lLISELOTTE WATKINS, a Swedish-born fashion illustrator, is what we call a Milanese disruptor. The home she shares with her husband and two children in a stately building near the city’s central train station is a revolt of unplanned color palettes, spontaneous pattern and high-low objets, perhaps not surprising for someone who draws sassy, decked-out girls for fashion companies such as Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, H&M and Acne and publications such as Vogue, Elle and The New Yorker. Despite its bourgeois architectural bones, the space is absent of formal Italian design etiquette and free of the protocols that freeze many interiors into unimaginative boxes.
“Nothing is valuable in this house,” the 43-year-old Watkins announces, taking a spin across the fourth-floor apartment’s original inlaid stone and sophisticated parquet floors. “I don’t like anything that looks obvious.”
“This could be an art school piece, or it could be a major contemporary artist,” she continues, pointing to a Scandinavian ceramic face vase in the living room that she snapped up at a flea market for 10 euro. “I like it when you don’t know if a piece is really good or really bad.”
Many of Watkins’ furniture pieces are, in fact, really good in both design and provenance. There are vintage Eames chairs, armchairs by Danish designer Bruno Mathsson, couches by Danish designer Borge Morgensen, a lion ceramic sculpture by Swedish artist Lisa Larsson, textiles by Josef Frank, and plenty of Fornasetti decorative objects. These collectibles dance flippantly around pieces with less lofty pedigree, including an Ikea kitchen and a wood dining table built by her husband, fashion PR Executive Jonas Falk, that is covered in scribbles authored not only by her children, Wim, 5, and Ava, 3, but also by Watkins herself.
All of the high-end loot has been culled on Watkins’ marches through flea market stalls or salvation army-style shops during her six years of living in Italy and her frequent trips throughout Europe or back home in Sweden. “Everywhere I go, the first thing I do is ask for the flea market or vintage stores,” Watkins says. “But not nice ones. I like the crappy ones. In Sicily, I go to the weird stores for old Sicilian furniture where you get an old wooden stool for 10 euro. I never pay a lot for anything.”
Watkins also buys vintage clothing, including 1970s YSL and Marimekko prints. “In the summer, I go for anything Scandinavian from the ’60s or’ 70s. I’m so nostalgic and sentimental about those—especially cottons in orange and brown.”
For winter, she prefers dressing in men’s-style clothes, especially navy uniform-esque pieces by Jil Sander, paired with men’s shoes, like Prada’s lace-ups with an oversized, ragged-edge rubber sole.
Making magic out of mass piles of vintage is no easy feat, but Watkins’ well-trained eye ensures that her plucked treasures all reek of quality. “I love anything that has craftsmanship,” she says of her selection process for clothes and furniture. “You know, anything that feels heavy and well-made.”
In addition to 1970s Scandinavian ceramics sprinkled throughout the house, Watkins’ home is packed with items she has made herself. The dining room actually doubles as her work studio, and features chairs that she customized in turquoise for a client, the Swedish furniture company Malmsten. The home’s walls are covered in artwork she has created over her 22-year career.
The swirl of style comes to a climax in her children’s room where two classic Milanese beds purchased on eBay battle with Ikea furniture, a homemade table, flea-market finds and art created by Watkins. “The kids room is complete freaking mayhem,” says the artist, with a laugh. “But they’re not very appreciative of how good it is!” Clearly her children are not yet aware of how unconventional their fantasy-living conditions are in a punctilious town like Milan.
– J.J. Martin