Camille Walala has a proposition. “Any building in London, any house, you want me to paint it? Get in touch,” she laughs. “The bigger, the better.”

Walala is no shrinking violet, and in her gloriously colourful maisonette in Haggerston, east London, her bright clothes and jewellery all go with the rented flat’s décor, which she did herself on a tiny budget.

The 40-year-old, whose popularity is skyrocketing, lives and breathes bold colour and design, and is on a mission to brighten up London with enormous paintings on buildings, and bold textiles and interiors.

And she’s in demand. She’s painted Facebook’s office lobby, done up distinctive buildings in the East End that passers-by love to talk about, is in talks about painting a school, and is shortly off to Australia to do a collaboration with fashion company Gorman. Oh, and she’s also Instagramming for the Tate.

But Walala is the first to say that with the costs of renting or buying, it isn’t easy to be creative in London. Until three years ago, she waitressed to support her art, as well as selling her textile designs on Broadway market and cooking — another passion.

Raised in a tiny village of just 300 people in Provence, France, she moved to London at 23 because her father insisted she spend three months here to learn English. “I didn’t want to,” she says. But she fell in love with the city.

Her boyfriend at the time set up an email account for her, making up the name “Walala” — the equivalent of “Ooh la la!” in French. She kept the name, studying art in Islington and then textiles design in Brighton, before moving back to London and sharing a flat with four friends. “Five people and one fridge,” she laughs. “But I wanted my own place to decorate, and last summer a French friend said, ‘Go on, you have to get one’, so I looked on Gumtree and went to look at three flats.”


The third was a maisonette with brown stair carpet and magnolia walls — a classic rental — but Walala said she got a good feeling from the place. “I knew I could make it look how I wanted,” she says. Despite only seeing it for five minutes, she took it and moved in last October.

“At the time, I was just doing the Facebook proposal,” she says. “I had no furniture at all — just two mugs. Not a bed, nothing. But I discovered that my neighbour is a painter, so I gave him the keys and he painted it all white, and took up the stair carpet and painted that all white, too.”

Then her friend came over for a week and the pair went shopping — to Ikea, Habitat and local shops, to Columbia Road for plants, to a pound shop for bargain mugs, and online. Meanwhile, Walala got busy cutting vinyl stripes (a material like sticky-back plastic) to brighten both the walls and the Ikea shelves that she and her friend put up.

Clever ideas run riot. Bright stripes and colours find their way on to plant-holders and the decking outside, while a wide black marker pen has transformed walls and cardboard files into sizzling art.

The long rail of brilliant coloured clothes, behind a curtain of fabric she designed herself looks like an installation, and even the useful Ikea sofa bed springs to life with Walala-designed cushions. Yet stripping, painting and furnishing the whole lot, including kitchen items, bed linen and carpets, plus a couple of more expensive things, cost less than £5,000.

“I love colour,” she says, with infectious enthusiasm. “Don’t tell yourself that you are only renting. Get your landlord’s permission, then spend a few hundred pounds making it look great — because you’re going to live there, so it’s worth it.

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