Claire started her career as a graphic designer and worked at Cosmopolitan Magazine and advertising and marketing agencies. In 1989 she set up Style and Vision specializing in food packaging and promotion.
Claire’s first interior design project was the exterior and shop of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, quickly followed by the head office of Rank Screen Advertising in Wardour Street.
Claire made her interior design television debut on Animal Park talking about her design work for Lord Bath at Longleat House where she worked over a period of 13 years creating a unique set of rooms “for the 21st Century” as Lord Bath requested. Following this she designed for and presented on BBC1’s DIY SOS with Nick Knowles.
Her design work has taken her worldwide, recently completing two luxury harbour side properties in Sydney.
How do you begin the design process with a new client? What kind of questions do you like to ask?
I start with an informal chat and ask if there are one or two words that sum up the style they want. Recently I had “sumptuous” so it was all walnut and rich fabrics, another was “contemporary chic” so it was clean lines and minimal.
How do you get to know your customer and what they want from you?
That first chat is really important and gives me the opportunity to understand my client’s lifestyle, what they want from the property and how they are going to live in it.
We chat about houses or buildings they love. Even talking about films or music can help me get a steer on their personality. I used to design food packaging and there you have 3 seconds to attract your customer so I’m pretty good at honing into what a customer wants.
It’s important for me to understand what level of maintenance they are happy with. Some are happy that natural materials need a level of maintenance, resealing etc., some want no fuss. I need to discuss how they will live in the property for the level of durability of materials. Marble is a good example of this. Some clients don’t mind that you need to be careful with lemon juice in the kitchen and perfumes in the bathrooms and that it occasionally needs re-sealing. Others bulk at this so we look at ceramics and other surfaces.
How do you match personality and trends?
While keeping up to date with trends, I tend not to follow them. I create what will suit my client and their property. At the end of the day, trends come and go, but something personally tailored to a client will outlive fashion.
Do you choose a theme for the house or try to match the bathroom to the house?
It depends very much on the property. Smaller properties need a theme to keep a sense of continuity going through them, larger properties, less so. I think contemporary rooms can work well in traditional buildings if done sensitively and with good quality fittings. Likewise, I’ve fitted fabulous traditional baths for example into contemporary buildings. The sense of fun and playing with different styles can work really well.
What is your favourite item to find?
There’s something about bathrooms and original art deco pieces that really resonates. Last year I found some gorgeous 1930’s bath taps. They’re huge and handsome. I’ve had them re-chromed and the inners re-furbished. They’ll be a lovely feature.
Trends for bathrooms 2017?
There are a lot of fabulous finishes that are becoming more readily available; pewter, bronze, copper etc that can be applied to virtually anything. I’m seeing these being used more readily in bathrooms and its fabulous. Bathrooms don’t need to look clinical.
What is your bathroom at home like?
I’ve gone for highly figured marble on the walls, large shower, large free standing bath and white backed glass surfaces because the room doesn’t get a lot of natural light. I’ve matched the marble pattern on the walls to some lovely sketchy children’s drawings of animals. They share a quirky, lively quality. It’s such an important space- where you prepare for the day or to relax and sleep. I’m big on storage in bathrooms. I hate to see cleaning materials and I don’t like having to go find them, so I store them out of sight and easy to hand.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into interior design?
Work hard and learn as much as you can about the building process, electrics, plumbing etc. Interior design isn’t just about colours and textures. In fact, that’s often the smallest part of a project, though ultimately one of the most important. I think you need to have a passion for buildings and the way they work and a genuine interest in people and how they live.
It sounds like you travel a lot, where is your favourite place to stay and what do you do there?
I’ve recently returned from my second trip to Myanmar. I love it. Everywhere you look is like the front cover of a National Geographic magazine! The colour, the people, the culture. My favourite way of spending a Saturday morning is standing at the bottom of Mandalay Hill with the madness and carnival atmosphere of the shinbyu ceremonies setting off. Young boys are sent to be novice monks and it’s a great honour. The whole family turns out in their best and the boys are dressed as princes. It’s a riot of colour and noise, everyone proud and waiving. It’s fabulous!
You worked on a project for 13 years at Longleat House with Lord Bath. What did you enjoy most about the experience?
It was an enormous honour to add my furniture designs to such an amazing collection and work for such an incredible client! His brief was to create designs for the 21st century and this was 1992! It was fabulous to work with such a lovely a client who was so open to really creative ideas. He wanted something no one else had and that’s always a joy. I loved being able to create unique pieces on such a scale. We used elm and oak from the estate and used craftsmen from the South West. I loved it when we found a window that had been blocked up for centuries and when the architect showed me around the attic spaces with their hand hewn Elizabethan rafters. I will never tire of that first glimpse of the house from the top of the drive. It’s a truly magical place.
What did you take away from working on DIY SOS?
My brief was to create the “wow” factor just using high street goods. It’s easy to miss, when working on high end properties, that there’s some really good design on the high street. Nearly every job has a budget so it’s great to be able use the budget on key pieces and meld with other less expensive pieces to get the most impact in a project. We also helped some really lovely people.
For more ideas on luxury interior design visit Claire’s website