Having a well-trained eye is everything in the interiors world. It’s the magic power that helps you pick that one vintage gem from the piles of secondhand junk; the confidence to commission one-off items that will be treasured for generations; and the skill to track down the limited-edition designs that everyone’s searching for.
But what if yours is a lazy eye? After all, it takes a lot of time to find that perfect piece. Or what if you require the in-depth knowledge of where to look and who to contact? Then you turn to a new generation of stylists, designers and dealers who are willing to lend you their expertise – their eye, if you will. You can browse their latest finds online, ask them to seek out that special something or hire them to decorate a whole room or house. Here, we’ve picked three firms at the forefront of this democratic design revolution…
‘Strangely, I came to design through politics,’ says Sophie Pearce, who founded Béton Brut in 2013 with fellow furniture dealer Augustus Greaves. ‘I used to work in political news and PR and was studying the politics of space at university when I became interested in the principles of modernism.’ An online gallery was set up to sell the minimal, sculptural designs the pair were drawn to, with a treasure trove of a showroom opening in London’s Hackney Wick a few years later.
‘The hunt for pieces,’ says Pearce, ‘is a full-time vocation. It involves looking in all of the places, all at once, all of the time.’ More often than not, the finds that catch her eye are by architects and artists from the 20th century – those favouring Bauhaus-style simple lines and curves.
Her biggest interests now are cork (she recently picked up some 1970s cork lamps by the late, great Ingo Maurer) and paper (original light sculptures by Isamu Noguchi). Plus, she adds, ‘I’m a sucker for marble.’ Whether looking for the gallery or private clients, she’s most happy when searching across Europe for pieces with promise. ‘I’m guided by what I love,’ she says. ‘I’m always buying for my own real or imagined home.’ betonbrut.co.uk
James Thurstan Waterworth was fresh out of design school when he got his first job working with Swedish architect and designer Martin Brudnizki. During his time there he won a pitch to design the interior of Soho House Miami – it was the start of a relationship that would shape his style. Now, after several years heading up the in-house design team for Soho House, he has left to source antiques and commission bespoke pieces for his own private clients and online shop.
‘It’s a semi-obsession,’ he admits. ‘It may sound a bit naff but I live and breathe it; I’m always on the lookout.’ His latest find is a 17th-century cabinet from a shepherd’s hut in the south of France. ‘It was crafted by hand around 400 years ago and, because one guy put it together, I’ve literally never seen anything else like it.’
Stories like this are important to Waterworth, who is drawn to designs with a rich history. ‘There are influences wherever you go,’ he says, ‘but the skill is to focus in on the things you like.’ With interiors to curate for projects as varied as a contemporary waterfront home in Greece and a 500-year-old farmhouse in Italy, there will be plenty of opportunity for him to find more unique gems with a tale to tell. thurstandesign.com
‘I have always had that magpie instinct,’ says AU Bespoke founder Anna Unwin of her drive to seek out the minimal, pared-back pieces that now define her style. After graduating from the Chelsea School of Art, she started her career as a stylist in magazines, before deciding to offer her formidable sourcing skills to the public with her online shop and inspiring showroom, which is situated in the picturesque village of Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire.
‘I look for timeless pieces,’ explains Unwin. ‘In this world of mass production, it’s lovely if you can buy something that will serve as an heirloom, to be passed down through generations.’ Lately, she’s been scouring antiques fairs and auction houses for handcrafted designs created using natural materials, including a lot of marble.
Her most remarkable recent discovery was an original Carlo Scarpa dining table. ‘That was an amazing find,’ she says. ‘It’s just sold to a designer in Dallas.’ The clients she works with may come from all corners of the world and have very varied aesthetics, but all aspire to Unwin’s belief that her finds should transcend trends, fitting perfectly into any home. aubespoke.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration February 2020
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