Please can you give us a description of your professional career?
My first interior design job was the shop for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. My career has been extremely varied and that’s the way I like it. It has included the top floor of Longleat House – a private penthouse apartment and banqueting suite for the colourful Marquess of Bath – designing for, and presenting on, DIY SOS and international work including two recent luxury harbourside properties in Sydney.
What inspired you to become an interior designer?
I’ve always loved ‘places’ and growing up my mum was constantly changing the interiors at home and dad always encouraged me to be hands-on with making rabbit hutches and taking the bike apart. All giving me the confidence to be practical. I’ve always been fascinated by how a space makes you feel – how one person’s cosy and comfortable is another person’s dark and stuffy. I love the opportunity to change these atmospheres on such a huge scale.
What do you find most enjoyable as an interior designer?
I love the process. I love working with a team. I love seeing my ideas and drawings come to life and I love working with craftsmen who are the best in their field. I get an enormous buzz sitting at the drawing board and working through design challenges. It’s exciting when the right mix of colour and texture comes together and you’ve found something you know the client will love.
What is your most notable project to date?
I guess many would see Longleat as my most notable project because it’s such an incredible property and Lord Bath is so well-known. It was an honour to create pieces and spaces for such an amazing collection and when I pop back it’s great to see how the furniture has mellowed since it was created.
My first project in Sydney is also a favourite because we took the property right back to scratch and there were no limitations on the rebuild. We rebuilt using best of everything and that’s always a joy for everyone involved. It was fabulous to have such a blank canvas inside and out.
I designed the swimming pool terraces and outside areas including the planting and water features. I even redesigned the underground garage adding 23,000 limestone cobbles and a feature dried tree – which I bronzed. The brief for one of the properties was ‘sumptuous’, so inside I added solid walnut skirtings and door frames, exotic veneered doors with handmade bronze handles and 200-year-old French oak flooring from a tobacco factory in the Loire. I designed every piece of furniture. My favourite was the burr walnut and ebony kitchen with book-matched carrara marble tops and splashbacks. It’s like being in a fabulous room which you can also cook in.
The challenges of designing for such a harsh environment were enormous. Excessive sun, heat and dryness, rain (Sydney has more than London), humidity and saltwater. None of this sits easily with expensive interiors but overcoming this type of challenge makes the process interesting to say the least! I installed UV protection, humidity control and none damaged the lighting (in terms of both the heat and quality of light emitted). Exotic veneers were bonded to the same ply used on Bentley dashboards.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge for interior designers today?
I think we should be responsible for the planet and where possible use ethically-sourced materials. Lighting is a passion of mine and we should strive to make this as energy-efficient as possible. I’ve seen massive changes to enable this, even in the past 15 years. It’s not that difficult to do and still gives a quality, luxury feel.
How do you ensure your projects are both aesthetically-pleasing and practical?
For me, practicality is paramount and I love the challenge of making something work and look beautiful. It’s not that difficult if you take the time to understand how a client lives and uses a space. Those first conversations are so important. I can’t stand things looking ‘tatty’, so I design around my client’s lifestyle. Some are happy to have a maintenance programme and some aren’t. It’s important to take time and listen and not rush off with something just because it looks good. It’s your client’s home and it’s so important to make it work for them and with them.
A simple example is this pool terrace where I used ceramic bleached oak tiles for the deck because they are low-maintenance but still look chic. Because the edge of the cut tiles would be sharp, I used a rounded edge limestone around the edge of the pool so it’s comfy to sit on. The glass panels have images printed onto the surface of the glass so they won’t fade and make a statement with minimum upkeep. I mounted them with a gap at the bottom to hose out any leaves or debris.
What’s your biggest source of inspiration?
