All posts by Lexa Palfrey

Do you know… Veere Grenney?

Interior Designer Spotlight Series: Veere Grenney

Jacqueline Duncan, OBE, Dean

One of my favourite interior designers, Veere Grenney, keeps a very low profile but does wonderful work.

Veere is a New Zealander who as a young man looked to English designers, notably David Hicks and the Irish wizard Max Clendinng for inspiration.   A chance meeting with Michael Raymond in Tangier further inspired him and prompted him to come to London where he was lucky to be welcomed in to the studio of Mary Fox Linton.

From Mary he was headhunted by Colefax and Fowler, and after some four years experience in this most venerated of firms, he established his own studio.

Veere Grenney

It is always interesting for me to listen to the views of eminent designers and to have the pleasure of seeing their work.   Talk of Max and David took me back to the fifties, when talent abounded, commissions were difficult to find and the editor of House and Garden, Anthony Hunt, tended to rely on the American issue for his articles.   He had little option, given the paucity o f work in those post war years, but since we all took the American issue, we found this duplication extremely irritating and it may well have been the reason that he was replaced by Robert Harling.

American House and Garden in the Fifties was brilliant to our Economy dazed eyes, and we were more than delighted when Conde Nast published the Guide to Interior Decoration in 1960.   It was known colloquially as the Yellow Book and featured the great names of New York decoration, Pahlmann, Kahane, McMillen and so many more.    Both David and my then husband Michael Inchbald were inspired by the new and free approach of the Americans to twentieth century lifestyle, and both admitted freely to drawing inspiration from the advanced technology and the sharp sense of fashion that they had so clearly mastered.

Harling’s editorship turned to England’s national archive of classicism as source material for the magazine and since John Fowler was the major player in this  genre, we witnessed the establishment of the English Style which dominated Interior Design and Decoration for so long.   The fact that Mark Hampton took it to New York, giving it a distinctive Big Apple twist, was at once interesting and stimulating to designers internationally.

Veere Grenney came in at a point in time which was exciting in every way, but his elegant interiors are  imbued with a distinctive character, inspired perhaps by David and Max, but nevertheless very personal.

There was a moment of déjà vue for me when he showed me a view of the Claridges penthouse, originally created for Hugh Wontner by Michael Inchbald in the sixties

Interestingly he now lives in the beautiful fishing lodge which David made famous in the sixties, so the circle is completed with another and fresh perspective.

Visit the Veere Grenney website here:

A Starry Party with Claremont

Jacqueline Duncan, Dean, attended a party at Adam Sykes’ house in Wimbledon recently.  Adam is chairman of Claremont Furnishings.

Built in the sixties, it is surrounded by a not quite formal garden which is integrated into the interior of the house by glass walls.   Adam has re-built the interior in the open plan style, and his decoration is basically thirties,  elegant and  simple, enhanced by a picture collection which is both eclectic and very personal.
Adam’s guests represented some of the most important and successful interior designers of today, among whom I was pleased to count several of my old graduates.   It was indeed a ‘Marvellous Party’ and we were privileged to be included.

Unsurprisingly, Adam’s house is featured in this month’s House and Garden.

Claremont was founded in 1931 as a wholesaler of specialist textiles and trimmings to the interior design and decoration industry emerging in London. Since then Claremont has engaged a number of small European textile manufacturers to weave on commission our unique and specialised archive. The range of textiles is used in both traditional and contemporary interiors and frequently by designers working on important historic houses. Apart from their extensive range of standard shades, they are able to custom colour most of the fabrics and trimmings if required. The company has gained a loyal following through word of mouth, and is proud to supply the top international decorators through our three showrooms in London, New York and Los Angeles.
Visit their website:

Discovering Decorex 2017

Discovering Decorex

Jacqueline Duncan, Dean, laments the loss of exhibitions which showcase individual interior talent now shows have become more trade oriented.

Principal Alan Hughes and I went to the interior design annual highlight, the Decorex exhibition now held at Syon Park.   The aim of this highly publicised event is primarily to introduce new products to interior designers and to remind them of existing ranges, often in revised formats or colourways.   And in that aim it undoubtedly succeeds.

A while ago, designers themselves used to take stands in order to showcase their styles and products and there is no doubt that they were the stars of the show highlighting, as they did, new trends and new talents.   Now this part of Decorex seems to have faded and the trade, which has always dominated anyhow, has now taken over completely.   All the stands were well presented, elegant and stylish but they do lack the excitement of design for design’s sake, a factor which can only be supplied by designers.

