Design Date

Martin Hulbert Design, founded in 2010, has created some of the most memorable hotels of recent years, from The Grove Hotel to Coworth Park, alongside an enviable portfolio of homes for private clients. With the influences and ideas that inform residential and hospitality design becoming more fluid, Martin (above left) and the studio’s co-founder Jay Grierson (above right) are perfectly placed to talk about how designers shift gear between the two, and how to create spaces that have soul. Martin explains more about this topical subject below.

Conversations in Design:
Looking Both Ways: Designing Beautiful Homes and Hotels that Have Soul, 3pm, Tuesday 6 March 

Are hotels striving to create a more soulful ‘home from home’ in terms of their aesthetics?
Some hotels are trying to be soulful, but more are trying to be individual. I think customers or clients in the future will be looking for more of an escape, with something that is comforting and not too visually demanding. They are looking for an effortless experience.

Are there challenges in creating hotels that have a more individual, expressive aesthetic?
The challenge is to be constantly re-inspired when we are creating a hotel and to deliver interiors that are not over-designed and that will easily become outdated.

What about design influences going the other way? Are private clients often inspired by their travels when it comes to briefing you on their homes?
Hotel bathrooms definitely influence our residential clients. They want a completely finished look. Interestingly, more recently we have been working to make hotel bathrooms feel like part of the room rather than a separate clinical entity. Our clients are definitely inspired by their travels – as are we. A recent brief from one particular residential client was Japanese cherry blossom, just opening.

How do you think this cross-fertilisation of ideas will evolve?
We have always approached our projects individually so we have always believed in cross-fertilisation. We think everyday growing demands and stress levels are behind this need for escapism that some hotels are beginning to evolve. In the future we will want to bring this effortlessness into our homes, too.

What are you working on at the moment?
Private homes in the UK and Moscow and holiday homes in Corfu, Tuscany and the Caribbean. We are also working on a number of unique hotels.

Where do you feel at your most creative?
We work in a lovely studio with a great team. We tend to inspire each other and we have a lot of fun in the process.

How do you like to recharge, away from work?
Reading, gardening, travelling, eating and drinking.

Do you have a design mantra?
Our interiors are about creating atmosphere as well as aesthetics. They have to be beautiful; even more so when you live in them. They have to be a perfect fit for the people they are designed for.


Led by creative director Sophie Ashby, Studio Ashby has a highly individual approach to residential and commercial projects. Her work on show apartments for luxury developments such as South Bank Tower and The Colyer in Covent Garden demonstrate how developers are now seeking a much more personalised kind of design, mixing art, vintage pieces and the unexpected – something that stands out from the crowd. Her broad experience and lively style will be fruitful fodder for her Conversations in Design talk, on the subject of the rise of individualism and creative expression.

Conversations in Design:
Rooms of Our Own, 11.30am, Tuesday 6 March

You’re speaking on a panel about ‘individualism’ – has the idea of individual creative expression moved higher up the pecking order in interior design?
I think individualism in interior design is always high up the list. Every interior is a reflection of a client’s own quirks and passions and nobody wants their home, bar, hotel or restaurant to be like another’s. We play with the juxtaposition of opposing elements: the raw with the refined, natural with manmade, neutrals with colours, antique with contemporary, the minimal with the rich, the expected and the surprising. We believe there is a poetry in the tension of these combinations, the careful layering of which brings character, atmosphere and feeling to interiors. We are driven by beauty, discovery and the potential for telling stories with interior design.

Where would you head to first on a visit to Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour?
Pierre Frey, Dedar and Lewis & Wood are some of my favourites.

Is there a product or showroom at the Design Centre you’ve had your eye on for a while, saving it up for the right project?
I’ve got my eye on some particularly beautiful fabrics at Colony I would like to use.

What are the ingredients of the perfect interior?
It is my belief that an art collection is the soul of a home. Much of the magic of an interior comes from the authentic and the surprising; and playing with art is the simplest way to evoke those feelings. The power of a photograph, a painting or a sculpture is awesome; awesome in the old-fashioned sense of the word, awesome because it has the ability to reach out and talk to you. As far as I have worked out, it is absolutely the magic ingredient in creating a strong sense of home.

