Maison et Objet: Interior Designer Staffan Tollgård becomes Ambassador
Interior designer Staffan was honoured to be one of Maison et Objet’s ambassadors earlier this year. The opportunity allowed him to reflect on 15 years of visiting this iconic interior design exhibition.
Press play below or click here to see Maison & Objet’s interview with him.
Being an interior designer is no easy feat; especially in London… As such an interior design education from Inchbald or KLC helps ensure the project completion process is as smooth as possible!
What technical skills does an Interior Designer need?
Our design practice started just after Staffan graduated from the Inchbald – School of Design where he did a year long course in Architectural Interior Design. We employed from Inchbald year on year as we slowly grew, confident that we spoke the same language of design as the new graduates did. Now, nearly 15 years later our studio comprises designers with degrees in Architecture, Interior Architecture, Interior Design and Interior Decoration from all around the world. As our industry has grown and matured we’ve also seen it diversify and become more specialist. New graduates can choose a myriad of paths, specializing in residential or commercial, technical or FF&E, even focusing on different stages of the design journey for example: concept visuals rather than working on site.
360 degrees: the ultimate interior designer
We are a technical studio, relying on CAD and Sketch-up rather than hand-drawing to communicate with our clients. For us a designer needs to come to us with these skills but, more importantly, they need to demonstrate that they have a 360º approach to interior design. This is because our studio doesn’t silo designers into one part of the creative design journey. We believe that the same designer should take a client’s brief, develop it through concept stage, draw it up in CAD, turn the spaces round in Sketch-up and then furnish it – right down to the final fabrics and accessories.
We often ask our clients to imagine their house as a doll’s house. Or a box that you can turn upside down and shake. Some pieces are going to fall out first: the furniture, cushions, rugs, lights and accessories. If you shake longer and harder eventually the floorboards will fall out; the bath and eventually the walls. We use this metaphor to explain the different between interior design and interior decoration, or FF&E.
The right designer for us is someone who cares about the box, the shape of the box, what those walls are going to look like and where they’re going to be as much as the pieces inside: a 360º interior designer! Someone who is committed to all elements of the design journey, who has the technical skills & relevant experience but who also is deeply interested in the final pieces that arguably have the most physical and emotional impact on the people living in these spaces.
As the designer grows with us so will their skillset: at first working with the elements of design that they’re most comfortable with, to becoming a rounded interior designer that can work with all aspects of design.
Becoming an Interior Designer: Inchbald School of Design
London based Interior Design School Inchbald
Founded in London in 1960, Inchbald School of Interior Design has provided exceptional interior designer courses acknowledged throughout the interior design profession.
Inchbald alumni have included many of the best known names in the profession including Lady Henrietta Spencer Churchill, Stephen Ryan and Luciano Giubbilei , confirming that the challenge of a course at the Inchbald School of Design is not only an enjoyable experience but it is also professionally relevant.
They offer various courses including the Inchbald Diploma which prepares graduates for professional practice through the exploration and development of practical and aesthetic design skills. This was the qualification that both Staffan and Erik (head of showroom) took together at Inchbald.
By tackling a variety of residential & commercial projects informed by design methodology, technical detail & research which are set during the course of the year thereby learning to develop their ideas through drawing & presentation skills which are taught across the duration of the programme.
The London based school also offers short courses focusing on Interior Decoration and complementary vocational skills related to interior design which Monique undertook. They offer a useful introduction to advanced study or to provide further skills development for students already involved in the field.
Most importantly the tutors are all working designers recognised for their professional standards & creative input. Lecturers are drawn from relevant practices and academic institutions. We are fortunate enough to have Monique be a regular lecturer at the school.
The highest priority of Inchbald teaching is the development of every individual student’s talent and potential; allied to a clear understanding of the possibilities of interior space. This is the very basis of the design confidence which is essential to professional life.
So let us take you on a journey through time as we look back on all of the shortlisted and award-winning projects over our last decade of interior design.
Coombe Hill Mansion: Winner 2012
A contemporary Arts and Crafts mansion on the outskirts of London. With apparently conflicting client requirements of a boutique interior combined with a fun family home, the challenge was to reconcile these elements in a design with overarching coherence.
The luxury boutique requirement was broadly a wish for chic, stylish interiors, but it also became apparent that there were two separate elements within it – public entertaining vs. private retreat. We decided to interpret these distinct requirements in the interior design using a combination of impressive ‘public’ statement pieces set against a backdrop of calming spa-like features.
