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A Life of Design
NIcky Haslam
Interviewed by Joel Donovan
Edited by Alice Kelpie
Nicky Haslam is Britain’s ultimate interior designer; as famous for his glamorous design style as for his cult clientele list of royalty and rock stars. A House of Hackney favourite, Nicky Haslam’s interior design is a great source of inspiration. We are admirers of his ability to take risks; able to produce rooms that are eclectic yet elegant. The enfant terrible of the design world, Nicky’s definitely not afraid of breaking the rules. We caught up with the decorating maverick at his Kensington abode to talk about his design mantras, inspirations and memories of a long lost London.
Joel Donovan:If you were showing someone around London who has never been there before, where would you take them?

 

Nicky Haslam:It used to be the East End. You used to see wonderful things there. There was a square that Peter the Great lived in called Swedenborg Square, just off the Ratcliffe Highway [now called the Highway, which runs from the City of London to Limehouse]. It’s been knocked down, it’s now a block of flats. There were romantic places like that. Actually it’s the Hawksmoor churches –St George in the East, St Anne’s Limehouse, all of them – those churches are amazing. How to build and decorate really came from there. You see where [Edwin] Lutyens got everything from.  

 

JD: How has East London changed?
NH:It has changed enormously since I was young. There were no high rises at all, there were just huge Georgian mansions.On the river there were black sailing boats with sails, it really was like the 19th century. You could walk down to the edge of the river and there were sailors. Uniforms, that is what has gone that was really attractive. It was such fun to see sailor uniforms; even army uniforms! When I was young you saw the troops and it was kind of glamorous.

 

JD: What do you miss most about London when you’re not here?
NH:Its diversity. It's the most unsnobbish town in the world. You never feel out of place, which you do after two minutes in Paris or even New York.   
JD: Do you remember Shoreditch?
NH:Yes. There was a wonderful pub called The Deuragon in Shoreditch, which had drag acts in the evening, but they weren’t trying to be drag. They were just straight boys who liked dressing up as Mae West or Marlene Dietrich, with their mothers sitting around watching them and egging them on, it was such fun.

 

 

JD: What old London institutions would you bring back?
NH:The little bar downstairs at the Ritz used to be wonderful fun when I was young. The Spanish bar at Fortnum and Mason – that was an institution – full of queens!   

 

JD: What changed?
NH: What changed was when people started wearing jeans, because then they said that people wearing jeans couldn’t come in. When I was young there was no such thing as jeans. People dressed in proper clothes all the time, so that meant that anybody could go in there.
JD: Is there a particular room that you’ve taken huge inspiration from?
NH:The hall at Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam outside Berlin. It’s one of the most extraordinary rooms. I love that German version of French almost more than I love French. Also the landing at Pavlovsk [near St. Petersburg], the pink landing with great piles of armorial cannonballs and things made of plaster. It is absolutely breath taking.   

 

 

JD: What’s the most surprising place you got inspiration from?
NH:It is called West Kennet Long Barrow, it’s a Neolithic thing in Wiltshire- like Stonehenge, underground. It’s absolutely extraordinary; rows and rows of stones beams all under the ground.
JD: In your opinion, what interior designers, past or present have the most originality?
NH:Stephen Sills in America is a genius. He’s wonderful. For a different look? There aren’t many in England really as it’s quite safe for decorating. In the past, Jean-Michel Frank and Emilio Terry in France. They changed the rules. That’s the best thing about decorating.

 

JD: What is originality to you?
NH:Well there is so little originality. I suppose taking the dare is originality, not saying ‘I can’t do that’. That’s original –just saying ‘I’ll do it!’    

 

JD: If space weren’t an object, what would you collect?
NH:I don’t really collect very much, I think it’s boring to have a fixation about getting something all the same like 400 snuff boxes or 800 shells. I like just funny little things that amuse me. I’ve started collecting 18th century prints of children playing for some reason. I just find them very charming.    

 

JD: Do you have a favourite artist?
NH:If I could have a Richard Parkes Bonington, a real one; that would be pretty wonderful. He’s an amazing painter.    

 

JD: What art movement inspires you the most?
NH:The romantic state portraits like those by Batoni - these wacky, huge portraits of people in wonderful clothes.    

 

JD: What is the most glamorous hotel in the world?
NH:The Carlisle in New York used to be very glamorous – it’s going off, but it was pretty glamorous when I lived there in the 60s.

 

JD: What is your favourite market in the world?
NH: I only go to one. It’s called Blackbushe Market and it’s near my Hunting Lodge in the country. It’s full of boys with Pitbulls and hoodies. They sell clothes, pots and pans, terrible carpets and fake mobile phones. It’s fun to go to on Sunday morning.
JD: What’s your decorating mantra?
NH:The main thing is the play of light. You’ve got to make every surface have a reflection or a difference.

 

 

JD: Your colour palette is ever-changing, do you have any firm favourites that you never bore of?
NH:I like air colours, those colours that are neither blue nor grey nor brown nor mauve, sort of non-colour. I love pink. I think pink is going to come back with a real wallop soon. I use the word mauve and people go ‘arghh’, but if you call it 'Ashes of Lilac' people like it a lot better. Whatever colour flatters skin - that’s the main thing. The whole point of decoration is to make people look prettier

 

JD: What is the most essential element of a room?
NH:I suppose comfort in the end. That the room works, that there’s the right thing in the right place, that you don’t have to cross the room to find a cushion or an ashtray. It’s got to all be at hand. And the single most important element? I suppose it’s seating – and light.

 

JD: Is there a room that you’ve decorated that you’d like to do again - for any reason?
NH:There must be a room that I would look at now and think ‘why did I do that?’ but I can’t think of a specific room. On the other hand I think it’s always fun to change rooms – so I’d want to redo every room. That’s the point of decorating.
JD: What’s the first room you should decorate in a house?
NH:The house will tell you what to do. One room will give you the clue and you go from there. It’s usually the biggest room, as that’s the most fun to do.

 

JD: Any tips for decorating small spaces?
NH:Yes. Use big furniture. The bigger the furniture the bigger the space will look.

 

JD: When mixing prints, what are the dos and dont’s?
NH:I think prints should almost clash, they should not conform to a set graph of what goes with what. The weirder the thing is, the more interesting it is.

 

JD: Are there any House of Hackney prints you’d like to use?
NH:It would be quite fun to do a bathroom in the Palmeral print. That would be rather wonderful – to make a bathroom look unlike a bathroom.

 

 

Nicky's forthcoming book, Nicky Haslam: A Designer's Life, published by Jacqui Small Publishing, is available 20 November 2014. The book is available to pre-order here.

 

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House of Hackney now offers an exceptional in-house bespoke curtain and blind-making service tailor-made to our customer's requirements.

Our service offers you a wide choice of headings, fabrics and styles to create a truly bespoke window dress. All you need to do is supply your window measurements and follow the easy instructions on screen.

To receive a quotation simply follow the 5 steps below and a member of the team will respond with a quotation within 24 hours:

  • Step 1

    Choose your fabric

  • Step 2

    Select your
    mechanism type

  • Step 3

    Enter your
    mechanism pully

  • Step 4

    Enter your blind size

  • Step 5

    Enter your lining type

For any queries or if you would like to talk through your needs with the team please contact the customer services team on + 44 (0) 207 739 3901 e-mail : bespoke@houseofhackney.com.


STEP 1 Choose your fabric

FOR ALL FABRIC OPTIONS PLEASE SEE HERE

STEP 2 Select your mechanism type

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STEP 3 Enter your mechanism pully

STEP 4 Enter your blind size (cm)

STEP 5 Enter your lining type

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