When Juliette Byrne designs turnkey properties, she thinks big and small, from the home’s structure to the tiniest design details.
“Before we even signed the contract on a renovation, a Singaporean client handed over keys to her London home and said, ‘just do it,’” said Byrne, the founder of residential design firm Juliette Byrne London. “Our big differentiator is full refurbishment services. We work with architects, structural engineers, plumbers, and builders, managing the project along the way. It’s very attractive for very busy clients with multiple homes.”
Interior design remains the core of the seven-person firm, with bespoke pieces a signature.
“Bespoke is more expensive than buying off the peg, but you can customize finishes, integrate lighting and create pieces that are the right size for a space,” Byrne said. “If they have the budget, I always encourage clients to go for something tailored.”
Byrne talked to Mansion Global about over-the-top 1980s design, how to conjure a bespoke feel on a budget, and why luxury means feeling at home.
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Mansion Global: You started your business in 1988. What’s changed the most over the decades?
Juliette Byrne: This came up at [design expo] Paris Déco Off last week with one of my junior designers. I told her that back in the ’80s, everything was opulent and ornate―marble, brocade, damask. We did a lot of hand-painted finishes to mimic marble or stone. We even did trompe-l’oeil, with things like jungle scenes on walls. London is a lot more sophisticated and pared-down now. We still use pattern and texture, but it’s more about adding those to a neutral background. It’s not as minimal as 15 years ago, with [British architect] John Pawson, when everything was limestone floors and white walls. People want more warmth. They’re just not going for the elaborate.
What’s trending now?
We have a craze here in London with bouclé fabrics. Literally every single sofa, or reupholstered vintage chair, is covered in bouclé. It’s all over Paris, too. You can add color to those with cushions. Plain or textured curtains are happening now, not the florals or strong patterns of the ‘80s. Though if we’re working in the south of France, we might use brighter colors because of the sunshine there. There’s a company in Santa Barbara, California, called Raoul Textiles that hand-blocks their fabrics, which look amazing.
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Your web site emphasizes the importance of hiring a designer in Chelsea, your home base. Why does that matter?
It’s very significant. In Chelsea, we’re fortunate enough to have Design Centre Chelsea Harbour, kind of like the design center in Los Angeles. It’s a sophisticated location for all of our design and specifying. When a client flies into London, we can do multiple showroom visits in short walks.
The area around Chelsea, the Kings Road, also has a number of showrooms, including John Cullen Lighting and Drummonds Bathrooms, with its wonderful freestanding cast-iron Victorian bath fixtures. There are big antique sources like The Furniture Cave, where you can find anything from 1930 furniture to modern upholstery and vintage chandeliers. And Pimlico Road is another high-end design destination nearby, with showrooms like [bespoke furniture maker] FBC London and Chelsea Textiles. We can just wander between the shops.
Bespoke and custom components are a big part of your design practice. How can someone on a budget achieve some of that feeling?
First, look at wallcoverings. Nowadays, there are beautifully textured wallpapers like faux linens in neutral color palettes. Instead of a flat painted room, they can add depth and make the room seem more glamorous. You can also look at wall paneling, adding some moldings, or putting decorative cornices on ceilings. It’s an inexpensive way to add character to a plain space, and it adds gravitas and symmetry.
Also think about area rugs. Maybe you have carpeted rooms; put a laminate or wood-effect floor down, and place rugs there. They add a crisper feel and give the room a focal point. If a room doesn’t have much character, you can even create a small chimney breast and put in a bio-ethanol fireplace that doesn’t need a flue. You get flame, warmth and a great look.
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One designer told us they would put a “hard stop” on a white sofa if a client requested one. Is there any request you would veto?
If there’s something completely wrong for a space, I would give the client alternatives. But they’re the ones living there. Saying ‘no’ is short-sighted and gets you off on the wrong footing. You’re there to bring their ideas to life and to make those ideas suitable for the space.
I’ve had strange requests. One client wanted a huge salt-water aquarium, because he had studied oceanography. Aquariums are not uncommon, but saltwater aquariums are rare. At the time, I was tempted to say no, but it turned out to be the most amazing experience. We found a supplier. Seven years on, the aquarium’s a living world, and it’s extraordinary.
What’s your personal definition of luxury?
Luxury is feeling at home. In the 1980s, I did an apartment for a guy who wanted his apartment to feel like [London private member’s club] Annabel’s. That’s where he felt at home, so that was luxury for him. It’s different for everyone.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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