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A Master Class with Nina Campbell….

It was a real treat to go to the Nina Campbell ‘Master Class’ in her boutique in Walton Street last week. I do try to attend talks by designers every now and then – to get ideas, learn from their experiences and to put a little spring back into my step. But this was unlike any talk that I had gone to before. I found the intimacy of this event surprising and charming – Nina and her attentive son Max were there to cater for our every need. Tea? Coffee? Croissant with a napkin? And this is one of her trademarks: the warm welcome and the anticipation of what her guests might need.

She began talking about luxury and how, probably, we would all be envisaging opulent fabrics, yachts, swimming pools and jets (yes I was). Yet luxury, she points out, needs the context of the individual. Luxury to some could be as simple as a beautifully boiled egg; to others, time with their grandchildren. Her overall point was that a designer needs to respond to their client because, unless you really get to know the individual, it is unlikely that you are going to deliver something that is going to delight them. Anyone can decorate a room using gorgeous colours and fabrics she says – but, for the room to work, much more thought and anticipation of what the client needs is required.

Her tastes have changed. Mine have too I think – much less rigid about what I like and don’t like. She collects. She’s gone from matching everything to mixing it up. So, old patterned plates (collected over some years) teamed with cheaper glass dishes. She also adapts: she confesses to having had a deep dislike for amber glass until she saw it at a house of a friend – someone whose taste she had admired and respected for years – well, she laughs, if she likes it then it must be alright! And, so, amber glasses are now part of the growing collection of coloured glassware that Nina has put her name to.

Throughout her talk she demonstrated the extent to which she thinks about how people work. Bedside tables she says – try and have wall lights above the tables for reading because then there’s more room for the book, the water glass, the clock, the glasses, the tissues! If you want to quickly refresh your sitting room then attend to items such as cushions and lampshades. These are relatively inexpensive to change and can add a real push of colour or texture into a room.

It was real fun to hear her talk. Her recent projects have been all around the globe – China, Switzerland, the US, London and I can see why she is in such demand. Living in a room designed by Nina must be an effortless experience because she’s probably anticipated everything that you’ll need in the right place and at the right time – and of course in the right colour! She proved herself the perfect hostess and we were looked after from the moment we stepped in until the moment we left. She even let Isabel have her picture taken with her!



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A spot of shopping…..

With the onset of colder conditions I decided to venture out to Guildford this week in search of a new winter coat.  Inevitably, I became completely distracted particularly when I spied the new Anthropologie store! I rushed over and spent the next half an hour or so admiring the beautiful clothes, coveting the ceramics and marvelling over the African trophy animals! I must confess that, having had a good trawl through the entire stock of seemingly artisan and original pieces I was disappointed by how much of it is made in China. Boo! I actually put something back on that basis – is that wrong?

Glassware at Anthropologie

Anyway having got that out of my system I refocused on coats. The style this year is very slouchy – dropped shoulders, baggy backs. not suited to me at all. half of the items that I had found online and had been tempted to buy were just wrong for me. Which just goes to show – for certain things I am once again convinced that you can’t beat pounding the pavements – and, as an interior designer, you won’t be surprised to hear that I ‘d include furniture, lighting and accessories in that category!

There are however, some things that you can risk getting online. This year, after my usual annual deliberations, I decided on Christmas crackers from Designers Guild and I did get these online! Available in pinks (with gold) or bluey greens (with gold) these crackers promise to be a real treat. I plumped for the bluey green. Their website only hints at the prizes within – things encased in coloured leather. But that’s fine. I like a surprise (will report back).

Full of promise: crackers from Designers Guild

Onto more shopping news: Isabel and I quite often look around the charity shops in Chelsea. They are quite different to the ones in Farnham – full of things for quite a lot of money. Well, this morning I heard that Victoria and David Beckham donated 20 boxes of clothes to a charity shop in Chelsea in aid of the disaster in the Philippines. What a fantastic thing to do! There is no way that I could ever fit into any of Victoria’s clothes (maybe David’s?) but I bet ebay is steaming with resales! I hope they raised a lot for the charity in any case and well done them.

Anyway, to conclude, I found my coat. A mid-length, double breasted, relatively fitted number that is certainly helping to keep the cold at bay. I bought it from Toast and, whilst in there spied their knitwear: bright orange, turquoise, mulberry. Some lovely colour combos going on. Must start thinking about Christmas. More on that next time!



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Paul Klee: full of colour, style and atmosphere!

It had been a while since I had caught up with design school pal Mandy and the usual rendez-vous point (Tate Modern) was hosting Paul Klee – not an artist I knew much about – but one I wouldn’t mind getting to know a little better.

