Joanna Wood

The acclaimed interior designer believes well-prepared, professional practitioners need not fear recession

How did you become involved with interior design?
My first foray into interior design was when I was 10, when I was constantly rearranging my bedroom!

After training at Asprey, I started my interior design business from the spare room of my flat. My first job was a mews house in Belgravia and I did everything from home, including doing my accounts in front of the TV in the evenings.

I am probably the least-qualified person in my office. I read history of art at university, then did a business/secretarial course. If I had trained, it would have been as an architect. At heart I feel I am an architect, which is why interior architecture is such an important part of our business.

Have TV makeover shows damaged the image of interior design?
The shows have definitely evolved since the early days and there are more serious architectural-based programmes now. The more exposure for the industry, the better. There are good and bad programmes but they don’t take away business from good interior designers.

Does the industry lack professionalism?
It can and there should be a move to ensure interior designers can’t practice at a certain level without being approved by a professional organisation. [Wood is a member of the BIID]. In terms of professionalism, I wouldn’t take on anyone without a qualification — a candidate would have to be very impressive in art or management if they didn’t have specific interior design training. There are so many courses available now, there is no excuse really not to have a qualification.

There was a time when interior design was confused with interior decoration. Only five years ago the boundary was blurred. An interior designer has to cover all aspects of a design project, from the structural work, planning, joinery and the like to the final furnishings and decoration. An interior decorator solely selects furnishings and puts together a scheme for existing architecture and fixtures.

How has the industry changed?
London has evolved to become the design centre of the world. It’s entirely possible to run a project from London and travel abroad for the day for site visits.

Interior designers need to cover a much broader field of disciplines now and have a much greater understanding of how interiors are put together, from the core up. In years gone by you would have had a draftsman for the structural side of things.

The interior design industry is much bigger now. As property is now so valuable people are spending much more on it and will move and innovate to a much greater degree. This has really helped the industry to grow.

What’s really exciting you about interior design at the moment?
People have a broader range of styles and are far less fixed on trends. We all went through minimalism, then urban chic, but now it is a much broader spectrum of different styles. We can be working on a shabby-chic home in the morning, a cutting-edge contemporary in the middle of the day and an historical restoration in the afternoon. It’s more about developing a personal style then following the trends.

Which designers do you admire?
I’ve always loved John Fowler who, with historical reference, pretty much invented the English country house style that is the envy of the world. I have enormous respect for David Hicks — I think that he put the zing into contemporary and changed the face of pattern forever. When I was a fledging designer, he was fantastic with his juniors and spent a lot of time with us. In architecture, I love Palladio and am mad about John Sloane.

I love Tim Gosling’s furniture, Sally Storey’s lighting schemes, Sterling Studios for paintwork and Watts of Westminster for restoration. I admire the breadth and supreme quality of David Linley. I always go to Rubelli for inspiration in fabrics.

How is your own Home designed?
Comfortable and traditional with some contemporary elements — as ordered by my family. My family are my clients. But I am a great respecter of the architecture. If I bought a New York penthouse, for example, I would make it very cutting edge and contemporary.

Who is your typical customer?
It is very hard to say. We have a broad spectrum of clients because we don’t have a house style. We are working on diverse projects in London, the English countryside, New York, the Middle East, France and have just been asked to look a project in Kuala Lumpur.

I’m glad to report there are still enough people with money to employ us — we have never been busier. However, people are much more aware of value for money. People don’t mind spending money for good value and clients are looking for the best at a good price.

Is there any sign of an upturn?
We never had a downturn. London seems to be a safe port in a storm and long may it last. My advice would be to be professional and deliver value. Hold reserves, so that when the going gets tough you can grit your teeth and carry on. It’s the people without reserves who are going bust. Put a little bit aside for a rainy day. In more than 25 years of trading, we have always made it through times of recession because people turn to quality and value; they are looking for long-term solutions rather than trying something new.

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