Blueprint and Poliform UK bring together a group of designers at the brand’s King’s Road showroom to discuss the similarities and differences between interior design and architecture practice
Photography by Gareth Gardner
George Khachfe, Poliform UK
Johnny Tucker, Blueprint
Jordan Cluroe, 2 Lovely Gays;
Suzy Hoodless, Suzy Hoodless;
Annabel Karim Kassar, AKK;
Angus Morrogh-Ryan, De Matos Ryan;
Maurizio Pellizzoni, Maurizio Pellizzoni;
Bridget Reading, Bridget Reading ID;
Russell Whitehead, 2 Lovely Gays
Johnny Tucker Here we have architects, interior architects and interior designers — I’m interested in what people with different backgrounds bring to the table. Also, are there boundaries between architects and interior designers, and if so, are those beginning to break down?
Maurizio Pellizzoni The first year of my course was architecture, but I’m moving into more interiors. I think it was a good base, because I learned things which you don’t learn when you do a course only for interior design. I learned about the bones of the house, how to move walls, and space planning.
Russell Whitehead We started off more in an interior decoration area, which seems to be quite a dirty word in this country for some reason, not so in America. In the past year most of our projects have been quite large-scale renovations where we work alongside architects. We very much collaborate and know our boundaries and our limits.
We’ve found it a very easy relationship; we’re involved from the very beginning in meetings and it’s a very open conversation.
We also tend to spend a lot of time with the client, bonding with them, and that’s sometimes something the architect isn’t able to do because they’re so busy working on other elements. Our approach is people. We like to get under someone’s skin, so our projects very much reflect the person who lives there.
George Khachfe, Poliform UK
Suzy Hoodless There’s also the fact that the client from the outset really wants to start talking about the finishes and furnishings, but the reality is there’s 18 months before that happens!
Jordan Cluroe We’re almost enablers; people are so over-exposed to the perfect image in advertising, but they’re also so fearful to commit to something.
George Khachfe After over 30 years in the interior design business I have become more architecturally involved in schemes and apply my experience to the smallest detail which is what it is all about. I enjoy complementing what the architect has suggested with a textured material or a different volume. I believe one complements the other be it function or decorative parts that at the end gives a full comprehensive lifestyle.
Johnny Tucker, Blueprint
SH In the majority of our projects we work alongside architects and, of course, any collaboration is about finding a team of people that get on with each other and have the right chemistry. I don’t know if we’re interior designers, decorators or architects — actually for a long time we just called ourselves design consultants because that took the whole equation out. I’m not a trained interior designer: my first job was assisting Tricia Guild at Designers’ Guild, then I worked as a journalist, so I see that as my education. We travelled around the world and went to all the fairs and built up this amazing database of suppliers. Young people who come to me now just don’t seem to have that depth of knowledge.
Angus Morrogh-Ryan The thing we find with young people in our office is their inability to hold a pencil and draw. They spend so long being in front of a computer, with these very slick modelling programmes, but they’ve lost the ability to communicate immediately in four or five lines. No one draws anymore.
Bridget Reading I grew up [when] trained architects were very strictly professional and there was a real snobbery towards other parts of the industry. So when I switched over from pure architecture, I called myself an interior designer, because I didn’t think I had the right to use the word architect. It’s interesting now that there are courses in interior architecture and it really feels like boundaries are moving.
JT It seems to be a time when roles are converging, but the terminology — and some institutions — haven’t caught up.
BR I think it also comes down a lot to liability professionally as well, because architects have this extreme six-year or 12-year liability on certain projects — and that’s a lot of responsibility other people in the industry don’t have.
JC Interestingly the BIID is trying to become chartered, so that it is more in line with what the RIBA is doing.
Annabel Karim Kassar
MP In the USA you cannot call yourself an interior designer if you do not have the title. Here it’s a dirty word because everyone thinks they’re an interior designer and can take over the job.
GP It used to be that the practicalities and functions were already incorporated in the room, whereas today it’s all commercial. And that’s where interior design, in my opinion, brings their [expertise] on board. Architects don’t think of the little details.
BR I look for a hook to do with the client and the property, I want a very strong reason for my design and then it goes from there. I love bringing all the personal ideas in and they really appreciate that because that’s what makes it their home.
Jordan Cluroe, 2 Lovely Gays
Annabel Karim Kassar But I also think that as architects, from the beginning, we’re not just putting bones in place or just doing the structure. To do a project I have to think about what will happen inside. I work a lot on site, modelling and deconstructing, because I always think a project is not one line. Sometimes it’s working, sometimes you have to destroy everything and start again, so I think about process.
A M-R It’s very important to us at the beginning of a project to have a strong narrative and to work out the DNA — we call it the ‘kestrel’ — the kestrel is this bird that hovers above the project.
It helps us visualise and say what was the original thinking of the project, so we can make decisions against that as a standard or template. And it varies for every project.
It’s the reason we started the project, and that is born out of the site, the client, the brief, the context. It’s something that allows us to say this is what this project is; it’s an opportunity, it’s not stifling or closed. We allow ourselves to spiral away from it and come back; it makes sure that what we’re delivering has a fundamental direction.
Russell Whitehead, 2 Lovely Gays
SH Our job is also to keep a client on track throughout the project, and at the end I want the client to say: ‘This is everything I could have wanted, but more than I could have imagined.’ So you have extracted their character, personality and DNA. Sometimes I think it’s quite interesting opening clients wardrobes, because most people have a much more developed idea of what they want to look like personally than they necessarily have about their interiors.
