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Podcast Ep 6: The Case For Emotional Design with Fran Hickman

The purveyor of fashion-forward interiors details her commitment to emotion-driven design

Jon Sharpe By Jon SharpeChief Creative Officer

A prominent figure in the new wave of generation-defining British interior design talent, Fran Hickman is a name you either know or you should know. A House & Garden 100 and LuxDeco 100 honouree and the Elle Decoration British Interior Designer of the Year for 2019, Fran began her design career at Soho House. There she turned her hand to hotspots such as Babington House and Shoreditch House before stints at prestigious—and very different—studios Colefax and Fowler and Waldo Works. Since setting up her own studio in 2014, she’s been responsible for London’s Moda Operandi flagship store, a pop up for Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop as well as numerous other award winning residential, hospitality and retail projects.

Such a stellar portfolio is the result of Fran's unique approach to design. The creative advocates design storytelling: the power of design choices in telling one’s story—be that for a person or a brand—the beauty of creating the right feeling within that space and, ultimately, design’s ability to influence our personal narratives by changing how we act.

Listen in as LuxDeco Chief Creative Officer Jon Sharpe discusses emotional design, the power of storytelling and why feeling is just as important as form and function.

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I think that for any idea to be truly appealing, it has to appeal to your heart as well as your head. You have to feel it.

 

Don’t miss

  • Where a good design story starts at 17:58
  • Fran’s unique take on the Form v. Function debate at 27:11
  • What home means to her at 34:15
  • And the Marmite piece in her home at 56:55
Fran Hickman | Chess Club private members club | Listen to LuxDeco's The Tastemakers wherever you get your podcast

Image Credit: Fran Hickman

Links & Articles

LuxDeco 100

Fran's website

Fran's Instagram

Fran's Emilia Wickstead store design

The designer opted for a modern, feminine touch for this London boutique store with an ever-deepening pink colour palette and pared back design choices.

Fran Hickman | Emilia Wickstead store | Listen to LuxDeco's The Tastemakers wherever you get your podcast

Image Credit: Fran Hickman

Fran Hickman | Emilia Wickstead | Listen to LuxDeco's The Tastemakers wherever you get your podcast

Image Credit: Fran Hickman

 

I personally design from the inside out rather than the outside in, because I feel like interiors are about that. They're about being inside something. So architects will design design from the outside in, interior designers design from the inside out, thinking about the person at the centre of that.

 

Fran Hickman | Emilia Wickstead | Listen to LuxDeco's The Tastemakers wherever you get your podcast

Image Credit: Fran Hickman

Fran's Designs for Moda Operandi London flagship

Lauren Santo Domingo turned to Fran for the London flagship of her luxury fashion e-store.

Moda Operandi store | Fran Hickman | Listen to LuxDeco's The Tastemakers wherever you get your podcast

Image Credit: Fran Hickman

 

We consider feeling throughout, I would say; it comes first and last and always.

 

Fran Hickman | Moda Operandi store | Listen to LuxDeco's The Tastemakers wherever you get your podcast

Image Credit: Fran Hickman

Fran Hickman | Listen to LuxDeco's The Tastemakers wherever you get your podcast | Moda Operandi flagship store

Image Credit: Fran Hickman

Fran Hickman podcast | The Tastemakers | LuxDeco.com.mp3 transcript powered by Sonix—easily convert your audio to text with Sonix.

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Jon:
Hello and welcome to The Tastemakers: A LuxDeco Podcast. I'm Jon Sharpe, your host and Chief Creative Officer for LuxDeco—the world's leading luxury interiors platform, which is changing the way people design and shop for their homes. Part of our commitment at LuxDeco is to help people live beautifully. In The Tastemakers, we do that by exploring interior design and lifestyle through the stories of our influential guests—guests who are celebrated for their fine taste, design and beyond. Subscribe and listen for inspiration straight from some of the world's most incredible style authorities.

Jon:
A prominent figure in the new wave of generation-defining British interior design talent, Fran Hickman is a name you either know or should know. A House & Garden 100 and LuxDeco 100 honouree and the Elle Decoration British Interior Designer of the Year for 2019, Fran began her design career at Soho House. There she turned her hand to hotspots such as Babington House and Shoreditch House before stints at prestigious and very different studios Colfax & Fowler and Waldo Works. Since setting up our own studio in 2014, she's been responsible for London's Moda Operandi flagship store, a pop up for Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle brand Goop, as well as numerous other award-winning residential, hospitality and retail projects. Such a stellar portfolio is the result of Fran's unique approach to design. The creative advocates design storytelling—the power of design choices in telling one's story—be that for a person or a brand—the beauty of creating the right feeling within that space, and, ultimately, design's ability to influence our personal narratives by changing how we act. Listen in as we discuss emotional design, the power of storytelling, and why feeling is just as important as form and function.

Jon:
Fran, welcome to the show.

Fran:
Thank you. Thank you. That was very kind of you.

Jon:
As with all of our guests, we like to start the episode by having them tell us a little bit about their backstory. So, why don't you begin by telling us about your journey into design?

