Finding clarity and comfort with Apphia Michael

Apphia Michael’s aesthetic is natural, minimalist, elegant, and monochromatic. Her photos draw you near, in a way that is gentle and comforting, and paired with her sweet anecdotes about family and travel life, she quickly becomes someone you want to know more. We talked with her about her transition from full-time magazine editor, to freelance styling and writing work. Plus, the art of simplifying and ritualizing travel, and what makes for the perfect morning cuppa. 

Can you tell us more about your background in Magazine Journalism?

I’ve been in magazines in some form or another since I was 18. I started off by interning at various fashion magazines during my school summer holidays and worked my way up before landing a dream job as Online Fashion Editor at Wallpaper* magazine, where I was based for seven years until my daughter was born. Being at Wallpaper* gave me a pretty solid grounding in the strategies, ideologies, and intricacies of working for a dynamic print and digital brand. I worked across the magazine's editorial and digital departments, conceptualizing feature ideas for the magazine and commissioning and editing content for the website. It was really fun reporting from fashion weeks, traveling around the world, and I got to attend some pretty spectacular launches and parties, but I decided I wanted a more fluid work/life balance so I branched out independently and now happily juggle various roles as stylist, writer, digital creative consultant and chief snack maker to my kids at home. 

You have a knack for creating a mood and feeling that draws the reader in via your photos and captions. What’s your story-telling approach? 

My photos tend to be very simple and clean, almost architectural in style, and I favour surroundings that have a very pared-back aesthetic, so I love to counterbalance this by creating conversation and sharing my thoughts, struggles, the highs and the lows of parenting within my captions. 

How would you describe your aesthetic in 10 words or less?

Family life presented in a minimalistic, elegant and tranquil way.

You affectionately refer to your husband and children as your “Traveling Family Circus.” Where have you traveled together, and do you have any upcoming travel plans or dreams? 

We’ve been to various places in Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Israel, Italy, France, Portugal, Canada, and the US as a family so far. Traveling for work and holidays is something that has always really invigorated us, but both George and I have always loved the idea of living around the world with our kids and integrating into the culture of a place, of really getting stuck into its way of life in a more organic way. I was born in Singapore and went to school in Scotland before moving to England where I met George, and this idea of moving around as a family was one of the earliest conversations we had when we first met 13 years ago, even before we had our kids, and something that we still strongly believe in now. We lived like nomads between the UK and the US as a family for George’s work for about two and a half years, and could probably happily have carried on going like that, but decided to relocate permanently from London to Los Angeles as our daughter was due to start school. This will probably be home now for a bit until we make our next move, which, in a dream situation, would be Asia.

Where is home for you now? How do you ground yourself when you are at home, and how do you create a feeling of home for you and your family when you are on the road? 

We live in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. It’s an intimate hillside neighborhood up in the Hollywood Hills. The fact you’re in a canyon makes you feel like you are in nature and away from it all, but it’s still only a ten-minute drive into Hollywood. I love that it has all this rich musical history - the fact that it was home to the likes of Morrison, Zappa, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young, and the epicenter of that folk-rock movement in the sixties and seventies gives it this magical air which you can really feel when you’re up here. To that end, music grounds us as a family when we are home - it tends to be classical music in the morning and an eclectic mix in the evening with a glass of wine and a simple home-cooked family dinner. 

Away from home, it’s become ritualistic for my daughter to walk into the space we’re staying in, and almost immediately cordon off an area with a makeshift den for her and her brother to play in - it’s usually filled with the oddest mix of trinkets, found objects, and whatever small toys are in her backpack, but it’s become her signature and we’re not allowed to touch or modify the space. In our most intense travel period, we made it a rule to travel with just two suitcases between us, even for the bigger trips when we’d be away for months at a time, so the kids learned to live with a very small edit of toys and books and discovered that they could make any space a home anywhere with a bit of creative thinking.

You and your husband, George, are both creatives who seem to have a knack for style and adventurous spirits. Have you noticed a sense for adventure, or eye for design, developing in your children? 

We take the kids with us when we travel for work - it’s certainly not easy and largely chaotic for the most part, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We were in Seattle recently for a shoot, and having breakfast at the Ace Hotel, when we turned around and see our five-year-old standing at the next table styling and shooting a still life of a boiled egg, coffee cup, and plate of toast -- playing with light and shadows and taking pictures of the scene with George’s phone. It was actually a pretty good series! Art seems to be her big passion, so I like to think that she is soaking up the creative vibes, and being inspired by the environment her parents work in. 

Do you have a morning routine (or coffee routine!) you like to follow? How does it change when you are traveling with your family? 

George is the morning person in our family so he tends to get up early and go on a hike with our dog before anyone is awake, then comes home and makes the kids breakfast and hands me my tea in bed. This little routine is my lifeblood - I am literally surgically attached to my cup in the morning and cannot get out of bed without it. I do adore the smell of coffee so it’s lucky that George makes a brew every morning without fail - the soft aroma that wafts around the kitchen is incredibly comforting to me. Our morning routine doesn’t change all that much when we travel - I always pack tea bags in my suitcase, and most of the time, George gets up with the kids, herds them down to the hotel restaurant or the local cafe for croissants, then comes back with a takeaway cup of tea for me!

Instagram: apphia____ 

Photos: George Chevalier Lewis