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02 Mar - Interviews

Interview |

Antonia Stewart's take on interior design

The designer

Antonia Stewart is an experienced interior designer specializing in high-quality private residential projects in London, in England and overseas. Since 2005, Antonia produces unique and elegant interiors whilst taking into consideration the architecture of the building and tailoring to the needs of each customer. Her superb projects range from the decoration of a brand-new apartment in One Hyde Park to the styling of a beautiful bathroom including one of our baths.

What determined your passion for design? Tell us about the moment when you decided this is the way to go.

For my A levels at school I studied – among other things – Art and History of Art. I always enjoyed the combination of having to get my head down, research and write essays on one day whilst being able to spend the next day in the art room painting or developing photographs.  The rhythm of doing academic work followed by being creative suited me well. We had a wonderful History of Art teacher who introduced us to the history of architecture and art – starting right at the beginning with Giotto and then finishing two years later with Francis Bacon. It was a great foundation that I was then able to build on with my History of Art degree at university. Shortly after university, I realized that interior design would give me the same rhythm that I had enjoyed during my A levels, and I started working for an interior design company called Thorp Design where I stayed with for seven years. During that time, I learnt like an apprentice, working as much on the building side of the business as the interior design.  I am fascinated by how things work so being on site and problem solving is one of my favourite places to be!

Tell us something unusual that happened in your career. 

One of the most diverse projects that I worked on whilst at Thorp was a private jet that we were asked to do for a Russian client.  The plane was being built by Bombardier in Canada so we spent a lot of time going backwards and forwards to Montreal.  If you have read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and remember the description of the television studio where Mike Teavee met his unfortunate end- this is exactly what it was like.  One huge indoor hangar working round the clock on a 24/7/365 basis with maybe 6-8 planes diagonally parked next to each other and everything and everybody spotlessly clean and in white…

Given that the interior space of an aeroplane is relatively small and has its limitations, I thought that the interior decoration of it would be a relatively quick turnaround but it was in fact extremely fiddly! For the structure of the plane, we used a combination of novasuede and leather on the fuselage with timber veneer on the bulkheads between each area. In order to keep the weight down as much as possible, solid timber is never used- instead every surface has a honeycomb structure underneath which gives strength without weight. Every fabric had to undergo testing procedures by the Civil Aviation Authority and all of wall lights had to be rigorously tested to ensure that they stood up to the stresses of taxi, take-off and landing. In the galley we had to design each drawer interior – creating layouts for all the china so that foam inserts could be laser cut around each item to keep all the china safe during the flight.  In order for every item to be approved, it finally had to be taken on a flight test – which I got to do – sitting in the jump seat between the pilots!

If you had no limits (money, resources) what would you create?

If I were to find the perfect plot of land in the perfect area, then without doubt I would love to build a new built home in a classical style.  I am a keen environmentalist and supporter of British manufacturing so I use traditional materials, sheep wool or hemp insulation for example, but combine it with today’s technology for maximum efficiency. I often feel sad that so many of today’s new buildings are unattractive and will not stand the test of time, whereas I would like to build something that will look fabulous now and in 100 years’ time.  There is no question that I would not ask architect Ben Pentreath to help me achieve my goal; I love his architectural style.

From your point of view is design an art or a science?

Good question!  Personally I think it is a combination of the two.

There is no question that successful design – in whatever form it may take – architecture, product design, graphic design, furniture design or interior design is reliant on someone with a good eye and sense of design. A poster – for example – could be enhanced or wrecked by the choice of font or font size or the right, or wrong picture, or the size or colour of its border.  I went to pick up a painting that I was having reframed the other day and someone had confused the colour of the mount with the colour of the frame; it looked terrible! When they redid it the right way round it looked great!

As technology has pervaded interior design however, I think it has given the field a more scientific edge. In the last 20 years, there has been more and more products available and in many different materials.  Privalight glass, for example, is a clear glass that can be made to go cloudy for privacy at the flick of a switch, metallic finishes can be applied to furniture and panels – see  Natural products such as grasscloth wall coverings have been copied and now come in vinyl to give harder wearing (sometimes antibacterial!) surfaces suitable for both high traffic residential projects and also for commercial ones.

In one of our recent project at One Hyde Park, the client had approved some Art Deco-inspired stepped joinery for the master bedroom using kidskin. However, at the manufacture stage, it because evident that the goat hides were too small with many seams distracting the eye and reducing the overall “wow” factor of the joinery design.  We ultimately found a specialist artist in Dulwich who digitally scanned in the natural design of the kidskin and tessellated the pattern across a large area.  The artwork was then printed out to scale and coats of stain and lacquer were applied one by one, layering up the base until it had a natural patina and depth to it.  Something like this would never have been possible a few years ago…

Is there a space in London which you find yourself continuously drawn to because of the beautiful interior?

It’s not quite the answer that you are looking for… but I absolutely love the (mini) interior of the fabulous Queen Mary’s Dolls House at Windsor Castle.  It is the largest, most beautiful and most famous dolls house in the world.  It was built for Queen Mary between 1921 and 1924 by Sir Edwin Lutyens and the house is filled with thousands of objects on the tiny scale of 1:12. made by leading artists, design and craftsmen of the day. The Dolls House even has electricity, running hot and cold water, working lifts and flushing loos!