Fran:
Well, I suppose my father, who worked as a property developer was or has been a great influence on me. He draws technically and has a sort of general appreciation for design, which goes beyond the spatial, as he collects classic cars and art and antiques, and has made a lot of furniture, which my parents live with. And so I suppose I kind of grew up with an appreciation for design as as a result of him.

Jon:
He sounds like a kind of pragmatic aesthete.

Jon:
He is. He is. He's a practical— he's a practical man and full of positive energy and "can do" which I think you need in this industry, because it's essentially a sort of— it's a job of problem solving. Clients come to you with, essentially, a problem, which is how to take a white room—if you're lucky—and bring it to life and help them express what it is that they are trying to say or not only what they're trying to say but also what they're trying to achieve. So the objectives for home are quite different from the objectives of a commercial space.

Fran:
So I'd say my dad was a major influence and also my mother was a major influence in that she, I suppose, taught me— I think she sort of— she helped me kind of— I think she helped me with the sort of feeling of space because she brought me and my five siblings up in a house in London that was sort of full of noise and people and things. But it also felt intimate but hospitable, comfortable and kind. And so I suppose the feeling— the feeling of space was— has been very much influenced by her and leads me to sort of think of the quip of Charles and Ray Eames, who I think they said "The role of the architect or designer is that of a very good or thoughtful host, all of whose energies go into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests"—those who enter the building and use the objects in it.

Fran:
So it's not just about, for me, how something looks, but it's also, more importantly, how something feels. So home, basically, I think was probably my first and major influence on space. And then moving beyond that, I suppose, when I was trying to work out what it was that I wanted to do, I thought I wanted to study photography. So I was studying photography at Parsons in New York, and I had studied, under my mother's guidance, a broader subject at university or art school, which is where I went to, which was media and cultural studies, which gave me a very broad general education. You studied art and history and politics and philosophy and different areas of the world, and that gave me a kind of very broad cultural upbringing. And I think that actually has had a major influence on how I work, because so much of what we do is grounded in making a space feel specific and rooted and particular and culturally appropriate. So anyway, I was studying photography and I had an older boyfriend at the time who had a friend— he was probably about 10 years older than me and all his friends worked in a variety of different areas. They worked in art and film and music and advertising. And because everyone's apartments in New York are so small, we were— used to gather in Soho House, which had just opened at the time in the Meatpacking District, and I thought how wonderful it was to be able to create a space where people would come together in the evening. And we just used to have— it was sort of home from home, really, and it's provided a real sense of community. And I thought that was quite a special thing to be able to do. So when I came back from New York, I went to go and work at Soho House, and that's how it all began.

Jon:
And from your personal story to design stories, you advocate that at the heart of all good design lies great storytelling. Can you tell us a little bit about that ethos?

Fran:
We work closely with our clients to encourage them to play a central role in authoring their own design. We work with them to uncover a design story which is grounded in their history and in their personal business objectives. And that, I feel— That approach, I feel, creates the most effective space. Spaces that are unique and personalised and reflect personal style or brand ethos and— if on point, they— it helps make life and work more productive, playful, calmer, happier, healthier. So it's, for me, all about our client's unique perspective. And we aid that— We ate that aim or— We aid— we aid that aim, or— I see our role as a sort of facilitator to that.

Jon:
Where do you think your passion for storytelling began? Are your parents responsible for that one as well?

Fran:
No, I think that probably stems from studying media. I remember the first lecture we had was on the importance of storytelling. It's our most ancient form of communication. And it's how we— I mean, we express ourselves— I mean everything we do is a sort of story of some kind. You know, we are— Well, we we express verbal stories, of course, but we express some visual stories, we have personal stories, families have personal stories, communities have stories. It's our sort of— I mean, a story is anything that's happened within a period of time in a place or— It's— it's really about history and who we are.

Jon:
And when you're dealing with a client at the beginning of a project, what techniques do you use to elicit their stories which enable them to become, as you said earlier, the author of their design. How do you get stuff out of them?

Fran:
So, for us, it's essential to kind of properly interview the client, but also to kind of completely— to also to completely see and experience and feel the space. But I think I'll leave that latter part to later because I feel that's going to come up, but our approach is for residential and commercial are different. For commercial, often the companies we've worked with have an online presence before they have a bricks and mortar space. So we look at their— their sort of online identity and that can be expressed in colour, in font, in graphic design, generally, in their objectives... And you try and work out what essentially what someone's USP is or character. I mean, for me, a brand has a character in the same way that a person has a character, in the same way that a space has a character. So it's about trying to draw out quite sort of abstract ideas about what something is as a brand and then trying to ground that and trying to translate that then into material space. So, colour is a very easy entryway into that, but then also how materials feel—and when I say materials, I don't just mean textiles—but textiles are very expressive and can be coarse or they can be soft or they can express a sense of luxury or they can express— I mean, they can express all sorts of things. Then if you sort of start bringing in pattern that becomes— I use some quite sparingly because I feel like it's such a strong note to play. But then, you know, in terms of hard finishes, wood has a very different feeling to stone, which in turn has a very different feeling to perspex, which in turn has a very different feeling to a tile. So what we try and do is just express the sense of a brand's character through material.