Is craftsmanship an important part of your work?
Studio Ashby’s relationship with artisans and craftsmen plays an integral role in developing each project. I am learning that creative excitement is born from new conversations with the inspired people I meet: the makers, craftsmen, artists and artisans who pass through our studio and show us their wares, skills, products and passions.

Where do you feel at your most creative?
When I am relaxed, on holiday, strolling around an exhibition or on a country walk, with time to think and dream, plot and plan.

What are you currently working on?
Some very exciting private residential projects in London and further afield.

Do you collect anything?
Art. At the moment I am focusing on contemporary African art but I am also scouring eBay for German ceramics, Murano glass and Oriental lacquered keepsake boxes!

Afroditi Krassa describes her work as the creation of “category-defining hospitality”. From Heston Blumental’s ultimate airport restaurant at Heathrow to Tel-Aviv-inspired London restaurant Bala Baya, her design schemes make customers want to stay a while – and come again. She’s speaking as part of a Conversations in Design talk about how hospitality interiors increasingly need to be multi-functional, experiential spaces – and elaborates on that subject here.

Conversations in Design:
Common Spaces: Creating Experiential Environments, 3pm, Sunday 4 March

Why do hospitality spaces now need to be more multi-functional?
Audiences are in need of constant stimulation – it is the digital-era generation. The customer is much more engaged long term when spaces fulfil different needs at different times; it builds a longer-term connection.

Is there a hospitality project of yours that stands out for being multi-functional?
We are currently working on a couple of projects that require multi-use thinking, most notably Dreamland in Margate, where we are reinventing a 70,000 square foot internal area to accommodate F&B, entertainment, culture and retail all in one.

What other hospitality trends are you seeing?
I think multi F&B spaces [food markets] are also a massive trend – a modern-day Disneyland for foodies, if you like.

What are some of the design ingredients of the best hospitality interiors?
Perfect lighting and sound. We tend to forget that the visual aspect is only a very small part of the creation of overall ambience; our senses go beyond that. In an oversaturated visual world, our bodies crave uber-atmospheric lighting and great sound.

Has the rise of Instagram has affected your work?
Yes, 100%. Spaces that are not photogenic are disregarded, which is a shame, as sometimes it is the least loud of environments that capture your heart. But it is very early days for social media and I think it will change soon. It’s a bit like first-generation websites that used to be all singing and all dancing: now it is all about content.

What’s been your most challenging project?
Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant at Heathrow. Trying to translate Heston’s thinking and ambition, as well as Michelin-starred dining, to an airport environment with many restrictions required quite a lot of patience – which is not my virtue.

What are you currently working on?
As well as Dreamland, but we are also launching a new high-end boutique Indian restaurant concept in central London, creating a future blueprint for Byron Burgers across the UK, and we’ve just started on a disruptive new indie restaurant concept for Frankfurt.

What do you obsess over in your work?
The customer. As boring as it is, in hospitality, the customer is king. I obsess over understanding what makes us all tick, the small things that makes us all fall in love with a restaurant or a bar. I always think it’s the small things…


Artist and designer Luke Edward Hall’s work has a carefree, nostalgic quality that has found a ready audience and attracted the likes of high-profile collaborators such as Burberry. As well as selling his own-designed ceramics, cushions and prints – adorned with motifs that include prawns, Greek statuary and prowling tigers – he also works as an interior designer. He is taking part in a discussion at Focus/16 that delves into the creative secrets of a panel of industry insiders.

Conversations in Design: The Art of Style, 11.30am, Friday 23 September

How do you view the relationship between art and interiors?
Art for me plays a very important role in interior design – when designing an interior, pictures and prints are as important, say, as the furniture and choice of paints and wallpapers. Like books and flowers, art brings a room to life. Over the past couple of years I’ve started building up a small collection of art with my partner Duncan – it mostly consists of prints and old exhibition posters at this point, but I’m looking forward to watching it grow. Like our books and our furniture, our collection of pictures reflects our tastes and interests.

Ashley Hicks has chosen your work for Focus/16’s ‘Art & Interiors’ exhibition – have you worked with him previously, or was it out of the blue?
Ashley and I are friends, we haven’t worked together previously but I’ve been a fan of his interiors and the furniture and objects he designs for a while.

