What is the opposite of a rigid creative vision, two-dimensional design schemes and generic decor? Natalia Miyar – the trained architect and seasoned interior designer whose eponymous Atelier is transforming London’s design world one project at a time.
Starting on the path that all the best interior designers take, Natalia’s initial training was in art history and architecture. Her move to London and to prestigious design firm Candy & Candy in 2007 preceded her time at Helen Green Design where she, ultimately, achieved the position of Design Director. After 14 years working for other names, the designer decided to set up her own studio, finally putting her name where it rightly belongs – amongst those whose styles she helped create.
As a Mexican-born Cuban American, colour, texture and playfulness pulsate through Natalia’s designs, which are more alive than perhaps some would think her British surroundings would encourage. Her love of vibrant design is matched and tempered, however, by a penchant for the relaxed and the layered – an apparent reason why her designs are so accepted in the Georgian townhouse realms of London.
“The contrasting natural landscapes of the places I’ve known resonate very strongly with me. My early years were spent in Mexico where I was exposed to incredible earth and stone tones, sienna, ochre and black. We then moved to Miami and, suddenly, my visual world expanded to comprise the bright blue shades of sea and sky, the bold, lush green of tropical plants and the pale gold of sand – a palette very similar to that of Cuba. When I moved to England, the countryside greens, urban greys and authentic style influenced me in another way.”
Reluctant to fall into a “house style” (very few of the greats had one, she argues), the designer promises originality in a sea of nondescript, and liveable design wrought of emotion. It seems that the principal can do nothing but design from the heart, and people are taking note, choosing to forgo the development look in place of something with a little more to say. (It’s just entered its second year and, already, the South Kensington-based studio has been commissioned with multiple projects, including a villa in London’s smart St. John’s Wood area, and properties in Spain and Miami.)
The designer discusses her stamp of authenticity, her designer inspirations and her big plans for the Atelier, revealing what makes her so sought-after.
Interview with Natalia Miyar
Q: Natalia, what inspired you to open your own studio?
I opened my own atelier in order to have the autonomy to promote the design values that I see are most important – individuality and contextual design. I believe that creativity and personality should be at the centre of everything we do. I encourage collaborations with my team and makers to create projects of unique identity. Working for myself allows me the freedom to experiment and establish a unique design philosophy that subtly underpins all projects, rather than an obvious ‘house style’.
Q: What are the main concerns with having a house style?
For me, great design is contextual and has a strong sense of place. By always following that premise, each project has an individual narrative and ultimately fulfils the client’s brief rather than a company agenda. It is infinitely more interesting to have a design challenge and work with different ideas as opposed to prescribing a template design aesthetic. In doing so, I am constantly exposed to different mindsets and concepts that surprise and intrigue me. A home is a place to showcase a personal narrative and should reinforce the owner’s personality. We, therefore, champion spaces and styles that express individuality.
Q: What will unite your various projects?
Although I embrace my client’s taste and style when designing a project, my own vision and passion remains at the heart of every project. An obsession with detailing – from contrasting textures, materials and colour – is a common thread in all of my work. We design many one-of-a-kind pieces for our projects and they often have three or four distinct textures. I like playing with texture to create interest.
Q: What are some of your first projects that you’re working on?
We have recently completed two large-scale private homes in London. In the works now are a few homes in London, and property in Spain and another in Miami. When working with private clients in different locations, you are exposed to different ideas, colour combinations and aesthetics. I like the variety – it keeps me on my toes – and I’m inspired by other people’s vision, culture and way of life.
Q: You’ve entitled some of your projects “Relaxed”, “Dimensional” and “Tropical” – where does your diverse inspiration come from?
I have never struggled to find inspiration. I am constantly looking and finding it – I think only cynics lack inspiration. The worlds of art, music, fashion and design are inspiration treasure troves. Nature has always been an important influence on my work and continues to inform the concepts and palettes of my projects. I have been fortunate to live in some of the world’s most beautiful places – in Mexico I lived amongst incredible earth and stone tones and vibrant and playful colour combinations. In Miami, I gravitate to the outdoors as I love the bright blue shades of sea and sky and the bold, lush green of tropical plants. I have designed many rooms with a play on blue and green! In England, I love the countryside greens and the stone and stucco of the vernacular architecture.
Q: How does your art history and architectural background influence the way you approach interior design?
My background in art history and architecture is the anchor of my work. Art history was fascinating to study. You learn so much about a time and place through art – it is the tangible expression of cultural narrative and aspiration. I think that’s why I believe the homes I design should be an individual expression of my client’s life. My practice of architecture taught me about context, scale and materiality. It also taught me the rigours of drawing and precision in the design process. Construction mistakes are expensive to fix so I am methodical about the process of design management and implementation at our atelier.
Q: Which designers have influenced you throughout your career?
The list is so varied because I draw inspiration from different sources for different aspects of my work. I admire the variety of context and references of Maison Jansen; Peter Marino’s detailing is inspiring, as is his weaving together of art and interiors; Francois Catroux is a masterful interpreter of historical references in a contemporary way; and Jacques Grange’s work is always natural and unique.
Q: You have big plans with the opening of your new Atelier. What change do you hope to be for the industry?
I have great aspirations and am lucky to have a great team who make the atelier a real conduit for creativity. I would love to see the interiors industry embrace contemporary international influences in a fresh and vibrant way to create truly unique British interiors of today. I think this would help steer away from typical manicured and stale interiors we see too often.
Q: What does being a female principal mean to you?
I strongly believe in women helping each other succeed. It is hard to juggle the practical demands of a woman’s daily life but also our hopes and aspirations. I’d like to lead my atelier in a way that gives women the ability to work and enjoy their work at different stages of life.
Q: What are you looking forward to in 2017?
I’m excited to see many of the projects we have been designing come to life. I spent the first year of my business laying the foundations for a well-run studio to provide a foundation for our creative work. I hope that will give me more time to develop the business. I am sure I will see a new set of challenges. Of course, high on the list is my Miami outpost which is a goal for 2017, not least because I love sunshine.