Jon:
Hmm. And, I guess, when you're working on residential projects— I guess one of the— one of the trickier things is that people don't come with brand guidelines.

Fran:
Yeah.

Jon:
We don't come with brand books. So you've got to find ways to kind of, I suppose, elicit that information from individuals. And, of course, part of that can be done just by looking at their social, looking at what they wear, you know, whatever it might be, but what else— how do you do that? Because I guess they're such— These stories also personal as you say. How do you get that stuff out of people.

Fran:
With residential, well, we look at the building, as mentioned, and we look at its history and we look at its location and we get a feel for its bones. And then we look at the client and their character and their style and who lives in the space and how they spend their day, how they want to use the space. And then you take into consideration things like the light and— and then it's a kind of case of sort of assembling all these different parts. I've kind of compared it in the past to having, like, parts of a machine that you've kind of got to assemble and make work. And, I mean, I think residential more so than— well, residential can be more complicated because of the nature of the relationships involved. Commercial space is usually a fresh space for a brand. You're often moving— You're either moving a kind of brand identity on, but the relationship a company has with the space is often new. So it's all new ground, whereas residential is— can be a lot more loaded because you've got...

Jon:
Companies don't have— don't have partners and children.

Fran:
They don't have— they don't have partners and children, don't have previous relationships with the space often. That can get a lot more complex and you can find yourself in a support role of therapist, which you don't really get with commercial projects; it's a lot more straightforward and businesslike. And I would say that simplistically, residential is far more emotional than commercial, which has very clear deadlines, budgets, guidelines and people, in the sort of business sphere, that really just want to get the project done and open and working, whereas residential is more complicated than that.

Jon:
And, obviously, as you mentioned earlier, most stories are told using spoken language, or at least originally were. And a previous guest on this podcast, Greg Natale, went as far to say that design is a language and, in that sense, I guess it can be used to tell stories. Is that a perspective you agree with?

Fran:
Very much so, yeah. I think I've said the same thing in the past, that design is— it is very much a language; it's a sort of story that we try and— that we try and tell without words because everything is loaded with meaning. And, actually, one of the first people I worked for early on was a man called Martin Waller, who started Andrew Martin, which in its day was quite unlike anything else out there. It was incredibly— I'm not sure if you allowed to use the word exotic anymore, but it was very exotic. And you— and he used a piece to travel the world. I'm not sure where he is now, but he was always traveling the world and bringing back these extraordinary pieces of treasure from all over the place. And each item was loaded with stories and symbolism. And and it was so exciting, the sort of relationships of these items next door to each other. And it kind of— These items sort of opened up worlds to me and— and I just thought that was a really powerful thing to play with or be able to make a living from. So, yes, it's— it's the sort of symbolism that's contained within items that give our work meaning.

Jon:
So where does a good design story start? What might be your initial inspiration?

Fran:
Well, I think. If I'm going to— I think it's probably easier if I give examples of— of projects; it's probably the easiest way to express that. But if a— if a company comes to us, we might gender the company. We might decide whether it's masculine and feminine company, and then we might decide the kind of colour palette that might be appropriate to play with within that. We would then look at the materials, the hard finishes that we think might be appropriate to express within that. So it's— it's a bit like— I sort of relate to a bit like writing essays when I was at school. You get all the possible information that you might want to contain or you might want to express. And then it's a case of editing the information out accordingly. So for me, it's about getting all that information there. All the feeling. So what you want it to look like, what you want it to sound like, what you want it to feel like in terms of texture. And then it's about thinking about how it needs to work. So then that comes into sort of zoning and spatial planning and— and also the sort of journey through space. So, you know, how you want— And thresholds. So you know the difference of feeling from walking from the street into the entrance and the difference from moving in from the entrance to your first zone, so to speak, and then from the first zone to the second zone, because it's all about— it's like notes in a song. It's got to progress. You've got to be sort of taken through a space and you can kind of build, climatically, which is, for example, something we did with colour at Moda.

Fran:
We sort of built to this very deep dark pink, which is a colour that they used to use in the 30s. But to get there, we went through different spaces which express different parts of the brand's identity in order to get to that sort of enveloping pink colour, which I think we painted the ceilings and the walls and the floors the same colour. Something that was sort of quite womb-like. But we went through different spaces prior to that. So we had to— I kind of knocked through the top floor to create the sort of loft feeling because Moda was a New York-based brand—American brand—and it sort of felt like sort of loft living also. And we kind of, within that, created spaces for larger groups of women, smaller groups of women and private spaces. And then on the floor below that, actually the first space you walk into, we created this bespoke jewelry trunk, which was made up of small trunks because Moda again, is based on this idea of the trunk show, which is American— old-fashioned American idea of how designers used to sell to their best clients.

