INTERVIEW WITH NICK SUNDERLAND

Posted by Nick Sunderland | 2nd October 2015

national design academy

I was recently interviewed by the National Design Academy from Trent University on my thoughts and ideas and how I process my designs. I thought I would share with you

Q) Your understanding and approach to Feng Shui is well-known, can you tell us more about your particular approach and how it influences your property development projects?

I trained in the Far East under several experts. Yap Cheng Hai, Raymond Lo, and Joey Yap to name a few. It’s a complex, mathematical system using the 5 elements to balance a property and is influenced by the direction and surrounding land. For me it’s important to survey the surrounding areas first to see how the building is balanced and not overshadowed by tall buildings, and is clear at the front. Internally I will work with those elements of Metal, Wood, water, Earth and fire to balance the layout in colours and actual materials, trying to get bathrooms and bedrooms in the right locations. If I don’t think the Feng Shui is good, and it can’t be easily corrected, we don’t buy. After all I need to sell good homes at every level.

Q) Designing interiors is no longer just about the aesthetics, with the integration of technology now playing a huge role in smart, functional design, what do you think will/is influencing interior designers in 2015?

Home automation is crucial for people these days. Being able to run you home from phone or iPad has passed the novelty stage and is becoming a standard in almost all my briefs. In developing properties we now wire the home ready for this and upscale as required. The result is a sleeker neater home, no wires, and the ability to create the mood you want with lighting simply and remotely. Flush fitting TV into the wall, pir configured lighting so the come on as you walk around the home, simp0le but effective. Technology in the kitchen I think will now take off more. Smart fridges, ovens microwaves for the ever busy family. Wireless media is also the norm, no wires moveable speakers, Bluetooth technology is taking over. Also the ability to prepare the home whilst on your way home is now here…

Q) Is there a particular item of furniture you feel integrates/ incorporates technology particularly well or an example/designer’s work you feel is worth mentioning here?

I suppose with more and more people working from home then the smart kinetic desk, adjustable in height, is the next furniture revolution. Being able to charge items simply placed on the desk, adjust the height, work on screens built into the desk, an interactive module, Bluetooth to link with individual, its almost there…

Q) You have mentioned previously in the media you do a lot of home automation projects in your properties, this would be really interesting to include within an example for our current students as I know this is something they are interested in.

One property we worked on in Kensington West was fully automated with both Rako and Lutron. I used a company who built the systems for the 2012 Olympics and they integrated everything in to a single CAT room in the basement, linked to their offices for 24hr monitoring. From the entrance to the loft and down to the basement everything was controlled by phone and iPad. The basement was a cinema, and with a single command the screen came down, the curtains drew, the lights dimmed and the soft background lights round the bar enhanced creating a total mood entertaining  background. Similarly lights around the house, TVs, kitchen party lights all creating different themes with music and sound spread around the whole house or individual rooms. Lights would come on as you walked into rooms, or up and down stairs .

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Q) Edward Sunderland properties are distinctive, stylish and glamorous. How do you build your niche in a crowded market, or become known for a particular ‘look’?

 Thank you, that’s very kind. I’m fortunate that I am able to integrate my designs into any style of home, contemporary and eclectic. I look for timeless elegant style whether it’s a modern penthouse in the city or a Victorian terrace. Comfort is important and I try to balance the contemporary style we want with the traditional elements we love. I like built in furniture, not just in wood but colourful bookcases, interchangeable, media units floating off the wall.

Q) Lighting can transform a property, when working on a project, have you got any tips/ advice on lighting concepts for residential properties?

 I use LED lighting to great effect, it can be hidden away under plinths, furniture around walls, behind sofas, in so many ways, and colour wheels change the effect. I use a lot of plaster in lights for a sleek look, the bulbs hidden behind glass, from White goods for example.  Its important for me that when using down lights, you are not blinded by the bulbs, not cheap but in certain areas worth spending on. In other areas we use lights that recess into the plaster again hiding the glare. I’m not a lover of metal rings all over the ceiling if budgets allow…

I still like pendant lights, particularly architectural ones combined with hidden lighting. Its important to plan the lighting in entirety on the projects so it flows well from room to room.

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Q) When working with clients, how long does it normally take you to build up an honest relationship with them?

