Naomi Cleaver is a bit of a star in the design world, not only is she a renowned architectural, interior and furniture designer, she’s also a writer and broadcaster dedicated to spreading the gospel of good design. We were lucky enough to grab ten minutes with Naomi who told us the best (and worst) aspects of her job, the secret to finding your own taste, and why she just loves village halls.
Naomi, you’ve just started a series of design courses which are being hosted in village halls across the nation. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
The greatest joy for me is revealing to others just how really good design can immeasurably improve our everyday life. I’d been contacted by many people over the years with queries and questions about the design of their homes, so it felt natural to me to hold a series of really informative design courses (always deliciously catered by the way!) around the country, sharing with others the tools that I was taught at college and many that I have learned through experience.
I’ve organised the course to run over one day where we cover every single aspect of the design and build process, and where I set participants a number of different design projects for them to immediately test their newly acquired skills.
In the end we all learn from one another and have such a good time that it looks like a collective reunion party is on the cards. We’re going to need a very large village hall!
Why village halls? That’s not your usual venue is it?
I’m actually running them in a variety of venues, but I particularly like using village halls: they are always at the centre of communities and are extremely friendly environments, reflecting the way I feel about design – that good design is about practical, inspiring ideas for everyday life. It’s also so important to make sure we use our precious village halls: use them or lose them.
You’re an architectural interior designer, how does this set you apart from an interior designer?
It means that I work as much on the architecture of an interior – the organisation and the construction of space – as the final finishes. The term “architectural interior designer” is horribly clumsy but my colleagues and I are mistaken for soft furnishers otherwise. We can certainly specify soft furnishings and wallpaper and choose colours, but we are also trained to work as architects, producing drawings and Scopes of Works, handling planning permissions and liaising with Building Control. We like to get our hands dirty and I personally love a building site.
What’s been your most exciting project to work on?
Every project I’ve worked on is exciting, from Caribbean resorts to large scale student accommodation and many private homes, where clients still tell me years after completion how much they love their home and how much it really works for them. I especially love it when clients come to sell and the property goes to sealed bids, as happened very recently, even in this depressed market, proving that good design, rather than bland beige is the key to realising property value.
And your worst? (no need to name names!)
One where the client turned into a stalker. It’s a close relationship you build with clients, certainly on private homes, but there’s close and there’s close.
Where do you get your ideas from? Your inspiration?
Nature and art, without fail.
Were there any spaces that you thought ‘hmm I don’t know if I can do this?’
There’s always a certain amount of trepidation on really big projects, or very complex ones, but a degree of self-doubt can be healthy, and forces you to question preconceptions, not least your own.
If people are struggling with all of the interior trends out there which look would you advise they go for?
I would advise that people never design or decorate their homes by relying solely on trends. This is your home after all, not an outfit. Trends can be inspirational but so can nature and art, or period buildings and museums.
I find the most successful approach is to, on the one hand, take time to think very carefully about how you and your household want to live and, on the on the other hand, keep a scrapbook of things you like the look of, and don’t limit yourself to home interest magazines: it’s amazing how revealing this process can be of your true taste.
And if they invested in a couple of key pieces what would they be?
If we’re talking furniture always invest in a really good bed and something you just love for the sake of it.
Your career is vast, from a design consultant, architectural interior designer, writer and TV presenter, tell us about this?
It’s nice of you to say it’s “vast”. I’m not sure about that, but I have had the good fortune to be able to do lots of diverse things, all related to design. What I have particularly loved is working with people who have completely different experiences and skill sets. Most recently I’ve been working on furniture and product designs and am thoroughly enjoying indulging my fascination with factories and workshops.
I genuinely love the challenges of every site, and in fact the more challenging the better. Generous budgets and beautiful locations are a (very) rare delight but I think most designers enjoy the intellectual puzzle of turning might be called a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
What are you most proud of in your career?
That I’ve been able to turn what I love to do into an actual, real live job. One of these days I’m going to get found out!
Photographs: Ed Reeve
To find out more about Naomi please visit her website: www.naomicleaver.com