In this respect I recall the wonderful Kips Bay Showhouses of the New York sixties and seventies, all the various rooms re-designed and decorated by the great names of the American decorators;  these show houses were documents of brilliant interior design and decoration, setting out styles and innovations for subsequent years, and providing great inspiration to both working designers and students.   On a lesser scale the idea was replicated in this country by Fleur Rossdale.   It was a daunting workload for one  person and nothing of the kind has been done recently, although the St Johns Wood ‘Holiday House’ will be interesting to watch.  To some extent the gap was then filled by design stands at Decorex and now even those have disappeared.

It can be said that producers and manufacturers make great efforts in the design of their stands but they are essentially promoting the product, so that stands tend to be utterly simple, with dark or neutral backgrounds and careful spotlighting.   Decorex has now become essentially another Trade Fair, though undoubtedly a very grand one.

Turning to one of the leading international design magazines, I find this incredibly bulky production is also oriented to merchandise and the design input is not only minimal but chosen for eccentricity or grandeur, rather than featuring the kind of interior which attracts in terms of practicality as well as both elegance and invention.

Have we lost the art of creating spaces which are beautiful and personal, rather than slavishly following the two sofas/large coffee table/huge cushions that has become the must have look for design in England.  

Long gone the educated taste which once gave birth to the real English Style, glamorous, comfortable and practical.   And pretty?   Was it not Tom Parr who once remarked that interior designers should never be frightened of the word “pretty”?   How right he was.   The design work we see today has been dominated, and indeed enhanced by increasingly brilliant photography, until we have reached a point where a space is judged for the photographic (and thus controlled) effect.

My attention was caught recently by a typically bold  article by Trisha Guild, still challenging the rules and extolling a wondrous array of colour and pattern that glowed with interest.

Let us revive the glamour of the last century and let us not be afraid of the word “pretty”!

Big Success Story

When Principal Alan Hughes interviewed Ziad Alonaizy in 2014 he was startled to be informed that the prospective student was an orthopaedic surgeon.   It was a most unusual background, but Inchbald is well known for change of career applicants and an urge to re-arrange a patient for the patient’s benefit does perhaps indicate a desire to improve, a fundamental attitude of designers.

So Ziad joined Inchbald, became student rep, graduated with Distinction and the Finchatton prize and is referred to by the School Secretary as ’the shining light’!  

Since Inchbald, Ziad has worked for distinguished Inchbald graduate and well known designer Stephen Ryan and has designed his own range of furniture which he put on display at Decorex this year, with great success.   In addition he is presently engaged on the design of a house in Portugal, an Hotel in Oxfordshire, and a penthouse in Paris.   Not surprisingly he is short of sleep but he is certainly not losing sleep over the progress of his career.

When he joined Inchbald he was aware that his life was taking a dramatic turn;   it was a very brave decision to return to school but he took it with confidence and his courage has been justified.   In his second career he is embarking on a big adventure and we at 

Inchbald have no doubt that his name will resonate in the world of interior design.


Colourblind Designers – A Hidden Blessing

Jacqueline Duncan, OBE

I recall an interesting conversation which took place long ago between an ex RAF officer and a designer, both of them colour blind.   The officer, Peter Dudgeon, had recently founded an upholstery business, and in doing so had extended his knowledge of colour, its versatility and the surprising effects that could be achieved by its manipulation.

The RAF roundel for example, he assured designer Michael Inchbald, looks as if the colours are all exactly similar in proportion to each other but they are not – the white, which to the normal eye spreads and thus looks larger by comparison, is slightly reduced to give conformity to the whole.   Peter claimed that it had been devised by a colour blind artist (and yes, they do exist!).

The conversation led on to the fascination of camouflage, used so extensively in nature and adapted by man, sometimes for protection and at other times extended to decoration in the form of trompe l’oeil, a painting skill devised to ‘deceive the eye’.   Where camouflage  is concerned, the “handicap” of colour blindness becomes a desirable skill.   Colourblind personnel were recruited in war to design the patterns, and indeed to detect those of the enemy, since the fact of colourblindness indicates a totally different perception of what appears to be the fact observed by normal vision.

Until the end of the 19th century the English army wore scarlet, and were known as redcoats for that reason – it is said that the colour choice did not show the blood!    Red, an aggressive colour in itself, is a subliminal alert to danger, and several hundred scarlet clad soldiers bearing down on their opponents would in itself be a daunting sight.   Interestingly, the gunners wore blue, a colour similar to their weapons and one that would draw less attention to their position.   The guns were not only vital but very expensive.   To a colourblind observer, however, both men and guns would be individually visible.

