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What price the beauty of antique furniture?

Jacqueline Duncan, OBE, discusses the shift in antiques from private use in homes, to museums and public spaces.

It would appear that the strong links once existing between the world of antique furniture and the design community are now almost non-existent.  It is surely regrettable that furniture produced in the 18th and 19th centuries should be increasingly ignored in terms of private use, to be viewed as exhibits in public spaces rather than enjoyed in the interiors for which they were intended.

The works of the English cabinetmakers in both centuries are not only beautifully designed but are of superb quality.

These are items that not only provide comfort and convenience but are visually a delight, effectively works of art.

Fashion swings from one extreme to another, and the popularity of furniture we called ‘antique’ has given way to the attraction of furniture made of contemporary materials with contemporary finishes, a trend that was started in the thirties and only interrupted by WW2 and the very different priorities of producer and public.

The pressures driving this change of direction are simple; today it is important that the care of an interior design is as simple and as convenient as manufacturers can possibly make it.   Classic furniture and artefacts require classic treatment; thus in a world where hot drinks are served in mugs, polished surfaces become a liability.   Washing up machines are not compatible with fine china and glass; underfloor heating is not good for valuable carpets and in addition to such considerations is the cost of good antiques and the added burden of insurance.

So what is the future for fine period furniture and indeed the professions allied to is distribution?  Is this amazing resource to be side-lined by contemporary designers?

Will such artifacts be relegated to buildings open to the public, for cursory inspection with little further interest in production or provenance?   In addition to the care involved, spiralling costs in both galleries and auction houses have certainly left private middle of the road clients disenchanted and the draconian buyers’ premium now imposed by auctioneers and passed on through the antique trade has not been helpful.

Cost is certainly a part of the thrust behind the fashion for ‘boho’ interiors.

Rooms are furnished with old provincial furniture now valued not for quality but for its aged appearance.   Strange perhaps that, whilst ignoring the appeal of quality and elegant design, clients still crave items that have an appearance of age;  damaged paintwork is applauded as having an ‘interesting patina’ and eccentric artefacts are graced with equally eccentric descriptions in auctioneers’ catalogues.

Is this odd preference a desire for familiarity, an atavistic link to our generic past, a reassurance of historic stability?   Or is it a manifestation of a fundamental difference in perception,  a move to the press button household where material values are a responsibility and the achievement of beautiful design, past or present, is side-lined in the Gadarene rush to the next appointment?

I hope not, if only in the interest of a contemporary contribution to the history of English culture.

Lessons From The Masters

Everyone seeks inspiration from iconic figures, both past and present – for creative guidance or for ways in which they have built their careers.   Henriette von Stockhausen (Inchbald Alumni) will join Giles Kime, interiors editor at Country Life, Stephen Lewis and Bunny Turner at London Design Week 2017 on Sunday 12th March in a session ‘Lessons From The Masters’ to explore what they have learned from the aesthetic heroes who have influenced their life and work.

You can attend by clicking the link here:

Lessons From The Masters

What’s My Style?

How does an interior design create their signature ‘look’ and become successful?  

For aspiring interior designers, or for that matter any designer, a signature look seems essential as a career statement and if any financial and publicity goals are to be achieved – the measure of success being a recognizable name and the business success that goes with it.

The “designer knows best” scenario often characterizes the achievement of such success, with clients being seemingly directed to accept what is fashionable or what the designer thinks they should have or indeed to accept a ‘complete look’ which can lead to a very raw end product. In such cases it can appear as if nothing has been acquired or contributed by the client at all and certainly the end result does not suggest how a home actually evolves – over time, with a slow accumulation of elements and choices.

Given that interior design is about ergonomics as well as atmosphere, function as well as decoration, there is clearly more to it than any purely stylistic fixation suggests.

So how should one go about educating a fledgling designer? Show them an approach to developing their ideas whilst asking them to examine who they are, in design terms. Why do they make the choices they do? How is his or her sensory perception different from everyone else’s? Once identified, personal taste or choice can be engaged when relevant or ignored when not, but certainly developed further.

Kelly Hoppen; synonymous with muted colours and fabrics

Assessing a client is the most interesting part of the process, trying to identify empathy between client and designer is the key. When there is a clear meeting of minds and taste then the designer’s enthusiasms can be interwoven into the brief. If the client is a world away from the designer, not unusual and not the disaster it may sound, then clear parameters in terms of style and feel can still be set up and exploited to satisfy both parties.

