People

Interview – Jo Carmichael

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 11th February 2011

Still Life shoot for Vogue E+T – styling by Jo Carmichael, Photography by Edward Urrutia. ‘This is the work I got to work with some very blow-the-budget items’ says Jo!

Mirror feature for Real Living – Styling Jo Carmichael, photography Maree Homer

Mirror feature for Real Living – Styling Jo Carmichael, photography Maree Homer

Still life for Vogue E + T, Styling Jo Carmichael, Photography Sam McAdam.

I am secretly in Sydney this week (back tomorrow, crazy busy trip, sorry if I owe you an email, etc etc).  Whilst I am here I am on a self imposed mission to photograph as many gorgeous Sydney homes as I possibly can… (four and counting!), and it is this mission which led me to meet stylist Jo Carmichael!   I photographed Jo’s beautiful Sydney home on Monday… but you’ll have to wait just a little while to see those pics!   Before that happens, we thought it would make much more sense to first introduce Jo’s beautiful styling work to you all!

Originally from London, Jo has spent over 15 years working with some pretty serious titles and clients both here and in Europe… these include UK Homes & Garden, Vogue Living, Vogue E+T, House & Garden, Marie Claire, Instyle, Home Beautiful and many more!  Jo has recently had a brief hiatus hiatus since the birth of her gorgeous daugher Jasmine… but after a blissful six months of baby time, Jo is itching to get back in the studio!

HUGE thanks to Jo for turning this interview around in record time!  If you enjoy Jo’s still life and interiors styling, you might be interested to learn that she also consults for homeowners and can even help style your next super next stylish function!  To see more of her work and get in touch, just pop over to her website!

Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to styling and to the publications you currently work for?

I studied applied textile design in Buckinghamshire, London, and used to set up these elaborate still lifes so I could draw them.  I discovered Trompe L’oeil art (trick of the eye) – it had a cheeky side into fooling people that the art was real – so I started drawing all this detail with perspective, mainly of vintage pieces that I found in nearby markets. From uni I worked as a textile designer, but hated it, and so did work experience for magazines.  Here I found my devotion, and eventually worked my way up to decorating editor for Ideal Home magazine in the UK.  I got to create large room set builds and decorate to my hearts content every month, I was very lucky.

Still hungry for experience and just turning 30, I decided to come to Australia as a backpacker and peek at what the work was like here, I look back now and think how brave I was… I just gave up everything, fantastic job, great house but at the time I just wanted a change… I had worked so hard for 5 years. I had an amazing time and I travelled more than I tried to find work. Then, 3 months later, London came calling for me and I was offered my dream job- Decorating Editor of British Homes & Garden. The day I accepted the job was the day that I met Adam, my fiance. Luckily for me he followed me back to the UK for 2 years, and whilst I shared my life and love with the magazine he got to see a unique side of England and Europe on our time off. We’ve both been back in Australia for 6 years now and I’ve been really enjoying working freelance on loads of lovely home decorating projects, advertising and magazines such as Vogue Living, Vogue E+T, House & Garden, Marie Claire, Instyle, Home beautiful to name a few, I also have more time for Adam and adventures.

Where might we have seen your work? What have been some favourite shoots / clients / publications in recent years?

Vogue E+T was one of my favourites, especially working on the Christmas features as I got to choose and style with Chanel, Hermes and other beautiful accessories. Saphire Young and Jacqui Porter were a real dream to work with and had such a comfortable way of approaching the brief. It shall be missed.

Also, I really enjoy styling House shoots as I get to see the houses up close (better than flicking through a magazine!) and meeting the characters behind the home is always great. Then there is Lindt Chocolate – for each fun launch I get to eat chocolate before, during and after… yum.

It can be so hard to for emerging stylists to get noticed these days… did you have a mentor or a ‘big break’ which sparked your career in the early days?

From university I was headhunted for a design house but it was too conveyor belt drawing patterns and designs for me. I heard about styling through a friend and it sounded like something that would suit me… so I took a deep breath, rang House & Garden and asked for work experience. I got two weeks of non paid work and I worked so hard.. I don’t think their decorating cupboard had ever been so ordered!  Because I was so enthusiastic I got to assist on a few of their shoots.

I must have impressed one of their stylist as she asked me to go with her to start up a team for a new mag called BBC Good Homes.. It was just wow!… Homes Assistant…. with my own pages. I was lucky to have this break and be involved in the concept of this magazine. It was like a whirlwind, this new world opened up and I never looked back!