I don’t really have one source of inspiration. I’m a bit of a sponge and a terrible ‘photo freak’. I love to travel and that’s always inspirational. On a recent trip to Burma, I took nearly 3000 photos. Because my work is so varied, I’m constantly being inspired. I love looking around buildings and seeing how they’re put together. It was amazing seeing the inside structure of Longleat House, for example. The shadow on a corrugated fence, a sculpture or painting could trigger a thought. My design heroes are people like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry – extraordinary talent. I love Philippe Starck too.
What did you learn from your time designing Longleat House?
I think the biggest thing I learned from my time designing at Longleat was to have courage. Lord Bath’s vision was to create something for the 21st century. This was in the early 90s and since nothing ages faster than the future, it was a bit of a challenge. Also adding my bespoke designs to such a superlative collection was both an honour and more than a little daunting. These great houses have always reflected the society around them. For the banqueting suite, I took as my lead the Safari Park which has sustained the house since the 1950s. I used the shape of elegant antelope horns for the legs of both the table and chairs.
There were practicalities concerning security and fire safety and unusual requests from the client. He wanted, for example, a dining table to seat 50 guests so that no one was at the head and it could be configured in numerous ways.
For the Selwood Cabinet, we had issues of creating a fabulous bookcase with a central aperture, so that from his desk Lord Bath could look through the library down the entire length of the house. There were issues of security with an incredible collection of books in the library including the first bible printed in English by Caxton, a contemporary painting of a Shakespeare play and letters from Elizabeth I and the current Queen. There were also issues of fire with this area being one of the many fire pockets in the house. My resolution was to create an automatic door which Lord Bath can open from his desk and which also creates a fire wall when closed. In front of this is a solid glass screen with deep etching. Around the edge, I used strips of LED lights so Lord Bath could choose a colour from a palette of thousands. Needless to say, he keeps it fading through every colour! This was challenging some 20 years ago. I also learned to be unafraid of mixing materials and to work within exceptional parameters. There were many challenges for creating a contemporary space within an Elizabethan palace not least that Lord Bath wanted something unique.
Your first interior project was for The Royal Opera House’s shop, how do you feel you have grown since this project?
I have become more confident since that first project and I’ve learned to trust my instincts more. I don’t think the work gets any easier, I always feel a bit sick when I see a new project. I think that’s a good thing. The day I get blase will be the day to stop. There has to be the adrenalin and energy.
Are you witnessing any interior styles from your clients currently?
Some clients are influenced by interior fashion, but my clients tend to want something a bit more unusual and unique so we tend not to get caught up in current styles or fashions. They want something that reflects them and the building.
What do you believe is key when it comes to a bedroom’s design?
I believe the key to good bedroom design is lighting. It should be soft enough to help you unwind and relax with enough light to read a book and fiddle with recharging and finding glasses. Ventilation is important and if you have air conditioning it needs to be quiet and not blowing cold air down your neck. It’s so important to listen to your client. I’m big on having favourite paintings or treasures in the bedroom, it can be the first thing in the morning or last thing at night that you look at. I also like music in bedrooms but not televisions, unless specifically requested.
Do you believe good lighting can enhance an interior scheme?
I think lighting is the key to good interior design. It’s my real passion and I’ve seen many lovely schemes die on their feet because of bad lighting. I’ve also seen mediocre schemes look not too bad because of good lighting. It adds a sense of theatre to a space as well as making it functional.
I think bathrooms are the one space where lighting is so often wrong. Many designers just flood the space with as much light as possible but that isn’t such a great idea when you want a relaxing soak in the bath. Flexibility is the key to good lighting.
What can we expect to see from you this year?
I am really excited about two collaborations – one with PI Superyachts. I have designed a special yacht for their range of eco-superyachts and I’m also working on their interiors. I am also working with Van de Sant on creating a range of furniture made from ocean plastic. I’m designing a range for the UK market as well as a range specifically for yachts. I love the synergy of ocean plastic being used on an eco-superyacht! It’s fabulous when two projects work so well together. It’s also important that we find ways of cleaning the environment.