This approach does not mean the designer is faceless, merely that the expertise called upon is subject to nuance, governed by the clients attitude to their space, even if it is the designer who articulates what that attitude might be. The result is usually a happy client who feels they have been listened to and as a result have been given a unique response, a unique space. The signature for such a designer is in the approach that allows every client to be seen as an individual. This in turn develops the designer’s originality, as the most valuable asset is a designer’s original mind, precluding any repetition in design terms from project to project or client to client.

Designers must have an approach which allows every client to be seen as an individual thus avoiding repetition.

An educators role is to unwrap that originality, help the fledgling to see why they have such a unique view and coax that view into a robust and powerful thing that will stand up to professional assessment and standards.

Whatever the ‘style’ of a designer, even if it encouraged the client to make first contact, a client will still want to get to know the designer, to see if there is a connection and then develop from there. As the relationship deepens the initial reason for the choice of a designer might be less important than the continuing dialogue that will create a suitable and successful space.

Alan Hughes. Principal:  Inchbald School of Design.

Gluck; A Fascinating Artist No Longer Forgotten

This week saw the opening of an exhibition at the Fine Art Society, devoted to three women artists, one of them Gluck.

I went especially to see Gluck’s paintings which I have long admired – indeed we once had one in the family and to my eternal regret it was sold.   She was an extraordinary woman, with a wondrously classical profile belied by her tiny figure – she was only 5’2” tall, dressed elegantly like a man, and when I visited her studio was living with her partner Edith Head.   Edith was no taller than Gluck, with hazel curls, and a sweetness of manner that indicated, on brief acquaintance, a softer and perhaps less demanding  personality.

Gluck; Lilies, c. 1932-6

Gluck’s landscapes were challenging and I have always thought most successful,  her still lives concise and jewel brilliant.   The large Arum Lilies was painted for a client of Syrie Maugham and framed in a design of Gluck’s own which she took the rouble to patent, perhaps an interesting comment on her attitude to her art and her possessive attitude to it.    All the Glucks in the Exhibition are in private collections, with a waiting list of buyers should any come onto the market.   Ours was not there, sold some years ago for £3,000 at Christies.   It was originally purchased at the Gluck Exhibition in the thirties by horologist Courtenay Ilbert, the  only modern art work he ever bought, and like all the other owners he was devoted to it.   When he died Gluck rang up to ask if she could have it back!

Gluck’s world was the circle of Syrie Maugham, Oliver Hill and so many other luminaries of the thirties for whom she painted and with whom she collaborated.

WW2 caused a dramatic slippage in art and fashion and her achievements, like those  of her contemporaries, seem to have been quite overlooked in the rage for French and American painters.   Further, the break-up of so many English Mansions and their collections put a treasury of popular 18th century works on the market which became closely linked to the English Style and the ubiquitous Colefax and Fowler influence.   Thus the elegant designs of the artists and designers of the inter war era sank out of fashion, but as in all matters of design, only temporarily

I was delighted to see this incredibly talented woman’s work revived and re-assessed, even though this higher profile will make her paintings even more difficult to obtain. 

Inchbald, at the forefront of Garden Design 2017

Inchbald students, both past and present are at the forefront of Garden Design in 2017

2017 started with great excitement at the Society of Garden Designers Awards.  Inchbald graduate Dan Lobb won the two awards; Judges choice and Designing for Community Space with his project Breaker’s Yard. The judges said it was “An intriguing space. Fantastic design that has been very well handled. Characterful touches that really engage the community”.  Dan then went on to win the coveted Paper Landscape Award for his design Wishhanger.  The judges commented “A design that seamlessly blends the landscape with the architecture in a sensitive very beautiful way.  An extremely accomplished piece of work that shows great sensitivity to the landscape.”

Daniel Lobb’s Breaker’s Yard at Sutton House

The SGD also awarded John Brookes MBE The SGD Special Award for the Society’s most inspiration Fellows, a special Award at the SGD Awards Ceremony for his contribution to the industry.  John was a pioneering Director of the garden school in the early seventies and still has very strong links to the faculty.

Sophie Walker who graduated from Inchbald less than three years ago has teamed up with Anish Kapoor and Zaha Hadid Architects to submit an exciting competition entry to design The Holocaust Memorial in the shadow of The Palace of Westminster.  Her design is currently on show at Number 10 Downing Street.