Scarlet morphed to green and finally around 1902, to the familiar khaki of modern warfare.  This in turn led to the development of military camouflage as we know it, widely used throughout the first and second world wars to obscure and confuse, unless of course, the opposing officer was colour blind himself!

In decoration, the skills of trompe l’oeil artists have been extensively deployed to confuse and deceive the observer, using both painterly and architectural talents.   Wallpaper manufacturers such as Zuber, have taken advantage of this style to produce paper panels that can transform a small room into a garden, or offer an amazing vista on a featureless wall.   And the violin, hung rather nonchalantly with its bow on a paneled door in Chatsworth, is in fact painted on to the door, over the paneling.   The first time I saw this I was astonished to discover that the violin and its shadow were no more than flat paint.

The Chatsworth House violin, which ‘hangs’ from the back of the door to the State Music Room. The trompe l’oeil was painted by Jan van der Vaardt (c.1650-1727).  Photo Diane Naylor © Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth.  Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.

Colour, space, light can all be manipulated to provoke the imagination, or even provide a gentle joke!

Michelle Holland: Summer Exhibition 2017 Judge

At Inchbald we are privileged to have distinguished judges to review the work of our graduates but it was a particular delight to invite former student Michelle Holland back to the School for the 2017 presentation of awards.

Michelle was a memorable student from the class of 2007 coming to the School with a degree in languages and several years experience working as a Hotel Consultant for PKF Hotel Experts then running Market Research for Swiss International Air Lines. She brought creative flair, and a serious sense of business like efficiency to her course work as she tenaciously acquired the skills to make her dream of being an interior designer a reality.

Her final project was an ambitious reworking the Hilton Hotel in Manchester, through a connection made when the then Head of Design for Hilton International came to talk to Inchbald students.  Michelle presented her final work at Cadogan Hall, which was also the venue for her debut as an Inchbald judge this year.

Michelle went to work for Mary Fox Linton, straight after her graduation and after several years moved to Desalles Flint. She is currently an Associate at Goddard Littlefair where she works principally on designing both small and large scale luxury hotels.

The work at this year’s exhibition was in Michelle’s words, “impressive” and she was struck by the variety and finesse of the projects on show.  In her awards speech, she congratulated all those exhibiting, recognising their hard work and the determination it takes to produce work of such a high calibre.  This was an especially significant remark made by a very successful graduate who embarked on an Inchbald course with no experience of design and has subsequently proved herself an asset to the profession.  Her current success comes as no surprise to the staff at Inchbald.

Printing Press Bar & Kitchen, Goddard Littlefair (c)

Alan Hughes. Principal

The Wonder Of Trees

Jacqueline Duncan OBE, Dean reflects on the use of large trees in garden design on her visit to Audley End, Essex.

Last weekend I took the opportunity  to re-visit the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) at Audley End and found it, handsome as ever and still in flower.

Audley End, Saffron Walden, Essex

Audley End is one of the most extraordinary of the great English mansions.   Once a monastic foundation more than twice its present size, it has served as a royal palace and latterly as a private home.   There is much to admire in the house, but surely the pride of the estate must be the magical parkland setting with a rich variety of specimen trees; and included in this collection is a magnificent tulip tree.   Find it to the left of the restaurant area as you look at the front elevation;  not yet at its peak it is the perfect size and spread, the curious rather fat leaves giving the plant a particularly attractive texture.   It is presently in the midst of flowering, the pretty bell shaped blooms with golden petals and orange stamens, the tree still covered in buds.

Liriodendron tulipifera

Through this exceptional parkland flows the Cam, with a small tributary running alongside the Walled gardens  featuring a fine double herbaceous border and some interesting orchard planting which will look magnificent in maturity.

Last year I planted a handkerchief tree (Davidia) purchased from Landford Trees and must wait some years for it to flourish the remarkable white sepals that appear in the late spring – here in Eccleston Square is a well established specimen that emphasizes the drama and the joy of trees.   This autumn I shall order a tulip tree from the same nursery and hope that some future guardian will benefit from its mature beauty.

If you find the notion of such a major tree in your garden overwhelming, then look at Cornus Eddie’s White Wonder, a beautiful plant of more modest size but offering a spectacular and long lasting flowering in the late Spring.

And go to Audley End – it is so worth a visit.

Easter Activity: Gardening With The Children

Easter is great time to get out into the garden but remember it isn’t just the adults who can help, involve the children!

Create a composter…

As the buds are bursting with new foliage start to clear the old leaves, which have covered the ground from winter.  If you have room start a leaf composter, this is a good way to return the goodness back to the soil and the kids can learn too.

