The Magpie Anthology

Navigating Interiors

For interior designers, navigation is the watchword. From being your client’s accountant, advisor and sometimes psychiatrist, it’s not necessarily all about the Farrow and Ball. We spoke to Dawn Townend from PHG Cowes interiors and got her take on navigation.

What’s current in interiors?

For me the Scandi thing is ever present, the layering of textures and ‘keeping it quiet’ but then you have top designers like Sophie Robinson who goes ‘COLOUR’ and ‘grey is dead’ so perhaps its more subjective. Industrial style is still current and concrete as a surface is good although I’ve recently been reading about tarmac (yes really) as a flooring with granite chippings in it for texture & colour which is great because it doesn’t have to be as thick as concrete. Do you think we’re less slavish and cooler about what we like? I think we’re certainly cooler about what we like, and that people are generally more knowledgeable because we live now in a really image led world and it’s fast – everyone’s on Instagram and Pinterest and so people are savvier. I also think that there’s a confidence out there which is interesting. The other side of that is that there’s also a sense, particularly with a certain type of customer who need a kind of verification – ‘I’ve seen that on the cover of Country Living and therefore it’s OK for me to like it’. I watched the Grayson Perry programme about class, which I found fascinating and he talked about how the middle classes need validity, that it’s OK to like this particular ‘thing’, whereas the working classes don’t care what people think and the upper classes are just bonkers and in fact much more like the working class in the ‘don’t care what people think’ respect.

Does that make things more difficult for you as an interior designer?

Yes. Because they’ve seen it and liked it then it must be right for them and their house. And I think that’s where people like Sophie Robinson are great, she has too much personality for some because who can make acid blue, pink and yellow work together? She can. I’m not sure I could but it’s about being brave and not sticking to the same personalityless palette. I think it’s great that people feel more confident about understanding what they like but there’s still hesitancy not least because it doesn’t come cheap most of the time either and to purchase something on a whim rather than consider how it will work can be a costly mistake. It’s difficult, I’d like to have much more controversial stuff here in the shop, it’s quite watered down and accessible, because i have to try to appeal to quite a broad demographic.

It must be very refreshing then if you get a client who says ‘I don’t want the beige and the grey and I am receptive to your ideas.

What we try to do in homes is to steer. I like to think that what we do is to help clients understand what it is that they really want. Often people will come with a barrage of I want this, this and this so you have to filter that and put all of those things into a big cauldron, distil it and hope that you come out with what they’ll go with in the end. For instance, I did a scheme for a family owned holiday home which came from a Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic which was playful with pops of turquoise and red and crisp coastal, relaxed and fun. Unfortunately, in this instance we were working with an extended family which is in effect a committee so this great idea which was given the go ahead in the beginning has now changed a lot, which I suppose is just part of the process. Though
we’re still very proud of the end result, and the family are happy, it’s a shame the design wasn’t followed through fully. It really is a balancing act and understanding people and how they tick is useful – You have to winkle out what clients really think, because often what they say is not what they really want. I also have had to learn to let go and not be precious .

So where do you get your inspiration from?

Architecture blogs, looking through design websites, especially American ones. Their Brownstones are always fabulous and architecturally what they’re doing is amazing. The Plain English company who remodelled the kitchen for HMS Owl (a World War II air squadron control tower in Scotland) have just opened in New York – I love on one hand the stripped back puritan image that Plain English represent – very protestant in its look, but then again, I like a more catholic style, the gold and the bling, the bright. My dream would be to have a client who would marry those two things together!

Questions you need to ask yourself before you embark on a project:
Can I afford it?
Do I really like it, or do I think I do because I’ve seen it in a magazine?
Will it fit?
It is the right size for purpose?
Can I live with the turquoise sofa / antique desk / marble worktop?

We also try to work as much as possible with what clients already have, not just chucking it all out, especially those little things which hold an association or memory, these are important in making the home reflect the client’s personality and not us imposing ‘a look’

E mail: dawn@phgcowes.com
01983 506689
Instagram: @islandlifeinteriors

Words: Amber Beard

Pictures: PHG

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