Category Archives: Alan Hughes

Andrew Martin Awards 2017


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.

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.


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

Can I be a Designer?

Alan Hughes, Principal of Interior Design School discusses how Inchbald can equip you to become a designer and answers the most common question he is asked at interview; can I be a designer?

Every year, in the course of my work, I interview a lot of students; young people starting out on their career and older ones who wish to change the pathway of their work, who would like to concentrate their energies on “something I have always wanted to do”.   And all my interviewees have the same concern – do you think I am good enough to earn my living as a designer – am I creative enough to justify aspiring to success in this profession.

There is much uncertainty around the issue of creativity, and the methodology of communicating and implementing creative ideas.   One of the problems is that artistic skills of any kind have too often been subject to elitism.   This has a great deal to do with early education, when artistic children must demonstrate a high level of talent in order to be taken seriously as contenders for any artistic profession.   This is a selective process which in itself downgrades the natural talents and possibilities of those who could so easily excel with more informed encouragement.

Put more simply, if you have a flair for maths then you are perceived as having the potential to be a successful accountant and encouraged accordingly, but creativity is a more elusive talent and the artistic professions are seen to be more rarefied.

The fact is that we all have an inbuilt reaction to our surroundings in terms of our personal choices of dress, food, comfort and more specifically environment; Thus the average person in the course of their life makes thousands of selective decisions which are dominated by knowledge or education – or the lack of it.   Those reactions are halfway to the point when we actually wish to improve, and begin to design.

However, students aware of the challenges need to know if they can be sure their natural talents will be sufficient in a professional situation; and this includes those who may have had considerable success with their own houses/gardens or those of their friends.   Without benefit of disciplined study such minor success does not necessarily convert into professional achievement.

Often the next uncertainty may be voiced as “I can’t really draw”.   This is a skill which is much easier to learn than my students anticipate.  We teach students to draw far quicker than they anticipate, and of course we teach them the magic complexities of computer aided design.   Once mastered, CAD is almost too easy; equipped with these two systems of communication everyone will find it simple and rewarding to translate their ideas smoothly onto drawing board or screen.    Drawing, like CAD, is a tool, not an end in itself, and in realising this the worry about the skill involved will evaporate.

With those initial fears conquered comes the freedom and exhilaration of design reality together with the pure pleasure of expressing ideas and implementing them.   Students who doubt their ability can take heart from the fact that good and concerned education supporting their own talent and discipline will take them into a successful and very rewarding career.

Any career is a challenge but good education equips us all to face those challenges and overcome them.

Alan Hughes, Principal

NLA Annual Lecture 2017 by Sir David Adjaye OBE

It was a privilege to listen to architect and designer Sir David Adjaye OBE, in conversation with Peter Murray, the founder of the London Festival of Architecture at the Royal Geographical Society.

It is clear from Adjaye’s work, and his words, that he is an extraordinary talent but what came through most strongly was a really investigative approach in terms of how the response to a brief can develop. It is perhaps obvious to say but his attitude to each client, each job that he spoke of ‘authoring’, is one of an open view as to where the project might lead. Commenting that a consequence of public recognition often makes the audience assume they will get something that they could identify as an Adjaye style building, he was very clear to emphasise that clients would be disappointed as he and his collaborators approach each new project from a very individual standpoint resulting in an appropriate outcome, rather than one that could be identified as having the Adjaye look.

The development of a personal style is often a concern for new designers; Adjaye is a great exponent of those who utilise an ‘approach to the process of design’ as their style. He advises that the outcome can and should lead anywhere.

The collaborative element to Adjaye’s work was much discussed. With offices in the US, Africa and London, he stressed the diversity of his fellow designers in studio and celebrated the varied cultural influences available particularly in London. “I am lucky to travel all around the world, the people I meet, they envy London its diversity, its creative energy as a centre for culture and design”. He collaborates with many other architects, running what seems to be a multidisciplinary studio; Chris Ofili, Deyan Sudjic, James Turrell to name but three, pulling on all areas of fine art and design. His sustainable approach indicates a broad view and is “more about lifestyle and how we live” than simply focused on material and carbon footprint. He thinks about the use of a space for everyday life, mixing in with what is already established. Idea Store in Whitechapel High Street showcases this approach as a community library, presented in a completely democratic manner and rubbing shoulders with market stalls and regular ‘high street’ activity, completely at ease in such an achievement.

Questions from young, and older architects completed the evening with encouragement and advice. His message, decide what you want to do and follow that decision but do it with passion. Clear, sincere and eminently good advice, the passion from the speaker was obvious.

Alan Hughes

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.



Inchbald Spring Lunch 2017

Mrs Duncan and Charles Funke
Nic Savage, Stephanie Mahon and Andrew Duff

The Spring lunch was held this year on Shrove Tuesday at the Cavalry and Guards club, a venue which is very popular with our guests.

Sarah Morgan and Paul Girardot
Frances Penn, David Mlinaric and Susie Rumbold, President of BIID

Guest of honour was David Mlinaric, who long ago worked for Michael and Jacqueline Inchbald before going on to be the leading authority on the restoration of important houses in both England and Ireland. David brought his daughter Frances, who has now started her own studio.

Dean Keyworth, Nina Campbell, Claire Foggett from The English Garden and Annie Stevens
Lulu Lytle from Soane, Broosk Saib and Sammy Wickins from Helen Green Design

All the guests at this event are distinguished in their own spheres; they included Annie Stevens, past President of BIID, Diana Yakeley, also a past President and newly honoured with the OBE for her contribution to the progress of the British Institute of Interior Design.

Keisha Hulsey from Staffan Tollgård and Lavinia Dargie
Joanna Wood, Susie Rumbold, Simon Playle and Mary Fox-Linton

Old friends included architect Guy Greenfield, graduates Tatiana Tarfur, Keisha Hulsey from Staffan Tollgård, Nic Savage now working in Garden Design, and Nina Campbell a long ago student, now internationally famous.

Lulu Lytle and Tatiana Tafur
Alan Hughes and Suzanne Trocmé

It was a lovely day, most suitable for a Spring lunch and everyone enjoyed the event; most particularly hostess Jacqueline Duncan.

Dean Keyworth and Nina Campbell
Guy Greenfield and Sammy Wickins

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.

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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.”

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