We are halfway through season 11 of the Great Indoors podcast already and there is a chink of light appearing at the edge of my duvet den. Soon we will be unleashed back into the world but for today we have some great topics to share.
Firstly, a huge thank you to Harlequin for sponsoring this series. By popular demand, they have created a snazzy online Styling consultancy offering inspiration and guidance all tailored to your own preferences. So if you are looking for some help nailing that new colour scheme you book a slot here: sandersondesigngroupshowroom.setmore.com They even offer a free swatch service on all fabrics and wallpapers!
On with the show, today we revisit the topic of Diversity within the interior design community and I had an inspiring chat with designer and business mentor Simon Hamilton. Simon is a man with his finger in all the pies and some valuable insights on how the industry is tackling the issue of diversity.
But first, we couldn’t ignore requests from our lovely listeners about our thoughts on the recent Downing Street renovation and ‘Cash for cushions’ debacle. We are not going to delve into the political ramifications, but the issue at hand is that the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and his partner Carrie Symonds are in the process of renovating their flat above no.11 Downing Street. The prime minister gets £30,000 a year from the public purse to spend on updating his home, but it’s speculated that they spend up to £200,000 on the reno. This a Grade 1 listed flat so you can’t change anything structurally so this eye-watering cost is just for furnishings!
They employed interior designer Lulu Lytle of Soane Britain and her task was to “get rid of Theresa May’s John Lewis furniture nightmare.” For most of us, we all aspire to have a bit of John Lewis furniture and there’s a stink of “what’s good enough for us, isn’t good enough for them” around this story! Reportedly, Reportedly, they are spending £840 per roll of wallpaper. I know I have a soft spot for designer wallpaper but even to my standards that is pretty excessive.
I spotted an article in the Times by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen about his opinion on the wallpaper – it totally made me roar with laughter. Do read the whole article if you can but here is a snippet on his thoughts around said gold wallpaper…
“Posh paper is entry-level, its nursery slopes as far as I concerned, rooms hand-painted with murals are the ultimate in luxury and a key part of British decorating history. I would do something elegant and at the same time a bit challenging, think of Hampton Court or James Thornhill’s work at Greenwich, does it end up getting a bit Rex Whistler or do we want rolling Italian countryside. Of course, they should have asked me to design it, we all know how much fun it would be, I would swing in there on a rope like Erol Flynn with my leather trousers and probably a damask covered rapier and banish the John Lewis. He couldn’t afford me of course, but if Boris calls I’ll waiver my usual fee in exchange for an OBE.”
If you are going to indulge in luxury interior design, I imagine there would be a lot of beautifully made, hand-crafted, bespoke action going on but is it really appropriate to spend that much in a home that isn’t your forever home? We haven’t seen the interior of the flat but there have been pictures floating about in the press of patterned sofas matching the wallpaper. The look Carrie is going for is steeped in nostalgia and a look that is certainly hot right now. We discussed on the last show – a trend for the lady of the manor, country house style – in case you missed it you can listen here.
All of this led to quite a long Twitter thread about interior design crimes and there were quite a few! Do get in touch and let us know your thoughts about all the above and join us on our joyous Facebook group.
It’s almost a year since the murder of George Floyd which sent shockwaves around the world, even us on our interior podcast. It highlighted that the interior design industry along with many others has a problem with diversity. We did a special showcasing some of the experiences of those in the industry back in Series 7 Ep 5 and it drew quite a depressing picture of the lack of representation, discrimination and flat out racism.
It also highlighted that this is a real opportunity, for example, blogger Poonam Sharma, @modernluxeblog modernluxe.co.uk, said it was a chance for brands to listen and respond and to make sure the people they worked with represented a mixed and diverse nation.
Robi Dutter, the executive producer of the BBC’s DIY SOS for six years, talked about how shows like his have a duty to find, and work with, diverse talent both in front of and behind the camera. It might not always be easy to find, or even fully formed, he said, but it is there. Designer Eva Sonaike talked of the responsibility of designers like herself to be role models, open doors and provide opportunities for those coming after them.
We wanted to share some developments, our very own Kate Watson-Smyth and interior designer Rukmini Patel set up Design for Diversity pledge which they shared with brands, retailers and designers and anyone working in the interior industry to acknowledge the situation and start taking action. At the last count, they have had 150 brands sign up including some big names – Sanderson Design Group, Magnet Kitchens, Farrow & Ball. One of the first brands to sign up was Heal’s who has made some significant changes, engaging with all members of staff to hear feedback, keep them involved and see what each individual can do on a practical level as well as many events.
Bigger companies have been slower to get their strategies in place as they are working on a global level, but smaller ones like The Monkey Puzzle Tree, a design and textile company in Leeds had struggled to find designers from ethnically diverse backgrounds, she is now working with two designers, Josephine McYebuah, on wallpaper and an embroiderer Saima Kaur.
It’s a slow change but the intention is there and we may not see the results straight away but conversations are happening!
So, a year on what progress has been made? I spoke to designer Simon Hamilton about the work he’s done with the British Institute of Interior design, biid.org.uk. Not only is Simon an interior designer, but he also founded Design Career Consulting, he has lectured at Central St Martins and judged the Dezeen Sustainability Awards.
The BIID is the main industry body for us in the UK and a year ago they didn’t have any policies relating to diversity. That has changed and you have been pivotal to that, can you tell us what they’re doing?
“They wanted to the best for their members and they needed to find out what the situation was so they conducted a survey and although the pool of people wasn’t huge, it was a start. They discovered that the discrimination and lack of diversity weren’t what they expected; obviously, they found that there isn’t representation perhaps on panel discussions and magazines, but in terms of education there are a lot of interior designers from black or ethnic minorities. However, the problem we found was there is a gap between them graduating and securing a job and that’s where the discrimination lies – the opportunities are not being broadened and offered to everybody.”
So plenty of people from diverse backgrounds are going into higher education but the link has broken between graduating and getting on the career path?
“The attitude of employers and recruiters has to change, they may not even be aware that they are discriminating because they are just doing what they have done before. So it’s creating that awareness and perhaps suggesting that when there are advertising a job they include a policy saying that the job is open to everybody.”
The interior industry is predominantly female orientated which the survey did pick up. So it’s not just about diversity of race and background.
“Friends of mine who are male and also designers, feel discriminated against because they feel outnumbered and didn’t feel welcome within a female company. So there is discrimination on all sorts of levels. There are also policies by United in Design which was set up Alexandria Dauley and Sophie Ashby and they have been very active in trying to address diversity. It is a slow process but it has definitely changed from last year.”
“We are in a fourth industrial revolution if you like, and we need to be aware of culture and how people relate to each other is super important and I think now is the right time to take this on board. United in Design and BIID are doing sterling work and the thing that would really help is if other people joined.”
“I think it’s an exciting time in design, there’s an awful lot of work around despite the pandemic, but people want to be creative and give others something special to look forward to.”
“United in Design is hosting a design festival in London on 13th July and that experience and opportunity are going to build – on experiences, confidence and network.”
This week we help Chloe in Greenwich decide on whether to upcycle her existing kitchen cabinets or cut her losses and go for something brand spanking new. i was inspired by the home of artist and home ware design Anna Jacobs who has vinyl wrapped her worktops, splash back, even the fridge! A masterclass in a budget kitchen makeover if ever there was one.
A huge thanks to Simon, I can see why he makes a great mentor with his passion and experiences, thanks to Harlequin, our wonderful producer Kate Taylor from Feast Collective and of course our lovely listeners.
Image at top by Rukmini Patel.