 Client relationships are very important, and trust needs to be established on both sides early on. Honesty is crucial, and if I feel a client isn’t being honest with me or don’t know what they want and keep changing their minds it can take longer to establish the design. You also have a choice then if you want to take the project on. Remember we interview each other.

Relaxed meetings getting to know each other first saves an awful lot of grief later on.

Q) When you present ideas to your clients, if they are unsure/ indecisive – how do you convince them to agree with your design decisions?

If they are unsure, there is an underlying reason I need to bring to the surface. I’m not adamant my ideas are perfect, but there is a good reason why I have gone down that route, and with some alternative choices we can usually blend the ideas until they are happy. I always design in a way that elements of my designs can be blended so that the final design works for me and my client. It usually clears any indecision.

Q) Many of our students study our Interior Design courses part-time often fitting their study around work and personal commitments. You come from a design background in a creative agency before you were head hunted to be part of the team designing and developing the expansion of offices for Wunderman Worldwide. Was this how you transitioned into design?

That’s sort of correct. In actual fact I was head hunted by Wunderman to develop a creative services division as part of the expansion they were going through. We planned 25 staff to over 140 within 18 months. For this we needed to expand over the whole 4th floor of greater London House and I was asked by the creative director at the time to design the new creative offices as well as my own division. I found it exhilarating and that certainly gave me the impetus I needed to develop my own skills and style. I designed alongside my main employment and for me this part time development was my training and  provided me with much more insight and knowledge than a full time course in interior design would have done. It was practical on going knowledge I was gaining. I understood this from my full time Graphics course where employment was difficult without experience when I qualified.

 Q) Did you gain any formal Interior Design qualifications or have you developed your skill set through experience and working on projects? Also in the current industry, which do you think is more important taught qualifications or practical experience?

 I had a natural flair for interior design which grew alongside my formal graphics training. I found myself after Wunderman designing offices wherever I moved to, including a four story block in Weymouth  Street . I didn’t train formally in Interior Design but read everything I could, designing my own homes and friends with a passion. When I moved into publishing and lifestyle magazines I met many designers and gurus of the industry and learnt from them and their styles by meeting them and visiting showrooms. When I helped launch the Feng Shui for Modern Living magazine, I not only learnt the techniques but also how to incorporate it into interior design for the first time in the western world. So to sum up, for me I learnt as I went along, working and learning from a multitude of sources. If you do take a professional course you need to also experience first hand wherever you can the reality of design.

 Q) Micro Homes & compact living is a talking point at the moment, being able to come up with creative multifunctional solutions to utilise space is difficult. Have you worked on any projects you found particularly challenging when dealing with spatial constraints?

Most properties in London are small compared to the palaces in the middle east and homes in the USA, so every project to be honest have problems of this nature. I attempt to make the most of space, adding extra sq ft where I can by rearranging rooms. Building into walls, using Pocket doors in tight spaces, utilising cavity walls for storage, particularly in bathrooms. Creating bookcases in other areas that provide so much necessary storage freestanding furniture often doesn’t provide.

New builds are a challenge as we have to work on ever decreasing sites incorporating more and more homes. Gardens or outside space are a luxury, and internal space has to be cleverly used.

Currently our project in Ealing will be a tight use of space. Planning was given with certain layouts and 2 bedrooms are really 1 and a half, so I need to start again on the internal layouts and make the living space more open plan. This will be the first major challenge on space so I will update on my Blog.

 Q) And/or do you think builds like this will help solve the housing crisis?

Micro homes should be Affordable, Sustainable and Adaptable. If they fulfil this then yes they could help solve the housing crisis but legislation needs to change to allow more to be built, not just in the inner cities where land is a premium but across the country where the crisis is no less a problem but the affordability is still an issue.

Q) NS Interiors attended the May Design Series exhibition this May, what will you be presenting to people this year? Where there any seminar speakers/ topics you are especially wanted to see?

Re this, I wasactually working with a company who have created and developed an  incredible 3D design software, ArchLine XP which I have been using for 6 years. I presented my projects throughout the show and provided one to one discussions and advice. I will attended as many talks as I could but I also wanted to meet new companies and find out about them. I just completed 5 presentations at Grand Designs Live, I do that every year but I should get to see Daniel Hopwood and Lee Penson

 Q) Budget constraints mean the trend for up-cycling furniture, or re purposing items is hugely popular at the moment, have you got any tips on incorporating these items into a design scheme?