What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on interior design projects in London and the countryside, several artwork commissions and a few other exciting projects including an exhibition which I’m staging at Christie’s South Kensington. It’s called Young Hearts and it’ll be open from 24-29 September.

Have you had any favourite commissions? 
I very much enjoyed working with Burberry this past summer. I did illustrations of their clothes and bags, which formed part of their global campaign, we did installations in their shops and my drawings featured on billboards around the world. It was exciting to see my work used in lots of new ways, and on a huge scale.

Your style is quite nostalgic for the early 20th century – what’s the appeal of that era? 
I always love reading about the interwar period and people such as Cecil Beaton, Rex Whistler and Oliver Messel. I suppose for me the 1920s and 30s represent a lively, romantic, elegant, eccentric and glamorous time. Researching and getting inspired by this period for me is a sort of antidote to the intensely digital age we live in. Looking at pictures from that time, everyone and everything always looks so stylish…

What do you collect, and why? 
I particularly enjoy collecting ceramics – old and new – usually funny things like dishes in the shape of vegetables or animals. My current favourite item is a bowl we picked up recently in the shape of a crab, complete with claws. It’s good for serving olives.

Now that you’re working as an interior designer too, has it been hard to meld your own personal style with someone else’s taste?
It’s going to be an exciting challenge. When working with a client, the end goal is to end up with an interior that primarily reflects the client’s taste and personality, guided by me.

Where do you feel at your most creative? Do you sketch out-and-about, or prefer the comfort of home? 
I like both – at home I can put on music, get my books out for inspiration, relax and crack on with what I need to do, but it’s also fun to be outside, sketching things as they’re happening. On holiday in Italy this summer I took a sketchbook with me everywhere we went and would sit and draw people at the beach, on the rocks, in the water…

How do you like to re-charge, away from work? 
Cooking! We have an excellent greengrocer near our home – my perfect way to unwind is to go and stock up on produce and spend a weekend afternoon at home with Duncan, cooking and making our way through the newspapers. I like to escape London often too. At least once a month we’ll drive down to Wiltshire or Somerset, go for lunch, stay overnight in a pub, walk and rest.

Art & Interiors, Third Floor, North Dome and Second Floor, Designer Walkway


Architect Thomas Croft heads up TCA, which he established in 1995. The practice is known for its links with the art world, having designed many commercial galleries (including David Gill Galleries and Timothy Taylor Gallery in London, and Ordovas Art in both New York and London), as well as art-filled private homes for leading gallerists and other collectors. He is taking part in a panel discussion at Focus/16 hosted by FT How To Spend It that discusses the blurring boundaries between art and design, and the ways in which art affects his work and life.

Conversations in Design: Art and Design: Crossing The Boundary, 11.30am, Tuesday 20 September

How has the rise of art collecting among private clients affected how you work?
Maybe it’s just the sectors we’ve worked in but we’ve always found art is a crucial component of lots of our projects. The architects who I worked for between leaving the Royal College of Art in 1985 and starting my own office in 1995 (Richard Meier, John Pawson and Rick Mather) always did both galleries and houses for dealers/collectors. So doing the same sort of projects for my own clients was a natural progression of that.

When you’re accommodating amazing artworks in a home, how do you balance the softer domestic side with the need to show off the art to its best?
So long as the art is well lit, then it can usually look just as good in a home or in a gallery. We’ve done three projects in recent years for the New York art dealer Per Skarstedt –two galleries and one home – and the same art looks equally good in both without any need for accommodation in terms of design.

You’ve also designed private galleries – what’s influencing the design of such spaces?
The air conditioning specifications keep going up – these days most commercial galleries require museum-quality air-conditioning and humidity control. This can be very expensive to achieve and it’s something that the top private collectors will probably want to start installing at home as well, in order to keep pace with insurance requirements etc.

A further development is the need for drastically reinforced floor structures, to take very high sculpture loadings wherever they might need to be located in the future. We’ve done this in several collector’s homes already.

