We’ve been talking for quite a while now about the relationship between great art and interior design, so we’ve been talking to some top interior designers and agencies about their businesses. Let us know if you pick up some tips!
Tony Matters, Managing Director at Heterarchy was kind enough to talk to us about the art and science of interior design…
Could you give us a brief outline of the background of your business and what services you offer?
Our core business is hospitality interiors (bars, restaurants, hotels and conference venues) as well as religious and high end residential projects.
Heterarchy was founded in 2001 by the interior designer Rosemarie Fitton. We’re based in Leicester – we work from a converted 20′s knitwear factory – it’s open plan, lots of character. It says a lot about who we are, although it’s evolved over the years rather than being ‘designed’.
We’re a team of five – Rosemarie Fitton, Creative Director – Tony Matters, Managing Director – 2 designers and a studio assistant.
How would you describe the kind of work you do? Do you have a particular style?
I would say we always aim to create interiors that inspire people; this is not marketing jargon, we actually want people to walk into a space we’ve designed and respond emotionally. We don’t have a set style, but we do have a set process; over the years we’ve learnt how best to approach a project so that we can get under the skin of our clients needs and wants. It must be working, as we have lots of happy clients who keep on coming back to us.
Could you describe more about the sectors you work with?
Hospitality is a key sector for us, it seems to be a good fit for our skills and approach. I would say we’re in the business of creating spaces that are engaging, inspiring and lift people emotionally; being able to do this well takes a particular skill; it’s as much about knowing what to leave out as what to put in, it’s that intangible thing when you know something is right but you’re not sure why. Being able to do this seems to really suit hospitality interiors.
Religious spaces are something our Creative Director Rosemarie has a keen interest and ever expanding knowledge in. Having designed all of the spiritual spaces for the second largest Hindu Temple in the UK, for BAPS Shri Swaminarayn, we’ve been privileged to get the opportunity to learn a tremendous amount about their faith and beliefs. Interpreting the symbols and values into a contemporary interior scheme, the end result is pretty much unique. Rosemarie is now actively pursuing this area of work, to both expand her own expertise and eventually make a significant contribution to the design of new types of religious and spiritual space.
Residential projects are where we cut our teeth. For the first seven years of Heterarchy, we provided a complete design and build service for high end residential projects. As we became more and more successful within this area, it was a natural progression to start to get involved in other types of work. We do still work on residential schemes, although not as much as we used to; and these days they tend to be pretty exclusive projects.
What part of the design is most important when making an individual statement on a project?
Conveying the individuality of a brand through interior and architectural design is possibly the single most important thing we do. To do this, it’s essential to develop deep understanding of the brand; what are it’s core values, who are it’s customers, what do they want and need. It’s about looking for what makes this brand unique and imprinting this into the design; we strongly believe that every single business or venue has something special that can set them apart from their competitors. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times we have to do some digging, but ultimately this is the thing that makes the real difference, the thing that leads to our preferred response ‘this just looks and feels right’.
Communicating the individuality of a faith is not too different. It’s about learning and developing understanding. It’s about going back to the first principles of a particular faith and understanding where it all came from. This is always a huge undertaking but it cannot be avoided, particularly if we want to create something new and relevant for contemporary society. A lot of religious architecture is almost ‘pattern book’ – you use this pattern here, that one there and so on. What we would prefer, however, is to understand why these symbols where used in the first place; this enables us to create something new that still adheres to these guiding principles. One of the biggest challenges in this field is the design of multi-faith spaces – these are essentially spaces for prayer and meditation that are not specific to any one denomination. In practice, this is very hard, as their are lots of preconceived attitudes and conflicting requirements; in spite of this, we strongly believe it is possible to make this work, again by getting back to first principles and creating an over-riding sense of spirituality.
Creating a space that is personal and individual to someone’s lifestyle is again about taking the time to develop real understanding. In some ways this can be the hardest of all; people often use logic to justify what they want, but in fact it’s always their emotions that drive the decision. Add to that the fact that often you’re dealing with a couple and it gets even harder. Sometimes I think that to design peoples homes you are half designer and half marriage guidance counselor!
What is your dream project?
I’m not sure I have a dream project but I probably have a dream client; someone who is passionate about their business and wants to embark on a journey to create something special. It’s also worth noting that this is not about having huge budgets to play around with; this just makes you lazy. Some of the best experiences we’ve had is working within tight cost constraints, yet pushing ourselves to create something amazing. On a more basic level, I would like to travel more with our work. We’re currently working across the UK but relish the opportunity to work further afield, which I’m sure at some point will happen.
Do you plan to carry on focusing on working with clients within hospitality, religion, and residential? Or there other types of businesses and organisations you are aiming to work with?
