Behind the Scenes

The life of an Interior Designer …

June 25, 2019

Last Sunday I went to the House and Garden Festival to hear Hatta Byng talk to Maria Speake and Adam Hills, the founders of Retrouvius. My husband and I split our time so I could go to the talk, then come home to take my daughter to a birthday party, so he could go to the Belgrave Square Classic Car Show. Everyone got their piece of cake!

The organisation was well worth it, because not only is it an interior designer’s dream to be in the same room as House and Garden’s Editor Hatta Byng, Maria and Adam are truly inspiring as both a team and a couple. Talk about filling the supply chain in-house! Adam and Maria met at university and started by collecting what was other people’s rubbish, but for them, could be salvaged and turned into treasures. Maria, as House and Garden’s top designer, is now in a position where she gets to use these reclaimed treasures in her clients’ homes and projects.

For a person like me, who loves history and older objects with stories behind them, this is a dream come true. The ability to reclaim these objects and give them a fresh start is thrilling. The client, apart from having acted sustainably and having a high-quality product, can enjoy telling stories of where each piece came from. Maria timidly called the collection and cleaning of rubbish to put in affluent homes a gentrifying process. Gentrifying is a word that seems to have lots of political, social and economic connotations in the UK, which a foreigner like me finds difficult to understand. To me, it’s the perfect word and it’s what makes the process so dreamy … like Cinderella going to live in the castle. A diamond in the rough, given the ability to shine again.

In our Catalan Farmhouse Project, it was exactly this process that excited me. Removing the tiles from its 17th century roof, for example, to later reuse when the ceiling had been redone. Or putting in reclaimed 19th century oak flooring on the top floor. All these materials have history and value. When they are reused, they are given a new lease on life.

In our Chelsea project, we uncovered 200-year-old oak floorboards that we were thrilled to be able to reuse. And you can see cement in the areas where fireplaces used you to be – instead of covering the cement over with floorboards, I left it to show there used to be something there. People often like to ‘design’ over such things, but I believe that removing or covering it over would be like erasing a part of a building’s history.

I love how Maria takes new clients to the warehouse where she and Adam store their reclaimed items to let the client see what they like. She can then work out how to use the item and, from there, fit the rest of the design around it. It is a great way to begin a relationship with a new client as well as to start off a conversation about what a client does or doesn’t like.

To end my Sunday ‘me time’, I read a book that Maria and Adam wrote describing how they have used salvaged materials to create an elegant home. Called ‘Reclaiming Style’, it’s a beautiful collection of their projects. Reading a book on reclaimed objects was the perfect way to end my day in my perfectly imperfect living room.