Check out this one on Eco Friendly Kids

The main event – Easter Egg Hunt…

The Easter egg hunt is a clever way of getting all the family outdoors in spring.  Remember hide them well, think about giving them clues to their whereabouts.  Use plants as clues for example the egg is in amongst the daffodils or hanging from the rustling bamboo, this helps to nurture an early appreciation of nature embedding a natural respect for the environment.

Getting your hands dirty…

Children love digging – a quick trip to the local garden centre to stock up on some early summer blooms will allow the kids to interact with the garden.  A trick is to buy small and watch them grow.  This will encourage the children to nurture.  Get them to measure the plants once planted and keep a record of their growth.  Give them their own plot they will learn the hard way that plants need care in order to flourish and it also gives them a sense of ownership.

Children love digging in the garden

Look out for dead growth, as plants awake from their winter slumber it is easy to spot those areas which need pruning away.  Remember to edit rather than prune, you want to retain a more natural look rather than conform to a ball shape.  The current trend, seen in the upcoming Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show gardens, is for a more informal approach to gardening so relax and enjoy Easter.

Book Review: Alvar Aalto Architect

Alan Hughes reviews Alvar Aalto Architect by John Stewart

A retrospective commentary on an architect’s work is not such an unusual idea but in the hands of John Stewart this consideration of Finland’s greatest architect/designer turns into so much more.

Mr. Stewart, at the launch of the book spoke emotionally yet with some humour about how his determination to write a biography of the man, as well as the architect, tempered his forty years of hero worship of Aalto.  However, what he has crafted is a wonderful exploration of Aalto’s creative persona, his struggle to be successful and his battle with ego and perfectionism, adding a special dimension to the story which is partnered by a comprehensive consideration of his design output.

Illustrations are equally revealing with images of Aalto’s work accompanied by drawings and personal photographs, some published for the first time.  The context of the work is very well researched and presented giving a clear sense of how Aalto fits into his time and Stewart is full of anecdotal and intimate moments from the family and private life of one of Finland’s most recognised sons.  In the year that marks the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence this publication is very much in context.

Published by Merrell, London

The Manipulation Of Space With Colour

Alan Hughes discusses Tinie Tempah, colour psychology and how an interior designer can manipulate space with colour.

The concept that music can stimulate certain areas of the brain has prompted research by a team at Reading University to explore this theory.   English rapper and songwriter Tinie Tempah volunteered to undergo brain scans whilst listening to music and conclusions indicate that we are all fired by the impact of sound.  Certain areas of the brain ‘light up’, as we listen and the investigation is set to determine why these specific areas respond. This could be a clue as to which areas house our emotional responses and may begin to explain if particular areas of the brain are tuned to specific reactions?

The study attempts to quantify and measure personal reaction in a scientific manner, even though the effect may be no more dramatic than a ‘goose bump’.  

Tempah himself relates the analysis to his own compositions more immediately, stating that he needs the music to capture a feeling.   The scientists at Reading University however, aim to identify the level of activity in stem, cortex and cerebellum and the results of this exercise will impact on our perceptions across a wider field.

It comes as no surprise to the designer that sensory stimulus has an emotional consequence.   In spatial design a similar reaction can be provoked by colour and as the composition of the musician can be further inspired by music, so the Interior designer reacts to the stimulus of colour and can learn to manipulate space with visual impact.   The designer’s ability to assign colour for a purpose beyond cosmetic should be a major element in his or her perceived style and skill.

The educational centre in El Chaparral designed by Spanish architect Alejandro Munoz Miranda uses coloured glass in the communal corridors to elevate the students’ mood between classes

We are bombarded by stimuli on a number of levels and on a constant basis.   Initial impact is strong but this is reduced by repetition and, if you wish, familiarity.   Thus we experience a difference in brain activity between first impact and subsequent experience.  Nevertheless the impression penetrates more deeply into the brain than mere pleasurable response may suggest.

This information is not really new.   Many studies have shown that colour affects the heart rate, the recovery rate of patients, the behaviour of prison inmates and indeed the overall mood of the viewer.   Given this subjective reaction, the possibilities are interesting.   Once the student grasps the principles of colour and the differentials between aspects of warm and cold, advancing and recessive shades, so It becomes possible to change perceptions of form and scale with informed colour disposition.   Could anything be more empowering?

Fashions will come and go but the study of colour and its relationship to light, is one of the most important subjects in the lexicon of design education.

Read more about Tine Tempah: Mind-Blowing Music here.