De­sign pro­file

the leg­endary de­signer on her tricks for cre­at­ing har­mo­nious homes and the key to an in­spir­ing space

Living Etc - - DESIGN - Nina Camp­bell In­te­rior Dec­o­ra­tion: El­e­gance and Ease by Giles Kime (Riz­zoli, £40). For more info, check out ni­nacamp­

Leg­endary de­signer Nina Camp­bell ex­plains how to cre­ate a har­mo­nious home

Nina Camp­bell is one of the UK’S great­est de­sign doyennes, in business for more than five decades and still go­ing strong. Her projects span from dec­o­rat­ing fam­ily homes in the Swiss Alps to the East Coast of the United States; from up­dat­ing Lon­don’s Dray­cott Ho­tel to the 19th-cen­tury Schlosshotel Kron­berg in Ger­many; from find­ing chic and some­times quirky ac­ces­sories for her epony­mous shop on Wal­ton Street to cre­at­ing an­nual fabric and wall­pa­per col­lec­tions for Os­borne & Lit­tle. Here, she shares her de­sign se­crets… What drew you in to in­te­ri­ors?

My par­ents moved around Bel­gravia con­stantly and I was

al­ways lucky enough to choose the wall­pa­per for my bed­rooms – a Cole & Son toile de Jouy of ladies play­ing tennis was a favourite. It was post-se­cond World War, so no one had much, but life was very jolly and fun. From an early age, it taught me the power of cre­at­ing con­vivial spa­ces that ex­uded style, but never at the ex­pense of warmth. How did you get your first break?

Af­ter school, I stud­ied at the Inch­bald School of De­sign and then landed a job work­ing for John Fowler of Sibyl Cole­fax & John Fowler. He was so generous with his knowl­edge. A few years later, I went out on my own, work­ing with Mark Bir­ley on Mark’s Club and Annabel’s. De­scribe your style?

I de­sign rooms to feel wel­com­ing and cheer­ful, har­mo­niously colour­ful, but also prac­ti­cal. There’s noth­ing more ir­ri­tat­ing than when you go into a room and you can’t work out how to make the lights work, or there’s nowhere to put the soap in a shower. My scope is broad – I could be de­sign­ing a nice coun­try house for a young cou­ple in the coun­try one mo­ment and an apart­ment for a prince in Lon­don the next. The thread is al­ways in the de­tail. Where do you look for in­spi­ra­tion?

Trav­el­ling through In­dia col­lect­ing tex­tiles al­ways pro­vides ideas for my Os­borne & Lit­tle col­lec­tions. I’ve just launched Les In­di­ennes, in­spired by spe­cial finds such as the cloths that go un­der a camel’s sad­dle. Ide­ally, three peo­ple should be able to work dif­fer­ent schemes from any­thing I de­sign. Do you have any style rules?

Rooms are meant to be lived in – life is stress­ful enough without liv­ing in a showroom. So if one piece of fur­ni­ture works with an­other, but they’re not from the same pe­riod, what pleases is what counts. Cre­at­ing happy, re­laxed, invit­ing spa­ces for en­ter­tain­ing is also re­ally im­por­tant. So al­ways en­sure there is enough room for at least six to eight

guests to sit, and have enough side ta­bles for them to put things like drinks and snacks on. What’s your de­sign process?

Take my house as an ex­am­ple – it was sim­ply hideous when I bought it, with low ceil­ings, dark red quarry tiles and Gothic cor­nices that made no sense. I took ev­ery­thing out and laid a ground floor that flowed from front to back, with the same feel of ma­te­ri­als in­side and out, so it looked seam­less. How do you get the mix of fur­ni­ture and ac­ces­sories right?

I al­ways pay great at­ten­tion to floor plans – they pro­vide a good un­der­stand­ing of scale and pro­por­tion. It’s easy to overor un­der­es­ti­mate the pro­por­tions of a sofa or ta­ble. Floor plans help guide prac­ti­cal de­ci­sions, such as where you put all your elec­tri­cal sock­ets. How do you make a room feel brighter?

I use a lot of mir­rors – for in­stance, around a fire­place – and I lac­quer low ceil­ings to help bounce light around and cre­ate the il­lu­sion of a big­ger space. What key items are worth in­vest­ing in?

