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‘Art First’ Interior Design – The Research Phase

Gathering Inspiration

In this second instalment of our inside look at an ‘Art First’ interior design project we explore the research phase of the project, a key formative stage where we gather and listen to fully understand the client’s vision for the property. If you haven’t already read the first instalment you can catch up here.

Over to our talented roving reporter, Genevieve…

At first, I was puzzled by the idea of ‘Art First’ interiors. It’s a challenging concept to wrap your mind around, let alone to grasp in a truly tactile, material sense. Through the Edinburgh Project, we hope to show you what this concept looks like in bricks and mortar – how it lives and breathes in the world. Lorraine’s quest to put art at the heart of designing a home isn’t about hanging pictures on a wall at the end, it’s about using art to resolve the limitations of space from the very beginning.

‘Art First’ essentially means ‘art thinking’. The role of artists has always been to observe situations and offer creative commentary to trigger an emotional response or inspire change. In the 1920s, for example, artists subscribing to the ‘Dadaist’ movement used art often in the form of painting, sculpture, photography, poetry and performance to comment on politics and generally to disrupt the ‘accepted’ order of life and society. Art is action and reaction – to events, to individual or collective feelings, or to space.

dadaism cabaret voltaire

Dadaism – ‘Cabaret Voltaire’ where artists performed poetry, songs, and took part in surreal theatrical performances all surrounded by art filled walls and surfaces – this expressive ‘art action’ expanded into forgotten spaces in the city challenging social norms and restrictions. Image source: from an article ‘Illustrated history of Dada’ via  (translation from Spanish, Yolanda Perez Herreras).

Lorraine’s interior styling likewise reacts to a particular space and the personalities of those who will inhabit it. Her interior styling approach uses art to promote a positive and happy lifestyle, but also to resolve awkward characteristics of the physical space. The property in Edinburgh straddles the Victorian and Georgian eras. There are challenging aspects of this building that have an immediate, physical effect on its visitors – a narrow hall, crumbling parts and cracks that suggest movement as well as characteristically high ceilings and exceptionally uneven flooring. The challenge is also to preserve the stunning period features including ornate cornicing and original carpentry detailing. Lorraine hopes a little bit of ‘art thinking’ will go a long way to bring together all of these elements along with the backdrop of the city and desires of her clients into a cohesive and inspiring design solution.

You have to look at the physical characteristics of the space – the challenges and the potential. That can open up so many possibilities. It can restrict you in some ways but that’s the fun – you have to find creative solutions to that!

Take a peek at some of our ‘before’ photos to give you a sense of the space we’re working with!

From the beginning of the project, Lorraine drew from her background of creating site specific artworks for public spaces adopting the same holistic approach. Her proposal comprised three main stages: the research and gathering stage, the design stage (from initial to final design) and, finally, the implementation stage.

The first step, the research and gathering stage, is a collaborative process with the client that establishes collective ownership over the creative process. Lorraine researched her clients likes and dislikes, their hopes for the space and also the potential and structural limitations of the building – the unique history and character of the property and its surroundings. With a public artwork, although there is an element of consultation, you can’t possibly consult everybody who will use the space. Here, in the context of a residential property, you can!

The visioning stage and building a concept for a space is a vital part of an artist’s process. After that, the ‘doing’ becomes almost a list of practicalities. The overarching concept (of nature, culture, the city and family as outlined in the first post in this series) drove the approach to gathering ideas. Lorraine and her clients created a communal Pinterest board as a visual tool to brainstorm. Safe to say the strongest opinions emerged early on. Latent creative talents were uncovered, and everyone had a voice. With each post and email, each delighted yes or firm no, the clients shaped Lorraine’s design: “It’s their vision for their home, it’s my job as the facilitator to realise their vision”.

pinterest group inpiration board for an interior design project curious egg

Lorraine: “I created a communal board via Pinterest with sub boards for each room so that we could quickly brainstorm ideas and I could understand the likes and dislikes of each member of the group. Its a great way to gather feedback quickly and shape a vision for each room.”

After this initial brainstorm spree, Lorraine began to interpret the clients’ ideas into a unique look for each space always underpinned by the main concept that had already been identified. This initiated an intense period of working up mood boards and developing a feel and energy for each room. Instead of a ‘study, the clients wanted a ‘morning room’ – they envisioned a tranquil space for lounging and relaxing and the name reflects this use. The sitting room, on the other hand, will be a sophisticated space for entertaining, while the kitchen will be a more colourful and fun family space.

The other side of the research and gathering stage is more structural. The flat has a relatively unusual layout and an entranceway to test even Lorraine’s superpowers. You enter the flat into a very narrow hallway with no natural light and immediately have to turn left or right.

The clients were troubled by this claustrophobic area, but art can change the way you feel in a space…so, stay tuned for Lorraine’s creative solution! We can’t wait to continue to share the next phase of this project with you. Up next will be a sneak peak of Lorraine’s mood boards. It won’t be one you want to miss, trust me!

Genevieve x



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