“Our project, for the Holocaust Memorial in London, starts with a Memorial Grove of Cypress trees that lead to the National Monument, which is an abstracted form in the shape of a vast rock or meteorite. It sits half buried in the site and is to be viewed from an underground gallery or memorial hall, in which the object hovers above the viewer with a looming presence.

Also at this level, the exhibition space and the other public amenities can be accessed. Above ground the memorial can be entered through an opening in the form. It leads to an inner chamber, which is a perfect sphere. This is intended as a space of contemplation and it is our intention that it should be silent and at a low luminosity.

Meteorites, mountains and stones are often at the center if places of re ection, especially in the Jewish tradition. They call on the vastness of nature to be a witness to our humanity.

A memorial to the Holocaust must be contemplative and silent, such that it evokes our empathy. It must be a promise to future generations that this terrible chapter in human history can never occur again.”  

–       Anish Kapoor

You can see Dan Lobbs work at and check out Sophie Walkers competition entry here


Maison et Objet Trends; Fashion or Not

Maison & Objet Trends; Fashion or Not

A week or so on from Maison & Objet is a good time to reflect on what all the fuss was about and try to glean some design relevant conclusions whilst the feet recover.

The interdisciplinary trend continues with fashion, as ever, playing a large role with Roberto Cavalli adding to the ‘luxury textures’ and rivaling ‘Fendi’ for most eye catching fashion conversion. The idea seems always to promote luxury as a design element – it is not – it is a byproduct of perception, a contributor in terms of fine material, finish or craftsmanship. Would it be more honest to use the term ‘exclusive’?

“Trying to define luxury is a little more complex than exhibitions would suggest.”

Individuality is also a less easy thing to define and many interesting twists and reinterpretations figured this year. Portugal based Boco do Lobo created a stand of contrasting textures, relying on a mixture of colours and materials that promote the urge to touch, with unusual pieces, such as the Heritage cabinet and sideboard, drawing inspiration from blue and white china.  JNL, on the other hand, who equally tactile but coming from a completely different standpoint with clean, sharp furniture, geometric profiles, and a fantastic selection of state of the art lighting stretching off into a much more decorative, organic vein.

This year was also marked by the inclusion of Emily Johnson with her company 1882 Ltd.  Emily graduated from Inchbald a few years ago.  1882 has its energy firmly focused on producing contemporary china, using traditional craftsmanship and expertise. This policy reinvigorates the traditional skills associated with central England’s potteries, through contributing designers such as Fay Toogood, Deborah M. Allen and Lindsey Adelman.

Source: Emily Johnson 1882 Ltd

It seems that the combination of contemporary and classic is the sub text here; looking to history for design clues, or craft and materials that juxtapose form and surface detail, creates exciting contradictions. This might well fall under the heading ‘variety is the spice of life’ which has slightly more clarity than ‘eclectic’ as a response to what is in vogue at the moment.

History informs and elucidates the present and in design terms, rather than political ones, we have the skill to recognise that when an influence or a reference has been absorbed and re-invented as something new, it is valid has an individual originality. If the influence has not had time to simmer in the brain of the designer, if it surfaces too quickly, it runs the risk of being shallow and pastiche.

Maison & Object is always a combination of the original and the pastiche, with varying degrees of success. So when pundits select the key elements, this year’s colour, green, this year’s fabrics, soft Chanel inspired, they are quite rightly summarising – this is the overview but I would suggest that most visitors focus on singular impressions, some aspect that triggers and appeals to the individuality in all of us. As Interior Designers this is our strength. We need to respond to specific circumstances whether it be a client, a place or a memory that inspires. We do not want the next new style regardless of relevance.

“Exhibitions such as Maison do make the design world go around and the variety is welcome ensuring that the ‘one size fits all’ mentality will not prevail.  That is perhaps the only design conclusion that is relevant.”

5 Minutes With Henrietta Spencer-Churchill

What influnces Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, one of the UK’s leading interior designers and an Inchbald alumni?

My mother was artistic and I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by beautiful architecture, and I think that influenced me more than anything else.