Fran:
So they used to pack all their clothes up in trunks and then and and then go and meet these— You know, they used to host days where, sort of, the ladies of— The ladies that shopped would would go and meet the designer and and have a sort of far more, sort of bespoke, tailored experience. Anyway, so we were playing we played with the idea of the trunks. We piled all these trunks on top of each other and the top trunks had a glass front and top in which you could see the— see the jewelry. It was also in a Grade 2 listed stable block so that we were kind of constrained by a listed floor and certain partitions. But again, we kind of kept a colour palette appropriate to the branding. So it's just— you want space to feel like an extension of or an embodiment of what something is on paper. It's about sort of 3D— It's a 3D inhabited, fully sensorial experience or something that you to this— well, to that point, could only relate to on screen.

Jon:
And you've previously said the design storytelling is emotional as much as it is visual. So how does prioritising the emotional element of storytelling lead to more interesting spaces, do you think?

Fran:
Well, I think that for any idea to be truly appealing, it has to appeal to your heart as well as your head. It has to— You have to feel it. I mean, there are sort of— There's a wonderful book I'm reading at the moment, which is called Sensorial Spaces. And it talks about the experience of the five different senses within space and then the sixth sense, which is just an understanding of atmosphere and actually the sort of understanding of atmosphere is something that you experience first. So it's the— Each of the five senses, if you look at them all individually, it's so complex and it's so detailed, the amount of information that we take in. And the sixth sense is just a kind of a sort of layering of all those senses. And it's instinctive. And that's when people talk about the sixth sense or intuition. It's about how something feels. It's about all these incredibly complex, very, very detailed pieces of information all coming together. And if something feels right— You know that there are things that can jar— But if something kind of collectively comes together and feels right then it's worked. And as designers, you know, we can do as much as we possibly can to create spaces that appeal to all the five senses. And it's not just about kind of— the lighting being right and the temperature being right and the sound being right. It's also about contrast. And again, what we were talking about, that sort of journey of going through the space. So, you know, spaces has become quite sort of homogenised and with things like spotlighting, you know, there's no experience for light and shadow. Another book which I very much enjoyed reading this year was In Praise of Shadows, which talks about the darkness. It's written— it's written at the time when electricity is coming in and our sort of loss of appreciation of shadows. So, for us, it's about creating the right light, but in mind of shadow and— So we can— we can do what we can to appeal to all the senses, but there is also one's— the thing that we can't help is that sixth sense because, at the end of the day, people do come to spaces with their own experience. So an example that's given in this book that I'm reading is of four people that are sitting in a concert hall listening to a piece of music, but all four of them could be having a completely different experience, even though they're all sitting next to each other because one could be thinking about something to do with their history or their past or their relationship to the music. And one could be sitting and thinking about the chair that they're sitting on and, you know, some physical experience that they're having. One could be finding the noise. You know, somebody— Basically that there is a sort of— there is a leap and what's created and what is experienced and I suppose as designers, we can only do so much.

Jon:
Yes—we can't— we can't remove subjectivity from the process.

Fran:
We can't remove subjectivity from the process. Exactly.

Jon:
And as part of your design philosophy, you take quite an interesting stance on that on the age old form versus function debate. You've said, "Form always follows function, of course, but feeling is vital too. Design the right feeling into the right function and the right form will follow". So in what ways can you engineer feeling into a space?

Fran:
Well, back to what we were just talking about it, it's about sort of delighting the senses, so it's about considering the smell, the sounds, the sights, the textures. It's about creating a kind of sensescape. Our sensorial experience of space is what differentiates one space from another so it's— it's not just about how something looks. For example, a fish market, to give you an example, just because going to the— I went to a fish market in Tokyo, which was one of the most extraordinary sensorial experiences because the sort of the smells and the sounds and the sights and the textures of all that. You have, you don't have a real understanding or real appreciation of how that feels until you've been in that space. You can see photographs of it, but it's nothing like as powerful as actually being in the space and experiencing the space. Our senses immerse us in the in the world around us and sight to— of all the senses slightly positions us at the distance. It kind of places the observer outside the scene and the other senses all provide interactive, immersive experiences. So it's really thinking about— We always do try and think about who the end user of the space will be and what the objectives of the space are, and how we can try and compose a space that will feel right for purpose.

Jon:
And do you think that function can ever follow form?

Fran:
I can— I think I think you can— I think you can design it in, but I think it's always important to ask why you're doing something first, because otherwise it feels— It can feel quite superficial and you can totally design meaning into something, but I think it's more effective to work out why you're doing something first. It's sort of- The reason for something is kind of contained within and the form of something is, for me, more of its exterior. So I think you've kind of got to design— I personally design from the inside out rather than the outside in, because I feel like interiors are about that; they're about being inside something. So architects will design design from the outside in, interior designers design from the inside out, thinking about the person at the centre of that. So I always wonder— I always think about why I'm doing something before I think about how it looks.

Jon:
And of the three Fs, does feeling come first, last or always for you in the process?

