Please can you provide us with a description of your professional career?
Through Avocado Sweets we’ve been privileged to work with a range of exciting, brave, funny, innovative and high-achieving clients. We’ve been shortlisted and won industry awards within the UK and been up against international competition. We’ve helped startup restaurants, entrepreneurs, established names and homeowners design spaces to be enjoyed.
What inspired you to become an interior designer?
What inspired me when I started out and what inspires me now are probably quite different. My dad worked for an airline so I spent my childhood travelling the world, staying in interesting hotels and enjoying different architecture.
I was initially drawn to more minimalist interiors while still feeling a huge pull to the more irreverent designs of Philippe Starck and Karim Rashid. I filled my weekends visiting design shops and shows and the transition to interior design came from there.
Now it’s the excitement of having helped a hospitality project succeed or a homeowner enjoy every inch of their living space that inspires me on a daily basis.
Would you say you have a design style?
I don’t have a set style as the inspiration for each project comes from the practical need. I’m interested in materials and mixing different textures to create a new result. The buzz for me is putting things together that are unexpected. So in our recent design for BOXPARK newcomers, Wine&Deli, we created a mash-up of beautiful Art Deco pieces with urban graffiti art – the rising star of Croydon’s street scene.
What is your main source of inspiration?
I take pictures constantly and find inspiration in the colour and texture that occurs in different environments and think about how I can bring this into my designs.
What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?
My biggest accomplishment has been to get to the point where I can design things in the way I want to design them, and how I want to design them – because clients give me the freedom to do that.
What advice would you offer newly-qualified interior designers?
This is a hugely competitive industry and you have to be resilient. My two main tips would be, one: to work hard and be prepared to sacrifice a lot. And, two: have the courage of your own aesthetic.
What was the inspiration behind your Islington Apartment?
Our Islington Apartment design was a real opportunity for experimentation as it’s our own home. The driver for the project was to make it the most creative, open-minded space possible while working as a family home. It’s crucial to get the space planning right first and then layer the beauty and fun on top.
For the aesthetics, we borrowed heavily from our hospitality design to create a unique mix of vintage and modern. Our home is a microcosm of the world. A place where we’ve taken innovative and beautiful designs from near and far and brought them together into a characterful look. So you’ll find French recycled floorboards, mixed with Danish sofas, German storage from Cubit, Eastern European vintage lighting, modern lighting from Malaysian Designer, Stephanie Ng, and British floorcoverings from Sonya Winner.
To top it off we created bespoke design innovations, such as the vertical LEGO ‘play-room’ wall and hand-crafted concrete island worktop, as part of our signature Avocado Sweets approach.
The joy of a design is in the careful curation of products, surfaces, fixtures and fittings to reach an effortless finish. It’s the personality you add along the way that takes a design from pleasant to exciting and memorable.
How important do you feel colour is for interior design schemes?
The fabric of the world is colourful and why should that stop when you get into your house. But it’s not just colour, texture plays a huge part as it’s more interesting to the eye than flat surfaces. Unexpected things interest us and you can achieve that through colour, but again, it’s the combination of surfaces and colour that bring a design to life. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.
What was the brief that you received for Little Saigon?
The Pham family, who hail from Saigon in the south of Vietnam, had long celebrated their mama’s cooking and wanted to bring it to a wider audience. With street food trends on the rise, they spotted an opportunity to bring some of her lesser-known Vietnamese dishes to the market.
The family aimed to create a space that would encapsulate Vietnamese street food culture while creating a funky, enticing venue for a discerning east London clientele. The venue, a previously run-down Chinese restaurant on Leytonstone High Street, needed a complete overhaul to create a versatile space from lunch to dinner, to seat up to 100.
Street food in Vietnam is a laid-back affair with friends, served at low-level tables on the street outside a restaurant. To create the right atmosphere indoors, we took the building back to its original shell. We installed exposed steel ventilation ducting on the ceiling and painted the steel support beams and an original brick wall in pastel colours. Using these bare bones as a base, we built the design layering colour and texture to the building’s structure to create a pared-back, yet playful and stimulating interior.
We chose to echo the vibrancy of a Saigon street into the seating, lighting and wall art, while maintaining a restrained, original design.
The combination of classic artwork and bespoke murals set the scene with their depictions of Vietnamese daily life. These work alongside an imported rickshaw and sugarcane juicing machine to anchor diners firmly in Vietnam from the moment they step through the door.
Informal, cafe-style seating in an array of bold and pastel colours is arranged around vintage wooden tables to add warmth and an earthy feel to the airy interior. Hanging smokey glass pendants bring to mind the ubiquitous Vietnamese paper lantern, but with an original twist.
A dedicated low-level seating area creates visual interest and an authentic street food experience. The adjacent mural of Vietnamese-style typography on the exposed brick wall provides an informal street-style backdrop. The upbeat messages reflect the love and care put into the food preparation while evoking a casual street art.
An open window into the kitchen provides tantalising glimpses of this activity from ‘Mama Pham’ and her team. The adjacent bar area is a striking contrast, with glossy black metro tiles and a custom-made wooden bar.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
The best bit is that the end result is a culmination of the discussion you’ve had with every person on the project, every thought and innovation being pulled together and finally achieved. Seeing a design being used by the people it’s been made for, and with, is priceless.
Can you please talk us through the Chit Chaat Chai project?
We were looking for wall art that would give this Indian street eats newcomer a unique personality. What better way than through bespoke graffiti art – mixing beauty, innovation and a street-feel inside. These series of murals were designed and created by Paintshop studios according to our brief and highlight Indian cinema legend Madhubala in the upstairs dining room.
The overall scheme aims to give customers a taste of the authentic street food experience in a London setting. To understand the design, you first have to understand the food.
As Founder Tania Rahman, explained, ‘chaat’ is a treat food and a comfort food known across India. Each region has its own recipe variation. Served from street stalls, there’s no pretension in the dishes, but the explosion of flavours is of utmost importance.
To capture that sense of quality, comfort, fun and adventure, we set about finding an overall look which – like the twists in the chaat recipes – would be London’s very own Indian street eats destination.
Unlocking the potential of a room is a key part of getting the customer experience right. And this restaurant needed a fair bit of thought. We reworked the space to create three distinct zones. Moving the bar to allow space for the informal lunch and dinner crowd in the front restaurant, with the vibrant tiled cocktail bar setting the scene for the intimate back area. The self-contained upstairs room was transformed into a fun private dining area.
Keeping the walls bright and white, we injected colour and personality through the fixtures, furniture and lighting. After brainstorming with the Chit Chaat Chai team, we came up with the core innovations that would take the restaurant from good to great.
Enter an upcycled chandelier of imported Indian buckets and upstairs flooring made from replica 19th century copies of the Bombay Courier and Bengal Herald. Not forgetting the toilet walls clad with colourful Indian magazine articles to ensure every aspect of the dining experience fits the overall look.
We played up the atmosphere of the back area with a combination of blackboard paint on the walls, neon Seletti lettering and a vibrant array of patterned tiles.
For the customer, this all adds up to a unique street food experience from start to finish.
What do you believe is key when it comes to interior design?
I often come back to a quote by Brian Eno that I’ve had stuck in my office for many years now. In it he explores how to generate creativity.
People confuse creativity in design, you hear people say “the inspiration is not coming”, well you have to make it come. You need to allow creativity, you need to create the right circumstances so when the idea comes, you recognise it. Or as Brian Eno puts it: “you have to build a trap to catch it”.
What can we expect to see from you over the next year?
We’re working with a number of new hospitality ventures and creating enjoyable homes with personality. Watch this space.