BBC Scotland’s Home of the Year and Hire My Home host and Scottish Design Influencer of the Year Anna Campbell-Jones on how the humble sheep is helping with her eco endeavours.

Broadcaster, interior designer and proudly adopted Scot Anna Campbell-Jones will be familiar to many readers as the host of BBC Scotland’s Home of the Year, Channel 4’s Hire My Home, or simply from social media, where she was voted Influencer of the Year in the design section at 2022/23’s Scottish Influencer Awards.

Campbell-Jones is also the founder of Habitus Design, a leading practice in Glasgow, a city which Campbell-Jones has called home on and off since 1988: “I’m from London, but I went up to Glasgow in 1988 to study at Glasgow School of Art,” the designer explains. “Back then it was one of only three places that taught interior design as a separate academic subject. It had previously been rolled in with product design or other things.”

Campbell-Jones admits that initially she only planned to stay in the city, which she had never previously visited despite regular childhood visits to the family holiday home in the Hebrides, to study, but she was quickly converted into a big fan: “When I came up for my interview, it was really sunny and I was just like ‘wow, this is such a cool city.’ Unlike London, where nobody says hello and everyone’s got their eyes down, everyone’s so friendly.”

Graduating during a recession in 1991, however, Campbell-Jones found herself returning to the capital in search of work, and would spend the next few years working at leading London design practices Tilney Shane, Imagination and Morey Smith for clients including IBM, Warner Music, River Island and Heal’s.

After a decade running the rat race in the capital, and now with a child to consider, Campbell-Jones says she found herself reappraising her priorities at the turn of the century, and she returned to Glasgow, where she landed a part-time job lecturing at the art school where she had once studied while she established her own practice.

Campbell-Jones spent the next few years designing homes across the UK, as well as in Ireland, France and Italy “sort of by accident,” before the BBC came calling in 2018 hoping to secure her talents for Home of the Year.

There was a catch, however. Filming on the show would last for a month, but the designer’s teaching contract with the art school meant she could only take two weeks off at a time. Cue an unprecedented situation in which someone who has dedicated her life to making buildings look nice found herself strangely pleased that one burned down. And a particularly aesthetically pleasing one at that: Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building:

“We were literally just told ‘go home, we’ll let you know when we’ve sorted something out.’ So I spoke to my head of department and I was like, ‘I can do this show. Do you think it’d be ok if I had three-and-a-half weeks off?’ That was the only reason I could do it.”

The show was something of a slow burner, and although it wasn’t a huge hit immediately it has grown over the years to be one of the most anticipated highlights in the Scottish TV calendar, and further afield too thanks to the wonders of streaming and the internet: “People are watching it in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the US, then every now and then it pops up on YouTube, which it’s not meant to, and I’ll have a rash of messages from the Philippines or somewhere,” Campbell-Jones explains. “I used to think it was weird, but then I realised it makes sense because I would totally watch a programme about homes in Japan!” 

The annual BBC shindig has certainly led to a higher profile for Campbell-Jones, including her landing the 2021 Channel 4 pilot, but she says she’s in no rush to become a permanent fixture on our TVs: “I went through a phase of thinking ‘oh, I’m on TV, I should get more shows,’ but I’ve since realised that when I’m already on the programme that everybody watches, there’s no point in me doing another one,” she says. “The money is terrible, you have to stay in the most disgusting hotels and get up at five in the morning, get dinner of a bag of crisps and a banana peel at 10pm and stuff like that. No.”

It was perhaps the Scottish Influencer Award, a win that Campbell-Jones admits took her by surprise in a field of more traditional Insta-sensations, that finally clarified what direction she should take next: “I had been contacted by brands before but after the award that really ramped up, being contacted by brands who wanted to pay me to talk about their products on my socials,” she explains. “I didn’t want to do more TV, I didn’t want to do a podcast or radio, and then the penny dropped. If people want to pay me to pump their stuff, then I could just make my own stuff. So I kind of made a conscious decision to get into to the brand thing.”

Which brings us neatly to Campbell-Jones’ recently launched homewares line. The Anna Campbell Jones collection features three signature designs inspired by original watercolours from naval-inspired 20th century artist Norman Wilkinson, reimagined using the BS4800 British Standard range of colours for added mid-century authenticity.

Named after Shipping Forecast areas — Malin, Lundy, and Forth — the designs grace a range of products including lambswool throws, cushions, stationery, art prints, and home fragrance.

It’s not uncommon for brands in 2024 to emphasise their sustainable qualities, and true to form Campbell-Jones’ new collection is indeed made in Scotland in small quantities to reduce waste, utilising materials sourced locally from the UK. From natural unbleached linen-cotton blend cushion covers woven and finished in the UK to cushion pads filled with waste British wool, Campbell-Jones ensures every aspect of her collection aligns with her ethos of ethical craftsmanship.

She also goes a step further however: “When it comes to cushion pads you usually have two options,” Campbell-Jones explains. “You have fibre, which is basically spun plastic. So even if that’s recycled plastic, it’s still plastic and once you spin it into that fluffy stuff, it becomes a microfibre. That’s the stuff that gets into fishes and on top of Mount Everest, so you don’t want to be adding any more of that to the environment. Then the other thing that people fill premium cushions with are feathers. Well, they lose their shape over time and they get everywhere. So ethically, practically, for a number of different reasons, I didn’t want to do feather.”

For the astute designer, the solution lay close to home: “There are loads of sheep in the UK, and they are bred for their meat, not their wool,” Campbell-Jones begins. “The reason why most wool for carpets, jumpers, blankets, scarves and so on comes from Australia or New Zealand is because it’s warm enough there for the sheep to be sheared twice a year.

“Here, sheep have to keep warm so they can only be shared once a year. That means their wool is exposed to UV light for much longer, which changes the structure of the wool. The keratin in it hardens. So, British wool has very limited value. It’s not as good.”

If we seem to be going a little too deep into the economics of sheep farming, bear with us, there is rhyme in our reason: “It actually costs more to shear a sheep in the UK than the value of the fleece, so farmers shear for the sheep’s comfort, then the fleeces get burnt or put into landfill.”

With some minor tweaks to the existing supply chain, Campbell-Jones’ cushion pad problem was solved: “I use the unwanted fleeces and get them made in Yorkshire. I persuaded a guy who does feather cushions and fibre cushions to put wool waste through his machine to make me wool pads. Wool is naturally self-deodorising and self-cleaning. It also cleans the air in your home, and the pads stay really firm and supportive.”

Unbleached cotton labels printed in Scotland, art prints printed in the UK on recycled paper and compostable packaging materials all add to the range’s eco-cred, and Campbell-Jones adds: “I think with sustainability. It’s not just the headline things you need to look at. You need to look at every user.”

As for homeowners looking for a summer makeover, Campbell Jones has some very simple advice to offer: “I believe a home is made up of many things, and expressing our identity through design is paramount,” she says. “I’ve created products that are striking and original, designed to complement various types of interiors, whether minimalist or maximalist.”