2020: Food for thought


2020 was a difficult year, but it was also a time where the pace of life slowed down, we took stock and focused on what really mattered to us, things like family, friends and home. So here we’re joined by our co-founder and some friends of OKA, who look back on the positives; the memories they’ll hold onto and the important lessons to take into the future.

Sue Jones, OKA Co-Founder and Creative Director

Sue’s memory

I’ve got three younger sisters and my second sister, who’s lived abroad for most of her adult life, happened to be here in the UK with her husband and daughter when the first lockdown happened – it was purely coincidental as she was meant to fly back to the States just as LA went into lockdown. So, she said “don’t worry we’ll stay for three days and I’m sure it will all be over by then.”

In the end, my brother-in-law wrote me a marvellous letter reading “thank you so much for the three days, I’m sorry about the 91 days it took us to pack and leave…” The joy of it was spending so much time with my sister, which I don’t think I’ve done since we were at school together – that’s a memory I will cherish forever. 

Sue’s lesson

I never thought it would be possible to work from home and the lesson from that is, yes, it is! It’s different because home has always been about relaxing or entertaining and I don’t have an office at home. So, what’s been most important has been setting boundaries. Learning to stop working when I could and sticking to a routine, making the most of mealtimes, and, when the weather permitted, eating lunch outside and taking the dogs for a walk together. In a normal life we would have been able to go to a restaurant, cinema or pub, but we’ve had to make those things happen at home by rethinking our interiors and how we use our home spaces.

Hatta Byng, Editor of House & Garden

Hatta’s memory

For me, it has to be clapping for the NHS. We spent the first lockdown on the Wiltshire/Dorset border in a cottage next to my parents’ house. Every Wednesday at 8pm we’d go outside, and clap and the children would bang saucepans with wooden spoons. Our cottage is several hundred metres from the next house, but we could always hear the sounds of banging in the distance. In such an isolated time, it was a reassuring reminder that we are all in it together, and that while we were at home and secure, doctors and nurses were out there on the front line doing an extraordinary job.

Or perhaps the first time we had dinner with friends after the first lockdown… sitting outside at a table in a field with the children going crazy in the long grass, just so pleased to see people. It was a very happy evening.

Hatta’s lesson

Friends are so important. I’ve really missed them this year and slightly neglected them in my efforts to keep the show on the road for my immediate family. But every time I do make the effort to see somebody, or pick up the phone, or even join a group Zoom it’s been a huge morale boost and a complete joy. I think most of us thrive on seeing and talking to people. In 2021, I’m going to make it much more of a priority in whatever way is possible.

Milla Lascelles, holistic health and lifestyle coach

Milla’s memory

I look back on the last year with mixed emotions and sensations. Time stopped and life as we knew it was turned upside down, it was a totally new dimension – I can’t possibly pick out one memory. I panicked and escaped up to Islay on the west coast of Scotland before lockdown was announced and stayed up there for three weeks where I hunkered down and walked. Things started to get serious, so I shot home to my parents in the country and became a child again for months and months. The time I spent with them in the glorious sun reading and walking was pretty special, and I am grateful we had each other.

Like the rest of the country, Mum and I thought it a good idea to get a puppy – a cocker spaniel named Ruby. She looked more like a basset hound when we got her, with these droopy little eyes, extraordinarily long eyelashes and short little legs (she’s a beauty now of course). She’s the naughtiest puppy we ever had, but she made us laugh and entertained us for months. It was just the best decision because I can’t imagine lockdown without her, she brought everyone together.

Milla’s lesson

When days felt harder than others I was reminded, and sometimes forced, to seek pleasure in the small things that I could still control. I would take a rucksack and just walk for hours every single day with a podcast in my ears. I really looked to nature every single day and found walks I didn’t know about even though I’d lived there for 19 years. Everything would feel better after a long walk and simple pleasures brought me so much joy. I definitely re-evaluated my priorities and my home environment and I know how important nature is in general for me personally; seeing a horizon and green spaces is how I feel comforted and protect my mental health.

Connecting with family and close friends has been the single most important thing during this time and when something like this happens, the people who matter are there and nothing else matters. I also deleted Instagram off my phone for months and months and minimised my news intake, which felt like a pressure cooker being switched off in my brain. We’ve begun 2021 feeling unsettled and anxious, but I’m hopeful for what spring will bring. I’m accepting the things we cannot change and changing the things we can.

Paula Sutton, digital creator, writer and stylist at Hill House Vintage

Paula’s memory

2020 was a year of tumultuous change and adjustment for all of us. I went reeling from the shock of my mother’s funeral straight into total lockdown where, like many, I found solace in my home and garden. One of my strongest memories is of being asked to help with the Design Havens for Heroes collective started by Francesca Rowen Plowden. It’s a group formed from a broad community of interior stylists, interiors and homewares brands, as well as tradespeople and suppliers, all donating their time and skills to work together in delivering havens for nominated frontline NHS heroes. To be asked to become part of something that will hopefully bring joy and relief to NHS workers was and is an absolute honour.

Paula’s lesson

I learned that we should never feel guilty about seeking and enjoying the beauty that surrounds us and using our interiors as a welcome retreat from the chaos of everyday life. The unique worlds that we are able to create for ourselves and our families can be restorative, uplifting, and healing spaces, and we should never apologise for taking the time to create our own oasis of calm. I also learned that the majority of people in this world are kind and supportive, and ready to stand shoulder to shoulder to help each other. Through all of the negatives that we have experienced this year, our overall solidarity has been a beautiful thing.