I love days out like this. Catching up on the latest interior design projects, swapping experiences, thoughts on new trends and then immersing into an hour or two of art before emerging, ready for lunch, in the members room!

Initially, I didn’t warm to Klee (pronounced Clay in case, like me, you didn’t know). His art was small (in size not quantity) and he was very organised – cataloguing each piece with achingly neat precision. I’ve always thought that art and administration (or organisation) were on opposite ends of the personality spectrum but here was someone who clearly could do both. Could they?

Anyway, Tate does exhibitions extremely well and you are soon part of Klee’s world of inter-war darkness, political intimidation and personal loss. And yet, despite this context Klee manages to continue his teaching (he becomes involved with the Bauhaus) and his painting. He develops his style, his use of colour, his depiction of light and of atmosphere to the point where you are staring at a series of lines and blocks called ”Fire in the evening”, you know he’s painting in Egypt and you start to get it. The painting is quiet, subtle, warm and vast all at the same time. Klee is not about reproducing what is in front of us he is about portraying what we can’t necessarily see and “making visible” (the title of the exhibition) those things through colour, light and shape.

From an interior design perspective I was mesmerised by his combining of different colours to evoke mood and atmosphere. I loved his use of toning – making things lighter and darker by overlaying colours on top of each other and what that does to perspective and to the focal point in a painting.  I was thrilled by his experiments with a wide variety of styles – again something that I come across in interior design. A large proportion of his work is abstract but within that there are overtones of cubism, of Picasso, maybe of Matisse –  so a huge variety.

Needless to say we both loved it and came away inspired!




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Nina Campbell in Winchester!

I had the pleasure of stopping over in the historic town of Winchester last week and managed to find a rather nice pub-hotel-restaurant for my stay called The Old Vine. When I tell you why I booked it you will roll your eyes and shake your head: all the rooms are named after interior designers or interior design houses! Oh the excitement! The curiosity! Who would I get? Well, to get you off the edge of your seat I’ll cut to the chase: I got given the Nina Campbell suite!

I’m not really sure what I expected. I did wonder whether it would be a completely over-the-top homage to the Grand Dame of interior design: upholstered walls, deep reds, dramatic damasks, and plenty of braids, beads and fringing….. but it wasn’t. In fact it was very a very subtle melding together of many of her softer trademarks in a very understated way. The colour palette consisted of a soft duck egg blue, mossy green and pale cream - ideal for a bedroom. The patterns used were very inoffensive: florals intertwined with a few (OK quite a few) golden butterflies, a stripe and then some textured plains. Happily, in true Nina style, the wallpaper, bedspread, curtains and pelmets were all done in the same pattern and, of course, there was a relatively generous helping of green glass beads twinkling across the bottom of the pelmets. Ahhh…

I liked this idea of naming the rooms after designers. I think it’s great that when an owner has a passion or an interest that it is reflected. It gives the place personality and makes it memorable.  So it’s great to see that the Old Vine has been nominated as a finalist in the B&B category for The Beautiful South Awards for Excellence 2013. Certainly my stay here was welcoming, comfortable and very enjoyable.

Don’t worry, I kept my curiosity to the NC room and didn’t request a glimpse of the Zimmer + Rohde or the Osborne and Little. Maybe next time? Maybe we ought to suggest an Isabel Ballardie Interiors room?





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The Art of the neutral

As someone who loves art, photography, sculpture, ceramics and virtually all other forms of original expression I am pleased, but at the same time always disappointed, when big companies (like John Lewis, Laura Ashley) try and mass produce art and sell it as a commodity. It just makes me feel strange. Where has the joy in finding, collecting and treasuring – even creating – gone?

Anyway, as interior designers we get asked to recommend artists, art, sculptors all the time and, recently, I was helping a client find a picture or a painting for her newly refurbished front room. She wanted black and white photography but for ages we had no luck. Then I came across Ben Lowe doing all sorts of interesting abstracts (and not quite abstracts) for Loaf (that online provider of slouchy sofas and pale coloured things). In themselves the paintings are quite attractive. I liked Helter Skelter for its, well, Helter skelteriness. The client liked and is not only buying (from Ben’s own website) for her new sitting room but also for her bedroom -great!

But then part of me thought, hang on, this art is largely grey. It’s neutral. Of course people are going to buy it because it bridges that uncomfortable gap between needing to fill a space on a wall but actually not wanting to venture too far from the Farrow and Ball neutrals. I am being harsh and the work does have an ethereal feel to it and one, I have to say, that I probably wouldn’t tire of. But neither would it stir me – there’s no controversy here, no statement, no real nasties. Which takes me back to art being personal. About it reflecting taste, preference and experience and why mass produced stuff invariably doesn’t do it for me.

