From COVER 47, Summer 2017: COVER meets Dr Vanessa Brady OBE, award-winning interior designer and founder of the Society of British and International Design
When did you found the SBID and what were your aims behind it?
I began in the formation of SBID in April 2009. I had been asked to formalise and structure the UK interior design sector to bring it into line with other creative fields such as the fashion, TV, radio and the music industries. I had several aims that each needed to be successful to achieve the overall goal. Amongst many, a central concern was the lack of regulation in the market which allowed an unqualified hobbyist to practice under the title of an interior designer. This left the consumer with nowhere to go for complaints when the designer failed to provide the service they had promised. It was important to create a separation between qualified and ratified industry professionals and hobbyists without damaging the passion of design enthusiasts.
Secondly, SBID was created to provide a path for students in education to enter the industry with ease and to connect with the sectors in manufacture and design in a professional business environment. This was necessary, not only in order to educate the public of the value that design brings to users as well as the commercial value it provides to industry and the UK government, but also to shake off the image of interior design as an expensive hobby for the elite.
How have those aims been realised? What additional benefits arose from setting up the organisation?
Obviously whenever there is a new entrant to market the existing players make one of two choices; you are either regarded as an opportunity or a threat. I think I definitely achieved both and I anticipated it to take a year but I seriously underestimated competitor retaliation in this creative industry.
As I began to hit barriers I realised that the UK would not make it if it was not an international player so I sought consent to convert it to an international organisation. This changed the dynamics entirely. I set out to create the first standards for entry by formal education and experience in the UK through the SBID and the international code of conduct set out by the European Council of Interior Architects. It ensured that for the first time in the UK, we had a standard of entry based on ability measured by education. Nothing in the UK had previously measured the time and effort a designer may have placed in education so this important separation created a measure of comfort for a consumer that separated a hobbyist from a professional.
Suddenly instead of measuring how the UK was conducting itself in the world, I looked at how the world was conducting itself and then altered the UK platform to fit in it. That was the aha moment.
What do you see as being the most important developments within the interior design industry over the last ten years?
The internet! Social media has developed in the last decade and tech has altered the way we live our lives, the way we design our homes, eat our food, communicate, correspond and spend our money. We have lived through a life-changing moment like the invention of the telephone or electricity. It is a revolution and when it came, it came very fast. Social media has made the world a single zone and created an accessible international market. Now in reality, every business with a website and a social media platform is an international business.
What projects have been important for you over the last ten years?
I think the most important projects have been launching the SBID International Design Awards, the eSociety magazine and the SBID Yearbook as well as the Fellow of the Year Award and linking education in practice to the industry for the first time. As SBID is a not-for-profit organisation, the profit goes back into the development of the organisation so that it can diversify rather than paying it to shareholders. It was therefore important to hit my targets before I could acquire financial government support, but when it came, it was an endorsement that was much appreciated not just for the financial element but for the acknowledgement.
What trends can you see emerging in interiors?
One of the biggest changes in the home is multi sharing occupancy in generations, size and configuration. The demographic at home has changed from gender and social mix. There is no longer a typical family unit. The single person unit home is very popular as we have grown into a more solitary race. As we are all living longer we need to future-proof our homes ensuring they are safe as well as compliant but also designed for the user of all ages. Age-sensitive interiors (usually younger-feeling interiors) are definitely emerging as we have seen in other industries such as fashion and cosmetics, rather than old-age, comfort-style furniture and furnishings.
Do your clients follow trends or go on individual style?
My clients are divided into two categories; I have formal clients and a few private clients. I don’t take many of the latter as I am unable to attend with a regular commitment of visits due to my hectic schedule but in both cases I aim to fit the lifestyle and timeframe that the design is being carried out for. Sometimes a home is designed for ten years and a restaurant might be just two or three years. This ensures I don’t over-design it and make it too time-sensitive, too ‘now’ fashion so that in a couple of years it could be out of date. Also, my clients buy quality products so rather than a trend, they look for uniqueness and customised features. However, they will be influenced by shape of finishes in trends definitely but not the most immediate fashion item.
How easy is it to express a client’s personality in an interior space?
I usually assess their lifestyle from their style of dress, by seeing the frills, casual, print, and colour in a woman’s clothing, I can determine the type of fabric that she leans towards. It sometimes tells me about glamorous or functional, or easy-to-clean surfaces and fabrics which helps me to propose colours, patterns, textures and basic designs that will appeal.
