Interior designer Rosie Johnson: What I love most about Norfolk

Rosie Johnson

Rosie Johnson - Credit: Archant

Rosie Johnson is a Norfolk-based interior designer, having studied at Norwich University of the Arts. In 15 years Rosie has become the ‘go-to’ designer of choice, one who works throughout the UK and the rest of Europe, ensuring all of her client’s properties reflect the quirky, elegant blend of classic and modern interiors that she is known for. Here she talks to Gina Long.

What’s the impact of COVID-19 on your role and how are you adapting?

I am an interior designer for a holiday company - so I have been furloughed. I have been very busy finishing various decorating jobs, weeding the garden (which is a job that never finishes) and learning new skills that we don’t normally have time for. Creating has proved a wonderful distraction from the creeping inner anxiety this Pandemic creates. I most miss my friends and car boot sales. Ian (my husband) went to find things in the shed the other day and secretly created a garden car boot sale just for me. It was great. I bought five things for no money and he even delivered!

What help and advice can you offer our readers during COVID-19 times?

I would say try to do something significant every day. Whether that is sorting out a cupboard, re-arranging furniture, cooking something you’ve never cooked before or doing some art.

What is your connection to East Anglia?

None at all! I moved here from Cumbria for university. Purely because when I asked my dad “where in the UK has the best weather?” (i.e. dry/sunny), he said Norwich and Bournemouth. So I applied to both. Norwich won because when I travelled here for my interview at NUA There was wall to wall sunshine and Ian Starsmore (who ran the course) was wearing yellow braces. It didn’t take much. The Cumbrian drizzle just made my hair perpetually frizzy. That was the motivating desire for sunshine.

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What is your East Anglian Heaven i.e. what do you love most about East Anglia?

The antique shops. My favourite pastime is browsing antique shops. Magdalen Street in Norwich has become a total treasure trove of brilliant shops. There’s a chap called Tim who runs Stalks and he is excellent at finding those things that you’ll never see again.

What is your East Anglian Hell i.e. what you hate most about living here?

I’m sorry but I hate the shopping malls. I can just about cope with the shops on the edges but I actually panic if I have to park in one of their underground car parks and you have to walk up through the middle of one of them.

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?

The Elvedon war memorial on the A11. (when it’s on your left). It denotes a closeness to home when I’m travelling back from... somewhere.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

I absolutely love the ‘Heirlooms’ car boot sale which has been an annual event for some time. It is held either at Sennowe Park near Guist or near the Fakenham racecourse. You will never leave empty handed.

What your specialist Mastermind subject?

Paint! Paint colours, names and numbers. Particularly Little Greene or Farrow and Ball. I love the paint quality and the very flat colours.

What is always in your fridge?

Parmesan. I’m lucky to travel to Italy regularly and over there you can buy huge chunks of Parmesan in the supermarkets. It is more than an essential in Italy.

What’s your simple philosophy of life?

Simple... Lighting is the most important feature of interior design. Secondary lighting should illuminate all the corners of a room.

What’s your favourite film?

It depends who’s asking... but... honestly... The Jerk with Steve Martin.

What was your first job?

Florist assistant in Penrith in Cumbria. I loved it. They let me be creative. I love adding vegetables (like peas or asparagus) to floral arrangements.

What is your most treasured possession?

An antique wax boudoir doll. Ian bought her for me. She has the most serene but melancholy expression. She makes my heart hurt.

Who do you admire most?

Pierro Fornasetti. He was an absolute master of drawing. His work is so detailed and intricate and imaginative. He was utterly prolific.

What is your biggest indulgence?

Chanel perfume.

What do you like about yourself most?

I always want to learn new skills so I never get bored. During lockdown I have learned (am learning) embroidery, sign writing, needle felting, deep buttoned upholstery and cooking Japanese food.

What’s your worst character trait?

Impatience. I am very regularly surrounded by unfinished projects.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

Home. I travel a lot with my job so coming home is the best holiday. During this lockdown however I am starting to want to go back out in the world. I normally have a lovely balance of both in my job. Which makes you appreciate it all.

Best day of your life?

I should say the day I married Ian 18 years ago at St Andrews Hall in Norwich. But it was actually a very stressful day. We ran out of hot water, my mum got locked in the toilet and I had to chop onions and garlic for salsa in my wedding dress. So... Actually it’s the day my grandson Otto was born because I have never felt relief like it - that he was safe and well and perfect and brilliant.

What’s your favourite breakfast?

Breakfast in this country can be so boring. It has become clear to me during my travels that it is entirely socially acceptable to have cake and biscuits for breakfast in the rest of Europe. No one bats an eyelid. So, pineapple upside down cake is my ultimate breakfast food. No wait…or...A Nutella pastry tart.

What’s your favourite tipple?

Harvey’s Bristol Cream or Guinness. Harvey’s before 6pm Guinness after 6pm.

What’s your hidden talent?

When I was young, I wanted to be a country and western singer. So…That.

My husband, who works in the music industry, has never offered to sign me!

What’s your earliest memory?

Very vivid memory of going to watch Watership Down with my sister Laura (and dad obvs) the day my little sister Cherry was born. We had white chocolate turtles with red stuff inside! I also ate my mum’s Jam roly poly in the hospital. She didn’t mind. So…sweets and cake. Again - oh dear!

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Take On Me by A-ha. It always gets people standing up and singing along.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?

Immediately after A- levels I initially went to study performing arts and musical composition at the art college in Carlisle. I can play the Flugelhorn.

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

You couldn’t possibly print that! Blimey! Oh also... “You’re boring!”

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.

Norfolk has a way of welcoming you and making you feel that you belong. I’ve left a couple of times but have always been drawn back. The UK climate really is the best.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

Lighting. Light every corner of your room.

Paint. Be brave. Always reduce the shade by 20% from the colour on a paint chart. And don’t panic until you’ve painted a whole wall.

Collections and objects. Always group collections/objects very close together for more impact and a less cluttered feel. Follow Rosie on Twitter @rosie.johnson email her at: or see Johnson

Are you or your business doing something special during Covid-19 times? If you are living in Suffolk or Norfolk and are adapting your business, please do email me at or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram: ginalongmbe