Martin Goddard of luxury interior design studio Goddard Littlefair shares his top 10 design tips
1 Don’t choose design if you want an easy life. That’s what my tutor told me on my second day at university and he was absolutely right. He also said that two-thirds of us probably wouldn’t end up getting a job in design and, of the other third, only one or two would end up running our own companies. Since 2012, however, that has finally been the case for me, and Goddard Littlefair is certainly all consuming. Luckily, design also happens to be my greatest passion outside of family.
2 Embrace the air miles. Travel is one of the greatest privileges of this job. Work has taken me all over the world several times over, and fortunately I really enjoy going to new places. If you want to work in hospitality, you have to get to know how people travel, why they want to go to where they’re going, and what frustrates or delights them when they check into a hotel. It’s brilliant to get under the skin of a city when you keep going back and back. Budapest is a key city for me, having worked on both The Gresham and The Hilton there. Moscow’s another, especially 15 years ago when you couldn’t get about by cab and had to learn to pay locals to drive you places.
South Bank Tower Apartment with stunning, double-height living space. Image Credit: Gareth Gardner
3 Release your inner showman (or woman)… It’s a great feeling to bring a whole room of people with you when you present, and to know that they really understand and are enthused by your ideas. You definitely have to liberate and celebrate your inner showman to achieve that. Sales are a big part of the job. The only difference is you’re selling ideas not products. It’s a skill I had to learn. Never give away what you’re going to present in advance of a meeting and always stand up to present – it’s more energising. Communicating design is all about the art of storytelling and you need to unveil the narrative in the right order and at the right pace, and adjust it to how people in the room are reacting.
4 …And always have a pen in your hand. People focus on pens like they’re extra limbs or some kind of magic wand. Perhaps it takes people back to the classroom? Whatever the reason, it’s an essential tool of the trade.
5 Never assume. Clarity serves everyone on a project. I think when you’re younger, you’re more likely to assume something’s obvious to everyone around the table. As you get older, you learn that’s not true – people can develop preconceptions based on their past experiences and if you don’t communicate clearly what you’re proposing, it can create big problems later on. You also learn the value of checking everything on the basis of knowledge rather than opinion. We try to take our clients with us on a journey during the design process so that when we deliver the design, it’s not a surprise.
Printing Press Bar & Kitchen, Principal Edinburgh George Street. Image Credit: Gareth Gardner
6 Accept compromise. However doggedly you pursue your original design vision, the sheer number of people involved in a major project will make change and compromise inevitable, whether it’s taking on the points of view of clients and other stakeholders, or dealing with planning decisions or imperfect work from suppliers and contractors. Even funders have their own design people now. And then there’s the bane of every designer’s life: the quantity surveyor, red pen constantly in hand. As the designer or architect, you’re stuck in the middle, and you need to listen to the opinions of others and accept that they may be valid – a hotel operator, for example, may look at things completely differently. The job will never happen if you’re all fighting, and you need to use diplomacy to navigate a path ahead. If your idea is strong and correct, however, it normally gets through the process.
Entrance lobby, One Stop Doctors, Hemel Hempstead. Image Credit: Gareth Gardner
7 Be a fixer not a moaner. Human beings occasionally screw up. It’s just a fact of life, so when a scenario goes pear-shaped, perhaps because of something someone on your team did or didn’t do – or for any other reason – the most important thing is to find a way back to restoring faith by showing how willing you are to mend and fix it. Clients respect the ability to turn things around positively when things don’t go quite right.
8 If in doubt, draw. The power of a quick sketch to communicate ideas can’t be underestimated – you can describe things very quickly with four line strokes. I learned very early on how hand drawings really engage clients emotionally in a way CAD visuals never can, and I encourage everyone on the team to draw as best they can. I will always sketch something out in a meeting if a problem needs to be resolved or a concept amended. On site, I’ve ended up drawing on walls or cardboard packaging to explain a detail to a contractor. We work internationally so much and it’s amazing how much you can communicate with a doodle.
9 Give something back. When I was starting out as a designer I was very lucky that some really good people took me under their wing. It’s a two-way street – and it’s important to remember to give something back when you become more senior by, for example, encouraging the spark of a self-starter showing initiative or simply being responsive and enthusiastic. We can’t expect young designers to know everything – people with experience need to teach.
Principal York – looking down the stairs into the Lobby Lounge. Image Credit: Gareth Gardner
10 Luxury isn’t about money and the expensiveness of the materials. Luxury can be very simple, but when you look at the detailing, there’s usually a sense of craftsmanship and a feeling that while it may look effortless, it’s actually all been very well considered. Luxury is also about how it makes you feel. If it makes you feel special, that’s luxurious. It doesn’t have to cost a lot.