Jacqueline Duncan OBE, Dean Inchbald School of Design

Jacqueline Duncan founded the Inchbald School of Interior Design in 1960, extending this to a Faculty in Garden Design in 1972. Her previous working experience included the management of the Michael Inchbald Studios, antique dealing also under the Inchbald banner and colour consultancy work.

It is now half a century since four distinguished interior designers decided to make a concerted effort to aid the establishment of the interior design profession in this country.

Interior design was not only flourishing in America but was seen as such a respected adjunct to architecture that many senior architects included specialist interior design studios within their partnerships.

Indeed, the progenitor of the idea of an English Association similar to AID was no less than Bill Pahlmann himself, one of the most talented and successful exponents of the US interior design industry, which was still in its infancy in England.

Bill Pahlmann visited London with a number of fellow decorators in about 1958 and expressed horror that there was neither a training centre nor a professional body offering stability to those younger designers who needed such support, not only to forward their own careers but that of the profession as a whole. Thus, after an impassioned lecture from Bill, I resolved to fill the gaps and started Inchbald in 1960.

In about 1962 I invited the senior exponents of interior design to come together, including David Hicks, (trained as a painter) John Siddeley (once an actor) and Jon Bannenberg (once a child prodigy concert pianist), to discuss the possibility of forming a professional association. The fourth member of this group was, of course, Michael Inchbald, my husband and an architect. Between them all, they shared great talent and a passionate approach to their chosen occupation.

It is probably true to say that designers are by definition mavericks, or at best individualists. However, these four designers had in common, talent, hard work and a passion for their elected path and they were certainly an inspiration to the aspiring young designers of their generation.

I was able to persuade them that we should pursue Bill’s idea, and it was John Siddeley who picked up the ball and ran with it. He organised a couple of large meetings with enthusiastic colleagues, but they failed to come to any constructive conclusions as to the methodology and the way ahead; so the idea lay dormant for a year or two, but not forgotten.

In the end it was revived by a businessman, Godfrey Bonsack, who brought some clarity to the undertaking and after initial problems, one or two serious, the Association rose like a phoenix from the muddle, and in due course became the respected British Institute of Interior Designers that the profession now enjoys and from which it has derived enormous benefit.

The foundation in 1960 of the Inchbald set the pace for the structured education and training of Interior Designers and Decorators and indeed gave rise to further successful educational centres.   

The profession, now so well established, recognizes the fundamental necessity of formal training, together with the vitality generated by the number of overseas students coming to England from a vast diversity of cultures.

The American greats are not well known in England but Bill Pahlmann was certainly one of the stars; we in England do owe him a great deal and having seen the growth of the design profession and the respect with which it is now perceived, I am so pleased that I had the privilege of meeting him all those years ago.

The English style has long been lauded internationally but now the English profession of interior design is well established, enjoying the worldwide interest and success that it has deserved for so long.

Biog: Jacqueline Duncan founded the Inchbald School of Interior Design in 1960, extending this to a Faculty in Garden Design in 1972. Her previous working experience included the management of the Michael Inchbald Studios, antique dealing also under the Inchbald banner, and colour consultancy work in Europe.

Extensive interior design commissions include both private and commercial work, the last project being a 60 metre yacht, completed with Michael Inchbald.

Jacqueline Duncan has served on the Copyright Committee, the Monopolies Commission and the Westminster City Council, and was a South Westminster magistrate from 1975–1995. She has written extensively in national newspapers and magazines and has published three books on interior design.  She is a Fellow of the International Interior Designers Association and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2013 for Services to Design.

In 2006 The Institute gave her an Award of Merit for her contribution to the profession in England.

The Inchbald School is now validated by Glyndŵr University for Post-Graduate Diplomas and MA studies in both Architectural Interior Design and Garden Design. In 2006 Inchbald launched the School’s Online courses with Inchbald Online.