HPH231 : How to design an interior for a modern home – with Gabrielle Blackman
Interior Designer Gabrielle Blackman explains how, when planned properly, good interior design should take the owner's personality and stamp it on the house.
Interview with Gabrielle Blackman
Gabrielle Blackman trained as an artist and found that with interior design she was able to combine that with her passion for being hands-on, busy and working with people. Her career has seen her work in interior yacht design as well as with some of the leading designers around, before taking the step of starting her own company.
The line between interior design and architecture can cause on-site conflict
The use and practicality of the house can sometimes come into conflict with the architecture.
“So, an architect might want a floor-to-ceiling piece of beautiful glass, so you’re celebrating the space of the room and all of this wonderful natural light, and then I come in and say, ‘where are we going to put the furniture? How are we going to store stuff?'”
Gabrielle explains that there is always a bit of give and take involved and often some heated discussions, but it's a healthy and robust relationship which as a result produces the right house for the client.
“But we get something amazing at the end of the day because it’s two skills that slightly butt heads, but you create something beautiful.”
It should feel full of personality, be incredibly practical and look amazing
Gabrielle believes that a good interior designer should be able to interpret their clients' personality and stamp it on a building. What is also important is that the client feels immediately natural and comfortable within it, and not as though they are in a show home. That is something that comes about through the collaboration process.
“All the details that might be overlooked by exhausted clients who are under a barrage of decision making every day and having to deal with contractors, an interior designer should be able to come in fresh and fight for the extra details that makes it so lovely.”
The initial process is the same for every job: space planning and layout
Gabrielle has developed this process and follows it for every job, no matter how large or small, traditional Georgian home or new build Passivhaus, and it is based around space planning and layout. She builds a picture by understanding her clients' needs, finding out: where the furniture is going to go, how they are going to use each room, whether they have children or pets, whether they work from home, etc.
So the basis of any good design has to start with the layout, ie the way the space is going to be used, how people are going to move around the house, and what they need to keep in each room.
From there, a plan can be produced for the electrical, lighting, plumbing and heating layout. This is why it is essential to consult the interior designer at such an early stage, before the trades are involved, so that radiators aren't already in the place where a TV or sofa needs to go!
Create mood boards to develop ideas
Once the practicalities of how the house is going to work, the room layouts, and plumbing and electrical plans are sorted, the next step is to think about how you want it to look.
Gabrielle often uses Pinterest to communicate with clients and create mood boards for each room. She creates concept boards which are linked to the Pinterest boards, and which are then linked to the actual products. For clients making their own purchases this provides a quick and easy way of shopping for their selected items.
Even if you're not using an interior designer, Gabrielle recommends using Pinterest to create your own mood boards by finding inspirational images that you love and then start pulling out the key elements from that to make your board.
Gabrielle tends to use one big inspirational image that gives the feel of the room, and then surrounds it with the actual items that are going to be put into the room, ie a table, a lamp etc.
The whole house should have a united feel
That's not to say it all needs to be painted the same colour, but running the same flooring through each floor can create that feeling for example.
In Ben's house, Gabrielle noted how the snug needed to have a different feel, ie the winding down and having space for the evening, as opposed to the natural light of the large open spaces. For this they used a dramatically different paint colour to make it feel cosy and cocooning.
Don't compromise on floors and doors
With any project it is important to set your budget and work out what you want to prioritise as early as possible. If the budget is going to be tight, Gabrielle recommends making sure that you have a good floor and doors – the bones of the house – so you have no regrets later on, even if that means having basic or little furniture to start with as that can always be built up over time.
In Ben's house they chose a beautiful herringbone floor which becomes a feature in the open, uncluttered space.
“Working with fantastic trades will make a house”
Gabrielle suggested getting bespoke storage made, and Ben was fortunate in that the building company he used had very talented carpenters.
“What I love about bespoke joinery is it will never go out of fashion. If you do some really beautifully made but simple built-in shelves and cupboards, you need that storage anyway. Every family needs more storage than you can ever imagine, and cupboards are just the source of all happiness, so that’s great. And having them beautifully made, it just means you’ll never be bored of them.”
The right interior designer should add value to your project
Gabrielle stresses that it is important to choose an interior designer who you feel you can communicate with, and who understands you. There should also be a fee structure that you're comfortable with, for defined chunks of work, and not just an open cheque book. It is something that needs to be budgeted for like every other part of the build.
The finishing touches can be equally fun and stressful
Gabrielle has joined Ben at the house for working out the finishing touches. She likens this time as being at the end of the marathon when everyone's a bit tired. The house needs to have the final styling and dressing which is where the interior designer can give help and reinforcement. Together they have searched through Ben's existing belongings to see if there is anything that, coming at it with fresh eyes, they might have forgotten about which actually will look wonderful in their new home. And then it's just a case of deciding on the few more pieces needed to finish it off.
- It's your space – don't be afraid to make unpopular decisions.
- If you're being pressured into something because it's easier for the build, or if in your heart it doesn't really feel like you, then stick to your guns.
- Measure everything!
- Be confident in your tastes – you are the expert on you.
- Make sure you prepare: get your mood boards and layouts done before you even meet your builder for the first time. Including everything such your chosen doors and floors will mean a more accurate quote.
Find out more
Visit the website of Gabrielle Blackman
Follow Gabrielle on Twitter
Download a transcript of the interview with Gabrielle Blackman.
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About The Author
Lucy Cowell is owner of the Virtual Assistant company Quantum PA. Being immersed in the world of architecture for over 20 years and since working with Ben Adam-Smith, she is now determined to build her own house one day too!