We achieved the boutique retreat feel primarily through careful use of materials, predominantly pure and calming natural stone and wood which, in line with Arts and Crafts aesthetics, were displayed in a simple form to reveal the materials’ inherent natural variation and beauty. The key natural materials – walnut, limestone, basalt (and, to a lesser degree, quartzitic slate) – were used throughout the property as a unifying element.
Through this consistent use of materials in the interior architecture and joinery, along with the introduction of an Arts and Craft inspired decorative motif we achieved the overall stylistic unification of the house. The motif in particular allowed us greater freedom to delineate the separate areas using differing furniture styles and colour, whilst still retaining a feeling of overarching coherence, from the large scale architectural elements and finishes, right down to the furniture, soft furnishings and artwork. The considered approach to full scale unification of the house provided the clients with a highly unique, bespoke and boutique interior, with which they were thrilled.
To view more of the Coombe Hill Mansion project – click here
Quinta Do Lago: Winner 2012
A sculptural, innovative, dynamic architect’s vision realised on Portugal’s sunshine coast. With huge spans of glass, concrete and stone, the challenge was to bring colour and life to this temple of light.
The clients wanted a very modern, dynamic interior to match the architect’s bold vision. The house is incredibly eye catching – people stop their cars, golfers pause mid-game to look at it. The architect, Armando Guerreiro, has created a house to look at, and look out of – glass is the house’s most significant material, and the clients emphasized again and again the importance of light in our meetings.
Key to Tollgard Design Group’s philosophy is the Scandinavian notion of the ‘red thread’. The thread is the guiding principle of creative endeavour and what ultimately gives each design we work on a sense of coherence and continuity. The client’s obvious and avowed love of art and sculpture and their appreciation of furniture as crafted, designed pieces – functional sculptures- provided an early avenue of inspiration.
Concrete, glass, stone, some wood: the building blocks of the house were key to working out our argument for the softness, colour and warmth we needed to add to this bold new 21st century villa. Everything that we added to this sparse palette had to give the client’s pleasure. We wanted to exceed their expectations: of us as designers, and of their new home and modern lifestyle. We therefore added the architect’s dynamic motif to the interior architecture of doors and used the same material for the bespoke joinery we designed. We added colour in a bold, graphic way, introducing it almost as an architectural material. We worked with the same vision that the architect brought to the project, and in this way married the inside of the building with its innovative architecture.
As designers, we are extremely proud of the project, and overjoyed that the clients are too. It has become more than a holiday house for our clients. It is a home that they love, and return to whenever they are able to. That is more than we could have hoped for. This email was sent to us during the project: “As I have said before, you and your team have made this whole project so easy for us. You have given us great ideas and steered us in right direction and the end result will be a wonderful villa which we could not have managed without you. Walking into Staffan Tollgård’s office was the best thing we could have done!”
To view more of the Quinta Do Lago project – click here
Tollgard Showroom: Shortlisted 2014
A unique hybrid of retail environment and design practice, the Design Store offers a new retail experience: personalised, calm and complete.
This year’s crowning achievement for architectural interior design practice Staffan Tollgård Design Group was the opening of their SW1 Design Store. The ambitious fit-out transformed the flagship commercial space on the Grosvenor Waterside docks into a stunning studio & retail space over 9 short weeks.
The Store was designed to be a window into the world of the residential interiors that the Group is internationally recognised for, as well as a creative & inspiring workspace. Function was at the heart of the design brief, and the creation of a mezzanine space to house the Group’s 20-strong design team added space for a working kitchen and dining area, two bathrooms, a cinema and a bedroom. Literally a home-away-from-home for the family-run practice, the Store has been mistaken for a very high-end apartment on more than one occasion by passersby keen to acquire it.
The ‘red thread’ or DNA of the interior was the Group’s own unique blend of bold, contemporary design: the architectural layering of textures, functional sculpture in the form of furniture and lighting, strong injections of colour.
The suppliers used in the Store represent the best in their fields: each material and item from the poured concrete floor, Austrian barn-wood cladding and architectural lighting to the invisible wall speakers are available for sale and specification.
The ethos of the store is that: ‘Great design holds a story. Come and tell us yours’.
To view more of the Tollgard Showroom project – click here
Totteridge House: Shortlisted 2014
A dramatic modernisation of a handsome family home, together with David Gibson Architects, has resulted in openplan and intersecting living spaces that hinge on the striking sculptural staircase. Repeated architectural and decorative refrains of glass, natural and stained wood, large format ceramics, together with contemporary lighting features create a bold and inviting home.
