Ethical Interior Design

Interior design is not necessarily an industry you would associate with being particularly ‘green’ or ethical – and with good reason, because it’s not.

This industry, much like fashion, moves inexorably with what’s in vogue in any given season. Interior designers and their clients alike perpetuate a consumerist attitude, moving rapidly from one set of furniture or materials to the next, paying little attention to what happens to the discarded parts.

Fortunately, the tides are slowly changing. Designers are realising that they, too, are responsible for the environmental problems that threaten to overwhelm us. Our clients are realising that they should be as discriminating in their design choices as they are with their food and fashion.

As is often the case, fashion has led the charge in making us all wake up to the fact that where materials are made is important, as are the conditions in which they are made. If your hand-carved wooden table felled a tree in a dwindling forest and then barely made the carpenter enough to eat for a day, maybe it’s time to reassess your choices.

I encourage you – whether you’re a designer or looking to have the interior of your space redesigned – to be highly selective about the materials and pieces you use.

There are many ecologically responsible materials and products that are just as attractive and durable as their non-eco counterparts, and they do good to the world, instead of harm:

  • Coconut and bamboo wood, harvested from sustainable forests
  • Biodegradable upholstery
  • Organic bedding
  • Chemical-free foam
  • Eco-friendly, biodegradable plastics
  • Non-toxic paints

Stop buying cheap and nasty pieces from Ikea. When they break and you throw them away, oftentimes they become non-degrading landfill. You are contributing waste instead of wealth. Make good choices – for yourself, for your children. Do your small part for our future.

 

Creating A Functional Space

Recently I’ve been working on a project that has challenged me beyond the usual professional parameters.

A dear friend of my was diagnosed a few months ago with advanced breast cancer. It was, of course, a horrible shock for all of us, and the catalyst for many of us to start taking seriously the fact that we’re all in middle age and need to start caring for ourselves appropriately.

To protect my sweet friend’s privacy, I’ll refer to her here as Janette. She is a wonderful, selfless woman, always inspiring me and others in our group of friends to be kind without being a fool, to be fair without being harsh, and to be forgiving and capable of forgetting.

Janette is married to an equally lovely man, who has been an absolute rock throughout this entire ordeal. He approached me some weeks ago with a touching and thoughtful idea of how he could help his wife cope better with the long weeks ahead.

After reading up on a collection of recent research, Janette and her husband had concluded that it would improve her quality of life to start having regular massage treatments.

While they are under no impression that the cancer can be massaged away, they’re both absolutely sure that it’s vitally important for her to have a high quality of life towards the end of her time.

So he asked me to remodel a room in their home so that Janette doesn’t have to leave the house and making the tiring trip to the therapist every week. He ordered a beautiful, comfortable table from Massage World, and asked me to create the room around the table.

What a privilege to be able to do something soothing for my friends.

The table he bought was a warm cream color, so we painted the walls a soft yellow, and bought some little infusers to scent the room with healing essential oils. There’s a small window that let’s in beautiful natural light, and it is truly a welcoming, soothing space.

I plan to spend plenty of time there with Janette in the coming weeks, and to honor her with as much grace and fortitude as I can muster. Please forgive me if I don’t update the blog as often while this is going on. I want to make myself as available and useful as possible, but never fear – I’ll be in touch.

How To Keep Interior Design Clients Happy

After working in this industry for so many years, I am well acquainted with all the things that can go oh-so-wrong when working with clients. Yes, there are many occasions when everything goes smoothly and there’s no conflict whatsoever – but you probably know that these are the exception, not the rule.

As in any relationship, the key to success is clear communication, right from the very beginning.

It’s completely unrealistic to expect that each client is going to fit into a cookie standard operating procedure, and if you approach them that way, you’re going to lose their business and referrals. You even run the risk of getting sued if you don’t manage your client relationships carefully.

So here are the key things you should be doing to ensure that your clients come to see you as a trusted advisor and friend to the family.

1. Set your boundaries from the beginning.

Be crystal clear about what you will and won’t work on.

If you don’t do water features, tell them that, so that 3 months down the line, project nearly finished, they don’t get huffy that you won’t add a fountain to the corner of the living room.

2. Get comfortable talking about budgets.

You need to know what the client’s budget is. You can’t do your job if you don’t know how much money is in the pot.

Talk to them about these even before you agree to work together. it’s the responsible thing to do and no one ends up with any surprises.

I would also recommend charging a flat fee, quoted according to the scope of the job. Hourly rates are a quicksand for goodwill.

3. Explain your process and responsibilities.

Most clients think they know how an interior design job is going to play out. But the fact is, usually they don’t.

So be up front about how you work, and what they can expect from you day to day. It’s also important to discuss whether you are being responsible for all, some or none of the purchasing decisions.

