Head Space

Nancy V Richards

Talk to any interior decorator and sooner or later they’ll tell you that in their business you’ve got to be a bit of a psychologist. But there are not many psychologists who’d suggest that it’s helpful to have a grip on decor. Which makes Daphne Cooper rare. Not that she professes to be a design guru – the reverse – but her point is that there are strong parallels between people’s lives and their living spaces.

Daphne is a practicing psychologist. For the most part she operates in the usual way from a small therapy room in her back garden. It’s sunny and simple with welcoming wicker chairs, filmy blue curtains and a little mat. ‘When people are wanting to talk, they don’t need a lot of distractions.’ Though appropriately there is a series of small etchings on the wall depicting each of the five senses.

But the other service that she offers is less traditional. As a model or modality, it’s certainly not anything she learnt getting her formal masters degree in psychology – it’s a way that she has come to realise over the twenty odd years that she’s been in practice, that can work comfortably and sometimes quite drastically to dispel and ease peoples angst and tensions, whatever their foundation. She calls this side of her business, Inside Out & Outside In – using décor as a medium of therapy. By this she doesn’t mean that you rush for the latest style guide and apply a look to your home that’s going to change your life and reflect a whole new you. That would be working from the outside in. Rather, that by identifying what it is that’s hanging you up in your home there could be a clue to what’s hanging you up in your life.

‘Society is thick with shoulds and oughts,’ she says, ‘notions of what constitutes normal – in our selves, our relationships, the way we dress, spend our leisure time, our spirituality, how our homes should look’. We measure it all in terms of good/bad, normal/abnormal, tasteful/tacky and basically set up the perfect way for people to feel like failures if they don’t conform.

What she’s found to be successful is releasing people from their fixed ideas about what they ‘should’ be doing in their homes and gardens by encouraging and assisting them to look with fresh eyes at their living environment. ‘Our living spaces and how we express ourselves within them, provide rich metaphors, symbols and reminders. ‘Working with the metaphors of language as well as the metaphors of homes seems to me to be an enriching combination.’

But if all this sounds heavy – it’s so not! The seeds of the Inside Out & Outside In principle began as Daphne herself realised how much joy and peace of mind creating her own home gave her. And although she has not one jot of art or design training, she has arrived at an extraordinarily pleasing and good humoured décor vocabulary. As a psychologist she says she is indebted to some of the masters of her profession who have helped expand her ideas, ‘I have taken bits and pieces from the concepts of experts but I’ve put them through the filter of my own biases and preferences to develop and give life to my own style.’ Just so it is in the home. ‘There are wonderful designers and stylists who know how to create amazing spaces – but they can be intimidating, so I’ve just done it my way.’

She’s very against stereotypes, the sort of decorator clichés that we’ve come to rely on – minimalist, cottage, coastal, classic, eclectic – and encourages clients to instead create their own décor handwriting. Simple as it sounds, she admits it’s not always easy. She cites a friend who knew exactly what she wanted down to the last door handle, but who was so paralysed with anxiety about it not being perfect and resentful of not being able to afford it, that she did nothing at all. Eventually she was persuaded to just go for it and started by knocking down a wall. The result of this one step was not just that she’d created a fresh open space, but that she’d removed the block and been liberated from all things that had been holding her back, here and in so many things.

In her own home, Daphne utterly walks the talk. It starts at the jolly mint green garden gate which leads through a rambly free range garden up the stoep stairs and into an entrance hall painted in broad bands of pink and red. Fabric flowers frame the door ways and gloss white floorboards flow through the house like a river of milk. There’s a massed collection of mirrors on the bedroom wall, grouped paintings in the office and a cluster of cheap but cheerful Chinese boxes on a beautifully aged table. In the kitchen where the floors and cupboards are Masaai red and the tea towel rail is a bleached piece of driftwood, there’s a wall that symbolises Daphne’s whole warm-welcoming ethos. It’s her ‘visitor’s book’ – painted with the signatures of all the people who have shared a meal at her table.

Key Concepts

  • Transformation – moving larger pieces of furniture around can change your world view, equally painting a single wall in a different colour can liven up a dull area
  • Letting go – of things that you don’t need, or have been keeping because you feel you should, can open up new possibilities and free you of unnecessary clutter
  • Remembering – everything you own will have a memory, good or bad – celebrate the good ones and try not to hang on to the bad ones
  • Connections – each item – granny’s table, child’s painting, a friends gift links you to those people – be conscious of the stories of these things and the warmth of the links
  • Extraordinary ordinary – things don’t have to be the best, or branded – celebrate the simple, the ‘good honestness’ of something humble, even the light falling on the floorboards
  • Collection – tidying, sorting into groups can be enormously satisfying, give you a sense of control and make order out of chaos. Collections also make focus areas of design.
  • Sense of humour – there’s a tendency to be very ‘proper’, very serious about how we arrange our homes, but after you’ve chosen the most practical carpet, there’s no reason why you can’t top it with a slightly mad mat. The message here is ‘Break out, breathe and enjoy life.’

All images by John Clive [johnclive.co.za]

Mike Henning

“Inside Out & Outside In is a process that brings real change, not just cosmetic change. Daphne used her skills to guide me to seeing the stuck areas of my life and walked the changes with me- she was not separate from the process in which we were involved- she was a living part of it. Using the medium of my house – we unlocked the major areas and blockages of my conditioning , planned and enacted the small changes that were baby steps to bigger changes in my perceptions of life, my relationships to others and to myself. This is not just a process of talk, but a means to walk that talk with someone who walks their own talk. The results are astounding. Together we unlocked my creativity, dramatically improved my self image and self worth, and overcame some deeply held fears. And it was fun.”

Asyia Sheik

“I had the best experience with Daphne and Lezleigh! I was given a consultation with them as a present by a good friend who knows me well and she couldn’t have made a better fit – both D&L were very personable and I “clicked” with them immediately. I tend to balk at the idea of having strangers in my space – let alone taking advice about reflecting who I am in my surrounds! But D&L put me at ease and listened to me with such warmth and understanding – yet providing sound and professional advice. I can only highly recommend the experience and I’m very glad I shared the beginning of the journey of my moving into my new space with them.”