We were engaged to provide a full interior design specification for this renovation of an existing family home.We began work with the project in fully-fledged construction: a challenging time-line for all parties concerned.With the architectural design of the house under control, the clients wanted a full interior design specification comprising materials, finishes, bathrooms (including layouts, specification and finishes), lighting, joinery and all the FF&E. With a young family (with twins on the way), the clients wanted the interiors to reflect their fun family life and their love of design.
They wanted to make the most of the space that the new house would afford them: a huge open plan living area would be used for entertaining and movie nights with the kids; a family kitchen would see regular gatherings of 10 and more. The dining room needed to seat as many as possible and be linked with the living room beyond.
Taking inspiration from the architect’s creation of double-height spaces in the entrance area the designers created a lighting design with Moooi’s Raimond pendants taking centre stage. Visible from the first and ground floors they are functional, modern sculptures: sleek and minimal, adding to the ‘red thread’ of linear geometry that runs through the house.
“Every design decision asked whether the client’s personality was being captured: had we made an unusual decision or stuck with the norm? If the latter we reviewed it until we were happy that the house reflected a dynamic and inspiring couple with a house to match. The colour scheme ties the architectural finishes together and adds another layer of life and character. ”
To view more of the Totteridge House project – click here
Knightsbridge Penthouse: Winner 2015
A luxurious contemporary lateral living space on a prestigious square through the refurbishment and integration of two separate Queen Anne apartments.
Exquisite detail and the exceptional layered selection of textures and materials combine to create a luxurious contemporary lateral living space. Dramatic doors and passages accentuate the elegant fusion of properties into one stately home. Every feature carefully considered and executed.
We worked together with Peek Architects to create a functional, luxurious and rational spatial arrangement of the space: a series of layouts that felt as though the apartment had always existed, rather than two separate spaces that had been summarily bolted together. Our role as Interior Designers comprised of the selection and specification of the architectural finishes throughout the apartment, detailed design of the bathrooms and joinery together with the full FF&E design.
Lighting designers Xavio Lighting played an important part in the project, with the technical elements of the home automation and architectural lighting under their scope of works. Selection of the decorative fittings throughout was given to us, though, and the final piece of the puzzle saw us able to choose the final artworks from the client’s own extended collection.
To view more of the Knightsbridge Penthouse project – click here
Notting Hill Paradise: Shortlisted 2017
A thoughtful, elegant yet playful family home that captures the essence of Notting Hill life in a sleek architectural nutshell. The heart of Notting Hill is at once traditional and iconoclastic, home to the established and the irreverent. Important, imposing homes stand side-by-side with pastel-painted mews houses, the mix creating an exuberant, energetic melting pot representative of London living at its best. This impressive home on one of Notting Hill’s most beautiful communal gardens was designed to capture these contrasting elements as family developers Thornsett together with Capital Architects and interior designers Tollgard Design Group brought this already handsome home into the 21st century.
In architectural terms the house was sensitively extended with a new basement adding to its already generous footprint. We carved out a modern, family home over five floors, giving each its own visual and functional identity linked through a clean architectural palette. The brief from the development team was to create a liveable family home with the appropriate gravitas and formality in some of the key entertaining spaces, with all the creature comforts of modern living carefully concealed. Thus, on the ground floor the scene is set with the palette of dark herringbone floors, bespoke joinery, and dramatic sculptural pendants. On the family floor below, though, the atmosphere is lighter and more tropical as the open-plan kitchen, dining and living room extend out into the private garden space beyond. One floor lower and the cinema and wine room create intimate and cosy entertaining spaces. The top three floors contain a luxurious master suite and four further ensuite bedrooms.
Tollgard Design Group are great believers in honest luxury. This home uses solid, valuable materials in a clean, architectural, and truthful way – and the outcome is refreshingly authentic. The house is as open as we could make it, (without breaking out in the neighbouring houses.) The spaces are well-thought through, with a clear sense of the family that would need to live and move through them. There is a lot of storage… something the designers have learnt you can never have too much of. There is drama in the rooms that demand it – the beautiful Fiori di Bosco marble in the master bathroom making a bold statement against the clean lines of the bath and basins.