I actually quite liked the description of his work on the Ben Lowe website and I would probably gain more if I took the time to understand his work better. But don’t take my word for it - take a look for yourself – after all, you might like it!




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Glamour and all the trimmings at Chelsea

Completely catching my eye last week at the Chelsea Harbour Design Centre were the new rather glamorous fabric and passementerie collections in the Zimmer + Rohde showroom.

Sister company Ardecora launched their ‘Milano’ collection at Focus 13 and, until now, I hadn’t had the chance to look at it in any detail. Until last week that is and I’m really glad that I did.

The fabrics are elegant, beautiful, sumptuous…. they undeniably possess overtones of baroque but have their own, unique take on that style that seems to retain the richness but lose the heaviness. I also absolutely loved the blue colour-way in this collection – it is a sort of Wedgewood blue which again, has a real presence but also a lightness about it. I know that I normally joke that, whilst a lot of the new collections look great in London, most would struggle in Farnham – but not this. I think this could be part of interior designs pretty much anywhere (I’m thinking my sitting room in particular)!

Also at Z+R, the new Travers passementerie collection is worth a look and the showroom has done well to showcase how the collection can be used on soft furnishings and upholstery. Gorgeous patterns that you genuinely think you might never tire of are so useful in livening up a plain cushion (that you have tired of) or in smartening an occasional chair or seat cushion. At Isabel Ballardie Interiors we are always looking at ways of upcycling existing possessions and this is on the list!

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Make your home a palace

There’s a great new wallpaper collection from Cole and Son that we saw at Focus ’13 last week. It’s inspired by the architecture, gardens and interior details found in 5 of the UK’s Royal Palaces – Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, the Tower of London (not the grizzly bits), Banqueting House and Kew.

There are the more obvious elements to this collection  – such as the wall panelling at Hampton Court Palace or the gates at Banqueting House. But the real joy of this collection comes when the motifs such as the Tudor Rose – so often seen alone -or the topiary puzzle of the Hampton Court maze – again only ever really seen on a large scale – are used to create a pattern repeat that, in turn, becomes a modern looking design that at the same time oozes with history and intrigue.

For me the most successful designs are Palace Maze (really very striking) and perhaps more generally appealing Queens Key. The latter is inspired by the Greek Key decorative pattern as seen in both the Presence Chamber at Kensington Palace and Queen Charlotte’s Boudoir at Kew. Recreated as an all over wallpaper it comes in soft watercolour shades or in sharper metallic. I love it because it feels smart, it is a timeless motif, and, particularly in the softer shades, is there but not overwhelmingly so.

You can’t write about the collection and completely ignore the panelling. The Library Panel is inspired by the many wooden panelled rooms found in all of the palaces. Again, it is a timeless interior design feature and Cole and Son have brilliantly transposed it into both a wallpaper with vertical panels and a frieze with horizontal panels. I love the colourways available too – a vast array from white and cream through to sophisticated Dark Linen and moody Charcoal.

Aside from these there are some beautiful floral and damask designs which you really ought to have a quick look at. Again, the colour ways are really well thought through and the designs, despite their historic inspiration, feel fresh and exciting. Take a look at Cole and Son’s website and call us if you’d like any samples sent.



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Good move for Decorex ’13

This year saw top Interior Design exhibition Decorex move from it’s usual home on the Chelsea Embankment to Kensington Palace Gardens. I’m not sure what prompted this move but last year was windy, chandeliers were swaying precariously in the marquee and maybe heath and safety had just got a little too anxious. Whatever the reason I think this has been a positive move and, thankfully, the temptation to create an even bigger exhibition seems to have been resisted.

So, at Decorex itself the highlights for me were seeing William Yeoward’s new collection, Collected… in the flesh. It certainly wasn’t too hard to see why Decorex had given him the award for Excellence this year.

Justin Van Breda’s stand was also a head turner – such beautiful mirrors, consoles and occasional furniture. Really elegant, statement pieces available in a number of finishes.

Justin Van Breda's gorgeous four-piece mirror

Maybe it’s because we have done quite a few bedroom designs recently that I was distracted by the range of beautifully designed bedside tables on the Robert Langford stand. The finishes were everything: shiny, smooth, textured; handles were elegant and understated and the shapes – of the legs and the drawer fronts were just lovely. In terms of shapes and texture, the Podesta stand featured a simply beautiful coffee table. Curving legs, round table, reflective, slightly antiqued table top. I found myself coveting!