Still life for Vogue E + T, Styling Jo Carmichael, Photography Sam McAdam.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Everyday is very different, that’s why I love this type of work. I’m a new Mum and have a daughter of 7 months so it’s now a juggling act.

Usually starts with 5.30am and a quick brekkie with emails, research, briefs to my assistants and admin.  Then it’s either daycare and a photoshoot or meetings and launches… or producing and research when she sleeps… or I take Jasmine with me to prop at the shops. Usually home by 5ish for a quick walk with Jasmine along the river. Then it’s her Dad’s time when I unpack and pack the car for the next day. When she’s asleep I do a little more research but I’m usually in bed by 9.30… not before doing a big list of everything that I need to do the next day…can’t get it done with out a good list and it makes for a relaxed night sleep.

How is your business structured..? Do you employ an assistant or other collaborators? Who takes care of the boring paperwork, bookings etc – the ‘business side’ of things?

It’s mainly me that does the bulk of the work, I have had to learn to wear many hats. I do work with a few great assistants depending on what the job is and how much there is to do, they are worth their weight in gold. Accounts and bookeeping is so out sourced.

Where do you turn for creative inspiration – travel, local and international design trends, magazines, books or the web etc?

Internet has been my life saviour whilst being a mum, but I still love flicking through books and foreign magazines… I have so many!! And travel, I’ve been lucky enough to have been travelling from an early age and I’m a bit of an addict. China and Japan are in my sights at the moment, but that may have to wait for a little while because of Jasmine.  A trip to England is happening soon so I’m going with an empty suitcase and can’t wait to get to the vintage shops.

Which other stylists, photographers or creative people do you admire?

I have so many yet Terence Conran and Ilse Crawford are the most well known ones. I had the privilege to see sir Terence give a talk and lifetime awards to Charles and Ray Eames, it was quite a special moment to meet them too.  I work with so many amazing photographers, PRs and art directors but recently, I’ve just had the delight of working with Glen Allsop, he has such a relaxed yet selective way of capturing a moment or facial expression. Stunning work – no wonder New York wants him.

What would be your dream creative project?

I’m working on a few little projects at the moment that I’m very excited about, they’ve taken a back seat whilst I’ve become a mum but they are still coming together slowly. The ultimate dream creative project would be to do a book, I was offered an opportunity just as I was emigrating from the UK and had to turn it down.  It still makes me dream. Then there is the opportunity to decorate a great house with a limitless budget and free reign, what decorator doesn’t dream of that?

Which furniture or homewares item are you currently coveting for your own home?

I had my eye on a beautiful green Bholu rug since their launch a few years ago. I bought it last week so I’m trying not to peek at my list for the next desired piece.

What are you looking forward to?

Nearly finished renovating our house after two years, so having my full weekends back. Just a few weeks to go and then it’s more freedom to enjoy the East coast.

Top images, Vogue E + T, Styling Jo Carmichael, Photography Sam McAdam.

Sydney Questions

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

Balmain and Rozelle, just because I love old buildings and this neighbourhood has so many pretty and kooky houses, verandahs and balconies,  especially if you go off the main streets. Always get exterior inspiration there.

Your favourite spot in Sydney for homewares shopping / fossicking?

Do I have to choose? …very hard one as there are so many great areas. I suppose Surry Hills and Darlinghurst as there is such a great mix and all close together.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

Sean’s Panaroma in Bondi with old friends that love their wine. Didn’t really enjoy stickies until that night.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Rolling up my sleaves and painting the house somewhere …always painting, sawing or using the nail gun. Peace coming soon.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

The Armoury in the Olympic park. Great for a relaxed coffee or breakfast beside the beautiful untouched riverside. Quite peacful and not too busy as the locals are only just discovering it’s been rebuilt from a fire.


by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 11th February 2011

8 comments

  • Hat 4 years ago

    I really admire her work. I’ve had that image of the natives and timber dining table on my pin board for a while now. And I love that her fave suburb is where I live! I love it for the same reasons.

  • Margo Carlon 4 years ago

    A great read and introduction to another talented creative, thankyou

  • Jessica 4 years ago

    I think Jo’s work is so beautiful, what an amazing job!

  • Amie Mason 4 years ago

    What a fabulous interview! Amazing talent! I can’t wait to see her home.

  • Linnea 4 years ago

    Reading this interview, I long for Sydney

  • Sonya 4 years ago

    Inspiring designs, love Jo’s work, thanks!

  • Holly Cracknell 4 years ago

    Fantastic questions + fantastic “holding my breath with interest” answers. Thankyou Lucy and Jo!

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