To view more of the Notting Hill Paradise project – click here
Knightsbridge Splendour: Shortlisted 2017
The prized ingredients of a grand family home have been laterally re-strung to create a unique and contemporary masterpiece on an iconic London crescent. Lateral luxury presents a logistical and geographical problem for the London property market. On the one hand, property developers are meeting the demands of modern buyers for wide, open living spaces on one floor by building new buildings. On the other hand, some still crave the grandeur, romance, and importance of buildings from a previous age, nestled in the heart of London’s most prized locations. These buildings are not wide, and staircases are architecturally ubiquitous. This apartment in one of London’s most sought-after Knightsbridge garden crescent offers another answer.
By combining four apartments, three of them showcased in one beautifully rhythmic series of entertaining spaces across a single floor, Tollgard Design Group have helped create a new form of luxury lateral living on an iconic crescent. The apartment’s listed building status proved a catalyst for design innovation; our design team worked with PEEK Architecture + Design, scrutinising layout permutations in order to rationalise a living experience that could perfectly meet the logistical and social demands of an unknown buyer.
Tollgard Design Group were respectful of the architectural integrity of each apartment; reinstating original fireplaces, maintaining ceiling beams, cornices and the cellular structure of the original spaces. Yet through a judicious selection of contemporary finishes also created a new, coherent design journey, moving from a lighter to darker palette in the entertaining to the more private spaces, a play on light and shade that has created significant interest and drama.
From four neighbouring apartments in three adjacent buildings the designers effectively and efficiently altered the orientation from portrait to landscape, offering a discerning audience an enfilade of three grand entertaining spaces; master suite with separate dressing areas; 5 further ensuite bedrooms, private study, wellness area comprising gym, massage room, sauna and steam rooms and an outdoor terrace housed in an annexed lower ground capsule apartment. The prized components of a grand family home have been laterally re-strung to create a unique and contemporary masterpiece.
To view more of the Knightsbridge Splendour project – click here
Batman’s Penthouse: Shortlisted 2019
An iconic penthouse for a modern-day Gatsby. Dramatic materials applied with contemporary flair and architectural discipline elevate one of London’s finest residences. Or – ‘Let me entertain you…’ Two apartments in the treeline of one of London’s most famous garden squares have been exuberantly integrated to create an iconic penthouse.
Our brief was to wow. In a cool, non-ostentatious but decidedly show-stopping way. Our client tasked us with the integration of two existing apartments set in the 3rd and 4th floors of one of London’s most prestigious garden squares. Working closely with Peek Architecture + Design we carved out a new penthouse comprising 5 ensuite bedrooms, reception & dining rooms, chef’s kitchen, media room and two technology-fuelled terraces that look towards London’s cityscape.
‘Let me entertain you …’ demanded Robbie Williams. He might have had our penthouse in mind. The directive to entertain was never far from our minds when we started to pull together the red thread for this apartment that was designed to host a thousand parties.
To view more of the Batman Penthouse project – click here
Fanø Summer House: Shortlisted 2019
‘Only connect’. The Fanø Summer House fuses architecture, interiors and environment. It is a place to decompress, to connect as a family and appreciate the bigger, more important picture.
The island of Fanø has always been a special place for the clients and their family: the Danish-born wife spent her summers as a child there, and in turn her family has owned a summer house there for over a decade. The family fell in love with the simple yet striking buildings that architect Knud Holscher had completed in the past. Having worked with Staffan Tollgård on their home and commercial premises in London, they invited him to join their design journey.
The summer house is a coherent, hard-working family house that has evolved from its setting and from the clients’ clear vision of how to embrace and enjoy this environment. It is a house that puts family life first – and as a design practice that specialises in designing for families this was our favourite aspect of the project.
Fanø is a place to decompress, to connect with nature, to put down cell phones and look out at the bigger, more important picture. To be with their children, to be more at peace and live a simpler life. These were the client’s hopes and dreams for their sand dune retreat. The amount of time they are drawn back to it, is testimony to its success.
Looking through these projects has elicited an unexpected mixture of pride and delight. It’s brought back some of the highs and lows we have experienced along the way too … design is a journey of passion and grit, of dedication to detail and to the goal of helping our clients lead better lives through the homes we create for them. We keep in mind something that Alain de Botton so beautifully expressed in his book ‘ The Architecture of Happiness, when he said that
“Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or worse, different people in different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be”.
We are truly honoured to have been shortlisted for the Interior Designer of The Decade award, and for the recognition that we have faithfully and painstakingly ‘rendered vivid’ the lives of our clients over these last ten years through the language of design.
To read some of our latest news choose from below:
We’re delighted to feature in Luxdeco Top 50 Interior Designers to know in 2019. It’s a global look at who they have been inspired by and who they will be watching in 2019. We are so proud to be included amongst this stellar cast list alongside some of our own design heroes.
