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3 posts from February 2011

26 February 2011

A Promiscuous Profession

Somewhat following on from the themes in my last post I am reconsidering the size of my business card i.e. bigger, if only to explain what an interior designer actually does, or maybe what this interior designer and her team does.

The problem, it seems, is that "interior designer" is so often interpreted as someone who chiefly shepherds fabrics, paint colours and "objets". In my book this is an interior decorator (not to be confused with a painter and decorator) and a fine calling it is too. To witness a really talented decorator at work, who can summon detail and finish from nothing, almost like an artist, and who has a deep knowledge of current craft technique and the history of decor is impressive. 

I, on the other hand, am very much an interior designer. My understanding of this term though is not only someone who can direct fabric, colour and "objets" but also someone who will, generally speaking, approach a project much like an architect, developing the design for an interior in context, that relates in a meaningful way to a given site, to the unique characters and demands of those who will use the space, a design that acknowledges the fundamental importance of navigation and legibility, the relationship between volume, mass, rhythm and detail, of the effects of natural and artificial light. A design that allows for the most efficient mechanics of a building, from heating, ventilation and air conditioning to the audio visual and security. A design that understands construction and proper process in terms of working alongside other consultants and with building firms.

A friend of mine who works in the same way calls herself an interior architect. Not bad. But a bit of a mouthful and slightly pretentious. Also, while interior designer sort of negates the architectural aspect of the job, interior architect negates the softer decorator aspects.

The reason I set up my practice in the first place was to offer the kind of still fairly unique service that covered everything a client could want in a renovation, from construction to cushion covers, and our clients seem to love us for it. Every feature in a building is, after all and inevitably, related to the other by the simple virtue of being in the same place. 

Perhaps  the confusion lies in the fact that the professions are promiscuous? Architects operating as interior designers. Interior designers working as interior decorators. Interior decorators calling themselves designers.

What is to become of us?!


16 February 2011


A strange day last week.

  Tedworth house

Invited by the BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) to participate in the filming of a meeting of interior decorators and architects at the commencement of the latest Help for Heroes recovery centre project I arrived at Tedworth House, an undistinguished stately home in the neo-classical style.

This rather sad building, the focus of the really very sad town of Tidworth near Andover, has been saved by H4H from one million pound’s worth of mothballing by the Government (yes, this is what the Government had budgeted from our taxes to spend on, um, locking up and no, this money is not being given to H4H instead) to be converted into a new kind of recovery centre, one that can provide joined-up, long-term social and welfare support to wounded military as they transition from military to civilian life.

So far, so good.

Well sort of. Before I attended I naturally did my homework and was surprised/interested/horrified to see that the firm of Francis and Quinlan Terry had been hired to design the new build section of this project – and looking at the drawings the scheme is in the Terry typical, pattern-book, Classical style, an approach that never fails to alarm me.

Contemplating my comprehensively negative reaction I sought to precipitate any prejudice by properly investigating the Terry philosophy and discovered essays by QT on sciagraphy, the science of shadows, expansion gaps and the wisdom of using natural materials – all rather fascinating and sensible stuff – and I decided to keep an open mind.

However, my original preconceptions were very firmly reinforced. This kind of “new classical” approach is, at best, a sentimental, imperial and claustrophobically rigid statement and, at worst, utterly insensible to the individual.

Which is kind of ironic, given the very particular demands at play in this project.

No sooner had we got in through the front door then a debate gently burbled between architect and v posh decorators on Farrow and Ball’s “slightly white” versus “ever so slightly white”. Things got a bit more thrilling in the central hall, where posh decorator “A” persuaded architect to roam from white to something like “mouse’s arse grey”.

In all fairness this project does need to be up and running by June, so there’s not much time for deliberation. The team just have to get on with it. Nevertheless “more haste, less speed” comes to mind, as well as effectiveness and longevity. So too the pinkie-ringed, stubby-fingered hand of Prince Charles.

Oh Charles. I usually do love him – an imaginative and arguably brave thinker - but how I wish I could take him on a tour of really great buildings – ones that possess all the humanity and sensuality it seems he often quite rightly laments the absence thereof in many contemporary buildings. But the fact is there are many contemporary buildings that are magical in this way by people like DSDHA, Terunobu Fujimori, MVRDV, Ushida Findlay... and that’s just for starters.

Debates like this, however, seem rather trivial when put in the context of the men and women who daily put their lives in danger in our “war on terror”.

First, I cannot help but think that our liberal use of the word “heroes”, when describing men and women of the military, in some way validates our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Not only do I question the meaning of hero in this way (my grandfather and father were both career soldiers, who signed up for a dangerous job and saw action, but I wouldn’t describe them as heroes) both of these deployments, at least from the point of view of the average Brit, have really only served to radicalise clearly very isolated Muslim men and women in our own country, have served to make our lives more dangerous, not less so. Not to mention the nonsense we all have to go through at airports these days.

Surely the best help we can give our “heroes” is to let foreign nations fight their own wars and if we really want to act as the world’s policeman/protect oil reserves/limit drug production let’s, as in architecture, go about things more intelligently – more creatively.











02 February 2011

Living Wallpaper

A wonderful description of the stables of top notch race horses at Ascot by the Duchess of Devonshire, "....walls covered in a loose backing on which hung rows of waterproof pockets. Once the florists had finished filling these, the walls were solid with lilies, roses and other midsummer blooms - the last word in sweet smelling luxury - and they looked like extravagant chintz."