Do you collect art yourself? What sort of thing?
We are lucky enough to have two homes and they have quite different art. In London we have all contemporary works by artists like Richard Hamilton and Gary Hume, plus a lot of long-term loans from Nvisible Museum’s collection.

In the country it’s a house I originally designed for my late parents and it contains a lot of family pictures from the 17th to the 19th centuries, mostly portraits of previous Crofts (we used to own the Anglo-Portuguese port wine house Croft Port). It’s nice to see the old family members at the weekend but it’s equally nice to be able to leave them behind and get back to modernity.

What is your earliest ‘design’ moment, the one that perhaps set you on your path?
The architects I met when I was a child seemed like nice people.  Going to school in the precincts of Canterbury Cathederal for five years probably had an effect also.

What projects are you currently working on?
The new Skarstedt gallery in London, which opens on 1 October, and three new houses for the Howard de Walden Estate, behind RIBA HQ off Portland Place, which just started construction. A new building for the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes on the Isle of Wight is on the drawing boards.

Do you have a design mantra?
No, we’re very undogmatic and like to stay flexible.

What do you obsess over in your work?
The world seems complicated enough and we always try to simplify as much as possible, even though there might be a lot of background complexity required to achieve that simplicity.  Obviously the lack of visual clutter is a must for all gallery spaces and consequently we spend a lot of time obsessing over trying to control & reduce a plethora of air conditioning, lighting, fire, CCTV and PIRs that always conspire to disrupt that simplicity.

Who would design your perfect house?
I’d be pretty happy living in a Richard Meier-designed house. However there aren’t currently many to choose from in the UK; at the age of 81 he’s just built his first, outside Henley, for the actor Rowan Atkinson.


Interior designers Madcap Cottage – Jason Oliver Nixon (left) and John Loecke (right) – have a style that is defiantly maximalist (think wallpapered ceilings, vintage furniture, and riots of pattern and colour). They’ve poured all their audacity and creativity into a new collection of fabrics for Robert Allen @ Home, called Into the Garden, which includes exotic palm-prints, embroidered stripes and polished cotton florals. Jason explains more about their exuberant style below.

How did your collaboration with Robert Allen come about? The Madcap Cottage gents have always wanted to pursue a fabric collection: we are mad collectors of vintage fabrics and are constantly pulling out our iPhones when we visit historic houses to capture unique patterns that are tucked under the stairs or used on a dining room chair. So when Robert Allen, a favourite source for us, approached us about developing a pattern-centric prints and woven collection, we jumped at the opportunity.

Does your collection fill a gap for your interior work – something you could never quite find? Absolutely! We wanted to create prints and wovens that would be an essential part of our interior design tool kit that would also be accessible to the trade and the consumer. Our collections are storylines with multiple entry points, which work together seamlessly – from neutrals to florals, stripes and novelties, with colourways that tie the whole together. Plus, we were craving chintz, so we added some polished cottons into the mix. It’s time to banish the beige and neutral and bring pattern back to the forefront.

Were there any unusual sources of inspiration for fabrics? English country houses are amazing sources; India is always revelatory, and we are like paparazzi in Jaipur and Jodhpur snapping away furiously to capture the gloriously insane colour juxtapositions and patchwork perfection. We also love vintage design books, classic movies and rooting about the Bienenstock Furniture Library, the world’s largest design library (which happens to be housed in our hometown of High Point, North Carolina). Vintage magazines such as Look, Holiday, and Flair are also important go-tos for our visual lexicon.

Is there a British influence in your interiors work? We are diehard Anglophiles: I spent all of my childhood summers in England, and John has read every book about every Mitford and dollar duchess, and Syrie Maugham and Nancy Lancaster, ever written. We are in London at least six times a year, and spend two to three weeks in the summer exploring English country houses. If Nancy Lancaster had had a fling with Billy Haines, we would be their heirs apparent.

Your interiors are highly decorative, but are they practical too? Our homes are uber functional: we drink red wine, have pups who like nothing better than sitting on a down sofa, and we like to put our feet up, so we create similar environments for our clients. Who wants to live in a home where you cannot curl up on a sofa or have spontaneous disco dancing while sipping a Montepulciano with the pugs?

