Nina Campbell is one of the world’s most respected and influential interior designers. Her list of clients and design expertise is unparalleled. Renowned for her contagious wit and brilliant sense of personal style, her designs appeal to both young and old and sit well in both contemporary and traditional interiors.
Design was always in Nina’s blood and from the age of twelve, she and her mother would spend hours rearranging furniture at home – “needless to say, halfway through, we’d get exhausted and go to bed, leaving sofas and chairs halfway up the staircase”.
This enthusiasm and interest in design and interiors was further developed when, at the age of nineteen, she went to work as an assistant to John Fowler at the prestigious Sybil Colefax & John Fowler. Shortly afterwards she set up her own decorating business, where one of her first commissions was to decorate Cullen House in Banffshire, Scotland.
With an unmistakably elegant and rich colour palette, Nina’s work caught the eye of club owner Mark Birley, who asked her to redecorate Annabel’s private members’ club. The relationship was so successful they combined forces once again in 1970, when they opened a shop in Pimlico, specialising in ‘unashamed luxury’. It was here that Nina launched her signature ‘hearts’ design on fabric and china, which has been reworked for 2009 on a range of fine bone china, to celebrate the quality and heritage of the Nina Campbell brand.
Further developing her business, Nina opened a showroom and design studio on Walton Street in London’s Knightsbridge, in 1984, where she continued her fabric printing and branched out into other decorative areas. In 1990, Nina launched the first of what was to become biannual fabric, wallpaper and trimming collections internationally distributed by Osborne & Little.
The interior design side of the business continued to flourish with notable projects including The Savoy Lobby (with David Linley), The Hotel Parc Victor Hugo in Paris, The Groucho Club in London and The Campbell Apartment Bar at Grand Central Station, New York, amongst other global private residential projects.
The Nina Campbell line continued to expand with a line of bespoke furniture, which launched in 2000, a collaboration with Britannia on a collection of range cookers featuring her fabric designs, a rug collection in association Stark Carpets and home ranges comprising table linen, china and glassware, home fragrance, branded gift wrap, cashmere throws and travel accessories.
Her latest range of furniture launched at Decorex in London in September 2009 and features a range of upholstered furniture, as well as bamboo and metal pieces, developed in conjunction with Francis Russell, all of which have been designed and produced in the UK, using British manufacturers.
Current projects include large residential projects in China and Jordan, as well as a hotel in England. Her enthusiasm and passion remain unabated – as well as appearing on the BBC series ‘Home’ in 2006, she has authored five books – ‘Elsie de Wolfe: A Decorative Life’ (1992), ‘The Art of Decoration’ (1996), ‘Nina Campbell’s Decorating Secrets’ (2000), ‘Nina Campbell’s Decorating Notebook’ (2004) and ‘Elements of Design’ (2007).
Nina was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Middlesex in 2001, on top of the many other awards she has received, including the Royal Oak Timeless Design Award (2003) and the American Fashion Award for ‘the woman who has most influenced style internationally’. Nina is also a Trustee of the Prince of Wales Drawing School and on the Fundraising Committee for Kids Co. On top of all this, she is a devoted mother of three and a grandmother of two.
Q. You started working for John Fowler (of Colefax & Fowler) at the age of 19. What was your professional background before that?
A. I’d been responsible for building up wedding list service at General Trading Company, I then did a design followed by an architectural course at Inchbald School of Design.
Q. How did you get into interior design?
A. As a child we moved home constantly, always in the Belgravia area. My mother had a fantastic eye and loved doing up houses, which is something I inherited. I was desperate to break into the world of design and was lucky enough to meet John Fowler who taught me so much. After that, I set up my own design company and the rest is history!
Q. You have been in the business for over 35 years now. How do you feel you have managed to keep up with the times to remain one of the leading interior designers in the world?