Fran:
Feeling comes always. Feeling comes always because the objectives of each space are different and no two spaces are the same to anyone. No two spaces of the same, first of all, but no two spaces— No space is the same to anyone. Everyone has a different relationship to a single space. So— And also— So when we're designing a shop, the objectives of designing the shop are completely different to the objectives of designing an office or, in turn, a home or, in turn, a bar in a restaurant, and so— And the feelings that you want to elicit in all of those spaces are completely different so... We consider we consider feeling throughout, I would say; it comes first and last and always.

Jon:
And obviously interior design is approached in myriad ways, but you've said that your objective is not simply to make spaces feel special, but to make people feel special within them. So how do you go about doing that, given the the vagaries of subjectivity that you talked about earlier?

Fran:
I think it's just through— It's just through as much, kind of— We just approach projects with as much care and consideration as we possibly can, so the way we approach or structure our project is that we have a kind of conceptual period at the start, which— And we stay in close contact with our clients throughout. So we speak to our clients every Friday. We send them with a— with a sort of project update so that they are involved on this journey very much with us. And then we send them notes, which they review on Monday and if anything needs to be changed, it needs to be— We need to be told about it then and there so that no time is wasted. So really, our kind of design process is very closely linked to our client. It's about attention, actually. I mean, I think if you can give your client as much attention as they possibly need and you can give the space attention as much as possibly— You give the objective as much attention as it possibly needs, then then you should— there shouldn't be a reason for it not to work. But if any of those things have been neglected, then you know, something's gotta give.

Jon:
And when our listeners are thinking about their own spaces and how they design them, are there particular elements of a space that you think overdeliver emotionally and that disproportionately can affect how one feels in that space? Where should people focus in order to sort of generate the most emotional impact.

Fran:
For me, home is about shelter and safety and contentment. And they're are sort of— they're are a place away from the world so often the homes we design are peaceful places that obviously you want them to be an expression of the way you live and you want to shape them best for your everyday routines, whatever they might be and you you want to design your well-being into them. I've said in the past that if you look after your space, your space will look after you. So it's so much more, for me, than— There's a lot of shallow discourse around interior design and it's so much more than just aesthetics. It's a really intimate space, your home. So it needs to be a kind of direct reflection of how you want to rest and relax away from the world. So I suppose to be— to give you some precise advice, I would think about bedrooms and light and peace. And, you know, I went to go and look at a loft apartment the other day for a friend of mine who had completely fallen in love with the space and had a plan to put the bed right by the window. And I walked over and I looked out the window and I was like, "You do realise that's a train track. A main, main train track just where you want to put your bed?" And he was like, "Oh, do you know what, I hadn't even— I hadn't really actually fully registered that". So I think it's about kind of working out— You've gotta really look at space and work out how it, you know, how the space lies and whether that's— You know if you're set on putting the bed there then you need to kind of look into triple glazing for sound or we perhaps need to put the bed at the other end of the room, so, yeah, it's just about some careful thought, I think.

Jon:
And with such a strong design philosophy, is it ever difficult to convey your vision to clients or perhaps even your team? How do you make sure that your projects remain true to the design story you're trying to tell throughout the whole process?

Fran:
I think it's— We when we pitch on jobs, we work with conceptual images which give you a sort of flavour for our intentions or our proposed pitch and, you know, our working process involves the client, so I never say— I never deliver this and say, "This is what I want to do in your space". I say, "This is— these are ideas that I would like to discuss with you in relation to your space". So it's then up to them; it's a conversation. So I present some ideas and they tell me— We go through each image and what they tell me, what they like, what they dislike, and we edit accordingly. So for me, it's very much a— it's very much a back and forth process of design work. I'm not a designer that imparts my feeling on a space. For me, because I'm not going to have to live in it or work with it, it's the most important person, you know, that it has to speak to correctly is my client. So it's very service-driven in that way.

Jon:
Hmm. And you talked about how you went about creating the right kind of emotion and telling the right story for a brand like Moda Operandi earlier, but I suppose thinking about hospitality— perhaps your Chess Club Project—can you tell us how you created the right emotion and the right story in that kind of environment?

Fran:
Well, so, the building Chess Club was in is in a park— It's on a residential street, so it's sort of— there was something unusual in its lease that says it can't be a townhouse, but it feels like a townhouse and it looks like a townhouse and it's on a street of townhouses. So I wanted it—and the rooms are of a size of a townhouse—so I wanted it to feel intimate and homely in a way. But I also wanted it to feel rooted to place. So I wanted it to feel like it had been there for a while. It was— Its clientele was younger than other members clubs in the area and I didn't have anything like the budget of some of the members clubs in the area. So it was— It needed to appeal to a younger crowd.

Fran:
And there had been a lot of members, clubs that had been opening that had been destroyed, really, in a way. They just for me, they felt— I'd belonged to—and I'm not being dismissive of The Arts Club because I think what they've actually done more recently with their kind of Dimore bar, and they've— I feel like they've actually— I like what they've done more recently. But when it had first opened, I was not a major fan because I had been a member when I was at university, when it was very down at heel and these huge, big, vast, empty rooms that really hadn't, really didn't feel like they've been touched in decades. And they felt really appropriate to place and they had soul and so I suppose I wanted to kind of ensure that Chess Club felt like it had some kind of soul to it.

