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Estimated reading time: 5 min

A Conversation with Abigail Levy

Our latest interview features Atelier 56 by RMJM’s Creative Director, Abigail Levy. We discuss how it all started for Abigail, what it means to be an interior designer, future trends and what advice she can give to future designers out there.

What determined your passion for design? Tell us about the moment you decided “this is the way to go”.

A: Truthfully, I kind of fell into it. I wasn’t particularly drawn to academia, so my family encouraged me to go to art college (University of the Arts London-UAL). Initially, I experimented with various short courses in fine art and installation art including some UAL courses. From there I was encouraged to look at Higher Education. UAL was offering degree courses in Interior and Spatial Design. I think the fact it had both artistic and practical elements to it made the difference for me. 

Following on from Uni, I did my first work experience at Foster and Partners. It left quite an impression on me. I remember walking into their offices and noticing how the building made me feel, the light, the proportions, the scale, the finishes and of course the buzz in the air. It was coincidental at the time they were working on an extension for Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich. One of my first tasks was assisting in organising some drawings for the project. I was fascinated by the interesting spaces on the plans and that was the moment that ignited my passion for hospitality design.

What is your personal design philosophy?

A: I perceive it similarly to Art & Sculpture in the sense that it should be a considered composition of colour, texture and form that can tell a story and evoke feelings.

What does the process of design development look like/involve for an interior designer?

A: It’s experimental. We do a lot of collaboration with artisans, developing bespoke finishes, perfecting sheens, colour tones and textures. There are always several bespoke signature pieces of lighting and furniture that we design for clients so their properties feel unique. That always entails multiple sketches, sectional samples and prototypes with reviews and tweaks. 

It’s also the phase that can make or break a project, especially in luxury properties. Take for example a simple wardrobe, what will make it special and luxurious is in the details. How the interior drawers are lined, how their runners feel when they close, working out how the lighting is seamlessly integrated and developing the bespoke hardware and finishes to give it individuality.     

How do you choose one colour palette over another?

A: This often depends on the end-use of the space. For instance, if it’s a spa, I will tend to stay in the neutral spectrum or use desaturated colours to maintain a tranquil vibe. If I’m designing a glamourous suite or bar, I will move towards rich jewel tones that pack a bit of a punch. In Asia particularly, colours tend to have certain associations with various events so you have to be mindful of that too. Each project has a narrative that will somehow tie into this, so if surrounding colours are limited or dull, we will find a colour relevant to the project story.   

Where do you get inspiration for the textures you use?

A: From multiple layers of research into the project’s site and history, for example, I will seek out the traditional artisan crafts and trades that have derived from the area, whether it is weaving, metalwork or glass blowing. In most cases, we take inspiration from the medium and create a modern interpretation of the material unique to that project.

Anything that relates to the project’s location or history can become the foundation of a project design and its DNA. If it’s a heritage building we have even more to play with. Each project and its history, old or new, are individual. It’s about gathering the layers of research and reinterpreting it in an unexpected way that will create something unique and authentic.

How do you know when interior design is “good”? 

A: Although it is a very subjective discipline, there are certainly a few key measurable principles. Composition, proportions, scale, quality of finish, authenticity, space planning, whether space and all its elements function well. For me personally, good design is judged by how a space makes me feel and touches me (in an emotional sense).

How do you combine beauty and functionality?

A: When designing a space we start with a plan for that exact reason: to ensure the layout and purpose of the space function efficiently. That part is resolved before we even begin to imagine what the space might look like or what the pieces and finishes might be. These days people find a lot of beauty in functional items. It’s an era where less is more, and people appreciate pared-back interiors and furniture.

What are your predictions for future ID trends? How do you think they’re going to affect the industry?

A: The pandemic is obviously going to influence a lot of what’s to come. Wellness and Health are at the forefront of everyone’s mind, both for humans and the planet. Whilst sustainability has been simmering for quite a while, the pandemic has really shifted it to centre stage.
We’ll see more eco-friendly interior designs and furnishings and a lot of “up-cycling”. Following on the theme of wellness, in hospitality design, the lines between indoor and outdoor will become more blurred. Psychologically, nature has a positive effect on our well-being. And from a practical point, external space allows the more natural spread of separation and space for people in F&B. There will be more buildings offering natural ventilation in guest rooms rather than just AC.

Also “flexible multifunctional space” will feature across both residential & hotel sectors. The flexible element within hospitality will also serve to assist in more environmental wins. If a space can be put to an alternate use when it’s not in service, then less building and less energy will be required.
In terms of a pure trend for hospitality design, whilst we have recently seen the rise of “lifestyle hotels” we are now seeing a shift towards “niche hotels” meaning hotels that try to attract a particular audience type. Whether it be art, music, fashion etc. For example, the Art Hotel may have pop up exhibitions, curated collections and so on.

What piece of advice would you give an aspiring interior designer? 

A: Absorb everything you can, it’s great to have a lot of varied influences from different designers and eras.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, that’s how unique things are made. Pay attention to scale, that’s where I made most of my mistakes when I first started out.