A. The essential thing is to listen to your client. The most important principle of design is that a client’s home should always suit their lifestyle, which makes every project you work on unique. A home also needs to be as comfortable as it is stylish. People don’t lead as formal lives as they used to, so formal dining rooms aren’t very common anymore. I had to move with the times and design for people’s changing lifestyles, so now I focus on trying to keep things clean and uncluttered. I’m a big believer in everything having its own place – houses never have enough storage – and of course I’m known for my use of colour. There’s nothing no unsustainable as minimalism – it’s entirely possible to create tranquil interiors without clearing a space of all possessions!
Q. A lot has changed in the industry in the past three decades. Would you say that even the essence of interior design has changed?
A. People’s lifestyles have changed so dramatically that interior design has necessarily adapted to those changes. The idea is, after all to create an environment to suit a lifestyle.
Q. Has the recent economic crises affected your client base?
A. I’ve been lucky enough to find continuous work in emerging markets such as China and Jordan, as well as working on various domestic projects in the UK, including a brand new hotel development. I think people are realising the importance of investing in the property you already own, as perhaps you won’t move around quite as much and will be spending more time in your own home, entertaining your loved ones. In a strange way, in hard times, people become slightly more classic than they would otherwise, as they look to invest in enduring deisgn. I particularly like looking after and restoring the possessions I have, rather than going out to find new pieces.
Q. Has anything changed about your approach to work?
A. I continue to travel extensively on various design projects and am involved in every aspect of the brand from product to fabric and furniture design, but the difference is both my son and my youngest daughter now work with me in the company which brings a fresh approach and assures me that the business is in very safe hands!
Q. You have described your sophisticated English country side look as voluptuous minimalism. How has your style changed over the years?
A. You use voluptuousness where appropriate and on the whole, although I like a house to be organised, I think minimalism can be rather depressing and there are ways of making a house beautiful and organsied without it feeling cold and minimal.
Q. You have mentioned that your Viennese mother and growing up in a very cosmopolitan world has had a huge impact on your sense of style. What else has moulded it?
A. Travel, I’m always sourcing new ideas from my various travels. One of the great things about the British is that we’ve always travelled widely, bringing back inspiration from abroad we’ve reinterpreted to produced something original and uniquely British, but with international appeal. Being constantly on the move and being very open to any new ideas one might see. All these ideas of course need editing and using in the right place, otherwise you could have chaos.
Q. Which architectural style do you love working with the most and why?
A. I think I prefer to work with a classic design, which doesn’t necessarily have to be 18th or 19th century, it just means working with a building that’s been well-built. Equally, I love th challenge of taking an ugly building and sorting it out and making it beautiful.
Q. Do you adhere to the beliefs in Feng Shui and/or other philosophical schools of thought regarding space?
A. I do adhere to certain feng shui principles and it also depends very much on whether the client is affected by it. It very often all comes down to common sense.
Q. What is the one important interior design aspect that gets overlooked the most?
A. I think storage gets overlooked quite often and ’back of house’ areas – if you don’t have somewhere to hang laundry and store suitcases, etc, the house won’t work.
Q. What is the biggest project you have undertaken in your career?
A. I think a very large house I’ve been working on in China has been quite a big project, partly because of the inaccessibility of it and the language barriers, etc. Although, in fact, it’s a wonderful project and everyone’s got on extraordinarily well with each other.
Q. What do you consider your greatest professional achievement to be?
A. I’ve enjoyed it all!
Q. Where do you feel the fashions in Interior Design are leading?
A. With the continuing knowledge that your property is probably a major piece of your portfolio, I think we should look at what we put into our houses always, to make sure we can get the same out of it. Therefore I think the home is becoming more comfortable so it can really be enjoyed.
Q. What are your professional goals for 2010 and beyond?
A. I think really to keep going. 2010 will be a difficult year and I think we should keep going and try and do more and more interesting things.
Q. How do you feel you might make use of a professional platform such as Pelime?
A. It looks like a really exciting platform and I look forward to seeing what comes of it!