‘I strive to create proportions that are correct in the design to realise a comfortable space for whoever the user, and to ensure that the house which the design surrounds sits comfortably within its embrace’. John Brookes
An Icon of garden design, it is not an exaggeration to say that John Brookes has influenced us all as designers. He enjoyed a staggering career from the early 1950’s working until his death this week paving the way for modern garden design. Brookes was a Course Director of Inchbald School of Garden Design and enjoyed an ongoing close relationship with the school. He will be remembered for his extensive writings, lectures and his ability to communicate garden design to the masses. Above all he showed us that ‘a line is not simply a line but a conversation’.
Eleanor Hall (Diploma Architectural Interior Design) graduated from Inchbald in 2015 after winning the Principal’s Prize. She is now working at Tessuto.
Eleanor has written a guest blog for us lamenting the loss of “brown antiques” in modern interior design schemes – bring back brown!
“Brown furniture”. A distinctly uninspiring title conjuring up images of rambling and dilapidated country houses, National Trust properties or furniture left to you in a great aunt’s legacy.
One thing is for certain, for many people this type of furniture does not have a place in modern life.
Thirty years ago brown furniture was the cornerstone of the country saleroom and London’s Fulham Road was known as “the brown mile” for its wealth of antique dealerships.
However, those halcyon days are now firmly behind us. As reported in the Financial Times last year, the value of high-end antique furniture has fallen astronomically. English pieces from the Regency period and the 18th century are worth 30 per cent less than 10 years ago and French 18th century furniture has halved in value over the same period.
As an interior designer, one often feels the pressure to follow the latest ‘trends’, finding new pieces for clients which perform on a multi-functioning level. The demand for single-use pieces has decreased. Brown furniture does not fit into the design aesthetic of modern life. People ask for clean, modern, Italian or Scandinavian style furniture that fits into modern lateral style apartments. The problem with a lot of old furniture is that it is often very large in scale and needs room to breathe – think Downton Abbey rather than 2 bed apartment in Bermondsey. With London’s prime real estate market now worth more than £12000 per square metre, every millimetre of space counts and it becomes a mortal sin to waste it on a George III Regency Chest.
As a result, one of the things that so often gets forgotten is the classic antique piece of furniture. After all, who can find space for a “what-not” in a modern apartment?
However, there is a mounting campaign for reclaiming the right of brown furniture to a place in the twenty-first century home.
In 2015 Jeremy Lamond, the fine art director at the auction house Halls of Shrewsbury, launched a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #BringBackBrownFurniture. Mr Lamond called for us to take our brown furniture out of the attic and for interior designers to use it as part of an interior concept; as the ‘making of an interior’. Clients may already have antiques handed down to them by a great aunt or grandmother, in which case the job of the interior designer is then to consider how to incorporate favourite pieces into their design, rather than encouraging them to replace an old family heirloom with something sleek and Italian. That is not to say that these items cannot sit alongside new pieces of furniture or modern wall treatments – indeed I actually think that the juxtaposition of old and new furniture can create the most wonderful, personal and eclectic interiors.
I believe strongly that antique furniture can be aesthetically appealing to the modern eye if styled carefully and with consideration for its historical value.
Recently I was fortunate enough to visit the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, where art dealer and antiques guru Axel Vervoordt has curated the most inspiring installation that challenges our notions of how antique furniture can be incorporated into 21st century design. Within the walls of the Gothic Palazzo, visitors will find an elegant treasure trove of modern art and sculpture, with works by artists such as Anish Kapoor and Anthony Gormley sitting happily alongside classic Italian antique furniture.
A British designer who has done more than her bit to “bring back brown furniture” is Rose Uniacke. Her showroom and design studio on the Pimlico Road showcases a wonderful mélange of the old and the new. Her designs complement the antique pieces that she incorporates and gives them new life and relevance. Furniture showrooms such as Jamb (Pimlico Road) and decorative antiques fairs like the one held at Battersea Park are also excellent places to spot pieces that can be interspersed with newer items in a contemporary interior.
So why not spend time a little time indulging in a spot of “antiquing” at the weekend, challenging perceptions of how the modern home should look and bringing life and purpose back to beautiful antique furniture.
Principal Alan Hughes attended the Andrew Martin Interior Designer of the Year awards held at Burlington House this year. The wonderful gallery in Piccadilly was packed to its beautifully gilded ceiling with the great and the good from the interiors world. The winner, Erin Martin, received her award from Stephen Fry, who spoke eloquently of the skills of the interior designer and Oscar Wilde’s commentary on the importance of design to a civilised society. Judges Kit Kemp and Jade Jagger cited Erin Martin’s playfulness as a deciding factor in their deliberations, a theme echoed by Martin Waller in his introductions.
Inchbald associates and graduates were much in evidence and it was very gratifying to see Imraan Ismail included this year. Helen Green Design also made the grade, congratulations to Sammy Wickins and the team at Milner St. In a world that seems to hand out awards with ease it was gratifying to see such a well-attended and enthusiastically supported event, BIID President Charles Leon, and former president Susie Rumbold to name but two, alongside Nicky Haslam, last year’s winner, Joanna Wood and a large contingent of designers from China, some of whom Inchbald hosted at a successful cross cultural event last year. A truly international event.
Thanks to Martin Waller for organising such a wonderful evening.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”!
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.
The Inchbald Exhibition, featuring the Students’ work of the 2016/17 Courses, was held as usual at the Cadogan Hall and was considered by visitors to be an excellent example of good tuition allied to talent and extremely hard work.
Distinguished judges included Tim Gosling, David Harber, Annie Stevens and Anthony Paul. In addition, one of our own ex students, Michelle Holland, now working for Goddard Littlefair, joined the panel, bringing knowledge of the School and new experience to the verdicts.
Among the prizewinners, Julia Zeen (Garden) and Alex Joergensen (Interiors) are both now working for the distinguished Phillipa Thorpe organisation. Rob Sutcliffe and Leigh Glover (both Garden) have started their own companies and we look forward to hearing of their success. Jack McCoy, with several others, is proceeding to taking his Masters at Inchbald.
A number of students are currently working as interns, some have returned to their own countries as interns or working designers.
Casper Mackenzie spent his gap year at Inchbald (I think that was a first) and returns to Leeds University to complete his degree there. Perhaps we will welcome him back for his Masters!
One or two, of course, have gone on holiday, and very well deserved!
Meanwhile, the School stays open in preparation for the intake of 17/18 and we look forward to welcoming all our new students, as well as those continuing with their studies here in 2018.
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.
Colour, space, light can all be manipulated to provoke the imagination, or even provide a gentle joke!
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.