Putting Interior Design on the Map
"Interior design starts with the floor." Vanessa Brady explains the importance of the right floor covering in interior design—and how she rose to the top of the industry against the odds.
Vanessa Brady, your design style is modern and sophisticated. What principles do you follow in creating elegant space or product?
Vanessa Brady OBE: I look to achieve balance in color and shapes and prefer order and structure and a neutral palette. I believe people—not objects—should be the focal point of a room.
Do you take a similar approach in designing your own home?
Yes; my home is very simple. It has plain walls, monochrome rugs, and velvet sofas in a soft grey. Flowers and pictures bring the space to life, and I like light so choose not to cover up my windows.
What role do rugs and carpets have in creating the right atmosphere in a space?
Whether they are in your home or at a museum, rugs form a communal zone—a place where people gather. They take up a significant proportion of a person's field of vision, too. So wherever they are, they need to freshen up the space and generate a positive feeling. They also absorb noise, which is especially important in public areas. The right rug can make you feel uplifted, confident, and safe.
How important is flooring in your work as an interior designer?
Very. I always begin my design process by choosing the type of flooring. To keep everything level, the rest of the building work has to be adjusted to the floor. As coverings differ in thickness—solid wood is a lot thicker than vinyl, for instance—I think it is logical to have them in place first.
Let's switch our attention now to DOMOTEX. You were part of the jury for the Carpet Design Awards this year. Have you held a similar role before?
I judge 14 design awards around the world each year: some for architecture, some for furniture, and some for design and layout. This was my first time judging carpets.
Do you ever attend trade fairs for any purpose other than to judge?
As a matter of fact, I do. I attend trade fairs for design throughout the year, every year—not only as a judge, but also as a speaker. DOMOTEX is always the first in my calendar.
What impressed you most in judging designs for the Carpet Design Awards ? What can visitors look forward to?
There were a lot of things I hadn't seen before, but also many traditional techniques on show. Visitors can look forward to a variety of textures and colors. There were plenty of multi-colored rugs, and even the more neutral designs had interesting twists.
DOMOTEX is a hotbed for design innovations, showcasing the latest and most popular shapes, colors, and styles. New trends are appearing constantly. What sparks them?
As a general rule, a new trend comes into existence in rebellion against the last one—because people are always craving change. A good example of this is in fashion: If short skirts are in right now then long skirts will be the next big thing. And the same goes for furniture and rug design. Geometric shapes and monochrome were dominant for several years. These were immediately followed by non-uniform shapes and polychrome, with designs incorporating scribble marks and ink splashes, for example.
You have been researching sustainable materials for your hotel furniture collection. Is there a trends towards responsible practices in the design industry?
Yes. Aside from it now being a legal obligation to source materials responsibly, companies are increasingly conscious of environmental and ethical issues. Corporate social responsibility is a key theme in modern business. And it is a matter we took into consideration when designing the hotel furniture collection, which has been very successful.
As well as top hotels, you have also designed for the rich and famous, including royals. How is it to work for these people?
Truthfully, they are less trouble than many private homeowners [laughs]! There are time constraints, though; we often find ourselves rushing to prepare the state residences for their arrival. They host guests and entertain there, so the interiors are very formal, more traditional—often rococo. But they don’t live there permanently. Their usual homes are actually very modern.
If your royal client base weren’t sufficient testament to your talents, you have also won numerous awards. But which are you most proud of and why?
I'd like to pick two: "The Woman of Achievement Award for the Built Environment" and the OBE (royal honor given to an individual for services to their sector; editor's note). I'm particularly proud of the former for two reasons: firstly, because I was a "one-man band" up against massive companies; and secondly, because I won it for interior design—ahead of fields like engineering and healthcare.
I received the OBE for services to interior design and the UK economy. It was very humbling. The government acknowledged my role in raising industry standards, improving turnover, and arranging trade agreements with several countries.
These were not only phenomenal achievements for me, but also for the sector. They helped put interior design on the map. More people now realize how vital a consideration it is in planning any kind of building. It is finally being paid the respect it deserves.
You founded the Society of British and International Design (SBID) for the professional certification of interior designers in the UK. What do designers require to receive SBID accreditation?
The core requirements are a university degree along with two years' work experience and 24 hours of continued professional learning. However, because interior design is still an emerging sector, there are many people with professional experience but no official qualification. So we made an allowance: for every missing year of university education they require one and a half years of work experience. In addition, they have to go through an informal interview to prove their credentials. This initiative has put the UK on par with some of the industry-leading European nations.
You have achieved all this in a male-dominated industry. Has this inequality ever led to challenges in your career?
It has at times, yes, but generally men have been quite helpful to me. I often find that women jostling for positions of authority are the most difficult to navigate; they are more able to sense and create conflict than men. In this way, they can be their own worst enemy. When men have stood in my way, I have always found another path around them. Having said all that, at the highest level, women are absolutely dedicated and professional, and men don't even consider gender an issue.
Finally, what is your advice to others—specifically young women—looking to reach the top of their trade?
Rise above the nastiness. You can't be creative if you're wasting time on negativity. I also believe that bad behavior has a payback and that you will be rewarded for doing things the right way. And this may not be instant. If something just isn't working, it's best not to keep pushing. Instead, step back from the situation, analyze where it's going wrong, and approach it from a new angle.