Embracing Slow Living with Emma Lavelle

09 Nov 2023

Emma Lavelle, photographer, writer and chronicler of the British countryside in its power and fragility, can pinpoint the moment she consciously chose to decelerate the pace of her life. Having just turned 30, she quit the job she loathed at a fashion house, went freelance and moved from a rattling Victorian terrace in Manchester to a smaller home surrounded by woodland amid the ravishing west Yorkshire countryside.

‘The move cemented in me that I wanted to be immersed in nature and spend as much time as possible outdoors, tending to my garden, swimming in cold lakes, and walking in the woods,’ recalls Emma. ‘I started to notice the subtle changes in the seasons. I kept a diary throughout the first lockdown, mainly noting down what leaves were unfurling, what flowers I had spotted, and the tiny changes I spotted on my daily walks.’

The urge to simplify and to be sustained by nature’s rhythms is echoed in the painterly way Emma’s photographs capture the landscapes and details that inspire her, as delighted in by the thousands who now follow her exquisite observations on Instagram as @fieldandnest. Shooting only in the natural light, she explains, ‘I like to capture the little details that other people might miss or shoot from a slightly different perspective than what is obvious. I aim for my photos to have a soft, moody and dreamy aesthetic.’ 

Although she rejoices in the summer and annually mourns its passing, staying perennially connected to nature means that Emma’s appreciation for the days as they pass into weeks, and the weeks as they pass into seasons never wavers as she consciously engages with each transition. ‘At the beginning of each season, I make a list of what I love about that time of year,’ she explains. ‘I make sure I embrace the parts of autumn and winter that I enjoy: lighting a fire, reading in the glow of a candle, wearing my favourite knitwear. In autumn, I always try to book a trip where I can surround myself by fiery trees and dramatic landscapes – last year, it was the Ullswater area of the Lake District, which is particularly beautiful in autumn. At the beginning of the season, I will swim in lakes or sit outside in the evening with a book, pulling on layers of woollen jumpers, hats, socks and blankets to warm up.’

Handwoven Willow Log basket featured above.

Whilst her inspiration is undoubtedly found in the great outdoors, solace resides within the cossetting four walls of home. ‘We’ve lived in Todmorden for over five years now, and I’ve never looked back to city life,’ she says. ‘Our house is nestled beside a small woodland, and we have views of the hills or the trees from every window in the house. I feel cocooned within all the beautiful green landscapes that surround us. I dislike both fast fashion and fast furniture, and prefer to make investment purchases from ethical, sustainable and slow brands that make items that are made to be treasured and last a lifetime. My home is very much a work in progress, but I am slowly introducing more colour and pattern, filling my spaces with beloved items that I have often tracked down in antique shops or purchased from small makers.’

Arranged in informal undone posies, visitors to her house are likely to find flowers picked from the garden: her favourite joy-bursting dahlias, Japanese anemones, cosmos, hollyhocks, zinnias and echinacea, depending on the time of year, cascading becomingly from vases. She says, ‘I have many ceramic pots and vases that I've sourced from antique markets and vintage shops, but my absolute favourite piece is a small ceramic vase with an abstract landscape painted around it that I found in a shop in Lewes. It looks really expensive but was only £25.’
When Emma is not nurturing her crops outside or cooking with their bounty in her kitchen, she is likely to be found with her nose in a book. As such, her slow days are filled with the pleasure of curling up in armchairs with well-thumbed tomes, sustaining volumes she considers amongst her greatest riches. 

‘My most treasured possessions are my books. I've been collecting them for over ten years, predominantly my beloved novels but I also love to pick up interesting books about travel, nature and architecture. Our box room is filled with fiction, while my non-fiction, which is a mixture of new and second-hand finds, are placed prominently on shelves in our dining and living rooms.’

And, standing watch over her while she hungrily devours her library is a small piece she holds particularly dear. ‘I am very attached to a little wooden tree ornament that my partner made, which sits in pride of place on a shelving unit in our living room. He hand-turns wooden objects such as bowls and vases, but this small cherry wood tree is my favourite piece of his in the house.’

Her latest work in progress is the bedroom. ‘We had a leak in the roof earlier this year and it needed re-plastering, so we completely redecorated. The whole room, head-to-toe, walls, ceiling and woodwork, is painted a dark sage green. I’m offsetting it with pale pink bedding and a beautifully red, pink and green Indian kantha quilt. The Rowen & Wren pillowcases fit in with my scheme perfectly, while adding a whimsical twist with their frilled edges.’ Pausing, she reflects, ‘I only add pieces to my home that I truly love, and that I know I will treasure for many years to come. I love that Rowen & Wren have a small, carefully considered collection of homeware, encouraging investment buys rather than submitting to fleeting fads. These pieces are destined to have a long life in my home.’ 

After all, like the seasons that she so scrupulously embraces, the fleeting moments in nature are never gone forever but rather timeless, replenished, constant and comforting.

Ash Pink Frilled Linen Pillowcase featured right.

Interview by Nancy Alsop.

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