More masculine, sophisticated interiors of this London-based husband-and-wife team seem to be on the horizon. The design studio promised, in a 11th December 2018 Instagram post, “We have some exciting projects currently on the go; some private residential and some commercial contracts; we can’t wait to show you the end results so stay tuned!”
Some of the projects that we teased on Instagram were indeed completed and photographed in 2019. We’re really proud of these three …
Danish Summer House
This summer house tells a story about different people coming together to realise a client’s dream of a Danish retreat. We completed the project alongside renowned architect Knud Holscher on the island of Fanø located off Southwestern Denmark. For Staffan it has been the project of a lifetime: “I left Stockholm for the UK more than half my life ago and have worked on design projects in Asia, America, the Middle East and all over Europe. Here is a family who have lived internationally for years but whose souls also long for home – the design journey into this shared heritage was all the more rewarding”.
The pull of the summer house retreat resonates strongly with Staffan’s own childhood and values. “I take my own children back to our family’s summer house on the lake as often as I can. The connection with nature and the escape it affords from city life act as a reset button for all of us. When designing the interiors of Fanø I was determined to connect them as coherently and simply to the landscape as possible: to create a retreat from city life that extended to the choice of every material and piece of furniture”.
Fano is a place to decompress, to connect with nature, to put
down cell phones and look out at the bigger more important picture. To be
with their children, to be more at peace and live a simpler life. That’s
what the clients wanted to achieve with the house. The amount of time they
spend in it is testimony to its success as a home from home.
Lyons Place for Almacantar
We were given a fantastic brief for this marketing suite for Almacantar’s marketing suite at Lyon’s Place in Maida Vale: on no account should it look like a marketing suite. Working with their talented marketing and development team we created a concept that reflected the core values and USP of this
Interestingly I thought it was just a Northern European idea, but the red thread of fate binds lovers together in Eastern mythology too. It’s a trail of breadcrumbs scattered through a piece of creative work that constantly reminds you what’s important or relevant about a particular piece of work. It’s very helpful in editing a design.
There are so many great ideas and suppliers to choose from, but once you have distilled the red thread from the clues your client and the architecture have given you, you can hold each new idea against the red thread and then either let it go or draw it in. It ensures that at the end of a project it feels coherent and distinct from any other. It is telling a different story.
For Cleveland Square the ‘red thread’ was seeing that the house acted as a gallery space. Each piece was then weighed against this notion. Could it stand up as a distinctive piece of art or sculpture? If not, it didn’t belong in this design.The ‘red thread’ is also about collections. A design is a cluster of decisions, artefacts and materials that are important to our client.
I have recently read a beautiful book by Edmund de Waal who uses a collection of Japanese ceramic figures as the starting point for a journey through European history. I was so inspired by this quote–
“How objects are handed on is all about story-telling. I am giving you this because I love you. Or because it was given to me. Because I bought it somewhere special. Because you will care for it. Because it will complicate your life. Because it will make someone else envious. There is no easy story in legacy. What is remembered and what is forgotten?”
The pieces that our clients want to weave a story around are so important.
Monique Tollgård was recently interviewed by Interior Design Magazine. They wanted to understand everything about her life as a designer; her earliest memories of design, where she studied and her most interesting projects.
Monique Tollgård is a Co-Founder of Tollgard Design Group, alongside her husband Staffan. Monique and Staffan Tollgård launched their design studio in 2005. Focused on delivering interior design services to an international clientele, the practice quickly garnered recognition for its bold take on contemporary design. Since then it has expanded into a multi-disciplinary studio that employs some of the brightest minds in the industry. Here, Monique shares her personal experience of entering the design world.
What is your earliest memory of design having an impact on you? I am reminded of two childhood memories, one good and one bad. The good is the recollection of my grandparents’ house; they had an orchid farm in Johannesburg with hothouses dotted amongst an impressive collection of cycads and trees. On every wall, shelf and corner in the farmhouse were wonderful arrangements of treasures they had found and curated along the way, from truly impressive pieces down to collections of teaspoons. I remember vividly an elephant’s foot full of hand-carved walking sticks that my grandfather had collected from all over South Africa. When they eventually moved into a home more manageable for them in old age, the whole collection went with them, just arranged much closer together! I think the power of collecting has really stayed with me as I’ve grown. Staffan and I really disagree here; he is a minimalistic, very selective designer and I secretly have the DNA of a hoarder. My second memory of design is an old green mohair sofa, which was so uncomfortable and felt horrible on my skin. To this day I still rub fabric samples against my leg as a test of softness and comfort. I’m quite emotionally attached to things, even now I have a collection of old stinkwood bowls in my house that came from my grandparent’s home, they have so much memory embedded in them. For our wedding, we were given a Leopard stone sculpture from Kirstenbos botanical gardens; unusual objects are a thing in our family, and I have taken that thread with me in life and continue to weave it.
