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Five Minutes with Alison Henry

17th December 2020

This week’s blog guest is Alison Henry whose design studio is synonymous with modern-day grandeur. Her early career at Richmond International, working on the likes of the Dorchester and the Orient Express in Sydney, formed the foundations for her own studio, established nearly 30 years ago. We discover more about Alison’s exceptional globe-spanning work and take a photographic tour of a recent project – her own beautifully designed family home.

Early memories of interiors
I grew up in Asia and travelled extensively. I was always inspired and amazed by how different the homes and hotels were depending on where we were in the world. We lived in Singapore for ten years. One of our homes was a colonial-style building with large rooms opening out onto undercover verandas, another, a modern house development that was more open plan and had a beautiful indoor area that opened to a pool and gardens.

As a child I would re-arrange the furniture and re-decorate my bedroom over and over again, much to my parent’s frustration. I was inspired as a child while living in Singapore. One specific memory I have is visiting the home of a family friend who was an architect. His home was built into the side of a hill and had a garden extending over the roof. Inside, panoramic views could be seen through glazed doors that lead out to tropical gardens at the various levels. I realised then that the possibilities were endless, and I wanted to create spaces with the same wow factor and drama.

Interiors journey
I started my own Design Studio in the mid-90s when I was living in Hong Kong. I had been working for Richmond International, working on hospitality projects in the UK and internationally. My first project was the Dorchester Hotel in London. I was very excited to be working on a 5-star hotel with such a famed history. I worked on a number of international projects, including the Orient Express in Sydney, and The Oberoi Hotel in Melbourne before we were asked to put forward a proposal for the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, despite not having an office in Asia. We won the contract and I relocated to set up the Asia office in Hong Kong in early 90s. It was an amazing experience and a great introduction into the 5-star luxury hospitality industry.

Whilst working on projects in Asia, I was being asked to look at client’s private residences, private clubs and restaurants. That’s when I decided I wanted to branch out on my own. Lucky enough, I was able to keep the Peninsula Hotel as my client while also working on a range of other projects including hotels and restaurants, private clubs, private houses, residential developments, and yachts.

I get inspiration from living in and travelling to different places around the world, and from my experiences. For example, scuba diving in Palau and seeing the amazing sea-life – the striking colours of the fish and coral reefs. Culture is a major influence, not only the architecture but the clothing, colours and cuisine of an area. The architecture of a building is important when trying to find inspiration for a design – it’s a great starting point. Nature is a huge inspiration for me and David Attenborough’s amazing documentaries always help me to feel inspired and remind me to appreciate the world we live in.

Advice for aspiring interior designers
You must be passionate and committed. Take the time to look around you, and then look again. There’s always more to be seen than you think. Once you get the education and training, it’s really about the work experience you gain in the field. It’s important to make mistakes…and learn from them.

Project must have’s
I like to create a sense of movement with lighting, both natural and architectural lighting, to create different moods and ambiances. I also like to play with textures, even within the same materials, whether it’s marble, timber, mirror, metal, or fabrics. I try to stimulate all of the senses where possible.

Favourite room to design
I love designing the kitchen / family room as I feel this is the heart of the home and the place where family and friends come together.

When designing a home, it’s important to understand the client, their personality, their lifestyle and how they live. You must also consider a client’s special collections or possessions, for example an art collection. I enjoy helping my clients to understand what they want and need from their home now, and also how to make it as future-proof as possible so that it grows with them and their family. I strongly believe in the motto: “design once well”.

Favourite room in your own home
That’s a tricky one. My favourite room in my home is probably my kitchen as this is where we tend to come together as a family at the start and end of each day. My kitchen opens out into the garden, so on a nice day we can spill out into the garden for breakfast or even dinner and a BBQ.

I also love my master bathroom. I have an aqua vision TV, so I can escape to my candle-lit spa, to a bath filled with oils to watch Netflix with a glass of wine in hand.

Favourite piece in your own home
I love the treasures that I’ve found in antique stores and salvage yards. I often find something that I can adapt or alter the finish of to make it more current.

Home comforts you couldn’t live without
My bathtub. It’s my own personal spa, and a space to escape the family.

Music from our piano.

How you came to work with Collier Webb
I have worked with Collier Webb in the past on projects and always admired their attention to detail and quality. I really got to know the individuals in the business and the skilled craftsmen when I was working on designing my own family home. I wanted to have delicate antique silver ironmongery on all the joinery, decorative wall lights and antique silver curtain rails, finials, and rings throughout my home, so there would be a consistent style and finish from one room to the next.

I began before the start of lockdown and was keen to keep the project on track, so I finalised my requirements with Geoff Collier and his team through photographs, emails, and phone calls. That’s when I discovered the endless potential and possibilities. I’m looking forward to doing more bespoke projects with Collier Webb in the future.

You can find out more about Alison’s work via her website and follow her on Instagram here.