Fran:
And— And I wanted it to be a joyful space as well and quite a bold space, because, as I said, doing a lot of residential, which is very geared towards designing peace and serenity. I feel like hospitality or night out should be a sort of celebration of some kind or take you on some kind of trip, at least. So we designed dark spaces. The hallway, the stairway was very narrow and enclosed so I painted that very, very dark, very dark blue, I think, because you have no kind of— in a very dark space, you have no real sense of where the walls might be. I know that sounds— I mean, it's not like the walls disappeared, but it kind of actually makes space feel bigger often to paint it a dark— to paint a dark colour. And then the restaurant was— I had these two structural columns in the middle of the room which were not going to be removed with my budget. So it was important to me that the eye was taken out.

Fran:
So I had actually just been in Turin and visited Carlo Mollino's apartment and it— you know, talking about the journey through the space, you kind of build to what he had designed for his bedroom is this is an apartment he never lived. And he designed it actually to kind of take photographs and also as a sort of mausoleum. Again, everything in that space is kind of loaded with meaning and intention. And there were these wonderful butterflies in the bedroom, which, for him, represent goddesses and women and spirits of some kind. And but they are an explosion of kind of colour and beauty and magic really; kind of the sort of magic of nature really. And that was a very— that was quite— That had a sort of impact on me and so when I— And he— The caretaker of the space is called Fulvio and he had just discovered where the butterflies had come from; they'd been torn from this book from the 50s—40s or 50—and— French book, and anyway he was thrilled to have found the book and I found old copies of the books on AbeBooks. And anyway, so I drew the eye out with these plates, these butterfly plates, which I use as a sort of— to express the sort of the beauty of the everyday and the joy of, well, just joy, actually. And that was quite effective. And then I used mirror to kind of make the space feel bigger. And actually one of the desks I'm sitting at right now, which— We designed these tables to feel like they had been aged by tobacco and they feel like parchment. They feel like they've got that sort of parchment feeling to them. So they were kind of— Because I was kind of— I was aware that a table is something that you have a very intimate relationship with in that it's right in front of your face and is kind of, aside from the chair which supports you, is the most— is the item of furniture you have the sort of most intimate relationship with. So we put thought and time into that. The chairs were kind of new Gubi chairs because they were— they were the smallest, most comfortable ones on the market and they also provided a kind of contemporary feel. And then the bar was quick. We just used we just used some pretty simple colours. It had to work day and night. And then we used some very bold artwork, which was designed by a friend called [inaudible]. And some tapestry to kind of create a language that felt appropriate to a members club.

Jon:
So, Fran, we've heard about your design philosophy and some of your projects, now it's time to hear about your home life, which means we've arrived at the section of the show we call How I Live. So let's start with where is home for you?

Fran:
Home is in Notting Hill in London. I have an apartment in a terraced building and, for the last— well, since lockdown, I have also been in a barn in the Chiltern Hills. I managed to escape the city, so sort of homeless between the two at the moment.

Jon:
And thinking about your Notting Hill place, how would you describe your home style?

Fran:
My home style is appropriate, I feel, to the building—the age of the building—and it— As a sort of terrace London house, it's quite— it has quite a fair amount of pattern in it. I actually found this amazing pattern, which I thought was, well, it's a Madeleine Castaing fabric, and it's my curtains in my bedroom. And so I had always assumed it was French and of that period, but I then went to— I went to the— I went to a design library, this amazing textile design library, and I found exactly the same print and it turns out it's English and from the same period of construction as as my home so it's funny how that actually turned out to be more more appropriate than I thought.

Jon:
What's been your most recent home purchase?

Fran:
I'm halfway through purchasing a fireplace, but because of lockdown there been a bit of a delay, but I have a fireplace in my bedroom, which doesn't work at the moment. And— But I am looking forward to getting that working.

Jon:
Which room do you spend most of your time in?

Fran:
I probably spend most of my waking time in my— Probably in, like, my bathroom/dressing room because I am up— Well, I'm sort of really in London during the week and so it probably gets most time in the morning and then in the evening, you know, having a bath in the evening is how I relax. So for me, my dressing room, which is also my bathroom, is the most important space for me.

Jon:
Hmm. And how does how you relax change between time in town and time in the country?

Fran:
My routine is completely different in the country because I don't— Because I'm in the same space all day, so, you know, while at home in London, I relax with a bath; in the country, I relax more by watching a movie, probably in the evening, whereas in London, I'm probably out of an evening. I'm often out in the evening. And also I have a kind of— I have a routine in my space during the day, which actually just in itself I find quite relaxing. Yeah, in the country.

Jon:
And now on to the section we call Who, What, Where and Why—some deeper questions, which we hope will reveal a little bit more about you. So first up, who is your style inspiration?

Fran:
I wouldn't be able to give you a person, but I would just say that— Well, if I was to give you a person would probably say that our clients—each of our clients—is our style inspiration. And there's such variety in that because each person opens up a place, a project, an object, and each of those in turn up and open up new worlds and freedom to explore ideas within that. So, yeah, I would say it's client-based.

