There’s no signature style to Nina Campbell’s interiors. There’s no oft-used color palette or print—and that’s the way it should be, says the British interior designer.
“In my book, my publisher said to me, ‘But none of it looks the same,’” says Campbell, referring to projects for a Saudi prince and a young Gloucestershire couple and their three children, among others. “I said, ‘How could they ever look the same, because these people are not the same; their customs are not the same. You just have to listen, and by listening you learn.”
It’s a practice she likes to preach. “When I talk to young designers who want to know what to do, I say, ‘The most important thing you can do is listen to the client. It’s not your house. You are editing their dreams and making it their house.’”
Campbell began her design career at the age of 19, working as a tea-making, bag-carrying assistant for John Fowler of Colefax and Fowler. She left the following year when London club owner Mark Birley offered her the in-house designer role at Annabel’s, England’s Doubles Club equivalent, which drew a nightly scene of aristocrats and Hollywood socialites. It was a luxe training ground for Campbell, who would go on to service a star-studded list of clients, including Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr and the Duke and Duchess of York.
While her client roster may be serious, Campbell says the design work shouldn’t be. “I think I imbue people with the realization that this needs to be a joyous thing to have a new house. It’s not a drama,” she says. “What I always say to clients is, ‘Give a party, spill the red wine, clean the carpet, and get over it and enjoy the house.’”
Nearing five decades in the design industry, Campbell is now concentrating on tactical ways to build brand longevity. An outdoor fabrics collection with Summit Furniture will soon join her list of licensing partnerships, which includes rugs for Stark; furniture for Oomph; and fabrics, wallpapers and trimmings for Osborne & Little, at 30 years her longest-running licensing deal (“longer than most marriages,” says Campbell).
“I do think somehow, despite what I say, I’ll still be giving instructions and trimming cushions from my coffin as they put the lid on,” she says.
In this week’s episode of the Business of Home podcast, which is sponsored by DCOTA and was taped in front of a live audience at the design center’s Winter Market last week, Campbell takes listeners on a historical tour of the interior design trade and imparts wisdom on licensing deals and financially reluctant clients: