London designer Lulu Watts on moving to India, personal rediscovery and family life

London designer Lulu Watts on moving to India, personal rediscovery and family life

“The visual feast of street life in Mumbai sticks in the mind,” says Lulu Watts as she explains what inspires her homeware brand Lulu & Nat. “It’s a place of huge contrasts, where shows of vast wealth and extreme poverty are juxtaposed to the extreme. But I also loved the warmth of the people we met, and the wonders created by the craftspeople on our journeys around India.”

Every entrepreneur has a light bulb moment, and for this former childrenswear designer it happened a decade ago when she moved with her husband to Mumbai. Overwhelmed by the talent of the craftspeople, and the wealth and confidence of the use of colour, the couple decided to create a line of children’s bedding that brings style and fun into their bedrooms. Without a Disney theme in sight, bold stars, farmyard scenes, graphic flowers, elephant prints and a new signature motif of a Bengali tiger adorn everything from oil-cloths to duvet covers. “I love our elephant logo,” Lulu says. “It tells the story of our journey and gives me confidence for the future.” The duo recently moved into adult bedding – with hand-dyed and embroidered collections inspired by the majestic Pink City Palace of Jaipur – as well as cushions and wall hangings. “I’d describe the range as fresh, vibrant and coordinated,” Lulu, who plans to open a pop up store in London throughout April, says. “An exotic Indian theme with a modern British twist.” The provenance and craftsmanship of everything is key, with throws crafted from recycled saris and linens block-printed by hand. We wanted to find out more about the inspiring British entrepreneur, how she has infused such joyous colour into her elegant Edwardian North London home, which she shares with Nat and their two daughters, Eva, four, and Zoe, two – and to discover how to juggle a successful business with little ones in tow. Words: Claire Brayford | Go to | Photography: Anna Jacobsen, Chris Tubbs

How would you yourself in three words?

Ambitious, hardworking and self-deprecating.

Tell us about your childhood?

We lived in an old Georgian country house in Gloucestershire, surrounded by animals and views of the Malvern Hills. It was really a crumbling pile, but beautifully decorated and scattered with my mother’s family antiques. Giant spaces such as the hallway and drawing room were painted in bright red and pink. I think these bold spaces left a lasting impression on me and my love for colour. My dad drilled into us the importance of hard work and education and that the key to being happy and successful is to follow what you are most happy doing. I try to live by this idea still.  

What inspired the move to India?

We moved there when my husband was asked to set up a design studio in Mumbai for his London firm. We had travelled some of India five years earlier and had already fallen for the place, so when the opportunity came to move there we jumped in with no hesitation whatsoever.

Can you tell us about your career path? What inspired the switch from fashion to interiors?

I studied Fashion in London then took womenswear design jobs, first with Benetton in Italy, then Et Vous in Paris. I went on to work for Liberty of London to design their first childrenswear collection. I loved the opportunity for colour and print expression that designing for kids provided. This set me on course, with a further move to The Little White Company. I freelanced for them from India, which was at around the time I became interested in the Indian print techniques and the vibrant modern interior products being produced for the Indian market. I realised there was a gap in the UK market for tasteful, modern bed linens for kids.  

What has been one of your biggest career challenges?

Running a business with two small children. Designing, importing, marketing and selling our own products can be demanding but the challenge of creating something unique is also rewarding. To prevent things from becoming overwhelming, I simply try to take on only what I can handle, firstly by keeping business complexity to a minimum, and using specialists and consultants to handle certain tasks. I also keep in mind the story of the hare and the tortoise – my business is about building a brand over the long term, so there is no need to think I have to do everything all at once.  

Tell us your time management tips?

I reduce my commute time to zero. I remember – delegation is everything. And also having a very supportive and feminist husband helps – which he has to be with three girls in the house.  

What are your tips for getting out of the door without a fuss?

I put their shoes and coats by the door and prep them for what’s coming, if necessary, I generate excitement and create a five-minute buffer per child. If all else fails, I resort to bribery.  

Are you tidy or messy?

Naturally messy (according to my hubby) but I’m training myself in the art of tidiness. We like to celebrate our things and put them out on display, which demands extra effort, but it’s how we like to live. To keep things organised we create distinct zones for the kid’s stuff, we make sure we tidy immediately after playtime, putting things back where they live each day, and there is nothing like a photoshoot in your home every now and then to really clear out the clutter.  

What is your approach to health and wellbeing?

I enjoy woodland running twice a week and brisk, daily uphill buggy walking. I have a seven-minute daily exercise app that gets me doing press-ups and jumping jacks in my pyjamas every day too.  

How do you treat yourself?

With family holidays and travel – always combining a bit of business and pleasure.  

What is your definition of success?

Freedom on your terms – and happy customers.  

What did your own mother teach you about life and motherhood?

Kindness is the most important thing.  

What’s your approach to interiors?

Eclectic, east-meets-west style that is layered and fresh. We keep our surfaces and backdrops neutral, then layer colour and texture on through furnishings such as wall hangings, throws, cushions and bed linen. Our home is a showcase for our products.  

What do you love most about raising children in London?

The culture on your doorstep and the beautiful green parks.  

What are your fashion essentials?

A white shirt, a leather jacket, skinny high-waisted jeans, red lipstick and big sunglasses.  

And finally, what is the best advice you’ve been given about motherhood?

Patience is the biggest virtue.  

Lulu’s little list of loves:

India: meeting the makers of Lulu & Nat… a constant source of inspiration. The Indian Rose duvet from our new bedding range, for the way it transforms the colour of our bedroom. My Kindle: easy reading on the go. Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir Cologne. Smells delicious. Cereal magazine for its subject matter, beauty and simplicity. Liberty of London – I love shopping there for the eclectic mix of brands. Hampstead Heath – I am probably a country bumpkin at heart but having the beautiful heath on our doorstep gives me a bit of an escape from London life.