Mar 24, 2023
A knitwear designer spins a yarn to create a colourful new home
The Westknits Mystery Shawl Knit Along kicks off online every autumn. The
The Westknits Mystery Shawl Knit Along kicks off online every autumn. The much-awaited month-long event gathers thousands of keen knitters worldwide to craft a surprise shawl pattern, which is revealed in weekly parts. It's the brainchild of American knitwear designer Stephen West, known for his creative patterns, bold use of colour and exciting YouTube tutorials full of polychromatic energy.
West moved to Amsterdam more than a decade ago, initially to study dance and choreography, but he soon transferred his skills to knitting and then joined up with his friend, Malia Joseph, as co-owner of the yarn boutique Stephen & Penelope, in the city centre.
West's home, spread over the top two floors of an early-1900s building in a leafy neighbourhood of the city, became another medium for him to explore with colour, texture and proportions and, in doing so, introduce a brilliant palette and eclectic choice of furniture, all of which scream "freedom".
"I don't work with much brown, but I’m trying to embrace more neutral shades in my designs – and in my home," West says. "Sometimes working with what you don't like helps to balance out what you do." The designer explains that he did wonder at one stage whether he should play it safe with beige. But the moment of doubt didn't last: "No way, I thought, I’m going for saturated orange!" Selecting what feels good and being true to oneself is always the right approach he says.
In the living room, a sunny yellow couch from Arflex and a pink feather lamp by Venetto Design work well with a deep blue wall. "It wasn't necessarily a neutral, but it's dark enough and it serves as a base to accent colours. I use this philosophy in most of the rooms. I make one really strong choice, such as the wall colour and that is the starting point. Then I think, what's going to balance with that colour, what's going to blend and what's going to pop. Most of the pieces in the living room are from the Frozen Fountain in Amsterdam. They have my favourite collection of design pieces and furniture. There's always something new and inspiring there. I love its eclectic mix of colours and textures. in this space This room is where I spend most of my time watching TV and knitting with my dogs."
The most original room, and West's favourite, is the purple one – the yarn library. He loved the idea of libraries with high ladders, filled with books and colour. He didn't have many books, but lots of yarn, so he thought of mixing the two ideas. The cotton-candy lavender was suggested by a friend, who helped pick out many details, and the glossy ceiling was Standard Studio's idea, the design company West worked with and that he credits for being central to the whole project, by feeding creative ideas whilst always keeping in mind his personal style.
While knitting on the yellow couch in the living room with his pooches, Brioche and Stitch, West marvels at the multiple layers of colour before him: the coral guest room, the lavender yarn room, the orange hallway with aubergine stairs. Giving each space its own world with its own unique colour vocabulary had been exactly his intention.
"I wanted to feel as if I was living inside one of my knitted shawls. I love designing geometric patterns with splashes of colour and strong architectural knitted details," West says. "So I felt like my home was a big knitting project and each room was a different section of the knitted fabric. I wanted the bathroom to feel like a modern shower at a swimming pool. I love going to the swimming pools in Iceland, so I wanted this room to feel as if I was always on a vacation in my bathroom."
The tub is from the Dutch company Mondiaz Lundy, while the cabinetry was made by a local company, and the wood was painted yellow to match the windows. The master suite is in the attic – a large open space drenched in sunlight. The original layout with three rooms and no skylight had so much potential that it convinced him to choose the property. All they did was reveal the beams, knock down the walls and highlight what was already there.
From the start, West put together a mood board of inspirations. It was hard to find another home or style that completely reflected his own taste, so he saved images that inspired him, even if only in a small detail. He says his penchant for mixing different elements together made it difficult to envision the final outcome, particularly in a large project, such as a house. "I tried to make sure every furniture piece, every lamp sparked joy, and it wasn't just there to be a functional choice. I believe if I love every choice I am making individually, then once together as a whole, it will be even better."
And that's precisely one of the formulas of West's success in the knitting world. With his exciting Westknits Mystery Shawl Knit along, the designer is encouraging people to embrace the idea of getting started on a creative project, without thinking too hard about the result. The beauty lies in making and creating one step at a time; when you don't know the final outcome you are more likely to challenge yourself. And it's along the way that the real magic happens, by getting inspired and surprised.