I started upscaling many years ago in the 70s when I first moved to London, and now its popular again! I would scour skips for anything I thought might be useful, and still do. I used industrial air con ducts as tables and plant holders, fireplaces ripped out of apartments and hand painted them into a sandstone effect. I used old furniture in so many way’s, changing it painting, building into walls. Its endless. Look at an item and think what it can be used for, then treat it in a totally different way, add other bits to it, creativity runs wild.  I even talked about this at Grand Designs this month

 Q) In your projects with Edward Sunderland, how do you incorporate traditional & modern styles in a property?

 I usually have a blank canvas, ripping apart an interior from floor to roof and restart from there putting floors and walls where I want them. I work closely with the architect of course and between us we have a clear understanding of the interior space. From there I start to add character. Putting back coving, original style, doors that fit the building age, all of these things add character. Behind the walls and under the floor we hide away all the modern requirements heating lighting so after that it’s a question of creating a home that fits in with the requirements of the 21st century. Luxury bathrooms, kitchens and wooden floors are the norm. master bedroom suites with large wardrobe space and even walk in dressing rooms. Two en suites, his and hers if space allows. But in the main its neutral colours throughout to create a feeling of space. Large tiles add a luxurious feel and I tend to go for textures and mixed colours in these, but subtle effects which add depth. Free standing baths hark back to tradition but the modern styles bring it forward. Art deco is still on trend, and the style probably always will be as its so classic and timeless.

Q) Is there a particular situation or project you have you found most challenging in your property development projects with Edward Sunderland? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

 Each project has had its challenges and problems, it’s how I learn. Creatively it always makes you think harder to adapt and change, learn new techniques and develop originality. The things I’m learning more about are structural, architectural and legal. Currently we are in the process of developing a 9 apartment block and its currently a shell which requires developing at the front and a 5 story block built at the back, with gardens at first floor level. We are looking at a variety of methods and techniques to speed the build process and at the moment we are planning and arranging better use of space internally. More will follow on my blog next month.

 Q) You have worked on a number of high profile, luxury properties in Dubai, Manhattan & London, to name a few, what project have you enjoyed working on/ particular pieces you enjoyed getting to include in the design?

I have been lucky to work with some of the most important people in the world, and the most fabulous locations. The apartment in Madison Avenue for a President, was dream location. Equally, planning a palace in Dubai for a former Prime Minister over 2 years and then finishing decorating and furnishing with a team of 60 within a month was a challenge. But I think the most rewarding was a property in Brook Green I won two International awards for and a finalist in the SBID 2014 awards. It was one of our own and I had total freedom in the design and build, fully specifying and eventually furnishing. I designed a range of bookcases to a specific style in walnut, and walk in wardrobes behind glass sliding doors lit with LED. The family bathroom had a spa bath which converted into a massage table, and with no natural light had hidden daylight Led strips softly flooding the walls when the door was opened. It had 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms as well as a basement. The house sold for 15% above asking with even Tom Jones family bidding for it.

Q) When approaching a client with your design pitch, what advice do you have to win their business?

Designer in the Middle!

I trained in sales as part of my publishing career and those techniques stay with me. Listen to what they have to say, welcome the comments, agree with them about their home, and offer assurance that things can be improved. If one partner is more vocal bring the other into the conversation so they feel a part of the process, it instils confidence in the pitch and makes them both feel you understand what they are looking for and they have an equal say. Offer immediate thoughts and ideas in the conversation so they know you are on their side. Also remember you will be the go between, often of differing requirements, you have to make it work for them both.

Q) How do you get yourself/ your company known in the Interior Design World as there are so many designers out there, what advice do you have for anyone just starting out?

Social media works well to get your name out there. Blogging, twitter, facebook,  pintrest, anything you can. It increases your ranking on google for your website.  None of this was around when I started so I embraced it when I could. Visit shows, be seen and promote yourself as much as you can to suppliers. Join an association, SBID or BIID, and get involved in their promotions. Through them you have on going CPD training which is very important. The better your understanding, the greater your chance of referrals to other clients. Be bold, be seen.

Finalist Logo 2015