Prior to arriving at the Inchbald School (age 18), I had lived in Florence and Paris which developed my love of European architecture as at that time I was studying History of Art and Languages.  It was a very good grounding as I knew I wanted to continue in that field but I was not certain of exactly what I wanted to do.  When I got back to London that summer I was adamant that I did not want to do a secretarial course, as many of my friends had, which is when I turned to thinking about interior design and applied to do the  Inchbald course.

I was passionate about interior design and the motivation from the tutors at Inchbald helped me to excel.  Following my time at the school I got my first job with Diana Hanbury; this was the perfect opportunity for me as it was a small company which allowed me to get exposure to clients and projects as Diana threw me in at the deep end.  This installed a lot of self-confidence which has been vital in this industry.

My current practice Spencer-Churchill Designs and Woodstock Designs, was started in 1981 with a shop in Woodstock and an office/studio in London. I often have interns from The Inchbald but also try to nurture and develop local talent from the community.  Whilst I still take on commissions in London and worldwide ( I have a US company also Spencer-Churchill Designs Inc)  I have built a reputation specializing in then renovation and refurbishment of listed properties, which hails back to my upbringing at Blenheim and my love of the Georgian era.

Do You Need A Degree To Become An Interior Designer?

The foundation of a pioneering centre of design education has involved much determined enthusiasm and perhaps a benign ignorance in terms of the pitfalls that accrue over the years in any endeavour.   Over some sixty years of involvement in this absorbing subject I have learned a great deal about the requirements of design education and the practice of the profession.   Thus the basics of the Inchbald philosophy have been refined over time and can be summarized under these six main headings which are the stated aims of the college.

It is the Inchbald responsibility:

  1.   To provide a professional education for those who wish to work in high-end Interior Design or Garden Design
  1.   To teach the skills of ongoing learning so that students continue to extend their knowledge both culturally and technically after the Inchbald experience.
  1.   To inform students of the Designer/Client relationship and to identify the psychology of empathy in such a relationship
  1.   To expose students to the experience and perspectives of senior Designers
  1.   To encourage work experience so that students may learn the realities of studio work and methodology
  1.   Finally to develop the individual skills of each student with emphasis on the fact that style/fashion is secondary to talent and inspiration.

The achievements of the Inchbald Alumni are internationally renowned.

The work of the Inchbald alumni is evidence of an extensive variety of talents and skills.   There is no uniformity in their achievements, only the shared experience of a structured education together with a considered introduction to the profession and its major practitioners.   Henrietta Spencer Churchill is the doyenne of the English style, Tatiana Tafur an innovative artist designer whose work has a myriad facets and Kelly Hoppen is a master of sophisticated modernity.   They are all very successful and very different;  but  together with many hundreds of Inchbald alumni these are people who have built on a sound educational basis to develop their own inimitable style.

Principal Alan Hughes takes particular interest in the designer/client relationship;  “it is vital” he remarks, “to demonstrate to the student how they may develop their own ideas whilst taking note of the client’s background, experience and taste.”   Contrary to much opinion in the art world, there is no-one who lacks taste, however that taste may be judged.

“Once identified, personal taste or choice can be engaged and developed further, so that the space reflects the client’s attitudes;  it is the designer who articulates those attitudes in order to coax experience and opinion into a robust and coherent result.”

This fundamental lesson encourages the students, not only to accord their clients the privilege of their own views but serves to expand the young designer’s thought process and perspective.

I have always taken the view that we can learn and benefit from the brilliance of past designers who have laid down principles of style development which it is impossible to ignore.   The history of design is the very grammar of the profession and I was saddened at the last BIID General Meeting that the audience did not seem to have assimilated the importance of this learning source.   Is the Parthenon not significant in the development of Western architecture?   Is Morris not still regarded as a master of pattern and weave and do we not still use his designs to this day?   Surely then these forerunners of today’s designers are more than worthy, indeed are vital, to the study which involves not only styles through the centuries but also the technological developments that accompany all innovation – and innovation is the very essence of design.

The technological advances of the recent years have been startling in the celerity with which so much has been achieved but these advances are not limited to the last two or three generations – what incredible and unsung engineer in 3,100 BC master- minded the movement of the stones of the blue mountains of Wales to Dorset, what brilliant Japanese mind devised the system of stone cutting which built castles with perfect joins, the stones processed off the site?

No matter how talented, how experienced, how successful, we have a great deal to learn on a daily basis and learning is surely the greatest joy.

This article first appeared in Interior Design Yearbook 2017


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