Encourage them to give honest feedback and to be involved in the process, but make sure you’ve covered all your basis before you set foot in that house.

These are simple business practices.

But they are often overlooked when they can give you and your business a much-needed layer of protection. They also make you seem more professional and organised. Clients appreciate knowing exactly what the deal is, and it breeds goodwill (and referrals) to be completely honest and upfront with them.

Spotlight: Nina Campbell, Interior Design Extraordinaire

Nina Campbell. Such a beautiful, elegant woman, I don’t think I could have chosen a better representative for 21st Century interior design myself.

She got her start young, after having been told time and time again that she could never count on having job security. Her parents had moved house frequently, and she attributes much of her style to the warmth and welcoming feel her parents always instilled in a new home.

So despite having picked up a much-coveted fob at Colfax & Fowler – founded by two more illustrious figures in the interior design world, Sibyl Colfax and John Fowler – Nina decided that she was better off taking her style and nous and heading out into the world on her own.

As she built her business, Nina soon became associated with some of London society’s ‘creme de la creme.’

She oversaw the design and styling of the iconic Mark’s Club, and Annabel’s Private Members Club in London W1. Soon after, she opened her small shop on Pimlico Road so that she could start trading in luxurious goods, trinkets and pieces from around the world.

Nina got a strong business education from her parents, and has developed exemplary relationships with suppliers, contractors and other designers over the years.

Not only is she an icon of style in her own right, but she is a paragon of feminine entrepreneurship that we all stand to learn a tremendous amount from.

I’m honoured to have worked alongside Nina at this exciting time in the interiors industry, and I hope to keep learning from her for many years to come.

Should Interior Design Follow Fashion?

It’s an age-old argument among interior designers.

In fact, it’s been going on so long that I’m quite sure the argument started in the 1860s. The renowned Edith Wharton argued in her seminal work that it was time to move beyond the boring, conservative Victorian style of overstuffed furniture, dark, heavy drapes, and cluttered bric-a-brac.

Wharton announced that these rooms, while ‘fashionable’ were practically unusable, as they were so dark and unwelcoming.

Her successor as darling of design, Elsie de Wolfe, shared Wharton’s anti-fashion views, moving towards bright, vibrant and highly stylised designs. De Wolfe love including Asian accessories in her rooms, creating an airy, exotic and enticing atmosphere in a sea of dark velvets and heavy wallpapers.

De Wolfe not only brightened all the rooms she worked on, but she mercifully freed them of the intense clutter that was such a staple of the Victorian style. From heavy ottomans and pouffes, to massive loveseats, overstuffed sofas and endless tiny wooden tables, the old style was big on having furniture everywhere.

It’s much too intense to have so much stuff everywhere – people don’t want to be in them. They want somewhere they can stretch out, feel relaxed, be themselves.

And that’s where the next iteration of interior design excelled so well. Syrie Maugham gave everyone quite a fright when she created the first ‘all-white’ room in London.

The fantastic brightness of such a room, even in the dull grey light of a London day, was enough to startle even the most lethargic critics. And Syrie stuck to her guns, too, creating spaces that just screamed light and brightness all over the world.

So the question is not so much whether interior design should follow fashion, as whether interior design should be an expression of your own vibrance, your own passion and flair.

And the answer to that, resoundingly, is yes.

 

A Brief History of Interior Design

Interior design has been an industry from the very earliest pages of history.

The renowned architects of ancient India also functioned as interior designers, styling the interiors of the spaces they designed, as well as creating the original vision.

In more recent times, however, interior design has become a real profession only in the last 100 years or so. As the Industrial Revolution swept Europe and the Americas, there was suddenly a new middle class, flush with resources and ambition.

These people wanted stylish homes, they wanted to entertain, and they wanted to be vaunted as arbiters of style by their peers.

What better to way than to show your taste and panache than by throwing fabulous soirees in your fabulous house?

Truly, it was the upholsterers who caught the changing winds to begin with.

They quickly saw the opportunity to expand their services, and were soon offering the contracted services of builders, joiners, artists and furniture and textile designers.

The advent of department stores only served to feed the frenzy even more, and by the end of the 19th Century, interior designers were comfortably ensconced in the respectable merchant class.

As the practice of designing one’s home gained ever more popularity, and as more women began slowly to join the profession, there was a shift from the traditionally formal themes installed in houses to more personalised and vibrant settings.

After the Second World War, the Western world went into a frenzy, with people often decorating and redecorating every five to ten years.

The industry standardized, the theories expanded and people loved it all the more.

These days, most interior designers specialise in either residential work, commercial spaces, or entertainment spaces. Globalisation has meant that there are ever more influences to draw from, cross-cultural blendings to explore, and inspiration to be found in ever more corners.