Q&A | David Wallace
David Wallace is the Co-Founder of Abercrombies, a Newcastle-based interior design studio, and he oversees interior decoration.
What’s your favourite building – and why do you like it?
Impossible to answer! I’m attracted to many styles of building, from early domestic dwellings to contemporary gallery spaces, but mostly I prefer buildings which show their interior life and which aren’t just statements. For instance, earlier this year I visited Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, a medieval manor house which is incredibly well preserved. The aim of my visit was to look at the garden which has been designed by Arne Maynard. I knew little about the house itself and was astounded by the ceilings, panelling, stonework, window fenestration, etc.
Another recent visit was to Lowther Castle, again to look at the planting which Dan Pearson has designed.
I prefer buildings that are embedded in their landscape and whose interiors reflect their owners’ tastes. Frank and Majorie Lawley’s house and garden, Herteton, perfectly demonstrates this.
Thinking across disciplines (product/print/fashion etc.), what is your favourite design?
There are so many favourites but I especially admire the designs of Raoul Dufy, which exist as both woodcuts and fabrics. La Peche, for instance.
A chef has her knives, an artist, his brushes – what tool of the trade couldn’t you live without and why?
Layout board, scissors & pins. I work surrounded by fabrics – 1000s of fabrics – and in order to begin to put things together and build up a design for presentation to a client, I work with physical pieces of fabric, wallpaper, paint chips, etc, rather than download images (which never give a true indication of colour or texture). Laying out samples focuses the mind & can lead to unintended combinations.
Who’s your design hero and why?
My favourite houses are Ketlle’s Yard and Charleston. I love both because they fully represent the taste of the owners, and yet Jim Ede was a curator, and Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell were artists, though they did design furniture and fabrics. Dieter Rams – I have the shelving he designed for Vitsoe, and a calculator he designed for Braun. Arne Jacobsen. Paola Navone.
Of all the projects you’ve worked on, which has been your favourite and why?
The Maggie’s Centre here in Newcastle gave me the opportunity to be involved with an architect and landscape designer who I might otherwise not have encountered, and it made me think in very different ways about what buildings are for – so much more challenging than a residential project, or a cafe or restaurant where clients tend to have set parameters. The impact and benefits of the building and its garden on its users are tangible, and that is a very rare outcome.
When it comes to wayfinding and signage, are there any examples you’ve seen that you think work particularly well?
The Tube map, early motorway signage.
What problem would you like to be able to solve through the discipline of design – and why?
Always courage of one’s conviction; fear of believing in yourself and your taste – especially now, as taste is fluid, diverse, and clients are afraid of committing to something today for fear it will fall from grace. I’m a collector of things and I’m just as likely to find beauty and use in an object which is 250 years old as in something made more recently. But I think people are intimidated by choice, and instead of recognising that they have a choice, they adopt someone else’s design for life.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I’m fairly sure I won’t be remembered for anything! Since 1986, I have tried to sell wonderful fabrics and wall coverings but I have had limited success in selling the things I love most, and I admit I have found that pretty frustrating. That said, I do work with clients where there is a meeting of minds (up to a point,) and I get to use some of my favourites. Aside from my failure, I hope that my nurturing of young designers hasn’t gone unnoticed.
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