A good bed and a com­fort­able sofa are worth an in­vest­ment, be­cause you will use them a lot. I also like lit­tle funny chairs, like my Alice chair, which you can tuck in by the fire­place and pull out for ex­tra seat­ing when peo­ple come over. Light switches should be as sub­tle as pos­si­ble, so the trans­par­ent acrylic de­signs by Forbes & Lo­max are great. You can tuck them into the cor­ner of a dado so they dis­ap­pear. And where can you save?

I once had a house where the sofa was cov­ered in a won­der­ful fabric, but the cur­tains were made from lin­ing fabric to cut costs. Add a velvet bor­der to eke them out a lit­tle more. And if you love a par­tic­u­lar fabric, you could use it to re­uphol­ster the seat and back of a small chair. How do you work with colour?

In a dark and dingy room, it’s bet­ter to opt for rich, jewel-like

tones to make it feel vibrant. Sunny yel­low, co­ral and turquoise are go­ing to be big. Whites work when light is flood­ing in, as it looks crisp and clean, but I al­ways add a tint of raw um­ber or pink into the paint used on my ceil­ings, oth­er­wise they can start to look grey. I’ve just dis­cov­ered Argile paints – so rich and deep. What about fab­rics and wall­pa­pers?

I of­ten go with a large-scale pat­tern on walls and then the same mo­tif in a smaller scale on up­hol­stery or lamp­shades. Help to sep­a­rate them slightly by us­ing plain, com­ple­men­tary colours else­where and in­ter­est­ing trims around cush­ions and cur­tain edges. When choos­ing pat­terns, bring home as large a sam­ple as pos­si­ble to get a bet­ter idea of the scale of a print and fin­ish of a fabric. Don’t ever feel like your cur­rent fur­ni­ture should dic­tate your colour scheme. How do you usu­ally ap­proach the de­sign of a din­ing room?

I like to use the din­ing room as a li­brary, as it can be a bit of a dead zone. It’s the per­fect place to spread out your work, read the papers, dis­play all your favourite books. It makes the room work a bit harder. What’s your one in­dul­gence?

Lin­ing bed­room walls with fabric – it gives a won­der­ful cos­set­ing feel­ing when you walk into the room and shut the door. A din­ing room with linen on the wall also helps to qui­eten it, es­pe­cially if you have wooden floors. What have you been work­ing on lately?

I’ve just fin­ished a big fam­ily home in Maine – com­plete with a pool, bowl­ing al­ley and tennis pav­il­ion – and four boxes at As­cot Race­course. We’ve also just launched the Oomph fur­ni­ture col­lec­tion and a fab­u­lous out­door fabric line for Sum­mit Fur­ni­ture. And I’m about to start a Euro­pean and Amer­i­can tour pro­mot­ing my new book. It’s go­ing to be busy!

CLOCK­WISE from this im­age Nina gives this New York hall­way the ex­otic treat­ment with Cole & Son’s gon­dola wall­pa­per, £150 a roll, De­signer Wall­pa­pers, and al­lan Knight’s Bran­dolini Branch chan­de­lier, price on re­quest; Col­lioure wall­pa­per, £76 a roll, and Beau ri­vage cot­ton, £62m, both Nina Camp­bell for os­borne & lit­tle; Nina’s Col­lioure urn lamp, £685, is hand painted by Zoe Crook based on the fabric; Bon­nelles wall­pa­per in aqua, £65 a roll, Nina Camp­bell for os­borne & lit­tle; and Nina uses pieces such as the arthur side ta­ble, £2,336, Nina Camp­bell, to add im­pact

CLOCK­WISE from left Nina’s Col­bert fabric for os­borne & lit­tle in Aqua/ochre, £64m; Nina played with sooth­ing white and blue hues in this Man­hat­tan liv­ing room, in­clud­ing traver­tine wall­pa­per in thethys – price on re­quest, fro­men­tal – and a hand-tufted rug by tai ping; Col­bert vis­cose-mix in Co­ral/ Aqua, £64m; and Nina adds sparkle to ta­ble set­tings with her Jewel cham­pagne flutes, £24 each

CLOCK­WISE from left Alice chair, £1,756; Nina’s liv­ing room with cur­tains and cush­ions in her Cathay pa­rade fabric; the de­signer used Schu­macher’s le Castel­let in this Wilt­shire house; fitzger­ald drinks cabi­net, £8,257, Nina Camp­bell; and Ar­les cot­ton-mix, £64m, Nina Cam­pell for os­borne & lit­tle

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