We spent some time having a play on the Michael Northcroft stand. His furniture looked elegant and understated and it was great to have an opportunity to ‘have a play’. Again, it’s great bedroom furniture at a reasonable price.

On the Kings Road we went to one of our favourites O&L we enjoyed Nina Campbell’s new Scottish inspired collection (and ordered in quite a few samples)! We also had fun with the Matthew Williamson collection. His Tiger design is a real delight  (although admittedly difficult to place in an interior design in Farnham) and the colourways he has selected are vibrant and upbeat. We are lucky to be working on a design for a client at the moment that calls for fuschia pinks and purples so the collection was a rich source of inspiration on that front!

Onto Walton Street and Andrew Martin where we saw his new Gallery collection of wallpapers. This is essentially tromp l’oeil gone mad. Collections of modern art, classic art, postcards, plates against a coloured backdrop is really clever. This takes you a step further than his Bookcase design but there’s a part of me that does want this somewhere…..

Gallery wallpaper at Andrew Martin




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Nicky Haslam at OKA!

There is definitely a trend for reinventing the past in furniture design! Take a look at what interior designer Nicky Haslam has just done: launched a collection for high street retailer and online provider of furniture and accessories – OKA.  It’s fun, quirky and very Nicky!

He says that the collection was inspired by pieces from his own home and by pieces he’s seen over time that he has wanted to own. He also wanted to create pieces that can be used in a number of places around the home – for example, bedside tables that can be used as side tables. On the chosen style he says “the melding of classic and new is so prevalent in decoration today, and this collection harmoniously achieves exactly what I hoped for.”

One of the eye-catchers for me is the ‘Campaign Tent’ wardrobe. 84cm in diameter and 225cm tall this has a true wow factor.  Topped by a wooden carved pine cone and with leaf-shaped handles this upholstered piece is a true feast for the eyes. It’s showing as ‘Low Stock’ already everyone!

Another piece that I thought was rather smart (although it did remind me of my convent school days) is the Walpole chair. Presumably named after Horace Walpole of Strawberry Hill fame, this chair is  Gothick in it’s design but, rather than all the fuss that I associate with that style, Haslam has designed a beautifully simple chair with discreet ornate gothic detailing.  Even I, with all the convent reminders, could imagine one in my hallway!

So well done Nicky and to OKA – judging from the interest and demand that this collaboration has already generated I think you could have a real success on your hands here! At Isabel Ballardie Interiors we’re always looking for fun, unusual pieces to suggest to clients to add to their schemes and there is a wealth of those here. Annabel Astor one of the co-founders of OKA can be seen talking to Nicky Haslam about the collection on the OKA website.




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In with the old…. and the traditional

It’s a new season and time to get familiar with the new trends! With London Fashion week next week swiftly followed by the Interior Design exhibitions ears are to the ground and fingers on the pulse for the latest new thing. But this year, the latest new thing seems to be ‘old’ and, more to the point, ‘traditional’.

To start with, two English luxury brands Wedgwood and Mulberry have collaborated on the invitations to London Fashion Week. The invitation comes in a box, embossed with a traditional stately home. A dainty Wedgwood tea cup wearing the Mulberry logo and in one of this season’s shades sits in the box. You have to say that the concept of ‘Tea time, show time’ is indeed smart and elegant and yes, traditional and formal.

So, tradition and history are appearing on many of the flyers, emails and invitations swarming through the letterbox at the moment. Spanish furniture company De La Espada have sent a video of someone hand-turning a piece of furniture, Savoir Beds have a live demo at Decorex of someone using traditional methods and materials to construct a bed. Finally, being a bore and going back to those lovely Wedgwood cups, here’s a link on their website to watch them being handmade….. http://www.mulberry.com/journal/making-a-mulberry-teacup/ I bet you do!

So, moving onto Decorex (21st – 24th September) and there is more tradition from Interior and Furniture Designer William Yeoward. He is introducing ‘collected‘… a collection of historical furniture revisited. It’s inspired, he says, by his annoyance that ‘the beautiful pieces of furniture that I have eyed and hankered after have become both extremely scarce and, when available, beyond my pocket!

The collection is far reaching in it’s historical references: Victorian Gothic consoles, Arts and Crafts arm chairs, Renaissance style tables. It’s not just the designs that are historic either: the pieces are made using original manufacturing techniques.









The comprehensive collection (it includes chairs, consoles, cupboards, tables, bureaus, desks and the list could go on) uses a selection of exciting materials – woods of every colour are mixed with marble and faux marble, brass and parquetry, carving and turning all to give a diversity rarely seen today.

So, it’s in with the old and out with the new! or is ‘old’ simply the new ‘new’? Enough – let’s go and take a look!



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