Ashley Helvey’s Seattle Home is a Stylist’s Dream


At this point, simplicity can seem like a tired mantra or an admonishment, an extra layer of guilt heaped over our misdirections. Isn’t it enough that our cluttered thoughts keep us up at night? Do we have to feel bad about it, too? So it’s especially heartening that for Seattle-based stylist Ashley Helvey, simplicity is something else entirely: a look so easy that it serves as encouragement. “A lot of the imagery I’m inspired by online is just a piece of fabric or a cinderblock,” says Helvey, who is editorial creative director for Totokaelo, overseeing everything from photo shoots to social media. “They are really simple things that you could actually execute. Having a simple aesthetic is actually pretty tangible.”

This month, Helvey — who is also behind the inspiration blog Hunter Gathererer — made the leap from images to physical forms, translating the thoughtful arrangements that have been catching her eye online into real life, and with accompanying instructions. Her #IRL show at Seattle art space Love City Love, which opened March 27, is a reminder “that anyone can have access to the beauty they see in the world,” says Helvey, who transitioned from expressive textile work into plaster casting and sculpture about a year ago. If making and seeing are intimately connected, why shouldn’t the ease of looking at imagery on blogs and Tumblrs flow into an ease with creating content? “People seem to have become more engrossed in collecting images online than making them. I hope my work inspires people to start making again; an image can be as simple as a plastic bag tacked on a wall.”

Even more important than the objects themselves, though, is how they are arranged in the world, and the sensitivity to whatever it is that gives a grouping of objects vitality. “I suppose what surprises me most sometimes is the unintentional arrangement of objects in tchotchke shops, Asian markets or dollar stores, or the way people group their shampoo bottles or medicine cabinets,” Helvey says. She points to Leonard Koren’s book Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement, with illustrations by Nathalie du Pasquier, as an inspiration: “I think it’s the accessibly of those arrangements that resonate so deeply within me — we all have access to a wooden clothespin, an apple, a rock and a plastic cup.”

In other words, Helvey is less concerned with the preciousness of objects than with their relationships to one another and to us, and she finds the most beauty in function. “I’d rather have a beautiful towel that I dry my body with everyday than an expensive chair. Maybe if I sat in that chair everyday I would come to appreciate it, but I use a towel more often.” After all, maybe simplicity isn’t about fussiness or a totally staged life — “that’s so frustrating; I’m so over it,” Helvey says — but about learning not to get too attached. “I don’t think I’ve kept many things for more than a year. We all change so much, and I’m constantly liking new things and letting go.”

Su Wu is an arts critic and the proprietor of the blog I’m Revolting.