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Designer Q&A: Brian Woulfe

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Brian Woulfe is acclaimed for his luxury interiors as well as development projects internationally. Here, he tells us about what inspires him.

Irish-born and London-based, Brian Woulfe founded Designed by Woulfe in 2009, and is managing and creative director. The company has won multiple awards for its work which encompasses interiors for private residential properties, show homes and commercial developments and development projects in Europe and the US as well as Asia-Pacific regions.

Brian designs luxurious, liveable interiors that have a sense of playfulness, and enjoys working with different styles and design genres simultaneously, and his work is sought after by an international clientele. He’s a champion of young designers and craftspeople, as well as a passionate promoter of the centrality of sustainability to interior design. We hear more about his career in design, his nurturing of new talent and he shows us around one of his projects.

What inspired you to become an interior designer?

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a bit of a perfectionist – I would notice when the placement of a painting on the wall was off, or when a book on the table wasn’t quite right. I was always interested in aesthetics. I’d spot imperfections in the plasterwork, cushions that weren’t plumped, or colours that didn’t complement each other. When I got a bit older and realised that this visual understanding and appreciation for pleasing aesthetics seemed so innate and natural to me, a career in interior design just seemed like the right fit, so I decided to pursue it.

Can you tell us a little about your design ethos?

I’d say my ethos is probably influenced by my attention to detail (as I said, I’m a perfectionist, always have been!) and a desire for spaces to feel personal and reflective of the owner – whether that’s their tastes, heritage or lifestyles – I always want the essence of my client’s personality infused into whatever project I am working on. Ultimately, a space should be as liveable as it is stylish. Functionality is so important to me, so I always ensure high specification lighting schemes, and adhere to practical principles of design. As William Morris said, ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’.

You sit on the sustainability committee of the BIID as well as the professional practice committee. Can you talk to us a little about the importance of sustainability in interior design?

It’s hugely important. Environmental awareness and sustainability has never been more of a priority for individuals, communities and businesses alike. I think considered interior design can help conserve energy, reduce waste and help create homes that are better for the planet, the economy and our wellbeing. Of course, as designers we can help clients make more sustainable choices by discussing sustainability in the planning stage and sourcing eco-friendly materials, and so on. But I think it’s about integrating sustainability into our business at every level – so that means going beyond client projects and looking at how we can be as sustainable as possible with every facet of our business operations. Finally, it’s also about using our influence in the wider community to educate and drive change and promote consistent sustainable practice within the interior design industry.

You champion and nurture young designers and craftspeople. Could you give us a brief insight into these activities?

I’ve always been a lover of the arts, and luckily my work allows me to meet and collaborate with amazing artists, craftspeople and artisans all over the world. I love highlighting the talents of these designers – young and older – through my work, adding an original and unique element to design schemes by incorporating their unique workmanship into my interiors. It’s a fantastic way to support and celebrate these emerging or under-represented talented people, and it’s something I’m very passionate about – I often enlist local designers and suppliers when working on international projects, as well as commissioning one-of-a-kind objets d’art.

Can you tell us a little about the brief for this Notting Hill home?

This was a full home renovation for a lovely American couple residing in London with their three-year-old twin boys. They had hectic but home-oriented lifestyles, and were keen to have their interiors feel like a bit of a sanctuary in the city, so luxurious and comforting, while also being a beautiful space where they could enjoy quality time as a family and host guests (they loved entertaining). They were also avid travellers and wanted to bring a boutique hotel feel into their home, too.

The drawing room fireplace is a fabulous focal point. Could you talk to us about it?

Yes, it is! We kept the drawing room predominantly white and very chic, but added depth and texture with a rich and varied combination of organic materials that were super tactile, and also lots of living botanicals. To balance this with a sense of drama and luxury, the fireplace had to make a statement, so we opted for a stunning green Cipollino Verde marble with picture frame detailing. It looked incredible and of course provided function and a warming comfort. Marble was actually an intrinsic material used throughout the home. It’s such a versatile stone so we incorporated it throughout the interior design scheme in various ways. The clients and I took a trip to a stoneyard together to select specific slabs, which was a lovely experience.

You introduced a deeper colour palette in this living space. Can you tell us a little about it?

I adore jewel tones, even in my own home. In this instance, we opted for a deeper colour palette in this living space with marine blue fabrics used in the curtains which had the same metallic heat applied in the drawing room. The delicately hand-applied beads were a textured alternative to edging and gave a nod to the arts and crafts of our client’s Indian heritage. A matte black fibreglass coffee table also demands attention by providing a stark contrast in colour, and the detailed joinery with a maple trim also added deep, dark tones. Finally, the brushed metallic detail on the pendant lights tied in nicely with the pattern on the curtains.

We see the home’s theme of birds and feathers in the peacock-print fabric here. Why was this theme selected, and how else was it realised?

The clients were keen to honour the wife’s Indian heritage through the interiors of their home, so we were sure to do this in the detailing and textiles as well as using this to influence the colour schemes. We incorporated plenty of metallics, intricate beading, pattern and texture while maintaining consistency in the design so that it didn’t feel disjointed or overly themed. We showed continuity in the peacock print with a gorgeous piece of artwork in the hallway which featured custom-dyed bird feathers in varying blue and green tones. The result was a bright and welcoming entrance hallway that was inviting, uplifting, and made a big statement.

The guest bedroom features bold colours, textures and patterns. Tell us more.

A lot of the soft furnishings we selected were made from natural textiles such as wool, silk, cotton and linen to bring nature into the home and provide a calming effect and the guest bedroom was no different. However, here, we decided to go all out with the pattern and colour and make it a fun and memorable room for guests to enjoy and ultimately, be ‘wowed’. It was inspired by old-world design, incorporating cobalt jungle wallpaper, a custom designed four-poster bed with chests on either side, and rustic lampshades and bases which add to the antique and vintage feel. A bevelled glass pendant chandelier reflected light around the room magnificently, a very cosy deep pile wool carpet provided extra comfort, and traditional armchairs made from rattan and wood finished with leopard-print cushions referenced the charming theme.

The playroom is a wonderful space. Could you talk to us a little about how you met the needs of the couple’s young children in this home renovation?

I’ve always said that a family home is for every member equally, no matter their age. So with that in mind, I like to take the time to get to know the little ones just as well as the parents. Children are just as responsive to interior design as adults, and the right environment can shape their world, so I pored over every detail, learning about their tastes, interests, dreams and individual hobbies. The twin boys had an entire floor to themselves, so we went wild with the playful, youthful and colourful interiors here – a planet-themed bedroom with cosmic-inspired interiors and a jungle-inspired playroom with a trundle bed for playdates and sleepovers, custom green wardrobes and plenty of colour, print and pattern which was exciting and inspiring. A Jack and Jill bathroom connected both of these rooms together and we also kept this colourful with yellow, green and blue as well as neutral terrazzo tiles for the shower, bath and flooring.

Take a look at our designer Q&As with: Staffan Tollgård, Sue TimneySophie AshbyJenny Weiss and Helen Bygraves, Kelly Hoppen, Shalini Misra and Katharine Pooley.