In her latest book, The Maverick Soul, interior designer, Myfanwy Watts (known as Miv) opens the doors to twenty-five authentic bohemian homes, occupied by some of the world’s most inspirational free spirits. Miv began her career as a window dresser for Burberry. She met and married Peter Watts, sound engineer for Pink Floyd, in the late sixties. After having two children in quick succession, Naomi Watts (multi-Academy Award nominated actress) and Ben Watts (international fashion photographer), she threw herself into becoming a stylist, working for film, television and private clients.
In The Maverick Soul, Miv wanders around the stunning 17th century Richmond home of Gael and Francesco Boglione, owners of Petersham Nurseries and café; then on to France, where singer Marianne Faithfull opens the doors to her white stucco Parisian pied-à-terre. Miv travels to Australia to meet artist Wendy Whitely and her Lavender Bay ‘secret garden’, then to America, where stylist Linda Rodin, and her grey poodle, Winky, lead her around their personality-filled Chelsea digs.
From apartments to stately homes, this is a portrait of people who have a wide range of different tastes in music, fashion, art and literature, and come from all walks of life. But they are all “maverick souls” – people who live in their truth, the way they want to, surrounded by the history of their own journeys.
Question: The book is a collaboration with photographer Hugh Stewart; is this the first project you have collaborated on, and how did you work together on this book?
Hugh and I are old friends, our families have been through some interesting times together. My son Ben assisted Hugh in the 80s and our collective relationship has been pretty solid since that time. Hence we can satirically abuse each other and come out laughing. I had the idea for “Maverick”. It had been stewing for a few years. I knew it wasn’t a project for a regular interiors photographer. It had to be someone with a quirky take on life.
Hugh is primarily a portrait photographer. His portraits are blindingly real and emotive, so as this book was more about people in their environments, rather than just interiors, or just people, I knew from our days collecting artifacts and antiques together, in the Portobello Rd, that Hughie was the right man for the job.
Question: How long did it take you to create the book, and what were the best and worst parts of the creative process?
It took Hugh and I two and a half years from conception to create “Maverick”. We had to work around Hugh’s regular work schedule. It became a book in itself…plenty of amusing outtakes and lots of abusive emails!!
Question: How did you select the featured people and their homes?
People I had known and admired for years were an obvious choice. Of course I chose from my immediate tribe. I am at that age when tribe matters and don’t really waste time trying to understand or accommodate people I have little in common with. All the subjects in “Maverick” were chosen for the inspiration, endurance, passion, truth and emotional strength they possess. Life throws up some seriously difficult hurdles. It helps to overcome them if you live authentically and spend less time worrying what other people think of you. This can relate directly to the things we surround ourselves with in the home.
I think one has to have a feeling or emotional resonance with the things we choose to live with. As Linda Rodin explains within the book: “I am not the President, I can cross the road and buy my own garbage bags!”
Question: Each photograph contains so many details upon which to pore over; what do you think the homes you selected, say about the owners?
The photographs obviously reflect the characters in the book. Hugh’s photos are deep and evocative and he shoots from interesting and unusual angles. The whole point of the book is about how free spirits live. I think it fairly obvious that each home is a reflection of its owner. I hope I haven’t failed in that.
Question: You split your time between living in the South of France and in the hinterland of Byron Bay in Australia; what does each location provide you as a creative person?
Peace. Peace and more peace. Nature, space, and really genuine friends. Colour, great food, good coffee and a beautiful home where the entire family comes together for the sake of our roots and the valuable time we spend in each other’s company. A respite from our highly dissipated lives.
Question: You have produced two very creative children; most children are born creative, but often don’t remain so once the teenage years hit; how did you manage to foster their creativity into adulthood?
My children lived every inch of my erratic, itinerant life. I never hid anything from them, though sometimes I think they wish I did. I was the mother that met them from school in the lime green Deux Chevaux with the Afghan Dresses and the Tibetan boots. They went through a phase of wanting the mother in the twin set and pearls. But hey, they got the Mom they needed.
I spent days, in their early life, wheeling them in one of those big old prams, around graveyards (I was very into Edgar Allen Poe and the Pre Raphaelites, in those days) looking at Burne-Jones stain glass windows. They played in streams and we collected pieces of old china that would make mosaics. They grew up between Wales, Kent and Chelsea (London), where we spent time with all the gang from Granny Takes a Trip (the “first psychedelic boutique in Groovy London of the 1960s”, according to Harold Chapman ), and the Chelsea bespoke tailors. We were on the road with Pink Floyd, now and then, and altogether my kids were part of everything we did. Exposed to all of it. Little people in our lives. They had a routine, but it was always a moveable feast!
Question: What did you learn about yourself during the creation of the book, and did you pick up on any gems of information from your interviewees, on how to best live your life?
I think the main lesson for me was discovering that I am an instinctive story teller. Often I listen to people and don’t hear what they are saying because I find myself studying body language, and seeing deeper things in facial expressions, etc. Now I realise how lucky I am to have this gift. I really feel it has brought me closer to reading and sharing the uniqueness of people and I hope that in the telling, others will recognise their own uniqueness and feel safe with themselves.
I think the best quotes in the book are Linda Rodin’s: “My Mother was completely kookie. She had black wallpaper in her kitchen with blue flowers, Andy Warhol flowers, but there was no Andy Warhol back then! And all I wanted to be was normal!”
The Maverick Soul
Miv Watts & Hugh Stewart
Hardie Grant Books
Published 2nd November 2017