Hello! Can you tell us about yourself? I’m Nicola, owner of Nicola Holden Designs, a…
Interview with Dean Keyworth – Armstrong Keyworth Ltd
Hello! Can you tell us about yourself?
I have been interested in interior design since I was a child, but after studying French at university, I went into travel marketing. Eventually the interior design bug raised its head again, so I completed a distance learning diploma whilst travelling for my day job with Hilton Hotels. I set up Armstrong Keyworth in 1997.
I was elected President of the British Institute of Interior Design from 2006-2007. We mainly specialise in London residential interiors, with clients ranging from born and bred Londoners, to international clients with their main home abroad. We recently completed 14 short term rental apartments for Hyde Park Residence in Mayfair.
What’s your backstory and what attracted you to design?
I have been passionate about design since I can remember, choosing wild west themed wallpaper for my bedroom at age 10, and redesigning my parents’ kitchen at 16. The hessian feature wall I created in their dining area gives you some idea of how long ago that was!
After attending university, I went into the travel industry(airlines and hotels), and although this was pretty glamorous, I still dreamed of doing interior design professionally. I studied for a Rhodec diploma in interior design, and my big break was getting my dining room featured on the front cover of Ideal Home in 1999.
What do you love most about designing?
I love it when client’s say, “it’s even better than we imagined” or one comment I had recently; “I keep going into my spare bedroom, just to look at the wallpaper”.
Who, for you, has been the most influential designer/designers?
Mary Fox Linton is one of my big design heroes, whose attention to detail and huge knowledge is matched by her creativity. She is also a lovely, funny and modest lady.
I also love the work of her one time business partner, the not so modest, but incredibly innovative David Hicks.
Going further back in time, you can’t beat Dorothy Draper, inventor of Hollywood Regency, for pure, joyful craziness.
Where/how do you find inspiration for new designs?
Travel and exhibitions are my main design inspirations. I am fortunate to live around the corner from the Victoria & Albert Museum and often find ideas there.
I am also addicted to World of Interiors magazine, and much to my minimalist husband’s chagrin, have over 20 years of back copies dotted around our flat.
I like to be very collaborative with my clients, and I know it’s all coming together when I see them stroking a fabric or running their hand along the veneer of a bespoke piece of furniture.
Describe your approach to choosing/using colours.
When I first started my business in the late 90’s, Kelly Hoppen was queen and Taupe ruled. It was fun at the time, but there are only so many things you can do with a bit of limestone. So I am delighted that clients are now much more open to let in a bit of vibrant colour. Like everything in life, strong colour should be used in moderation. I think I got the balance about right in this eclectic sitting room.
What do you like to hear people say when they view your work?
“I would never have thought of that”
Like they do when they see this little ensuite. The image behind the glass splash back is a 19th century engraving of the building in which the flat is situated.
What is your all-time favourite design (yours)?
This was quite a tricky flat up in the eaves of a Holland Park villa. It had very few original features left, so we decided to go ‘maximal’ in the staircase leading to it, but then have a pared back look in the main part of the flat. The existing roof lantern in this reception room was awkwardly to one side, so we designed a completely bespoke off-centre light fitting to ensure it lit the table in the right place.
What is your all-time favourite design (someone else’s)?
This is such a hard one, but Eltham Palace springs to mind as I love the unique art deco makeover of a medieval building. The quality of the workmanship is also outstanding.
Through real-life design projects, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Shortly after I started my business, I had a sleepless night over an expensive wooden floor that a client didn’t like as it had too many knots (even though they had chosen a ‘rustic’ grade). I was telling my woes to one of the mums at my daughter’s junior school, who was a pediatrics consultant, and she replied “I have a stressful day too, I have to go to the funeral of a 2 year old who we could not save.” Ever since then, if I’m getting worked up about a job, I just think ‘no one is going to die because of the wrong colour wallpaper’.
Advice for readers who want to redesign their homes/workplaces?
I think one of the most common traps people fall into is falling in love with a piece of furniture in a shop, but not envisaging how it will fit in (literally size-wise), and how well it will blend aesthetically with the rest of their decor. Always try to think of the whole scheme.
Also, think carefully about lighting – layering of table lamps, wall, and overhead lights, will bring out the best of any room at night.
What interesting projects are you working on right now? And what does the future look like?
We have a diverse range of jobs at the moment from a 1970s house in Hertfordshire that definitely needs some tlc, to a bijou flat in Chelsea which happens to house a museum quality art collection.
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