AKK I have friends saying, ‘I didn’t need an architect or interior designer, I did it all by myself.’ And when I’m looking at the place I’m sure it’s not the case and it’s just the way they appropriate the work that’s been done for them.
BR Often they claim authorship towards the end of a project, which I think is a positive thing because it means they must be happy with it.
A M-R It’s making sure everyone is enfranchised around the same idea. There are those who come to us and say just give us whatever you want. That sounds great but it’s awful — they don’t want to get involved; there are no parameters, no friction or dialogue, and you just know at some point you’re going to get tripped up by it. At the other extreme you have the client who comes with a Pinterest board for every single room and you’re spending the whole time getting it back into the box, into something that has clarity. And the client in the middle is the important one, the one where you understand each other and it’s a mutually beneficial relationship; you’re not subservient to them and they’re not inconsequential to you — you’re both helping each other.
GK In my experience, architects and interior designers have to work hand in hand, because beautiful furnished spaces are the ultimate goal. However spaces must also fulfil function — it is not enough to have something visually amazing, if it does not work for your requirements or lifestyle. At Poliform we are space planners and experts in storage solutions. We find that we are allocated this ‘mythical 600mm module’ that is thought to be the depth required for worktops or wardrobes. We all know this is not enough usable space in reality, which makes it harder when a client comes in and the area is already constructed and they are frustrated by the limitations to the space and their use of it. Architects and designers should work hand in hand before the construction or refurbishment of a project starts so that critical interfacing is agreed between the two practices to ensure a seamless project for the client.
MP I think clients are now more confident because of the internet. That said, clients comparing prices can be a problem — our job is to say to them that this is quality, and that’s what they get from £20,000, and they will not get the same for £5,000.
SH Most of our clients are highly successful people who are used to controlling every inch of their lives, and it’s amazing how people suddenly become interior architecture experts. It’s managing expectations, I think.
JC We do encourage that, I think that’s how we get to the best result. The key is building their confidence. If you have their confidence at the right point, you can let them into the process because they know you’re on their side.
A M-R The client knowing what they want is also part of the skill, because they know there’s something they need, they’re not quite sure what it is, and it’s about saying ‘Look you’ve all these ideas but actually let’s put them in a hierarchial order.’
Bridget Reading, Bridget Reading ID
AKK We also have to say that the client could have real impact on what we are doing because we can get better with clever or creative people around us. Rem Koolhaas, when he did his house in Bordeaux for example, had a very special client who was pushing him.
The relationship between the architect and the client was interesting enough to bring something out of the architect.
A M-R I’m interested in blurring this distinction between architecture and interior design; interior designers are professionals, you’re dealing with exactly the same territory, it is as complex. The advantage of the interior designer is their ability to come in, maybe at the beginning, but certainly towards the end, with a different lens, a different focus that is simply looking at the visual and textural environment; it’s not worrying too much about what the structure and services are doing.
AKK But it’s not the case that interior designers are just there to make the finishing touches. An interior designer gets involved in a lot of different things, not the structure but pieces inside that we as architects also design.
MP In an ideal world we would work all together. But it’s very difficult to say to a client that you need to choose your wardrobe now when they are thinking about the foundations.
SH It’s a process and we get involved right at the beginning of a project because partly we need to start spec-ing quite early on to put together budget and costs. I actually feel I’m quite slow to get going because I need to understand the building and the client. But when I’ve got more into it and I know the client better, that’s when you might start changing things and evolving it. Being flexible is important.
AKK It’s also important to talk to clients about fees, because they often think that this work and the time we spend does not cost a lot. So you need to explain it.
MP Clients don’t always understand our fees. When I first started I was doing low-cost work to try and make a name. Now I have an office and a team of people so I’m not compromising on my fee as I used to be, but it does mean that sometimes you lose clients. You need to value what you can do. In the past four months I have turned down four clients because of the budget.
JC Fee structure seems to be something no one wants to talk about. People are savvy, they shop around.
Angus Morrogh-Ryan, De Matos Ryan
A M-R The conversation is very different if you’re simply going in and furnishing the space or building a new-build house. Then at the bigger scale, you’ve got the developer with 50 units, who wants the mood board from day one because they’re looking for people to buy off plan.
SH We have just designed two show apartments at the Television Centre at White City. I approached it like any project: I used my knowledge of every client. I know that whatever brief the end sentence is always, ‘we want a comfortable family home.’ My approach was very much to create an interior that was the best of design — I’m not particularly interested in periods or styles. I wanted people to go into these apartments and pick up objects, flick through the recipe books and maybe put them down somewhere else and it still looks great. It’s not this museum gallery-like space, it has this energy and character that we try to create in residential projects.
JT Looking forward, what’s changing in interior design?
RW We were asked to do a series of rental apartments for the business traveller who never stays in one place for more than 30 days, and I think that is going to be a direction that opens up more and more.
JC We’re also finding that clients are wanting to close their homes back down with more separated rooms.
A M-R We’re beginning to look at sites for the post-graduate generation. The problem is that people come out of student accommodation and suddenly hit the wall: they can no longer afford to live in central London. They’re looking at Zone 4 or 5, or they might live with their parents and commute in. It’s a big problem that needs to be addressed.
We’re looking at extending the student model into adult life and creating concierge living for young adults with shared living spaces. Young people are living on the periphery, and if we want to cherish our cities we have to get them back in the middle!