In men, you can get inspiration from their choice of adornments, how they like to live, how much they gesticulate and how they sit, sometimes even the car they drive and the watch they wear along with the shoes and suit designer they choose to wear. This guides me to a style that they are attracted to. My job is to then assemble their taste, with the products I specify that perform for their use and lifetime requirements and will complement the style of the building. My design will be of an interior to fit the lifestyle of the users along with the budget, durability and timeframe of the client brief until their next intended refurbishment.
How would you define luxury?
Funnily enough it is a word that is associated with cost and I don’t see it as that at all. In my view, luxury is an emotion. A lie-in in a super king sized bed; a long soak in a bath; a night off; time with friends and people you like to spend time with, this is luxury. I see it as an adjective rather than a noun. Luxury soap, luxury destinations, luxury chocolate is not really what it once was. Everyone uses the word so loosely along with the word icon in interiors. A luxury item could be renamed as a quality made item then it’s not about the cost, although it will always form part of what creates a luxury item by definition, but it will be more about the way in which it was manufactured, the materials used and the rarity or exclusiveness of it. That for me is a luxury item.
Has your experience as a CDA judge at Domotex Hannover in January 2017 had any influence on your use of rugs in interiors?
Actually yes, it has, I judge many awards and the Domotex Carpet Design Awards stood out to me for their diversity and the measures used to define the categories. I definitely had to give more thought to the categories as they were more than I had expected. We spent an entire day passing over the entries and debating them one by one. I learned from the experience and about some of the materials used and their cleaning processes which provide additional flexibility for alternative locations for rug placement such as bathrooms and communal space where I would not normally think of using rugs, but once I learned more about their manufacture and material, why not?
Did any carpets you saw there inspire you?
Well it is such an enormous show and with terrific pavilions from countries around the world, it would be hard to attend the show and not be inspired or impressed by the various differentials. I liked the sectors from woven to wood and vinyl even a variety of grasses. In addition there was a variety of price-points and that means there is something for everybody at every price level. Financial privilege should not eliminate choice and therefore Domotex has it spot on!
I noticed the scale of the stands and the cost in their design and I can interpret the return on investment from the returning exhibitors – it must be a great show for them or they wouldn’t keep doing it, and that is why the show has grown. The presentation is global and the buyers range from government public space to retailers and the next generation of residential designers with everything in between. I was pleased to consult and to see things being implemented. Bringing SBID to a new environment is an amazing opportunity for us.
How do you use rugs within interior schemes? Do you focus on texture or colour in a room?
I definitely focus on colour and texture and I tend to create a timeless canvas so that the decoration pieces can be updated every five or ten years without massive expense to the overall interior design and this means that rugs, accessories and personal memorabilia make the space personal and reasonably inexpensive to update. My job is to design the main infrastructure that scales the space and layout and to provide the best layout for the function so that the user can move around within in safety and at ease and in doing this, I should maximise the feeling of overall space. With so much open-plan living, rugs have become an integral part of defining zones for each function, such as dining, entertaining and relaxing. This is further defined by the texture and pattern of the rugs for the spaces specified.
How are people currently covering their floors, both in general terms and also with rugs?
We moved away from fitted carpets throughout a home about twenty years ago. Slowly wood took over but as this was noisy and hard to maintain for some spaces, these surfaces have learned to live comfortably side by side. Rugs are a natural link between the spaces. I see more tiled floors in the UK than ever before.
This would never have been an option previously because of the weather but underfloor heating changed that restriction and provided light-coloured floors as an additional option that works in wet and muddy conditions better than many alternative surfaces. The inclusion of a rug creates an atmosphere and anchors the interior together sometimes by colour, sometimes by the space’s function, such as an entrance or TV area, and sometimes simply by filling a large vacant space. I think tiles changed about ten years ago to fit the scale of open-plan interiors and other than the issue of handling these large heavy tiles, the introduction of tiles at one and three square meters has changed the interior options available for the better.
Do you think people often forget that the floor is an important part of an interior space?
I do. I start every design scheme with the floor as that determines the scale and height of everything else. I don’t like uneven surfaces and so from my specified choices, the contractor can adapt his thickness of sub-base flooring to ensure that it is all level long before the finished flooring is laid.
What kind of carpeting have you specified for commercial projects you have worked in?
Generally I choose a pattern in just two or three colours, although in effect to get light and shade to work; here may be up to fifteen shades in large spaces. I do not use straight lines in carpet for large scale space flooring. It makes your eyes feel strange! It also highlights that most buildings in the UK are not square. Fluid lines work best and neutral shades of muted tone works best for my designs.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a riverside hotel and restaurant, a house for a very large family which is also on the river, just outside of London and a developer’s tower block of flats in central London.