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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:

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”!

Interior decorating and agriculture!

On 4th July I was invited to a Summer lunch by Country Life and was able to solve a question. Some twenty years ago a new manufacturer Jim Lawrence, started issuing full page ads featuring light fittings and various artifacts aimed at Interior designers. Surprised by the fact that I had never heard of Jim Lawrence, I asked someone about him and the reply was laconic; “he’s a farmer” I was told and there was no further explanation.

It just seemed surprising at the time, and I have often wondered about the connection between agriculture and interior decoration. On Tuesday I found myself sitting next to the real Jim Lawrence, ready to explain that he was indeed a farmer, that he had changed direction but that he still ran Belted Galloways on his land. So there we were, both heavily involved in the world of design and both devotees of Belties, cattle that I used to breed. There was much to discuss!

On my left was charming Becky Metcalfe, who works in the offices of Chelsea Harbour and opposite was Penny Whitlock who works for her father’s firm, Primeoak. Later I checked out a very attractive website featuring country architecture. Acting hostess was Kathryn Bradley Hole; I have seen a lot of her work but had not had the privilege of meeting her; so lunch was not only interesting but inspiring.

Later in the week I attended the AGM of the British Institute of Interior Design where I found more friends. The Institute was started around 1961 in Milner Street at a lunch I gave for David Hicks, John Siddeley and Jon Bannenberg. Michael was uncertain about the whole idea, and the others were surprised by it but I pointed out that America was well ahead of the UK in its understanding of and support for the Interior design profession and we should follow that example. The school was already started and we needed to regulate the practice and disciplines of designers. Siddeley organised a larger meeting which was received with general enthusiasm but no decisions were taken and no Chairman elected. Unhappily the stars all wanted to be chairman and none of them wanted to do the work!

I should take this opportunity then, to thank and congratulate those hardworking presidents who have brought the BIID to its successful accomplishments and have defined the status of its members.

Jacqueline Duncan, Dean

Inchbald Online Spring Induction

The Inchbald held the Spring Induction for the Online courses in Interior and Garden Design on 25 – 27 April.

This is a three day introduction to the designing eye, supported by extensive instruction in the Inchbald teaching/learning methodology.

The programme includes the London Walk comprising a day spent visiting the art and architectural wonders of this great city, together with sketching exercises in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Students have the opportunity to meet and socialise with their tutors, who will pay such an important part in their life during the Courses.

This group includes applicants from as far away as Australia and Egypt, Dubai and Europe. The mix of nationalities and cultures enriches the online experience, which is forum based, so that students and tutors are interacting with each other, exchanging views and information, throughout the whole course. Many overseas students attend the inductions, but where this is not practical there is a special Online Induction session designed for them.

There are a number of courses of varying length available to those who wish to study design on line; Inchbald has now been educating students in this manner since 2007 and their studies are proved to lead to successful and rewarding careers.

The Spring intake of the Inchbald Online Courses left very happy – ‘it was more like a holiday’ said one of them. That is the joy of working in design related subjects – it is life enhancing.