Do you have a favourite interiors project that you’ve worked on? We are currently working on a 13-acre, 20,000-square foot estate in Virginia that calls to mind an English country house with a layered, collected and accumulated sensibility. When complete, the home will have a glittering music room that will feel like a repurposed ballroom, a lacquered den, a garden room that nods to Nancy Lancaster’s sitting room at Kelmarsh Hall, and a foyer that feels very William Kent.

Where do you visit in London for design inspiration? The Victoria & Albert Museum is always a first stop; I have been tempted to try out the Bed of Ware, but John has held me back, happily. Fortnum & Mason is heaven (we love eau de nil) then we might hit up Leighton House, Eltham Palace, Kew Gardens or Syon Park. And we will probably round off the day at Rules or Ronnie Scott’s.


Paper artist Zoe Bradley has worked for international names including Christian Louboutin and Alexander McQueen, and created retail displays for the Smythson, Louis Vuitton and Mont Blanc; her breathtaking designs are commissioned by leading magazines and have been exhibited internationally. For London Design Week 2016 she has created a floral couture-inspired gown made entirely from paper. With a skirt shape that echoes the Design Centre’s famous domes, this spectacular two metre artwork (Ground Floor, South Dome) features 400 exquisite flowers: there are wild roses made up of 2,500 petals, chrysanthemums with 1,188 petals, cherry and apple blossom, as well as 3,500 leaves made with 17,500 folds.

How did you become a paper sculptor? Did it require any training? I’ve always been fascinated with form and texture. I trained as a fashion designer and went to work as an apprentice at Alexander McQueen in 1997, which is where I became aware of using other materials other than fabric to create dramatic silhouettes. This set my interest on working in new challenging ways with paper instead of fabric. Whether it’s a newspaper, magazine, notebooks, letters or reading books, I love to be challenged by materials and scale!

Did you have a big break? It would have to be the showpieces I created for the AW 05/06 collection for Michiko Koshino. I produced three pieces in paper – a pleated swimsuit, an oversized pleated mohican head-dress and a hand stitched ruffle dress on a wicker frame. It was the first time I sculpted paper into a wearable garment, and the show got a standing ovation.

Describe your installation for the Design Centre. An explosion of over 400 flowers in all shades of blue. I was influenced by the angular interior sets that feature in the London Design Week campaign, and drew upon a range of flowers and leaves that would echo this, playing with symmetry and folding. I was also influenced by the work of Wedgwood and William Morris prints, for the bold flower designs for the textile of the dress.

What sort of temperament do you need for what you do? A lot of patience! Paper is a wonderful medium to work with, but its also fragile. Symmetry and mathematics play a large part in the sculptures.

Do you work on your own? I have a very good team who work alongside me to help me realise the finished spectacle. My work is very intricate and there is a lot of attention to detail. I am a perfectionist, so detail is everything! The sculptures are hand sculpted using various tools for curling and scoring the paper. However, with larger installations that require thousands of petals, we have to use technology: laser cutting and die cutting.

What are the advantages – and frustrations – of working with paper? The advantages are that paper is endless and can be sourced in abundance and that it can be so easily found. The disadvantage is that the sculptures can dent and tear easily. It’s ultimately a very delicate and fragile medium to work with. In most of my work I use a paper with a metallic quality. It keeps its form in the pleating and moulding I do, and it has a real lustre, like silk, and a luminous quality.

What do you enjoy most about your work? Creating something that should be so temporary into intricate, long-lasting pieces: if they are kept in the right conditions or behind glass, they are timeless. I also love the fact many of my pieces surprise people, when they realise its made out of paper. Creating the unexpected is a great motivator.

Where do you feel at your most creative? I need to have a clear head, so the stillness in early morning or last thing at night is when my mind is at its most creative. I’m surrounded by rural landscape both at home and in my studio, so they can be great thinking places.

Do you have a passion for interiors as well? I do have a real passion for architecture and interiors, and some of our latest collaborations are leading more into this design area. Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry are two of my favourite architects: they have created some of the most inspiring silhouettes in architecture. I also love the organic forms and craftsmanship that go into the lighting at Porta Romana. I’m also a fan of Kit Kemp and how she mixes print and colour in a very modern way.

Portrait: Misa Watanabe

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