Wherever I go I buy something that brings that place and associated memories home with me. Home is so very important to me. When designing, I draw on the principles of how clients want things to feel. I think so often we can give off ‘don’t touch’ vibes, don’t sit there, don’t move that, but actually, good design should be loved and touched and sat on and in. When we work with families we try to understand how to make them happy. I guess this notion reflects back to my childhood memories of how happy my grandparents were to be surrounded by all their things, their treasures.
Where did you study design and what did you specialise in? I studied interior decoration at Inchbald School of Design. Nico Springman was my tutor, a fantastic teacher who made colour into a science and an art. I have never forgotten his lectures. I have come at this profession from a different approach to a lot of my peers. My background is in English Literature and then documentary making before moving into design, so I feel very experienced at listening to people, researching and editing to tell a story. I’d say I’m more of a communicator who understands the principles of making design work. Within the studio I am surrounded by a wonderful team who can draw beautifully, my skill is in holding multiple ideas in my head and finding a solution and bringing about change to make something better, not just different. It was Alain de Botton in The Architecture of Happiness who said “it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.” We ask ourselves, can I in an emotional, philosophical and visual way, be a better person? I think translation and interpretation is so interesting. As a designer, I feel that being a linguist is no bad thing at all, it helps me understand and translate the needs of my clients.
How has design education changed since you studied? Studying at Inchbald was a very specific melting pot experience of people and of past professions, many of who had come prepared to invest in new careers. Something I have noticed is how specialist the industry has become in response to the industry itself. I see an evolution of education, which takes students down one avenue to suit this new preference in the industry.
I’m still interested in generalism, the work of the left part of our brains and the right as valuable and differing skills. Staffan is a great example, he studied engineering, left to be a filmmaker and is now a designer. I look for that eclectic mix in people when I employ. I always think with relation to design, you never know what or who is coming through the door, so I need enthusiasm and diversity in my studio, to be prepared for whatever might arise. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the different types of brains and how this plays into my practice. As a workplace you have varying different needs of people, some want quiet, some thrive in noisy and sparky environments, so how do we bring all those things to our own studio and to the work we produce. If anything, I’d say we are now bringing a residential sensibility to the workplace.
What kind of designer did you aspire to be and who are your inspirations? I joined Staffan’s business straight out of design school. I had witnessed him set up his film company and then his design practice and it looked like so much fun. I think, fundamentally, my aspirations as a designer have always been aligned with that of the business and therefore with the client. We have a chameleon portfolio, rich and varied with design answers, but the trick is getting it right for that one client in that one moment in time. I was the girl at school who liked to get the gold stars and even now, I want gold stars from my clients, I want to know that I have got it just right for them. After projects there is that sense of joy when receiving testimonials from happy clients. If it photographs well, that’s great, but there is nothing like a written testimonial and some genuinely make me cry to know that we brought a little joy to their lives. For this reason, much of my inspiration lies in the family lives of the clients, creating happiness for them. I am also inspired by my own family; my mother, my grandparents, Staffan. Then there is Christian Liaigre and Joseph Dirand whose work I love and other designers who I respect enormously but have a very different approach to mine; Vincent Van Duysen, Michael Anastassiades and Patricia Urquiola. I think these designers are proof that if you have a point of view about design you can achieve anything.
What was your first professional design commission? It was a project for a husband and wife who were actually my bosses that I left to study design. I was eight months pregnant and they hired me to refurbish the ground floor of their Wandsworth home. I was so incredibly grateful that they believed in me and my ability to bring something special to the project. Of course, my previous work had helped me, as they knew what I could do in terms of documentary making, but I had a lot to prove. I guess they saw the similarities that I see … lots of research, pulling clues together, and then ruthlessly editing them in order to tell one story.
