With no formal training, Helen Parker’s professional journey is an unusual one; and certainly a testament to her innate talent and ability. It’s no over-statement to say Helen has been key to the success of deVOL over the last 17 years, shaping the aesthetic of the company with her original approach and impeccable eye for styling and design. As Creative Director for the last 10, Aucoot chats to Helen about her remarkable journey with deVOL, where she gathers inspiration and of course, how she approached the design of her own kitchen.
A chance encounter with Paul O’Leary, the owner of deVOL, led me to begin a new career later in life that encompassed all the things I loved, but had never been able to formally do as a career. Not academic, but creative from childhood, I had always struggled to connect my passion and skill with a job, but Paul saw something in me and he nurtured it and gradually my lifetime of creativity became the tool with which I was able to create an identity for deVOL. It was a culmination of all the things I loved in my personal life finally having a purpose and a use and a creative outlet.
The values of deVOL are strongly rooted in a desire to create simple furniture that is beautifully made. Over the past ten years the company has grown exponentially but we have the same small management team who oversee everything, it is vital to our happiness and our customers’ satisfaction that we do not become corporate or impersonal. Every single person at deVOL has the opportunity to shine in what they do and they will always be rewarded.
We believe that we are inspirational and cautiously adventurous, we love to design products and create images that feel more like the pages of a beautiful book than a kitchen brochure. We are passionate about creating showrooms that transport you to somewhere exciting, a place that is filled with treasures and art, not just deVOL kitchen cupboards. Our customers want to see lifestyles come to life not just kitchens, they want to be able to re-create the mix of old and new that we love so much in their own homes.
Yes, the kitchen is the place that makes me happy, especially my new kitchen which is a mix of deVOL furniture and vintage finds. It makes me feel I am somewhere special even if I am just making a cup of tea, that’s the power of a beautiful room. The Mediterranean is where I get my inspiration from, uncontrived and real. I think of food in the same way as interiors, good ingredients, simply prepared with a flourish of style in the choice of colours and tableware and never ever compromising on quality. Dressing a table with your treasured possessions and filling it with carefully chosen ingredients and sitting down with your family for a night of eating is perfection. I like lots of small plates of different foods that last all evening, and they will most always have a flavour from a Mediterranean island.
Oh I love to lay the table, I like to make it different every time, it’s like art, creating a beautiful scene to gather around. A table filled with flowers and candles, humble cloths and handwritten notes tied with old fabric, or an opulent scene of vintage silver and fine China. It’s like getting dressed, you want to make the moment memorable and different every time.
My kitchen is new, I moved a year or so ago into a Victorian villa with a long, wide galley kitchen. It took a little consideration but it was such fun to create a room that felt so me it would never be confused with anyone else’s kitchen. I am a dedicated lover of things that do not feel new and keeping things as they are. I am not a renovation type of person, I like things that stay the same. I love cooking, I love crockery, I love linens and food that is made well, grown well and cooked well. For me there is nothing better than good bread, good olive oil and the very tastiest tomatoes.
Anywhere that feels authentic, a market, a restaurant, a bar on a street corner. It’s these places that give me the most joy, style that has just happened rather than carefully considered. This is where I begin when designing a showroom, it has to feel authentic and it has to have soul and character. For me, it’s the memories of old things that makes a room that captures people’s imagination and inspires them.
People who don’t have to try, or people who don’t feel they are creatives, there is a shop and café called Leila’s on Calvert Avenue, Bethnal Green, and it is full of inspiration. It’s the function of being a shop that is beautiful and the humble simplicity of seeing a beautiful lemon in a simple basket or a lump of cheese on a slab of marble. The fish markets of Palermo are inspiring too, the way people display their fish, it creates a beautiful visual that is so effortless and yet so full of talent. The cafés of Venice inspire me, the café curtains, the dark wooden chairs, the crisp white linen, all these things have helped me to bring a new collection of heirloom accessories to deVOL.
Sebastian was young and full of ideas, he had a different take on using wood and we loved his passion and his drive, a pure and uncomplicated person with a love of the English woodland, a lot of knowledge and a desire to be part of something that would help him to succeed quickly and show the world his values.
Collaborations are not something that works on a regular basis, but once in a while if the moment and the person and the ideas flow and the benefits are equal for both parties, then it works. Someone young and full of ideas who needs some direction and a break, they are the kind of collaborations we enjoy.
For deVOL, it is to ensure the customer is completely satisfied with the finished product, with the quality and the fit. For me, it is that the customer is completely satisfied that their kitchen was designed to make the most of their room and that it surpassed their expectations on an enjoyment level. Standing in your finished kitchen with a feeling of pure happiness that this space is absolutely how you had hoped and dreamed and more, that’s what I wanted and I am sure it is what everyone wants when they decide to have a new kitchen.
A place where you can shut the door and feel comfortable and happy, where you can rest and cook and potter and feel safe and secure and surrounded by memories and beautiful things. A place that comes alive when your family is there, and the kitchen table is the most important place.
We wanted to try television, we wanted to make a good job of it and to enjoy the process. America is a big place and now we have a showroom there, we wanted more people to become aware of deVOL and what we do. We hope to show people the way we work, the way we make furniture and tiles and how hands-on it all is, there are real people making beautiful products and we wanted to make sure people saw the real deVOL, not just a brochure and a beautiful showroom.
Craft and people who use their hands to make things is not only important to us but it is fundamental to deVOL. People who learn a skill and use it to make beautiful things, whether it is a kitchen cupboard or a hand-thrown bowl, it has a connection and it feels special, this is so important to us. Mass production is not what we crave or what makes our hearts flutter, it’s seeing something we have imagined actually being made by a real person who is making a career doing what they love.
We want to stay small in our hearts, but we know that we are now a big company so with a TV show and showroom in NYC, I guess our aim is to never forget where we came from and never lose sight of what’s important. The happiness of our staff and our customers and a place where people can always find new inspiration.