What is your particular design philosophy?
The thread that runs through all my careers is storytelling. I’m passionate about creating spaces that draw on the history and heritage of a property and the people who own it. Often it’s a mixture of the two. This is part of the reason why I love to incorporate vintage pieces into schemes — they add interest and a unique quality that feels truly authentic.
Many of your projects are for the hospitality industry. Can you tell us why you love to design for hotels?
My brother James and sister-in-law Tamara are the founders of Mr & Mrs Smith, the boutique travel specialists, so I’ve been involved in their hotel world for years. James’s enthusiasm for hotels and the guest’s journey has certainly rubbed off on me. It’s about creating an experience, a form of immersive theatre. Every touch point, from the moment guests arrive until they go home, should be considered and fabulous. I live for that sense of “showtime” you get in hotels.
What is your studio’s approach to a new project?
First, it’s really important to us to spend time with clients and take a very thorough brief. Then we’ll have workshop days in the studio where we use an exercise I learned at design college: you basically take all the key adjectives from your client’s brief and illustrate them in a very abstract way by ripping up magazine articles. There’s no sourcing anything at this stage; it’s about expanding your mind and seeing where the emotions behind the words and images take you. You can end up developing schemes from colours, textures
and materials that you never would have thought of otherwise. I don’t believe ideas should be plucked out of nowhere; they have to be rooted in something, however loosely. You need to honour the creative process — it’s where the magic happens.
Please tell us about Woolsery and how you approached this rather unusual project?
We won the Woolsery commission back in 2017 and it’s a dream project for us. Our clients Michael and Xochi Birch are the founders of social networking site Bebo, and they have bought a number of properties in the North Devon village of Woolsery, the ancestral home of Michael’s family, with the aim of bringing the village back to life. The scope of work there is huge. We’ve already re-opened the local pub, The Farmers Arms, and completed the Birches’ holiday home. We’re now working on the manor house and several cottages that will become a boutique hotel in 2022. It’s all very exciting.
What other projects have you especially enjoyed undertaking?
Another one of my favourites was the Dunstane Houses hotel in Edinburgh. The very handsome Victorian main house was covered in dark wallpaper and swirly carpet. We brought it into the 21st century with light walls and added colour with beautiful Persian rugs and luxurious textiles. We made sure we included some flamboyant touches and extravagant wallpapers here and there — not only to celebrate the building’s decadent neo-classical architecture, but also as a nod to Shirley, the owner, who really loves a splash of glamour.