What has been your biggest design commission to date? We have worked on some massive family villas abroad, really enormous square footage in some of these projects. One in particular was a villa in Riyadh. Working through Skype and email this was an interesting project for many reasons, beyond the scale. In Riyadh it seems that the method is to build it, knock it down and start again until you get it right. The enormous and multiple living spaces eventually made me feel that bigger does not always equate to better. A real positive from the design journey was that our client did not want cut-off spaces, so we felt that we were almost helping to promote equality through design decisions. All living spaces were equal and open and the end result seems to have emotionally and physically disrupted the traditional living experience. Our research in Saudi revealed the house to be a woman’s entire world. You are cocooned environmentally and culturally and when we visited we grew to understand how much time is spent in the house and therefore how the design has to incorporate using different parts of the house for different parts of the day. With this in mind, I understood the importance of why a larger house footprint is so important. The biggest project in terms of learning curve was for an international, very design conscious couple. Our clients wanted cutting-edge tech and a minimalist aesthetic – squeezed into a crooked, listed Victorian house, against a strict budget and aggressive programme. I think this is one of those projects that taught me the most about design.
How would you describe your studio? We started life in a much smaller studio, we’d take our dogs into work and it was a very intimate environment, but we got bigger and bigger as our projects got bigger. We then found the design studio at Grosvenor Waterside (where we are now) with a mezzanine level to house the design practice and a beautiful showroom to showcase Staffan’s ever growing collection of brands and treasures. Note that Staffan’s collection gets four metre height ceilings and the design team 2.3m at a push. It’s a really happy company; the older I get, the more like a mother hen I become. We spend so much time together, we celebrate milestones and anniversaries together, it’s really close-knit. We are energising, collaborative, creative, intuitive, with lots of chatter. I do like a little bit of noise and I am very much the cheerleader in the group. I should probably include that on my business card! My father worked for Disney for a long time and he always encouraged my brother and me to find the path with a heart. Something that engages you emotionally and that you love doing. I hope that our studio is one with heart. And soul.
What are the key characteristics you look for when bringing new talent into your studio? A good work ethic; I’m a believer in enthusiasm for the job. One of our best people came to us to intern as a product designer. One week he stayed with us until gone 2am (we’d bitten off a little more than we could chew). His enthusiasm got him the job as I hired him the next day. I think you need to see a basic level of competence with CAD etc and with that a commitment to the industry, a love of communication and collaboration. At the heart of it all is kindness. Everyone has to want to sit next you at the Christmas party.
Where is the majority of your work based, and how has travel helped to shape and influence your ideas on design? We’ve done a lot abroad recently, because London is such an International hub, it gives us the international work. I’m currently working on a project for a client in London who also has a place in the Hamptons and Staffan is working on an island off Denmark. London has been great to us in that respect. Everyone has unique living requirements and when working abroad there are different ingredients and different answers and responses to the questions asked. I think you exercise a different creative muscle working abroad. Riyadh is an example; we had a huge problem with hanging wallpaper, so we had to step back and rethink how to solve the problem. I lecture at Inchbald and I often say to the students ‘get paid to make mistakes’ because it is a long road ahead of varying challenges, you need the experience of it all before you can set off on your own.
What do you think should be a key focus for designers moving forward in 2019? It’s very hard to speak for all designers, but this question made Staffan and I think about what we, as designers and working parents, should be doing with a slightly longer-term view than we normally do. We decided that we should be asking ourselves what we genuinely enjoy doing, where our talents and experience best serve our clients; how we best add value. It’s been a rocky time for the last few years for Britain and beyond, economically, socially, environmentally. We want to take stock of where we are, and where we want to be heading in 2020 and after that. To make sure that we are still on our path with a heart!
If you hadn’t become an interior designer what would you be doing? I don’t think I would still be making documentaries, my old boss actually said my writing made him lose the will to live! I have been an actress but I don’t think I would return to that either. I’m too thin skinned for the twitter and Instagram instant review culture. I think perhaps I would be a teacher, maybe not of English but maybe design. There is nothing like a captive audience to communicate to.
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As interior designers our goal is to help our clients make the very most of their home interiors. To do this we analyse and graphically illustrate how space is being used – often very unequally.
Over-used vs. unloved interior spaces
It’s inevitable that we will over use some spaces in our homes and under use others. The kitchen has earned its status as the heart of our homes because it draws us there multiple times a day. Spaces adjacent to the kitchen get drawn into its vortex though – and we find that by the end of the day we haven’t really moved through the other rooms.
I remember working with one young family on their beautiful Victorian terraced home a few years ago. When I peered into the front rooms on the raised ground floor I saw packing boxes near the windows. I asked whether they had just moved in, and the answer really surprised me. They had lived in the house for several years! They just didn’t use those rooms, preferring to watch TV, play & eat on the lower ground floor … near the kitchen.