Jon:
And what is the most defining characteristic of your personal style?

Fran:
I think it's quite— It's highly edited my style, and I think would be quite— I think, it's quite— I think it's quite refined in that, you know, that process of relooking at it every week and just making sure that, you know, things are taken out that aren't necessary. I suppose I've said in the past that we reduce or condense every component, detail and junction to what's essential and we try and keep shape, texture and colour interesting, innovative and simple. And I suppose for us, you know, as I've said form— The sort of idea of simplicity is free from an excess of possessions and this sort of sense of liberation. So I would say, yeah, highly edited.

Jon:
And where were you the last time you were inspired with a great idea?

Fran:
Probably in the studio last week.

Jon:
That's a very convenient place to have a great idea.

Fran:
I think it's really important to be able to experience different spaces because I think only by experiencing other spaces do you understand or have a sensitivity or an awareness to what makes space work well. And also it helps build a kind of design vocabulary and back to that sense of subjectivity, a lot of what helps form our perception of space is memory. And memory is— A memory of a space really informs how we work going forward. But I'd say it's in the studio because we have, you know, aside from experiencing space, other spaces, we've got a great library here. So we had a missing piece in our master bedroom puzzle that we're working on and that was a rug that we needed to kind of express more of. We needed to express a bit more character. It was feeling a bit kind of monotone. So we were looking at— We're doing an apartment in New York and it has a kind of Art Deco flavour and detail and we just wanted to sort of reinforce that or ground that with a rug. So we were looking at Art Deco designs and we played around with one that we liked.

Jon:
And why is living beautifully important to you?

Fran:
Emmm. I see what we do as just elevating the everyday, the way in which one can do something can bring great pleasure, I think. And there are all— We all have to live somewhere. We all, if we're going to go out to a restaurant, we all have to eat somewhere. If we are all going to go out to an office, we all have to work somewhere, and so I just want to try and make all of those experiences that we all have to do in our day to day lives as pleasurable and as effective and as healthy and as joyful as possible.

Jon:
And last, but by no means least, A Question of Taste—our final round, where we ask you ten questions about taste. At what age did you have the worst taste in?

Fran:
In what regard? Would be my would be my question to you.

Jon:
I mean we could do people, we could do clothes.

Fran:
Uh, yeah, let's keep it clean and just do clothes. I had some pretty dodgy waistcoats when I was probably about eight. But I'm a child of the 80s, so I blame my mother for that. But yeah, 8.

Jon:
And at what age will you have the best taste?

Fran:
I couldn't possibly predict that, but I hope probably before I start losing my sight and my, you know, my hearing and I don't know what—.

Jon:
General faculties.

Fran:
General faculties, exactly. So I don't know, give me a decade or two.

Fran:
What's the most tasteful object in your home?

Jon:
I don't know if it's tasteful, but I do— I've got this— I have a lemon squeezer, which I find deeply pleasing. I bought it from— who's the cutlery designer? David Mellor. He's got an amazing shop, which I'd never been into which is in Marylebone and they sell all his tableware, but all sorts of just really interesting kitchen equipment, as well. And this lemon squeezer is yellow, bright yellow. And it's just very pleasing, just it's really effective to use, but it's also sort of really pleasing to look at. So my— yeah, my lemon squeezer.

Jon:
And what's the most tasteless object in your home?

Fran:
I have I have leopard print wardrobe fronts, fabric wardrobe fronts, which I think would probably be quite Marmite. I think they probably sort of divide taste. I love them because I sort of balance them with another run of wardrobes which are made out of rattan and painted. But, yeah, I think some some might say that they might be tasteless depending on where you stand on leopard print.

Jon:
And dubious 80s waistcoats aside, what's the most tasteless thing you've ever worn?

Fran:
Um, now you're really testing me. I don't know, maybe some flowery leggings of the same era. They were also— perhaps it's not my finest sartorial moment.

Jon:
What's the worst thing you've ever tasted?

Fran:
I'm a vegetarian, so I would have to say I had some wild boar in a pasta in Italy years ago, but I didn't know that it was wild boar. So I ate it all and then was told it was wild boar and then at that point, it was the most disgusting thing I've ever eaten.

Jon:
Which restaurant serves the best tasting food?

Fran:
I don't know, I've got lots of favourites, but my friend Jackson Boxer has got a couple of restaurants in London and he has a restaurant called Orasay, which is on Kensington Park Road. And I've had two of my most favourite nights out on from recent memory there, sitting outside. And it's all— Everything is made in— All the produce comes from the UK and he has a particularly good orange wine, which is a sort of natural way of making wine. Apparently the Romans used to drink orange wine and and very naughty caviar. I know I'm a vegetarian, but I need to make an exception—terrible isn't it?—on crisps with sour cream and that— Those two things, sitting in the sun outside, just total bliss.

Jon:
Which interior designer has the best taste?

Fran:
Alive or dead?

Jon:
Let's go with both.

