From luxury villas in Southeast Asia to stunning homes in London, interior designer Brian Woulfe has travelled the world, bringing his unique and refreshing style to clients around the globe. We ask 2018’s hottest London designer how to achieve his luxury look for less, his go-to spots for interior buys and how to make a rental truly feel like home.
Culture Trip: You’ve travelled extensively, working in projects from Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean. Which areas have you found most inspirational and what cultural influences have filtered into your work?
Brian Woulfe: There is no one place that has inspired me the most, but working on projects in different countries allows me to incorporate different geographical influences into my design. For example, I recently worked on a project in Mallorca. In the towns and villages, the beautiful stonework and colours that are heightened by the Mediterranean sun are such a strong theme and I was keen to introduce some of these into the project. In Southeast Asia, typical design can be quite stark and simple. I tried to adhere to this, while injecting a bit of frivolity through artwork and soft furnishings. It is hugely important, however, to remain sensitive to the cultures of these places.
CT: You’re clearly not afraid to use colour, texture or pattern in your schemes – what would your advice be to someone looking to introduce these elements into a room?
BW: Be as bold as you dare! Colour is everywhere at the moment. Complimentary and contrasting colours both work well and so there is an array to choose from. I often hear people say that they don’t like to use bright tones in their homes, but there are so many hues to choose from it is important to try and to experiment. You may surprise yourself. If you do not fancy your entire sitting room in powder pink but like the colour, why not try a few scatter cushions or lamps to bring this element of fun to your space? It can be a gradual introduction – I have a very good friend who lives their life in monochrome (so last year!) and it’s been difficult persuading him to inject some colour, but I managed to get him to start with one rug and the difference it has made to the room’s atmosphere is incredible.
CT: There appear to be influences of Art Deco and mid-century style in your schemes – what particularly draws you to these design eras and are there any particular designers you admire?
BW: Mid-century modern furniture and accessories have seen a huge rise in popularity lately. It is such a versatile style to work with and can be slotted into any space. A beautiful 1950s Italian sofa can work well next to an antique piece of furniture. It’s this that I love; a mix of styles within a room is so important. I draw inspiration from so many designers, craftsmen and artists. I like people who are not afraid to take risks but who do not compromise on quality at any stage in the design process. Collector Ken Bolan, founder of Talisman London, has become a source of inspiration for many of my recent projects. It’s without a doubt one of the go-to emporiums for those in search of exceptional design from the last three centuries.
CT: You work predominantly in the luxury market – what’s the secret to achieving that look on a more modest budget?
BW: I think it is that age old saying: ‘quality not quantity’. For me, it is far more important to invest in a couple of key pieces and build the room around it. Interior design is becoming far more accessible these days and many high-street stores have some amazing accessories that can easily and affordably dress a room.
CT: What tips would you give to a millennial who’s currently renting to make their property more homely and personal?
BW: I think lighting is key here. Often in rented spaces, you have that one bulb hanging from the centre of a room. Switch it off! Invest in some lamps and floor-standing lights and you will automatically transform the room. De-clutter too. It’s easy when renting to feel that you have to store everything with you as it’s not your forever home. I disagree, if you have the money, or even better, a friend who has the space, move out all your clutter so that you can concentrate on your interiors. It can be difficult to decorate walls in rented spaces, so accessories are also key. Some nice soft furnishings can add colourful accents to what might be otherwise a bare room.
CT: Space is often at a premium in modern flats – how can you maximise every square inch of space available?
BW: As above, first de-clutter! We collect so much over our lives and it is hard not to be sentimental. However, my rule is if I haven’t used/worn/looked at something for a year, it goes in storage/to the charity shop! When space is at a premium, think about your living style – if there are only two of you in a flat, do you really need a sofa and three chairs? Perhaps consider some creative options, some stylish folding chairs that can be brought out when guests come. Furniture designers are constantly trying to evolve pieces of furniture so that they can be multifunctional. The days of an ugly sofa bed are gone and there are now some amazing options out there.
CT: You’re based in St John’s Wood – what drew you to London in particular?
BW: It’s just brilliant, isn’t it? Everything is in London. For design, it really is one of the key hubs. For the culture lover, the museums here are a dream. And for foodies and wine lovers (like me), the choice of restaurants and bars is just vast. From an interior design point of view, I have loved working on London-based projects as the clients tend to be a little more daring. I love that. London is so multicultural that you can bring in influences from all over the world and they do not look out of place.
CT: Where are your go-to spots in London to source furniture and objects for clients – and yourself?
BW: I love going to places like the Chelsea Design Centre for one big hit. There are so many options under one roof! I love places like Alfies Antiques in Marylebone and I try to get to as many of the design fairs as I can. Masterpiece is a brilliant fair for seeing high-end design, while Battersea Decorative Fair is great for decorating pieces. I love going to auctions in London also, as they are brilliant fun and sometimes you can pick up a real bargain!
CT: Are there any institutions or public spaces in London that you find especially inspirational?
BW: I have always loved the Great Court at the British Museum. It’s just such a fantastic space and I love the way it changes over the seasons, with the different light streaming through the glass roof. I am also a sucker for Sir John Soane’s Museum. The yellow of the drawing room has stuck with me since my first visit and I think that’s where I get my love of colour from.
CT: What would be your trend forecast for 2018?
BW: Designers will be focusing on intense textures and using new materials. Velvets are standing the test of time, and we are seeing an influx of faux-fur and sustainably sourced feathers. The tactile dimension to design adds a new level to our interiors, incorporating not just sight but touch as well. Giving your home textural elements provides an inviting atmosphere, and shows a real intelligence in design. Combine this with 2018’s most-wanted colours for the ultimate modern home, such as Pantone’s Colour of the Year, Ultra Violet.
CT: What’s your plan for the year ahead?
BW: I would obviously be happy to travel anywhere for my work, but next year I would really like to concentrate on London projects. London is very exciting in the design world at the moment and it’s great to be a part of it. It’s going to be a challenging year, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.