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Contemporary interior design: Power in the unseen

Interview with interior designer Arabella Bassadone

Interior design goes far, far beyond choosing fixings and furnishings. Arabella Bassadone, interior designer for the likes of Candy + Candy and founder of Maison Arabella, explains how the world of contemporary interior design starts way before paint samples and fabric swatches.

Contemporary’ is a word used a lot in the design world, but one that’s rarely defined. What does it mean to you in an interior design context?

In the world of fine art, the term “contemporary art” refers to art produced by artists between the 1960s and the present day. For interiors, however, the definition is a little bit more complex because of the multitude of ways that styles overlap and mix with each other.

‘Contemporary’ can refer to the architectural design of the built space, which certainly invites a particular interior design approach, but can also relate to a more eclectic style that blends architectural features from one era with the furniture and furnishings from another.

There’s another way to think about contemporary design though, which is less to do with how you dress a space and more to do with thinking about what goes on behind the layers of paint and the skirting boards.

If you think of this in terms of fashion, it’s like getting into a simple dress that has clever undergarments sewn-in which streamline the whole body. Even if the dress looks like it’s a vintage or classic cut, it’s the modern approach to the undergarments and the tailoring that will make you feel modern and glamorous in equal measure.

My approach to contemporary design is deeply rooted in the idea of thinking carefully about the function of a space.

Contemporary Interior DesignPhoto by Dan Gold.

And the same is true with interiors?

Absolutely. My approach to contemporary design is deeply rooted in the idea of thinking carefully about the function of a space. These days a lot of that has to do with technology and how you achieve this with seamless cable management.

When did you first notice this being something to consider?

I think it can be traced back to the kind of design that you saw in the 90s and early 2000s, particularly highlighted by my experience in the restaurant Nobu which opened in London in 1997 and was notable for a style which really contrasted with the ‘busy’ interiors of the 80s. The interior here was really minimal: it had a purity and quality of design with no decorative elements, but when you walked in you got an immediate sense of the kind of aesthetic we associate with Japanese design. The fact that we’re still talking about that kind of wow factor and the great atmosphere speaks to how successful it was at reimagining interiors and interior design.

Minimalism is, of course, very hard to achieve. You don’t get a minimalist space by simply painting the walls white: a great deal of thought has to go into concealing all the wiring and utilizing various new technologies, so you actually feel that the space works even with less obvious visual stimulation.

You don’t get a minimalist space by simply painting the walls white…

Is the mark of a successful contemporary space when you get a holistic sense of what’s right, then?

I think so. I’m sure we’ve all entered a space at one time or another that felt comfortable without us really knowing why. To an interior designer it’s very clear: yes, they may have chosen furnishings and lighting exquisitely, but that feeling of balance that you get is more likely down to the unseen and unobvious elements – it’s that combination that makes a space work.

Is this the same for domestic and commercial spaces?

Not exactly of course, but lifestyles of today mean that there is definitely an overlap. Technology is so much a part of our lives that when we’re in a space where there aren’t provisions for smartphone chargers or enough socket outlets to service the electrical gadgets we routinely use, we notice.

These are things that you might not consider if you don’t have an interior designer working with you, but they can make the world of difference.

Integrate technology into buildings as much as possible…picking the ones that benefit you.

Photo by Simon Rae.

What sort of things have you – and your clients – found useful?

Something I always recommend that clients do is integrate technology into their buildings as much as possible. It’s amazing what a difference those seemingly small details can make, and these specific details will obviously be different from person to person, so it’s a case of picking the ones that benefit you: it might be using underfloor heating in the boot room – so when you go out into the cold, your shoes are warm – or maybe making sure the water pressure in the bathrooms are to your requirements. It might even be installing electric curtains in critical rooms that save you a few minutes every morning and night.

It might also be having a switch by the front door that shuts down the electrics with a single press of a button or one that turns off every single light at the flick of a switch. You have peace of mind, you’re saving money in the long term and helping the planet – all with a simple provision you can make in the early stages of the build preparation.

 …A contemporary space is about more than meets the eye: To me, it’s about bringing it up to date with today’s lifestyle requirements.

Photo by Breather.

You’re really looking a very long way past fabric swatches and furniture, then?

Whether you’re working with a new build where you can make provision for all the wiring options under the sun or you’re retrofitting an ancient castle, the same principle holds true: making a space work today means doing what you can to make it an easy and relaxing place to live in.

Aesthetically it’s easy to see if something is contemporary or modern, but a contemporary space is about more than meets the eye: To me, it’s about bringing it up to date with today’s lifestyle requirements.

SideStory Insider Arabella Bassadone leads our Individual Interiors Experience. Join her on a holistic approach to interior design and its contemporary objet d’art.