Nina Campbell is one of the world’s most respected and influential interior designers. Her current projects include a large residence on mainland China, a private house for a member of the Jordanian royal family in Amman, a town house in New York and a country house hotel overlooking Cheltenham race course, and it is this broad range of commissions that makes Nina Campbell uniquely qualified to guide the home decorator.
Classic and contemporary seamlessly merge together.
Her latest book, Nina Campbell Interiors focuses on introducing all-important detail into the home, whether in the form of texture, colour, lighting, art, flowers or other finishing touches. This book features the private homes of Nina’s clients, featuring specially commissioned photography in the UK, New York and Switzerland.
The homes range from a city pied-a-terre to a large family household, from a chic apartment to a country bolt-hole, all designed and decorated to suit a range of lifestyles.
What are your first thoughts when you walk into a house or apartment that you are going to design?
The most important thing is that these are properties for people rather than speculation or for show. It’s easier because you’re not trying to please everyone. I need to find out from them how they want to live, are they going to have people to stay, do they entertain, do they have lots of people round for drinks, do they use the dining room or kitchen. That’s the most important thing to establish.
Works of art add a focal point.
Are people very different in their design desires and wishes?
It’s very varied. The Russian clients wanted a blank canvas and were going to bring their art in. Some people want colour, some don’t. Some people think they don’t and then warm to it when they see it.
How do you deal with someone who doesn’t want any colour at all?
I try and think in terms of texture and richness of what you put in. You can use neutral colours, with more textural fabrics such as chenille, wools, silks for the curtains.
What do you love transforming buildings and interiors?
It’s almost like a Cinderella thing, you’re restoring a house, sometimes adding to it. When you are renovating a house, you can discover hidden doors or wonderful floors underneath nasty carpets.
Nina’s Russian clients wanted a neutral colour scheme to showcase their art collection.
Is it painful for you when you see things done incorrectly?
You see houses done by people who have no idea about architecture. The cornices aren’t right and the skirtings aren’t right and you think Oh God, this is such a mess. When you go into a house that’s been wrongly done, you just know. It’s jarring on the eye. You don’t have to have training or knowledge. The proportions are wrong. It’s flimsy and cheap. It’s so wonderful when things are restored properly.
Do you have a favourite project in the book?
No, because they are all completely different. I enjoyed working on the house in China as it was a complete new build. We worked with an architect from the UK and took him out to China. We also brought an interiors architect along, so all the interiors were crafted by us. We worked with a team of around 30 and finished the project in 18 months. At the end, a Buddhist priest came round and blessed the house.
Is interior design different now than in earlier years?
When I started you re-did houses or people were moving house. Now people are buying extra houses. My client in China has many houses, as he also has a house in Beijing and works in Hong Kong. This is like a country house for him because it’s by a beautiful lake. When I did the first house in China, He said I love this house, nothing matches but everything goes together. That is what I’d like to achieve.
What would you say is your signature style?
People come to me for a feeling of harmony but comfort. In fashion, you should wear the dress, the dress shouldn’t wear you. This is also true in houses. I think it’s quite sad when people live in houses which they clearly don’t fit into. They are living there because they think it’s the right thing. They are actually not comfortable in the house. They should feel at ease in their home.
Do you feel that some people don’t have a clue about style and taste, which makes them nervous about getting it right?
I consider my job is to take away that anxiety and turn it into a pleasant journey rather than a feverish venture.
What are the things you enjoy most?
I love searching for items and also when I am starting a project from scratch. I don’t like anything to look completely matched. So You’re buying an eclectic mix so it looks like you’ve bought over a number of years.
Do you still have the same energy and drive about interior design?
Oh yes. I think buildings are very exciting to see what you can do. There’s always a gem. I’m looking at a new place in New York where the living room is simply wonderful. And then there are areas which I think are going to be really difficult to tough to make anything out of this. That’s the challenge, really. It’s wonderful to restore buildings, and shaking them up to make them more beautiful and desirable.
What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve been given.
I worked for John Fowler, so that was a great influence. He taught me not to finish a room completely, leave yourself some way of adding some spark to it. The room has to speak.
Nina Campbell Interiors Published by CICO Books Photography by Simon Brown