We embarked on a heat mapping exercise of the house, using very 101 tools … different coloured highlighters and a few plans of the house to show the different use patterns of the house from week days to weekends.
This interiors exercise is a simple one:
Break the day down into chunks.
Understand the main things you do everyday and give them a colour.
For this young family we used TV, ENTERTAINMENT, PLAY, WORK, EAT.
I would also want to be adding things like EXERCISE, RELAX, HOBBIES, GARDEN.
Look at the plan of the house & then give each function a stripe each time you perform an activity in a particular room.
At the end of the day, and at the end of a weekend day, add up the activities per room & analyse which of the spaces are hot (over used) & which are cold (underused).
From this exercise you quickly start to see the possibilities of how the house can be used more equally. We so often see that the dining room & guest bedrooms are given the best geography in the house; but only used very occasionally. A home office is crammed into eaves of the roof, or hidden away downstairs when we know that more & more of us are going to work from home. There are so many options for hidden-away desk solutions that can be combined into the guest bedroom or dining room to even out the heat map.
With my family and their unloved raised-ground floor interiors we ended up taking the main TV and the home office away from the kitchen area and moving these activities (or possibilities of) upstairs. We made the dining room the centre of the space with a child-friendly dining table top that could withstand daily use & abuse. And a lovely play room that opened up onto the garden. And that was it. No more functionality crammed onto that floor.
When I visited the house a year after we worked on it I saw the results of our changes. My client was playing with her new little baby upstairs, making the most of the light-filled room while her other child played downstairs just before lunch. The changes to the raised ground floor with its living room and home study had evened out the way they used the different floors. The living room was beautiful but not too formal for everyday use. We had changed the heat map – and changed the way the family enjoyed every inch of the house.
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Country & Townhouse: The Top 50 Interior Designers
Country & Townhouse have recently published a list of the top 50 interior designers to follow & I’m happy to announce that we at Tollgard Design Group have placed in that top 50.
Husband and wife interior designers Monique and Staffan Tollgård admit to being staunchly functionalist when making design decisions.
‘We ensure that our clients’ homes are fit for purpose; using every square inch we can carveout,’ says Monique, head of the design studio. ‘
We believe in longevity of materials, the joy of colour and the importance of drawing the outside world in.’
Their diverse current projects include a heritage apartment in Copenhagen; the headquarters for a fast-growing tech company in London and a villa in Jordan. Yet Monique’s seminal experience was working on a Grade II-listed building just off the King’s Road. ‘It was a crooked house with a perfectionist owner who wanted to square every inexact corner.
Over the course of two years it taught me everything I needed to know about the workings of a period property; how to squeeze every modern convenience under the skin of a traditional home without losing its charm.’
Country & Town House launched in 2007 as the only monthly luxury magazine to target the increasing number of affluent ‘double lifers’ who enjoy the very best of country and city living. Celebrating the best of British living & luxury; it covers the finest houses, interiors, arts & events, food & travel, fashion & style, as well as relevant features and interviews.
What was your route into design? Although a baptism by fire, I am very grateful to the Inchbald for helping me translate a passion for design into a tangible and very focused education. I emerged with a strong insight into how to create functional and livable spaces, and the foundations of the language of design that an Inchbald education gives you.
Although a baptism by fire, I am very grateful to the Inchbald for helping me translate a passion for design into a tangible and very focused education. I emerged with a strong insight into how to create functional and livable spaces, and the foundations of the language of design that an Inchbald education gives you.
How does your background in film translate into or influence your work now? Both Monique and I came from the world of film. That’s how we told stories. Now we tell our clients’ stories. They have chosen to live in a particular place, in a particular kind of architecture and in a very personal way. They have probably travelled and brought back important memories of times and places with them. We want to bring these together to tell a simplified, single story that binds environment, architecture, function and character. It’s important to tell one story; to choose from the many clues and influences the single, important strand that can run through a design.
We’ve evolved a short hand for this, the ‘red thread’.
House and Garden’s 100 leading designers
Staffan Tollgård has been selected as one of the 100 leading designers by House and Garden design magazine, we are extremely proud to be part of this exclusive directory.
If House & Garden is to be the standard bearer of the best in interior design it follows that we must champion the men and women in the profession. That is why we publish this directory every three years – a list that is compiled after exhaustive research. Some of these designers will help you spend a fortune and some will help you save money. However, they all have one thing in common: they have earned their place here by doing what they do excellently.