“Fabric has always been my starting point in projects,” says designer Mally Skok. “I would go into showrooms and take a little swatch, stick it on my pinboard, and stare at it.” Her own Lincoln, Massachusetts, home, where every surface seems to erupt in a mix of florid patterns and coordinated handmade objects, is a testament to that fact. More often than not, the fabrics are her own design.
Take the upstairs guest room, where the walls, the upholstery, and even the canopy above the bed are swathed in Brimfield by Mally Skok Design. “I like to have a riot of color and pattern in small, confined areas,” says Skok, who worked with an interior designer in London before moving her family to Massachusetts on something of a whim.
“On the top floors of English country houses, everything’s got pattern on it, and it feels so cozy and fun,” she says. Just down the hall, the children’s bathroom is trimmed in bead board and wrapped in her own blue Suzani Luv wallpaper. In the two decades her family has lived in this house, Skok didn’t just launch her own Boston-based design firm, she also created more than 150 fabrics and wallpapers from patterns that she painstakingly hand-paints first in watercolors. The prints reflect her globe-trotting life. Born and raised in South Africa, Skok developed one collection around some of the country’s native plants, like spindly green fynbos and spiky pink King protea. (“South Africans really embrace the outdoors,” she explains.) In her son’s bedroom, the leafy wallpaper was inspired by a trip to Botswana, where Skok’s grandparents “lived and loved the trees.” A pillow in the King Protea print is set jauntily on the bed in that all-pink guest room. Pattern-on-pattern is definitely a Skok thing.
Accompanying all these are an abundance of artisanal objects—handwoven baskets and tables, painted ceramics and statues, all carefully sourced on trips home to South Africa. In the family room, “one basket is from the Himba tribe, who are a nomadic people in Namibia. Their pieces are so refined and beautifully constructed,” Skok explains. “I love to layer in those kinds of things and give respect to the people who made them.” Meaningful accents like these are given space to breathe against thoughtful neutrals, like a caramel ottoman and a sisal rug.
“I really believe that having simple linens—or going plain on the big furniture—lets you play with the rest of the room,” says Skok. “It adds layers but doesn’t restrict you in any way. And then you can enliven the room with fresh pillows or a throw.” As if to illustrate her point, a brightly colored textile is spread across the seat of the family room’s sofa, almost like she brought it in just to spice things up against the already vivid marigold upholstery.
The house itself, which Skok designed with local architect Christopher Hart, lends itself naturally to her worldview. “It’s got a very South African flavor to it,” Skok points out. “Big windows that go down to the floor, and the layout of the entry hall, with the living room on one side and the dining room on the other—that is what old Cape Dutch houses are like.” It was 22 years ago that she and her husband happened upon the original property while plotting what they then thought would be a temporary move from London to the U.S. “A friend showed us this piece of property with a beautiful pond, 16 miles outside of Boston,” Skok remembers. “We were stuck in the snow, and we wondered, ‘Should we do it? Should we just stay?’ We made the decision in about 20 minutes, and it completely changed our lives.”
“I’m not a rule breaker, I’m more of a rule ignorer,” Skok says, and this attitude is what got her started making fabrics in the first place. On a trip to India a decade ago, she kept dragging her sister back to the market to look at prints. “She finally said, ‘You should have your own fabric line,’ ” Skok recalls. “It seemed like such an out-there suggestion in those days, but the little seed was sown in my brain. I came back and got out my watercolors, and I started painting these patterns. They’re my view of Indian fabrics through a South Africa–slash-London lens.”
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