podcast | Mar 4, 2024 |
The past, present and future of an English design institution

Sibyl Colefax started decorating stylish yet unpretentious spaces in the 1930s. Her business quickly grew, so she brought on young designer John Fowler in 1938; soon after, the firm was renamed to Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler. Now, nearly 90 years later, the decorating firm has six design principals and is one arm of the larger Colefax Group, which also includes fabric and wallpaper brands. Principals Philip Hooper and Emma Burns sat down with host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast to discuss the firm’s incredible staying power and the secret to designing spaces clients will love.

“True luxury is the balance of comfort and perfection. What more do you need? If you’ve got things [that are] very beautiful, and they’re extremely user-friendly—you sink into the sofa, it’s got exactly the right feeling of down and feather, or your table is next to you for your book—those things are so in our [firm’s] DNA,” says Burns. “I think things were very uncomfortable. And suddenly, you’ve got this feeling of houses totally geared [toward] the people living in them and the balance between upholstered furniture, fine furniture, a skirted table—[all] of those elements that go into making a really happy room.”

Elsewhere in the episode, the duo discusses the evolution of the formal dining room, the firm’s iconic Yellow Room, the difference between American and U.K. clients, and the challenge of educating the next generation of designers.

Crucial insight: The firm’s business structure consists of six principals, each with their own team. Hooper points out that, naturally, some teams will be busier while others are quieter, but the model balances out by the end of the year. “It does wonders for your turnover in terms of keeping it consistent—someone might have a quiet six months, but someone else is going to be working seven days a week to keep up with it all, [and] we’re all comfortable with that,” he explains. “If people are very busy, then they can pick some assistance from another team that isn’t so busy. We’ve got this fluidity of people who are well-versed in what we’re doing and understand our software, and they can jump from one team to another.”

Key quote: “I think the comfort that our interiors give, they’re totally and utterly livable,” says Burns. “They may be grand, they may be quite ordinary—but they’re comfortable, human scale. … You can be with many people [or] few people. You can be very grand. You can have a load of kids in there. I think they’re adaptable. I think we’re adaptable.”

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode is sponsored by Pollack and Crypton.

The Thursday Show

BOH managing editor Haley Chouinard joins host Dennis Scully to go over the biggest news in the industry, including the newest Queer Eye cast member, Houzz’s 2024 State of the Industry report, and why renovations are starting to feel outdated faster than ever. Later, Kit Kemp, founder and creative director of Firmdale Hotels and Kit Kemp Design Studio, discusses her latest project, the Warren Street Hotel in New York.

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode is sponsored by Loloi.

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