Words by Rosie Cattrell
Taking the time to realise the meaning of home, and finding joy in the little details; in conversation with Lydia Allen.
With a shining reputation and an impressive portfolio of projects to charm anyone in search of a fresh interior, Lydia Allen takes us behind the scenes of her world as an interior designer, and lets us in on a secret or two.
Where do you seek inspirations for your interior styles?
I’ve always been drawn to the interiors you see in Australia. You’re never too far away from a coastline, they’ve always got that naturally calming, peaceful style, and it always appears effortless. They use a lot of natural timbers, linens and polished concrete floors, creating the perfect balance between hard and soft, feminine and masculine. Whenever I’m in need of a little bit of inspiration or if I’m just having a read online, my go-to websites all seem to be Australian. I think it’s just the relaxed nature of a lot of the interiors you see over there which really draws my attention. For example, there’s a lot of old Victorian bungalows, which are so beautiful and classical, but then they put these huge extensions on the back which are always really modern, often cladded with metal zinc or timber, I think it’s a really nice hybrid between old and new, so you’re getting the character but you’re also getting a really modern design, which is a great juxtaposition of modernity and history.
Do you have a signature style that clients have come to expect when you are involved in a project?
It really depends on the property and the location of the project. A lot of my projects have been in Cornwall, and they tend to be mostly by the coast or coast inspired. So again, there’s a natural, laid back luxury style that runs through a lot of my Cornish projects. For example, my projects in London tend to be a bit more formal. There’s often classical architecture, traditional cornicing and fireplaces to work with. We would also bring in velvets, beautifully veined marbles and a richer tone throughout. But overall the interiors still have that sense of calm, ending in an effortlessly elegant interior.There’s a natural thread that runs its way through most of my designs depending on whether it’s city, country or coastal.
What changes when it comes to interior design in Cornwall as opposed to somewhere like London?
A lot of the Cornish properties that I work on are holiday homes or second homes, so the aim is to create a home away from home. I use a lot of natural tones and a variety of materials to create the perfect layered aesthetic. They tend to be light and bright unless the clients have specifically stated otherwise. We are actually working on some dark and moody schemes at the moment which will look fabulous when they are installed. A lot of people are scared of dark tones, however, on a wall it can add great depth to a room and having black accents throughout can keep a space feeling timeless. Sometimes, when people think of coastal design they might think of blue and white stripes on the wall, and that’s really the complete opposite to us. When I think of the coast I don’t only think of British coastal because I think that has a very particular style. I lean towards global coastlines. You can walk into the home and feel as though you could be in South Africa, Portugal, LA. This way it keeps the designs modern and stands the test of time throughout all the trend and fads that often come and go.
Take me through your thought processes and mindset as an interior designer, where do you start?
Often clients will approach me after having seen my work. We start by sending them a list of questions. This will include budgets, likes and dislikes, where they go for inspiration and so on. This helps us get a general idea of their style. Following this we then look into the the architecture, location and what the property looks like. Moving forward we start by creating a look and feel presentation, which then leads on to a fully developed and more refined design, custom to each client. Depending on the different packages, this can either be a simple FF&E package or a full design service, which involves designing all the bathrooms, kitchen and choosing all the hard finishes throughout the home. This can also include technical drawings for bathrooms, electrical and lighting layouts, things like that. Once making sure the client is happy with the designs, we start the procurement process, which then leads on to the exciting part and what we’ve all been waiting for – the installation. Each project and each client is very different; some clients hand over the reins from the get-go and simply let us work our magic, whereas with others we’ll work more as collaboration, making each project very exciting and completely unique.
While having free rein has an exciting freedom to it, being collaborative is a great way to take you out of your comfort zone. For instance, there was a project in Cheltenham last year where the client wanted this raspberry pink sofa, which wasn’t something I would have selected, but after taking that into consideration during the design process, the result was beautiful. It was very British country style that we’ve never had the opportunity to work on before, but we thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to anymore quintessentially British homes we may work on in the future.
In your professional opinion, what is it exactly that makes a home?
I think it’s important to have your own stance. When it comes to working with an interior designer, some people worry that you’re going to take away thier own personality from the home. So, I try and make it very clear that it’s not my home, it’s your home. While I’m here to advise and provide a fresh vision for your house, you need to make sure that you include things that you want amongst a fresh design. Sometimes it’s a piece of furniture like the raspberry pink sofa, sometimes a piece of art. Home looks different to everyone, it’s those special details that really make the difference in the end.
What inspired you to start House L?
It’s something I always knew I wanted to do eventually. I was procuring all these candles, placemats, rugs from all these other lovely designers and I thought, ‘I know how this is done, let’s give it a go ourselves.’ At the moment we’re starting off quite small with candles, diffusers, place mats and cushions made from the fabric leftover from upholstery or curtains. making them incredibly sustainable, and eventually we’ll turn to furniture. Being a designer, you can spend hours looking for the perfect chair, sofa or table – you’ve got one in your mind that would be perfect for the project, but you can’t find it or you can and it’s hideously expensive. So, why not design it myself?
Are there any recent projects that you’re particularly excited about?
I recently worked on a project for a South American snack company called Nature’s Heart. They’ve hired a huge double decker bus, and over the last three months I’ve designed all the interior for them, it’s touring all over the UK. It’s seriously cool.
This was a great opportunity to touch on the South American style, so there’s lots of bright colours in there, neon lights and green walls, it’s a bit of a party vibe. It was a very fun, and rather unusual, three-month project; everything was completely custom – when you’re inside you wouldn’t even know you were in a bus. I loved it.