The designer famed for her use of colour shares her inspirations, style secrets and take on the British design scene
WHERE DOES YOUR INTEREST IN DESIGN STEM FROM?
I had very artistic parents and grew up in very contemporary homes, so I discovered from a young age that I wanted my work to be in a creative environment.
HOW DID YOU MOVE TOWARDS LAUNCHING DESIGNER’S GUILD IN 1970?
I started out as an interior designer, but couldn’t find fabrics that I wanted to work with so eventually decided to do it myself. I wanted to create a lifestyle for people – at a time when no one else was doing it. It was exciting, but also risky. I had done a lot of decorating, but had zero formal training. But I was passionate and that was key.
HOW DID YOU SET UP SHOP?
I got 30 metres of fabric printed, and started selling them out of a part of the shop that we still have on the Kings Road – the sliver on the corner.
CAN YOU THINK OF A BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT?
When people from other countries started visiting the showroom and asking to be our agents and distributors. That was 1973 or 1974. We had our first trade exhibition in Paris in the mid Seventies – that really got things going.
WHERE DO YOU LOOK FOR INSPIRATION FOR YOUR COLLECTIONS?
Travelling has always been key. I go to India every year, and I also have a passion for Italy, where we have a home. There are so many things to see – antiquities, architecture, paintings – from Giotto and Perugino to the contemporary work of Sandro Chia. I think you find inspiration by looking for it. My husband is an opera fanatic, and we go to a lot of theatre and ballet, so I see incredible sets and costumes. And I also love gardening and food. Inspiration can come from anything. It might be a scrap of ancient fabric, an exhibition, an interesting archive, or even a post box. This is what I have tried to convey with my latest book.
CAN YOU SUM UP THE DESIGNER’S GUILD LOOK?
Let’s say – contemporary, innovative, eclectic, and decorative. Actually although I say decorative, it’s also minimal – minimal in the canvas.
DO YOU THINK THE BRAND HAS CHANGED OVER THE DECADES?
Although it has grown massively, our concept has remained faithful to the original idea, which was to create a lifestyle for people. I don’t really follow trends, but collections evolve; the new range is a bit stronger and more masculine than previous ones.
BUT OF COURSE THE BRITISH DESIGN SCENE HAS EVOLVED, HASN’T IT?
Yes – it’s much more competitive now, but that’s exciting. People are also more receptive and open to ideas. Hotels, such as the Haymarket or anything by the Kemps, are the new style-makers. People are inspired by these spaces and want to be able express themselves through their interiors, just as they do with their fashion.
WHAT IS IT THAT YOU PARTICULARLY LOVE ABOUT COLOUR?
When you get up, and you see amazing blue sky, and wonderful landscape – don’t you find that stimulating? It gives me energy.
ANY RULES FOR DECORATING WITH BOLD HUES?
It’s all about balance. We use a lot of black, white and ecru. We have fantastic natural and neutral fabrics. I like to use hard floors and put coloured rugs on them, and I work with white ceilings. It is about creating a calm atmosphere. Colour should be strong but subtle – I don’t like garish. That said, it could be one garish object in a room that makes it pop, like a fluorescent pink lamp in a black-and-white room. Educate your eye by making your own collage boards with postcards, bits of fabric, magazine tears.
ANY COLOURS THAT YOU ARE IN TO AT THE MOMENT?
I am faithful to the colours that I like to live with. I love designing with all sorts of shades, that’s my job, but I prefer to live with cool hues. That’s not to say I don’t like shots of warm colour, but the main artery is blues and greens – they are like neutral to me.
TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT THE SCHEME AT HOME?
Although I’ll never tire of cool colours against a white backdrop, I do also practise what I preach and I am always experimenting. I haven’t changed my wall colours for 15 years, but I do update my fabrics as I want to live with my work.
TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR DESIGN TEAM…
Designer’s Guild is a family business. My brother Simon joined 20 years ago and we have the same aspirations, even though he is a businessman and I am a creative. I knew that I needed him and I think that he wanted a vehicle with which to express his creativity, which is business.
ARE THERE PARTICULAR BRANDS OR DESIGNERS THAT YOU RATE?
There is a fantastic company called MDF, which makes beautiful hard furniture. Vitra is great, and we have a lot of its products in our stores. I love Hella Jongeris’ work, and have some of her ceramics in my home. Jasper Morrison is another excellent designer.
WHAT ABOUT FROM OUTSIDE OF THE DESIGN WORLD?
I adore Howard Hodgkin’s paintings. I approached him years ago and asked him if he would design textiles with us and he agreed – they are beautiful. It is great working with different disciplines. I also love fashion designer Christian Lacroix, who we have also done fabric collections with.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WITH COLLABORATIONS?
I like variety. William Yeoward’s style couldn’t be more different from mine, but I love his work, so that was a great project. And we were approached by the curators of the Royal Collections, which was flattering. They have a very classical way of working which was stimulating for me.
DO YOU OWN ANY FAVOURITE DESIGN OBJECTS?
I have a drawing of Howard’s (Hodgkin) that I cherish, and a gorgeous Craigie Aitchison painting. Also anything by ceramicist Liz Hodges. I first discovered her 25 years ago when she was a student, and I still work with her today.