In the Frame: French-Brooks Interiors
Victoria Wormsley has been a very dear friend of ours for the past 20 years since our sons started at nursery school together at Young England in Pimlico. It has been incredible to watch her transform and develop her career from successful City PR into acclaimed interior designer, all the while raising three children and renovating her own London and country properties. Victoria’s projects have recently been featured in Homes & Gardens, Country Life and The English Home magazine. It was not until Victoria hosted our latest shoot at her stunning Georgian rectory in Hampshire that I fully appreciated the extent of her talent and I thought it was time we sat down for a chat to ask her more about her career highlights.
VICKY, YOU TRAINED IN INTERIOR DESIGN WHEN YOUR FIRST CHILD BEN WAS JUST TWO AND YOUR SECOND WAS ON THE WAY. I GATHER YOUR FIRST PROJECT WAS YOUR OWN FAMILY HOME - A DAUNTING PROJECT IN SOUTH KENSINGTON, IT MUST HAVE BEEN OVERWHELMING BUT WITH SPECTACULAR RESULTS. WAS THIS THE CATALYST TO YOUR TURNING YOUR HOBBY INTO A CAREER?
I trained in interior design out of a passion for it rather than planning a career, but it turned out to be very useful when we needed to move to a larger house. We ended up buying a house which had great ‘bones’ but was in a terrible state. It had been used as bedsits so there were 14 doorbells by the front door, it had dry rot, no central heating and pigeons roosting in the roof. It was a great learning curve as I worked with property developers, Chester Row, who project managed it as a private commission alongside their own developments. Once it was complete, I started designing for them on their other projects and things took off from there.
CHESTER ROW DEVELOPMENTS CLEARLY SAW GREAT TALENT AS THEY ASKED YOU TO JOIN THEM TO SET UP THEIR INTERIOR ARM, YOUR FIRST MASSIVE PROJECT CONVERTING TWO TOWNHOUSES IN SOUTH KENSINGTON INTO FIVE LATERAL APARTMENTS SOUNDS A CHALLENGE YET VERY EXCITING, TELL US A BIT ABOUT THAT.
Spending ten years working on high end developments in and around prime central London was a fantastic experience. Quite exacting in terms of sticking to the budget and meeting deadlines, but so valuable in terms of training your ‘eye’: seeing what works and what doesn’t, the best way to use space, which in London is always at a premium, the value of good lighting and how to furnish rooms for different effects. Plus working closely with a variety of architects and contractors so you understand how things are built and what leads to a top-quality finish.
ART IS CLEARLY A PASSION OF YOURS AND SOMETHING YOU INTEGRATE INTO YOUR PROJECTS - WHICH PERIOD DO YOU LOVE THE MOST AND WHERE ARE YOUR FAVOURITE GALLERIES?
I have worked with all sorts of art when furnishing clients’ houses, from racing prints to contemporary installations, but if I had to choose a particular period, I guess it would be British art from the 1950s and 60s – work by the St Ives group like Ben Nicholson, Ivon Hitchens and Paul Feiler. I’m lucky to have two great galleries near my office in South Kensington: Godson & Coles and Cadogan Contemporary. I also love browsing the Christies Modern British Art sales.
YOU HAVE A GORGEOUS COLLECTION OF COLOURED GLASS AND INTERESTING ACCESSORIES IN BOTH YOUR LONDON AND COUNTRY HOME WHICH YOU’VE CLEARLY COLLECTED OVER THE YEARS, WHERE ARE YOUR FAVOURITE HUNTING SPOTS?
Whilst I enjoy pared back, minimalist spaces in urban settings – they counterbalance the city buzz – it can be fun to go for a more eclectic mix in a country house and spend time building up collections: they might not be valuable but when grouped together they can look so interesting. It’s amazing how little quirky vintage ceramics and glass sell for: anything from Cornishware to Victorian celery vases. I search all over: from Guinevere on the Kings Road to Gallery 25 on the Pimlico Road, from antiques shops in Hungerford and Tetbury to eBay! I have built up a network of dealers whom I know are good for different periods and items.
DO YOU HAVE ANY GOLDEN RULES WHEN IT COMES TO THE FINAL DECORATIVE ASPECTS OF DESIGNING A ROOM?
Although good spatial planning and lighting design are critical, it is amazing how the final details can make or break an interior. I have a mantra which is that the final 25% makes 50% of the difference. Clients can get worn down by the number of decisions involved in a project, so I see part of our role at French-Brooks as preventing this by editing the options, so they are as involved in the design process as much as they like without feeling overwhelmed. Then helping them get the project “over the line” so the final details are as fully realised as the initial ideas and they get to enjoy the result in full. Sarah, you must see this with your product shoots: the books, frames, trays, flowers and the way they are styled make such a difference to how a space feels.
HOW DO YOU LIKE TO WORK WITH CLIENTS – DO YOU FIND IT IS USUALLY A COLLABORATIVE RELATIONSHIP OR DO SOME CLIENTS WANT YOU TO MAKE ALL THE DECISIONS FOR THEM?
I’m happy to be flexible. Obviously you hope clients will take advantage of your expertise and your experience but equally it’s very satisfying to understand what they will like and produce something which exceeds what they could have imagined but is very much “them”. At the moment we are working on a couple of projects for example in different ways: one is a London pied à terre where the client has given us the freedom to design every aspect, whilst another is an old country rectory where it’s very much a collaboration.
IF YOU WERE ADVISING SOMEBODY TO BECOME AN INTERIOR DESIGNER WHAT WOULD YOUR MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF ADVICE BE?
I think one of the most important things about becoming a designer is that you should never stop looking: absorbing and observing wherever you are, whether it is the details on a doorway, a shape of a leaf, the view from a window, the way someone has arranged something, the style of a chair. You should be like a camera that is always switched on that’s how you hone your style and develop your taste.
IF YOU WERE TO CHOOSE ANY ADDISON ROSS FRAME, WHICH ONE WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHAT IMAGE WOULD YOU UPLOAD FOR US TO PRINT AND FIT FOR YOU AND WHY?
Obviously, it depends on the setting, but for the bookcase above my desk in the country the Frise Blue Marquetry Frame looks fantastic against the dark wood: elegant and beautifully made in England. The image would have to be a recent pic of my son and daughters when we were together at Christmas – they’re all wearing silly hats as the weather was very cold and they look so relaxed!
Thank you Vicky, I’ve really loved getting to know a bit more about your career. You can see more French-Brooks Interiors work on their website https://www.french-brooks.com/
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