ginny branch stellinginterviewswhat's in your toolbox

what’s in your toolbox: sibella court

by Ginny

When I first discovered Sibella Court a few years ago, it felt like falling in love for the first time. As a self-professed bower bird, my little magpie kindred spirit swooned over her sneak peek featured last year, and I would list Etcetera as my holy grail of styling books. Have you read her newest triumph, The Stylist’s Guide to NYC? If you haven’t yet, run — don’t walk — to nab a copy. Sibella is the stylist’s Stylist. She is the proprietor of the beloved haberdashery The Society Inc., where her rotating themes provide perennial inspiration. She is a paint mix-master and whips up colors to complement her store’s themes. I could go on and on listing her accomplishments, but I would run out of fingers and toes. Read on after the jump for an intimate glimpse into the creative life of Sibella Court. –Ginny

1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox?

Sibella Court: I love old, vintage tools and cannot wait until later this year when my own decorative hardware range, designed for Anthropologie, hits the stores this Fall. But I absolutely can’t live without my Leatherman, tape measure, pencils sharpened with knives and swatch book of my 110 colours from my paint range. For reference, to shoot my books and general photo stuffs, I use my iPhone and fab Canon 5D with 24-105 lens.

2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio I feel ___________.”

3. Design*Sponge: Would you be able to list an online source for the striated kraft paper, much like the one used on the sleeve of your book, Etcetera?

Sibella Court: As a collector of a paper, my love of brown paper is at the top of the list. In my new book, The Stylist’s Guide to NYC, I have dedicated a whole “loop” in Chapter 7 to “Paper & Art Supplies” for all your other paper needs and desires.

My fave paper shop, New York Central Art Supply (see p.206) on the second floor is sure to have this one and they ship.

4. Design*Sponge: Do you have a favorite toolbox/bag/basket/travel case that holds all your tools?

Sibella Court: On set and moving around, it’s my Klein Canvas tool bag from OK Hardware (see pp. 111 in the NYC Style Guide). This was my local hardware store for ten years. I miss American hardware stores!

My favourite way of storing my tools at home is on an old-fashioned pegboard — I have one in my office upstairs from my store. When I was young, my grandfather had the most amazing shed, and in it, every tool hung off a hook on the pegboard with its outline stenciled behind it, so it would always be put back in the right place. You can make your own pegboard! Attach it to the wall, hooks in and trace the shape of your tools straight on.

5. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside any designer/artist/craftsperson’s tool kit/studio, whose would you pick?

Sibella Court: Can I have a trip back in time as well? Julian Tanguy opened an arts supplies store in 1873. He traded his materials for work from artists. He was friends with Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Renoir. What a network! Van Gogh even moved into the shop and was producing so many paintings that Tanguy had to sell them off for prices that didn’t even pay back the paint the artist was using. But there are so many to choose from: Brancusi, Maira Kalman, Anna-Wili Highfield, Noguchi, Mark Dion, Barbara Hepworth, the list has no end.

6. Design*Sponge: What is currently on the top shelf of your inspiration library?

Sibella Court: I have an extensive reference library  in floor-to-ceiling shelves made especially to house the collection — with library ladder and all!

My books cover history, art, photography, architecture, fiction — pretty much everything. I buy at least one book a week.

My most recent research for my 4th book has seen the likes of Mark Dion’s The Marvellous Museum, Rebecca Stott’s Theatres of Glass and The World’s First Shell Collecting Guide from 1821 by Jeffrey D. Stilwell

Of late, I have also been stumbling upon old builders manuals and hardware catalogue books from the late 1800s. I love the line drawings and tried and tested manualness of it all.

7. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks? What tools do you use to keep your creativity flowing?

Sibella Court: Constantly going to new spaces, seeing exhibitions, going for a bike ride, globetrotting, exploring far and wide, reading books, watching movies, going to parties — inspiration comes from everywhere and everything! All of the places you find in the NYC Style Guide are what kept me going, inspired and productive for so many crazy years. If I’m not feeling it, I go and immerse myself in another activity, and something always comes to me.

8. Design*Sponge: As a collector and lover of objects, how do you keep your space organized and clean? I know you often rotate and change your objects and decor every few months. Tips, please!

Sibella Court: Creative storage spaces! Floor-to-ceiling open shelves display all my treasures. I’m lucky because I have a store as well, so there is encouragement to part with some of my collections, but the most special things never make it downstairs.

9. Design*Sponge: What does your daily planner/agenda book look like? Do you make lots of to-do lists?

Sibella Court: My whole life is a to-do list. I have lists in my head, in my calendar, on pieces of paper. My assistant, Hannah, is a living breathing list and my best reminder.

I am always working on quite a few projects a once. My days are jammed packed and diverse — designing bars, researching books, combining paint colours, running workshops, taking pictures, booking flights, writing magazine articles and answering interviews, etc.

10. Design*Sponge: What is your current obsession?

Sibella Court: Tents

As I trained my way from Damascus to Aleppo (Note: Trains leave at very odd hours in Syria), I saw a spotting of Bedouin tents on the desert horizon. Often quite sprawling and accompanied by a woolly herd of brown, cream and caramel goats. The romance and intimacy of a tent can be translated into your life in lots of ways. Whether it’s laying under a floating piece of fabric on the beach as the sea breeze makes it dance, dining under the ambience of a woodblocked open-sided Raj tent where even the bamboo poles are covered in fabric, the protection of sleeping under a cotton gauze mosquito net on a balmy summer’s night safe from pesky mosquitos, or just to break up a large loft-like space to create intimacy and privacy.

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  • Oh please find me a train somewhere, where I can go with my watercolor box and my own personal magical tools- what a fab interview- I am so energised and inspired!! Thank you for this!

  • oh, please please share the color of that green front door….it’s been exactly what i’ve been looking for my entire life. literally.

  • O to travel the world on trains & in tents…
    Thanks for more pictures of her space – although I noticed she avoided saying how things got clean…

  • The sneak peek about Sibella was one (of several!) that I saved from your blog. Still just as exciting as well as affirming for a magpie like myself. Nice to see so many things, interesting things, as well as everyday things, but displayed with such panache in an old Victorian space. Yes! I too noticed the empty space after the cleaning question! Dusting is a dirty word in my home!

  • I have an array of vintage working tools. They were built to build for generations. I particularly love the blacksmith days which makes no one tool the same; as each has their own characteristics.

  • Love Sibella!! Oh, when I heard you were coming to NY, I emailed you with hopes of a Chicago stop. Much to my disappointment, it wasn’t in the plan. {A girl can dream.}
    LOVE LOVE your book, blog and aesthetic. Thank You d*s for bringing loveliness to my IN BOX everyday. And THANK you Sibella- your etc book is the best bedtime story.

  • Oh Sibella, you are quite increadible. I’ve been to the store in Sydney… it felt like my house but with even more beautiful stuff! LOooOVe it! I felt the same when i first opened Etcetera, it felt like someone had put my idea of fabulous into a book..my family and friends have always watched me thinking i was crazy with all my cheap, textured, random finds of glory….when i saw Etcetera i realised others did the same, and made an increadible career out if it= inspiring stuff!

  • so excellent! I’m such a fan of Sibella Court. Etcetera is a magical escape of a book. It always sits out at my house, so I can thumb through it whenever I need an imaginative boost, in life or in work. Thanks for this!