Designing Neverland - Bristol Post feature

The Bristol Post have kindly asked me to write a new interiors column for their monthly magazine. In case you missed it, here's the first instalment all about the process behind creating a roomset for Grand Designs Live...

Grand Designs Live Neverland Roomset

From time to time we designers, of all disciplines, are thrilled to receive a dream brief that permits us to let our creative juices really run free and flex those artistic muscles. One such occasion came my way earlier this year in the form of a national competition to design one of six roomsets at Grand Designs Live. The theme given was ‘Famous Places That Never Existed’, considerably more out-there than a usual interior design brief, and with no real client to consider, license to go completely and utterly wild. As a former set designer, the potential for the theatrical appealed. Plumping for the fictitious fantasy land of Neverland as the source of inspiration, I set about creating a concept that was atmospheric, evocative, and sophisticated, despite being based on a children’s classic.

Grand Designs Live Neverland Roomset

Not wanting to create a carbon copy of the movie sets, I deliberately avoided watching all versions.  Short on time I didn't re-read the book. For the research stage I chose instead to rely on childhood memory, a recap of the story’s significant tropes (flamingoes, skulls, pirates), and still images from the original Disney animation. The main inspiration picture was of a pirate galleon, vividly orange, flying through a velvety sky over tropical islands. Often, interior designers don’t share this essential ‘dreaming’ part of the design process with clients, or its fruits (the concept board) because frankly, it can all look and sound a bit too darn bonkers. We sometimes prefer to skip straight to the more easily understood sample boards when presenting, without particularly explaining how we arrived at the conclusion that this is the best scheme for the job. 

Yet, without going through these fanciful motions there can’t be a strong, clear vision for the project, without which it can be hard to tell when a colour or item of furniture is just right. So, eventually settling on a narrative for the roomset of ‘glam pirates setting up camp in the tropics’ I submitted my concept to the competition organisers, and was delighted to be selected to make manifest the design at the ExCel in London.

Upcycled Galleon Light

A condition of the event was that all the items within the sets should be in stock and easily accessible to members of the public from British retailers or manufacturers, so as to inspire show visitors and provide them with a shopping experience. Fortunately many excellent suppliers, including artisans local to Bristol, were happy to loan products to be featured in the showcase. Thisenabled me to put together a maximalist look incorporating a mixture of abstracted ideas, present in the artwork selections, and more literal ones such as the air-borne pirate galleon. Unable to borrow the expensive, fragile and unfeasibly heavy bohemian crystal pirate ship chandelier I originally had in mind, upcycling an ancient model of the Golden Hind with LED strip lights seemed the most logical solution to still get the look. 

Installing the show was fun and incredibly fast paced (read: exhausting), with a build time of just less than two days. It was a pleasure to meet and be judged by BIID President Daniel Hopwood and Sophie Robinson from BBC2’s The Great Interior Design Challenge. Although Neverland didn’t win, their comments and enthusiastic praise left me far from disappointed. 

Combining brand new, antique, reproduction, vintage and upcycled items creates a unique look that you just can’t achieve buying from only one store. To find the sources for anything and everything in these images simply type in “Neverland Roomset” to www.pinterest.com and all will be revealed on my Grand Designs board.

Neverland Gallery Wall