Sunday, 01 October 2017 00:00

Emile Azan discusses his decision to become an interior designer

    Emile Azan hasn’t always been an Interior Designer, in fact, it was only after he was made redundant from a publishing company that he decided to take the plunge and pursue his life-long love of interiors and architecture by retraining leading him to eventually set up his practice Chameleon Designs in 2005.

    Can you please provide us with a description of your professional career?

    Having had an interest in interiors and design for many years whilst working in publishing – which I did for 15 years – when I was made redundant I decided it was ‘now or never’, so I went back to college, KLC School of Design, and retrained as an interior designer. It was one of the best things I ever did. I worked for Designer, Simon Hamilton, for just over a year before starting on my own. It was invaluable experience.

    What inspired you to become an interior designer?

    I had always had an interest in design and interiors and from my teens, playing around with moving furniture and looking at layouts of buildings. I guess I always had a creative side so when the opportunity came to retrain I took the plunge.

    Who has been your greatest source of inspiration throughout your career?

    Interior designers are influenced and inspired by many people they have not personally worked with. But for me, Karim Rashid for his relentless drive; Rebecca Weir for her passion for lighting and her ability to harness and maximise the creative potential of light, Zeev Aram, who introduced the British public to modern design and my BIID colleagues for establishing and bringing professional interior design to the forefront in the UK.

    How do you approach your projects?

    I think back to what I’ve seen in my travels that may be relevant to this client. Or visit an art gallery or museum, or inspiring buildings or landscapes for inspiration.

    Who is your favourite interior designer and why?

    That is a hard one to pin down as there are so many different designers I admire, but being a member of the British Institute of Interior Design, I am always drawing inspiration from other members of the institute.

    Would you say that you have a design style? If so, how would you describe this style?

    First and foremost, my clients drive my design style. At the end of the day, we have to design spaces for people to live in, so must always be mindful of them, their wants and wishes, but also the practicalities. I guess having grown up in the Caribbean I also have a love of colour and texture, so this always plays a part. I am also influenced by the environment, and we as designers have a responsibility for playing our part. One of the other factors I always look at is acoustics of a space; be it commercial or residential. So many modern designs ignore this factor, but with social spaces being important and a trend for open-plan living then this factor needs very much to be considered as well as layers of light.

    What do you believe is the biggest challenge for today’s interior designers?

    The hardest part of the job is, as you can imagine, getting clients in the first place. The digital age also brings a few new obstacles.

    What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?

    My biggest accomplishment to date has been, I would like to think, being in practice after 14 years, having also weathered the bank crisis and the resulting economic downturns – all of which have been felt in the industry as a whole. On a work level, a barn conversion in France, which was a design-only project, working out the whole internal space and creating a wow-factor for a unique project. Sociable kitchens seem to be making more of an impact and having completed one recently, I am working on another, where lighting design is required more and more.

    What has been your most notable project?

    My most notable projects are the two I am currently working on, one which is another sociable kitchen space, but working with an architect and often looking at the internal flow, the lighting design and the positioning of the lighting circuits and kitchen units.

    Secondly, two whole house designs, one that is a renovation, including a loft conversion. Kitchens and bathrooms as well as lighting design and a new-build which are blank spaces and adding in the kitchen and bathroom designs, plus the lighting and decoration.

    Talk us through your concept for the Holly Cottage project

    The clients were struggling with the layout and feel for this room, which originally had been three rooms in a house dating back to the 1700s. The space was dark and lacked flow. Being an older property, there were also structural elements, which had to be considered and looked at, there were some damp problems and the wiring also needed to be reconfigured. The clients wanted a feature fireplace installed and, as they already had some lovely pieces of furniture, principally in the Art Deco style, these needed to be worked into the scheme. There was to be a nod towards this period and style, without being slavish to the Art Deco period, which would not have suited the style and period of the house.

    How do you personally feel that you fulfilled the brief for the Holly Cottage project?

    The solution was to create in essence three distinct zones in the room using furniture without dividing the room physically, a dining room end, a conversational area, and a TV/fireplace zone. By moving certain pieces of furniture, the room can also work as a whole. The elements were tied together with the decoration, lighting and furniture. The room has now become cohesive, but also a relaxing and tranquil space to be in, which can be enjoyed for reading, relaxing and at the same time cosy, but also opened up for entertaining.

    Have you witnessed any recurring requests from your clients?

    Nearly all are spaces that don’t work for clients and their lifestyles. Usually they have a property, which they have lived in for a while or acquired and it just doesn’t work in terms of the flow and how they want to use the space. It could be something as simple as altering door swings, moving walls that are non-structural, new storage and lighting.

    Do you have a preferred colour palette that you enjoy working with?

    I am not influenced by the ever-changing seasonality of interiors, but always tend to work at the warmer end of the spectrum in terms of colour.

    Can you please talk us through the brief that you received for the Dulwich kitchen project?

    The brief from the client was to create a sociable kitchen, combining the old kitchen with a separate dining room, creating a space for both cooking and entertaining, offering the perfect backdrop for relaxed living, particularly as the client enjoyed cooking and entertaining at the same time. Getting the format right, however, was not as simple as just providing a table and chairs. Logistically, this meant removing what in essence was the back wall of the house and opening up the space with an extension.

    How do you personally feel that you fulfilled this brief?

    The most important thing was the clients were extremely happy with the end result. The client often says that they don’t want to leave the space to go to work! It has become the main living space and as the clients regularly hold dinner parties, it also works on lots of levels, being a sociable space but also one that is hardwearing and practical. The cooking and preparation areas are away from the entertaining space meaning the cooks can get on unhindered, but at the same time connected with their guests.

    What do you believe is of utmost importance when it comes to the interior design?

    First and foremost, it is listening to your clients, but using your knowledge to guide them. It is sometimes about thinking outside the box and offering a different solution and leading clients to something they may not have thought of buying answers the brief.

    What advice would you offer to those that are considering a career in interior design?

    Interior designers have to wear many hats, so as well as design, you need to get some business experience. It can be working for another designer or it can be working in a different industry and then transferring. You have to be able to listen, as the biggest pitfall is not answering the client brief. You also have to have an eye for detail and be rigorous and detailed in how you work.

    What do you believe is the biggest challenge for newly-qualified interior designers?

    Finding a pathway into the industry is the biggest hurdle. You need to gain experience either working in the industry in an associated area, like a supplier, or an associated field.

    Do you have any favourite suppliers for your interior schemes?

    Cork from Granorte – for its intrinsic acoustic, environmental and anti-bacterial properties, lights from Original BTC, for their reinvention of the potteries, and artisan skills, furniture from Ercol – still producing and designing in the UK and wool fabric from Abraham Moon and Sons, in amazing textures and colours and keeping British manufacturing in textiles.

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