Siobhan Murphy might have found fame in BBC2’s Interior Design Masters earlier this year, wowing judges and viewers alike with her joyfully maximalist style, but fashion was where it all really began.
“I have always been interested in fashion – that was my passion from a young age. I was into sketching and fashion and colours and patterns,” she says.
We are talking on Zoom as she sits outside a coffee shop in trendy Shoreditch, on a short working break to London with her mum, Maxine. “I keep getting spotted,” she says. “It’s really nice, though. Everyone is so complimentary – like, ‘we really enjoyed the show throughout lockdown’, and ‘you’ve inspired me to be bolder with my fashion and my interiors’. It’s nice to hear that you have given people a bit of confidence to be creative.”
Siobhan grew up in Kippax, Leeds, with her mum and her younger brother, Daniel. Both Maxine and gran Jean Murphy helped out with her early sewing projects. After St Wilfred’s school in Featherstone, she went to Leeds College of Art (now Leeds Arts University) to study fashion and accessories. “The first thing I made was a beautiful bespoke corset,” she says. “A corset is probably one of the hardest technical things you can make, with all the boning. That was one of the things I was most proud of.”
In 1996, she got a Saturday job at the gleaming new Leeds Harvey Nichols store, in the accessories department.
“I was there on the first day that Harvey Nichols opened,” she says. “I was still at college and it was so prestigious – it was the first store opening outside of London, and I was doing fashion, and I was in my element.”
Siobhan took a part-time job at the store after graduating but had the urge to travel and became a holiday rep in Spain for a summer season. On her return, she started working for the NHS, building a successful 19-year career in the sector. “I started in a call centre placing doctors and nurses into shifts,” she says. “I carved out a career for myself because I saw a niche – we were taking all these new starters on, and there was no training package.” She became a trainer, taking another degree in Learning & Development at Huddersfield University, part-time. Then she became an NHS digital communications manager. “I was in charge of rolling out electronic prescriptions, the patient, pharmacy and GP engagement for that,” she says. “That was huge, and with Covid now, everyone is using it.”
The lure of design was never far away, however. About 10 years ago, she and her husband, Nick, a solicitor, took a six-month sabbatical to travel the world backpacking. When they got back, Siobhan decided she had to do something creative, so she went back to Leeds College of Art, studied millinery and started making hats. She was increasingly drawn to interior design and mentioned it to her friend, Yorkshire textile artist Mr Finch, who recommended decorating books by Abigail Ahern.
“I really liked her story,” Siobhan says. “She inspired me because she just threw out the rule book.
“It is funny because it has come full circle, because now I am doing this Freemans collaboration, and there is me, Abigail, Henry Holland and Julien Macdonald. I am actually like one of them.”
Siobhan and Nick live in Chatelaine, a magnificent Art Deco house in Castleford they bought two years ago and have transformed with a bold ‘Jazz Age for the 21st century’ interiors approach. “I got into the whole interiors Instagram community, which is amazing because in Leeds there are so many people,” she says. “Instagram has changed my entire life. It sounds sad but it’s really true.”
Through her Instagram, she got a message from a producer casting for BBC2’s Interior Design Masters. She went all the way to the final and was runner-up to fellow Yorkshire contestant Lynsey Ford.
Siobhan handed in her notice at work the day after the final aired and is now working on collaborative projects including the Freemans home furnishings range and modelling its SS21 womenswear collection.
“There is a strong link between fashion and interiors, dressing your home, dressing your body – they are both an expression of your personality,” she says.
“I am an advocate for plus-sized fashion. We don’t always have to wear black sacks. I would like to have my own range of plus-sized clothes – that is another dream.
“I don’t think there are as many beautiful dresses for plus-sized women as there are if you are a bog-standard sized 10 or 12. I love kaftans but I also love things that fit the body as well, that are going to emphasise your shape and show off your curves.
“One day I will be in a kaftan and a turban and the next day I will be in a tracksuit and some heels. Lockdown has made people, in their homes and their fashions, say ‘you know what? I am just going to wear what makes me happy’.
“Art, crafting and making stuff, that’s my happy place, where you can switch off from the world and create something.”
* All clothes from Freemans.com. Follow Siobhan Murphy on Instagram @interiorcurve.