Long timers among you will remember a small series I wrote way back BP (before Pandemic) about a beautiful velvet wrapped interiors book by Phaidon called The Greatest Rooms of the Century, the criteria for which was that they must all be residential. The rooms were a fascinating history of design through the decades but it was the essays at the start that really drew me in.
In one, Diana Vreeland, the formidable editor of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, was quoted as saying, in what would turn out to be hugely prescient, that: “Few things are more fascinating than the opportunity to see how other people live during their private hours. In the rooms they love… among their personal possessions … organising their domestic arrangements to fit the pattern of their lives.”
She wouldn’t have been remotely surprised by the invention and success of instagram I’m sure. Anyway, moving on from the rooms, Phaidon have now published their latest interiors tome: By Design, the world’s best contemporary interior designers.
And before we continue, I must, somewhat proudly, declare an interest. For the 100 designers had to come from somewhere. And I was asked to be one of the nominators, whose opinions were sought as to who should be included in the line-up. And so alongside an illustrious list including Carla Sozzani (Italian gallerist and sister of Franca, who edited Vogue Italia until her death in 2016), Rosa Park (Cereal magazine), Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill (The Modern House), Michelle Ogundehin and Joa Studholme, is moi “founder of Mad About The House, London”.
I was asked for a list of nominees, not all of whom made the final cut but many of whom did including many favourites such as Kelly Wearstler, Pierre Yovanovitch and Ben Pentreath, Studio Ashby, Linda Boronkay and Brigitte Romanek, Beata Heumann, Kit Kemp and Rita Konig.
And while every page is a delight, as you can imagine, it is once again the introduction by William Norwich that draws me in from his opening words that what guides these designers is “experience”. That’s not to say that they are all old hands (far from it) but that they are guided, nowadays, by how their spaces will affect their inhabitants, rather than the guiding principles from decades past when it was all about static design and suitability. This generation, he finds, is designing for people not for their peers and not for the critics.
“Here are designers who are like alchemists, or impresarios, filmmakers and producers. They are also storytellers who work to create environments of warmth, interest, scholarship, personality and craft. More than ever before, they design in the context for where their work lives: location, environment, sustainability and also dreams and aspirations.”
The criteria for the nominations was broad – basically the designers had to be working today and have been working since 2015, other than that they could be at any stage in their career and work anywhere in the world. And so we all had our own ideas of what constituted the greatest designers.
Helen Barrett, who writes for FT Wealth, was looking for ‘an intelligent response to the sustainability challenge” which was similar to Graeme Brooker, the head of the interior design programme at the Royal College of Art, who said the impact of current events on the plant are so overwhelming, that “design just has to respond”. He chose practices that work with existing objects and re-use spaces as well as those which were less well-known but had diverse approaches and deserved publicity.
Amy Fine Collins, journalist and fashion critic, asked if her choices were influential rather than derivative and insistent that they were knowledgeable in other areas such as the fine arts, fashion, literature and music.
While Marie Kalt, the editor in chief of Architectural Digest France, out personal taste aside when selecting her nominees, Brooke Metcalfe, a former Vogue Interiors editor, said she looked for a certain welcome and was “drawn to design that consistently feels like home”.
So what were the guidelines that informed my choices? Well I am more Brooke than Marie. I looked at designers who were creating, not just spaces that I would like to live in, but who had clever ideas that would work for all of us, with or without the high end design budget, for those who are creating rooms where there is always lots to look at and discover and where no detail is overlooked.
This is, of course, a fabulously designed coffee table book but it is also a brilliant work of reference and inspiration and while I have written four books of my own, I am enormously flattered that this blog has gained enough recognition that has allowed it to be classed as something that is worthy of nomination and recognising others in the industry about which I feel so passionate.
By Design, The World’s Greatest Contemporary Designers is out now (UK) and will ship from 19 May to the US and rest of the world.