My focus within the business is hospitality interiors. This is where my passion lies and is something I’ve started to develop genuine expertise in, which is really important; we would hate to be seen as a ‘jack of all trades’. Having a deep expertise within a narrower field is, in my view, the key to success. Rosemarie is doing this with religious, spiritual and multi-faith spaces. In fact, Rosemarie is building a level of expertise within this area that is unrivaled within the UK, maybe even the world! As for residential projects, more often than not these days we get appointed because someone has seen our work within a other field but appreciated our skill and approach; we tend to be quite selective about this type of work now, as it’s easy to be a busy fool!
Are there any Designers, Architects or Artists you would love to collaborate with?
I’d like to collaborate more with artists who share a similar world view. I’m not pretentious, I always try and speak in plain english; but this doesn’t mean I’m not passionate about creativity, about capturing the essence of an idea and communicating with people on a deeper, more intuitive level. I suppose that’s the ‘art’ in what we do, which, for me, is the critical element of success. To work closely with an artist who understands where I’m coming from would be simply amazing.
How do you plan to push boundaries in the world of Interior and Architectural design in the future?
For me, great design is in the first instance about building great teams. Our work has to deliver on many levels – commercially, creatively, emotionally and technically. Getting the balance right is all about getting the right mix of individuals, within both the client and design team. This is the essence of a ‘heterarchy’. Going forwards I look forward to working with great individuals and producing truly outstanding spaces.
What are you plans and aims for the next year, 5 years?
We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, keep pushing ourselves to deliver outstanding projects for our clients. As has happened over the past few years, so long as we stay true to our values and never stop learning I think our success will continue. In 2009 we set ourselves the goal to be the leading designer of hospitality interiors with the Midlands; I think we’re nearly there. Next, the UK. Then the world!
Do you think that following trends is important in Interior and Architectural Design?
I think a balanced approach is key. We tend to put the fashion into things that can be easily updated whilst ensuring the underlying scheme will stand the test of time.
Where do you feel that you fit into current trends? Are you part of a wider trend?
I’m not sure that we do. It’s entirely possible to create an interior that fulfills our clients commercial needs, elicits a positive emotional response from those that use the space and is in some way a unique and individual response to a particular place, without being ‘on-trend’ or fashionable. Our work varies in style as it’s always a response to a specific client and situation; this is the way it should always be.
Do you consider Interior Design as an art form in itself?
There has to be an element of art in it, however we also need to balance that with commercial and practical considerations. The ‘art’ part is vital, however, as that is how we communicate with people on a more intuitive and basic level.
How can a single piece of art change the mood of a room?
It’s entirely possible to build an interior around a single piece of art. If it adds to the story, or even creates the story, then it can be a powerful emotional trigger within a space.
Do you incorporate artwork in any of your existing designs?
We often incorporate art within an interior, quite often it’s a pivotal part of a scheme.
Do you think that displaying artwork in a business setting is important for making a statement about a brand?
I think it needs to connect with the story of that brand. Art for arts sake is good for no-one, but when art can be used to add an emotional layer to a space it works really well.
Religion has played a huge part in art and design through the centuries and is associated with very historic structures and artistic techniques, how are you bringing this into the modern world?
We’ve had to go back to basics, to understand the primary drivers for both religious art and religious symbolism. Peoples need for a spiritual or religious dimension in their lives has never changed, but the way we see the world most certainly has. Making a visual or symbolic reference does not have to be particularly obvious or literal – in fact, by placing it within a more contemporary conceptual framework, it’s possible to capture the underlying essence of why we would need this in the first place. With Hinduism, for example, the underlying symbolism is all about expressing the power of nature; cycles of life, birth, growth and renewal. Historically, this is communicated using devices such as stems, leaves and flowers in different stages of growth. Once you understand this, it’s fairly easy to se how you can create a new language that still communicates these core principles.
Have you ever designed a project around an existing piece of art? How did you go about doing this?
We designed the foyer for the new BAPS Shri Swaminarayan temple around an important relief sculpture that is located at the Akshardam temple in India. Although this is quite small in size, we used this as the source image for a fifteen metre long glass wall in the foyer. The image is a historical reference, the scale and material used is entirely contemporary.
What steps did you take to break into the industries of Interior and Architectural design?
Our route into design was evolutionary – starting out with small commissions, by always striving for excellence our work got attention. Looking back it’s amazing how far we’ve come, our business is almost unrecognisable now from what is was when we first started.
What path would you recommend to someone considering it as a career now?
A good degree in interior architecture, ideally one where you can do a years placement in industry. If not, try and get as much work experience along the way as possible.
Has it become easier or harder in this field?
It’s getting easier for us as we become more recognised within our field. Building up contacts takes time, there’s no shortcut to developing lasting relationships with key clients.
Have client’s expectations changed?
People are more aware of ‘interior design’ – at least they think they are! The popular media has not really helped, quite often reinforcing negative stereotypes of what interior design is. Good clients, ultimately, understand the value of good design. Quite often through a bad experience of some kind they soon come to realise that good interior design is about so much more than using the latest fabrics and wallpapers.
You can find out more about Heterarchy over on their site at www.heterarchy.co.uk.