Fran:
Umm. Alive... I suppose my career was so influenced by Ilse Crawford, and I think she's had such an extraordinary effect on contemporary British design and consequently international interior design. So I would say that she probably has been the most influential on me and probably on kind of current taste. And she also— I mean, I remember reading her book, Home Is Where the Heart Is, very early on and that had quite a profound effect on me because that I think also really thinks about how spaces feel and looks beyond, you know, how something looks. Oh, and then are we going to skip dead?

Jon:
No, we're not going to skip dead. I can't let you off the hook. Big up a dead person, Fran.

Fran:
I don't know, I really like the sort of early 20th century French designers—Jean-Michel Frank. I think he's probably gotta be— Definitely got to be up there. I'm quite happily set with him as my choice.

Jon:
It's solid dead choice, I think.

Fran:
Yeah, I think so.

Jon:
What is the most tasteful, historic period of design?

Fran:
I have been looking at a Georgian house in the country recently, so I've been sort of deep dived into Georgian furniture and the influences of the Georgian period and. And all of that feels very appealing at the moment and playful.

Jon:
And conversely, what's the least tasteful historical period of design?

Fran:
I'm going to take down the 80s again, because umm.

Jon:
You're really hating on the 80s.

Fran:
Well, I mean, I've got older brothers and sisters and they were all brought up in the 70s and wore flares and had cool t—shirts.

Jon:
They were bohemians.

Fran:
Yeah. And I was in flowery leggings and patchwork waistcoat. So, yeah, I'm not— I'm not a massive fan of the 80s.

Jon:
What's the best taste you've ever acquired? Clearly not wild boar. That didn't work at all.

Fran:
No, no, I suppose an understanding or an appreciation for how effective light can be used. I think probably light— a taste for lighting design, I suppose. Can I use that?

Jon:
I think you can—I think that's entirely reasonable.

Fran:
Which country out of all of those you've visited has the best taste?

Jon:
For me, it probably would be a choice between France or Italy and— Looking at the kind of big picture. And I would probably lean towards Italy because I prefer the how hospitable Italy is. I find it I find it more— You know, you see it from the Italian waiters up. It's so sort of deeply ingrained in them to be welcoming and that sort of familial sense of, you know, a mother— I don't know, it just— it feels like a very generous country, so Italy

Fran:
What is the number one crime against good taste that people commit in their homes?

Jon:
Spotlighting. I'm really— I'm really against spotlighting because lighting is so much more complex than that. And if you think about light as layers of light, like stage lighting, if you can imagine a completely dark room, like you would a stage and then you think about lighting any of the things that need to be lit. You create kind of pools of warmth and— So, actually, in this book that I've been reading, it's about creating— You can't appreciate comfort without experiencing discomfort. It's like you can't experience joy without experiencing pain. So it's about creating rhythm and pattern and uniform spotlights don't allow for any of that, whereas the lighting can create ambient light, task lighting and reflective lighting, which is sort of when light's sort of reflected off surfaces. So I think you can kind of really sort of sculpt space with light, so I think you nail the lighting and...

Jon:
The rest will follow.

Fran:
The rest will follow, yeah.

Jon:
When is bad taste actually good taste?

Fran:
I suppose...

Jon:
When it's leopardskin on a wardrobe?

Fran:
Yes, exactly; that's exactly where my mind went. I think— I think, again, it's subjective, isn't it? I mean, I think if you— It's about personal taste, isn't it? So what's bad taste to someone is good taste to someone else. It's about surrounding yourself with things that make you happy or work. It's back to that sort of William Morris quote, isn't it, that your home should only contain things that you serve a purpose or bring joy. So I think it's a very subjective thing.

Jon:
And when is good taste actually bad taste?

Fran:
I think good taste is actually bad taste when it's trendy and when it's subscribed to without any real independent thought.

Jon:
Why does taste matter?

Fran:
Taste matters because it's personal and it's— Well, I think personal taste matters. And, well, personal taste matters, collective taste matters. It's about— It's sort of thought and feeling combined, taste. And it's— Taste is a result of— Well, design is a result of taste, isn't it, really? It's a result of sort of that sixth sense so it sort of informs our actions. So how something tastes will direct what we do.

Jon:
Thanks, Fran. Where can people find out more about you?

Fran:
www.franhickman.com. And yeah, you can follow us on Instagram, although I kind of have a love hate relationship with it, but, yeah, by all means.

Jon:
Well, Fran, thank you so much for coming on the show. It's been fascinating to talk to you. Really, really interesting to learn more about your philosophy. So thank you again.

Fran:
Thank you for asking me.

Jon:
That wraps up this episode of The Tastemakers. Thanks for listening. If you'd like to be notified of new episodes, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And if you enjoyed the show, please do rate and review us. You can discover related images, articles and products in our show notes at LuxDeco.com, where you can also shop over 150 of the world's finest design brands and subscribe to our online magazine, The Luxurist. I've been your host John Sharpe. You can follow me on Instagram @jonsharpe—that's J-O-N-S-H-A-R-P-E—and follow LuxDeco at @luxdeco. I'll see you next time.

Jon:
Until then, live beautifully.

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