Grand Designs: House of the Year 2018
December 1, 2018
February 2, 2021
Interior Design Masters Series 2 starts on Tuesday 2 February on BBC2 at 8pm. Reprising my role as Series Judge, with Alan Carr as Series Host, this time I made notes as I went along…
At the beginning of Interior Design Masters, the contestants are literally giddy from realising the first step of their goal to become professional interior designers. Full of enthusiasm, they’re getting their big break via what is essentially a 4-month course of interactive masterclasses. It’s intense, full-on and stressful. And they have no idea what it’s going to be like, until it actually starts.
Back stories range from those for whom becoming a designer has been a long-held dream, to people who trained in something completely different but as adults loved doing up their own homes so much, they felt compelled to make the leap. And therein lies the narrative curve.
Because, while everyone with a passion for design thinks they can be a designer, to be any good, you have to take all of that energy and enthusaism and combine it with active listening, acute observation and the ability to absorb inspiration from absolutely everything around you.
You also have to be a champion communicator, be skilled in planning and negotiation, even something of an amateur psychologist to decipher the real needs and desires of a client. Throw in nerves of steel to hold onto your convictions in the face of dissent, and plenty of emotional reserves for when the going gets tough.
In short, the art and practice of interior design is about a lot more than just having a way with colour and cushions.
The brief. Decorate the living room or bedroom of a contemporary show home designed for high earners seeking a statement home in the outskirts of Oxford. The clientele are expecting spaces that are “aspirational, contemporary, sumptuous and exclusive”.
Blank canvases for the designers to transform. Except these were no ordinary white boxes. These were £1 million, 5-bedroom showhomes with high-end contemporary fixtures and clever architectural details — think corner windows, roof terraces and even ready-built garden annexes for a nanny or home-office.
It’s a great first challenge because we start with a group of people with superbly diverse backgrounds and influences, likes and dislikes, all of which will play out in their designs. And because this is their first opportunity to show me what they can do, they inevitably go for it all guns blazing. But I’m looking for people who can show me enough of their style — I should be able to guess who did what — while remembering that this is a home aimed at a very specific clientele.
The tricky bit of course is the lack of a real homeowner — you only have the marketeer’s hopeful vision. The path to a successful transformation then is to create something that captures the imagination and evokes the intended “aspirational” lifestyle. But, without alienating the buyer, who will make up their minds within seconds of walking into a property.
Also what does “aspirational” mean? To Series host Alan Carr it’s a Waitrose bag-for-life! To me, it’s the luxury of silence, and space to retreat. Somewhere in between this is what the designers have to work out — what does aspiration in Oxford look, and most importantly, feel like?
Additionally, the designers need to leave room for a purchaser to insert themselves into the picture. Fill up the room too much and they’ll be distracted. Do too little and any feeling of blandness will be transferred to the impression of the house itself.
Where is the home? Is there a view. What are the key points of the architecture, if any? How will rooms be used? In a living room, where might the TV go? Will it be the focus of the room, or should something else dominate? What should the sofa face? What other furniture might be required to make a room feel right? These are the sort of first thoughts a designer must have.
Not, which wallpaper shall I choose.
It’s the fundamental difference between designing and decorating. The latter is the application of various elements to the envelope of the room, the wrapper for all the stuff, if you will. But when you design a room you experience it in-the-round. You imagine yourself occupying it, sitting or sleeping in it. Looking out of the window and then turning and assessing the backwards view. You consider what’s glimpsed on entry. Is there an element of surprise? Does the furniture layout lead you where you would intuitively go? It’s only in this way that you can start to build a visual story around a space, and that’s the vital first step towards a great interior.
When you design for a client, even an imaginary one, you are in service to that client, the room and the desired feel and required function. In other words, this isn’t your home, office or shop, it’s theirs. So, just because you’re in love with a certain era, or the use of wallpaper, or even a favourite colour combination, it doesn’t mean that it’s right for the project in hand.
Determining how much of yourself to insert into any project, is nearly always the hardest thing for any fledgling designer, so keen are they to show off their big moves. But until you reach the heady heights of ‘owning’ a look, think Kelly Hoppen, then it’s not for you to impose your personal preferences. Even Kelly wouldn’t do this. For sure she has a very defined ethos that she follows, and that her clients buy into, but she would be the first to say that within the parameters of this, every project and client requires a different approach.
Plus, historical styles are always a product of their time — representative of a particular moment, and a response to a very specific context. Great care must then be taken in applying a ‘look’ to an entirely different time and context. Is it appropriate? The essence of it might be — Art Deco is fun, fluid and romantic, so it could be usefully interpreted for a contemporary bedroom perhaps — but it rarely works when applied as pastiche, ie taking elements of a look wholesale without some measure of tweaking them to fit.
Adopt a style by all means but adapt it to the situation in hand.
Laurence Llwellyn-Bowen “half man, half cocker spaniel” according to Alan Carr, was my guest judge in episode one. Laurence is fantastically knowledgeable about so many aspects of art and design, its history, the business, and how to make spaces work.
We differ only in what we perceive as ‘good taste’!
That aside, I absolutely love working with Laurence for his generosity of advice and consistent bon viveurness. As far as I’m concerned, we nearly always agree on the fundamentals and purpose of design, and the rest is entirely subjective.
His wisdom for budding interior designers boiled down to a nugget?
“People always think successful Interior Design is about the ‘Accents’ the ‘Eye-Catchers’ the ‘Pops of Colour’; it’s actually all about what happens in-between. And Gin.”
Added because people always ask, and I can’t respond to every message individually! Note too that these are all my own clothes, and I rarely wear ‘in season’ clothing. I’m more of a classics girl. So most pieces are at least a year or so old, if not older. My top tip for ‘designer’ wear? The Outnet. Great stuff regularly upto 70% off. (Not an ad. Just sharing 😉
Thank you for reading this. If you want to know when I next post something, why not subscribe!
Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.