Nina Campbell talks top interior design tips, relaxing and Royal Ascot

As one of the world's most respected and influential interior designers, Nina Campbell knows how to light up a room. As she launches a new collection with Stark Carpet, ACHICA Living catches up with her to talk about rugs, relaxing and Royal Ascot...

How did you get into interior design?

I moved quite a lot as a child so it was a natural choice. I was lucky enough to work for Colefax and Fowler early on and after I left I thought I could be doing this for myself. So, at 22 years old, I set up as an Interior designer. When you're 22 you don’t see the pitfalls of starting up a business, and in the 1960s it didn't take that much money to get started, unlike today.

What do you love about interiors?

It’s the restoration of a space that excites me, I love to go into a building and design it in my head - I think...'if that wall was pulled down, if that room was painted another colour etc...' It’s the Cinderella syndrome. When chimneys and fireplaces have been pulled down and the house has been stripped out I just want to put it all back together again.

What are your clients looking for?

Everyone ideally wants the same thing- somewhere to entertain, party or relax in. As an interior designer you have to be a good listener so you can mould your design around your clients' needs and make the space work for them. They may say they want a guest room but they may not want anyone to come and stay, or they want a dining room but don’t plan to entertain. You have to be able to decipher their needs.

Tell us about your latest rug designs for Stark Carpet.

Some of the rugs were inspired by fabrics I have designed. When in India and Spain, women often stand behind screens at the front door. They can see you but you can’t see them. These screens were the inspiration for the trellis design rug. I also love the way you can use one colour and weave it in different heights to give a different look - you can use a mix of materials such as wool and silk and you can cut and twist. It’s fantastic.

How long does it take to design a rug?

The first collection took 18 months to complete and I see it as a solid base. There are lots of neutrals and a damask. The second collection which will have much bolder colours will only take six months to complete.

What is your favourite rug design?

Well, it’s rather difficult. I love them all.  I think ‘Guilty’ is going to be incredibly useful. The one called Rio Rita is one that looks like a cut pepper. It’s one of the first I used in an apartment in New York for a client who regularly holds large parties. I got a call recently from him to say that “the carpet has survived it’s first red wine spill”, which is a good recommendation I think.

What has been the most exciting project you've worked on?

I always get terribly excited whenever I start a new project. I recently completed a home in China. I had worked on two of the owners previous houses so we knew each other well, but the challenge came with having a team of 30 builders and decorators on site, as well as using some of the locals to do some of the painting. Not everyone had the same mode of life and worked in different ways and to different time scales. It was testing at times. We also had to have translators on site so we could effectively communicate. I was taking suitcase loads of PG Tips out to my English tradesmen as Chinese tea doesn’t really work for them.

Are you a coffee or tea drinker then..?

I’m a coffee drinker. My mother was Vietnamese so I had coffee drinking instilled. I was recently in Darjeeling in India at a Tea Station and was given the most exquisite White tea, Oolong and First flush tea.

How do you relax?

I read and play Scrabble on my iPad, especially on flights. When I travel I love to shop and search out good interior shops. I also like to visit exhibitions.  

What can you not live without?

My Nespresso machine. The dark green capsule is my breakfast coffee then it’s the gold or black during the day.

Best thing about London?

The V&A museum. It’s so diverse. It’s got everything: fashion, glass, silver. It’s a Mecca for looking at things.

The last thing you bought?

A watercolour at Sotheby's. I know the artist Françoise Van Lynden and he was auctioning off a painting of a kitchen diner that has very fond memories for me. I already have another of his paintings so I am doing a re-hang of my pictures at home. Things can get quite static in a home so I like to move little things around.

What’s the last show you saw?

Nabucco, Opera by Verdi. The music is sublime, especially the March of the hebrew slaves.

Top interior design tip?

Do what you do well. If you do one or two things well, you can cheat the rest. Spend money on major things like beds and sofas and you can spend less on updating. If you want an instant update change use cushions and lampshades. They’re the first things to look sad and dated and it’s cheap and easy to cheer up a room with new ones.

What’s next on the to-do list?

I’ve designed a box for Royal Ascot Week, which has been a challenge as you have a very definite deadline. Everything had to be ready on time, which was exciting. I’m also building the most wonderful glass house on top of a men's club building in New York. I’ve done all of the interior of the building so now with space being at such a premium we have gone upwards onto the most tantalising flat roof with an orangery and terrace.

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shop at ACHICA.

Emma Morton Turner, Guest Editor

View all posts by Emma Morton Turner, Guest Editor