So here we are at the nearing the end of the twelfth series of The Great Indoors and do we have a treat in store. But first, a huge thank you to Geberit for supporting the series and do head on over to geberit.co.uk for oodles of bathroom inspiration and planning tips.
On today’s show, we get to have a nose around a beautiful Mews house in west London owned by the prestigious interior designer and director of Oliver Laws Designers, Guy Oliver. You can listen to the full episode here.
Over the last ten years, Guy has been responsible for the re-design of some very famous swanky hotels, including the Connaught and Claridges in London and the Shelbourne in Dublin. Although he says the thing that excites him the most is the work he does as Creative Director for The Turquoise Mountain Foundation working with artisans in Kabul, Afghanistan to restore all the old adobe houses. He says: “Taste is experience and I absorb so much through my life, travel, and study”
Guy has lived in his idyllic mews house for twenty years, quite a change from when he was growing up – he moved every 18 months with his parents “That’s probably why I’m a designer, they were constantly changing and doing up houses. Staying put is amazing for me and I feel lucky to be here.”
We have interviewed lots of designers on the podcast and the common theme seems to be that most of them have had the same peripatetic childhoods. Guy agrees that this could be the basis of their want to create beautiful homes and stability, not only for themselves but for others too.
He carried on this transitory lifestyle and signed up to join the Navy at the age 16 – the youngest cadet in the college. “The whole this was a total accident, the Navy got lost and turned up at my school by mistake, and was one of the five kids to go and watch the presentation. Being prone to flattery, the admiral said to me ‘You’d make a perfect naval officer’ so I thought, good idea and joined 6 months later.”
Did you love it or hate it?
“It was a weird move for me, in some ways, it was a way of creating a society, community and a home – you live and work with these people so in that respect it felt safe. I don’t know how they didn’t know I was gay, at the time it was a court-martial and a dishonourable discharge but they didn’t do that. Instead, they put me in charge of the parties and events.”
So in a way, when you left the navy, design felt like the natural next step?
” Yes in a way, my mother had an antiques business and nothing was stationary, things always changed. I got to understand how to bring things together, create space, and how to edit. I don’t get attached to objects, I love them and love working in interiors – I don’t feel materialistic about the stuff.”
Do you think that helped you with your career?
“I exercise all my materialism vicariously through the clients, as sometimes I like to close the door on those things. You can’t help loving space and the things around you. My house is very eclectic as it’s full of things I’ve collected on my travels so there’s no overarching design style but it reflects my personality.”
Some interior designers use their home as a showcase for the ‘brand’ is yours a retreat?
“Some interior designers use other interior designers to do their homes and I’ve done that too. I’ve been employed by an interior designer to do their house. Part of being a designer is being a therapist – you’re there to listen, and giving them confidence that they won’t make a mistake.”
So I wanted to know who his go-to paint brand is now?
“We often work with painters that mix colours – but Rose of Jericho do wonderful distempers which add warmth and great for country houses. Mylands have a fantastic range, Paint & Paper Library and Farrow & Ball.
The house is full of personal memorabilia and unique finds from his travels and Guy told us “My grandfather was a poor man and didn’t believe in shares or anything like that and said ‘always buy things you can touch and see’ so I buy things that I like.”
There is a clear influence from the Middle East and Afghanistan and understandably so with the work, he does with the charitable foundation, Turquoise Mountain. “I love the idea of working with artisans and promoting craftsmen.”
“I was doing the restoration of the Connaught Hotel and I worked with them on one of the suites up in the eaves and I wanted the Afghan carvers to work on it. So I got a friend in the airforce to fly the wood back on a Hercules transport plane and that room became the most successful room in the hotel.
“At the time the executive asked why are you creating an ethnic room in a luxury Mayfair Hotel? I said, in the 19th-century people collected interiors and they went around the world and might have had an Indian, Hindu, or an African room and I said, it’s the same logic.
“Everyone from the king of Malaysia to the Kings of Leon loves that room and it’s got a broad appeal and what’s great is that the hotel gives a percentage of the profits from that room back to the charity.”
Do you think it’s important to have a historic or geographical reference within a home or do you believe that you can do what you want if you like it?
“Someone might have a thing for Star Wars characters and if that’s something that they celebrate and love, then that’s completely valid.”
Guy loves the challenge of spatial planning and his mews house is quite small so we wondered he had any tips for making the most of small spaces.
“I love problem-solving and making a space work. I was very lucky that the navy trained me how to deal with that, it’s about efficiency and don’t do things that aren’t worthy of your time. Edit, edit – for me I love things and it’s not about the value – I feel affection for certain things.”
I just loved that as we go through Guy’s house it really felt like the journey of his life with the objects he’s collected along the way, most of which tell a story.
“I was working in Tokyo and went to a flea market and saw this temple and I didn’t think about how I was going to get it home – on the plane. Luckily a champion gift wrapper made a polystyrene box for it and when asked at check-in what it was I said it was my temple and it had to travel with me.”
Guy’s house has such a wonderful grand house feel and he managed to pack a lifetime of treasures into a mews house without it feeling stuffy or overbearing.
A huge thank you to Guy for showing us around his beautiful home and for being such a charming guest, Geberit for sponsoring the series and to the fab producers at Feast Collective.