From casino croupier to the House & Garden and LuxDeco Top 100, Olivia Outred is the go-to designer for joyful and imaginative interiors. Her early career saw her working with some of the best of London’s design community, at the likes of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler and Soane Britain, leading her to open her own studio in 2014. We talk to Olivia about her career, design influences and her passion for French antique markets!
The road to interior design
Not many people know this; but I used to be a croupier. That’s right, dealing cards and spinning the ball around the roulette wheel in London casinos. I had many epiphanies during that time and one of them was that I wanted to design beautiful, individual, colourful and light filled interiors. Natural light and air are in short supply in Casino’s. I used to work until 6am, surrounded by a fog of cigar smoke I would plan the next chapter of my life which, I decided, would involve firstly travel to far off lands, and then a career change to become an interior designer or an architect. During this time I applied for a place to do a BA in Interior and Spatial Design at Chelsea College of Art and Design, I loved that course and was intent on starting to work, so I decided to focus my energies entirely on interiors.
A commercial education
My first job, working at Colefax and Fowler for the talent that is Philip Hooper taught me the value of all types of projects and the different approaches that can be taken depending on the building, the brief and the client. My first project was the reception, waiting areas and meeting rooms of a barrister’s chambers at Fountain Court – one of the most historical parts of London that I have ever been to. The exterior felt Dickensian and the interior that Philip created was art filled and quite glamorous and colourful, uplifting yet strictly within commercial guidelines.
It was an education for me to learn the nitty gritty of creating a commercial interior, and also selecting and hanging a lot of good pictures. Fast forward 10 years and I realise that this training put me in a good position to work on my own commercial projects.
A few years ago we completed a lovely private office project in Mayfair near Park Lane, which consisted of 7 floors of offices, meeting rooms, break out spaces, and again, the selection and hanging of incredible art. The Mayfair project was in fact owned by an art collector.
Designing for home and sea
The majority of my projects have been residential and I love working on houses, honing my listening skills so that I can really work with the client to create a home they will love. In fact listening to what the client doesn’t articulate is as important as what they do articulate; I have learnt so much from how my clients use the space, how they work and relax, their children, jobs, how they entertain. These observations lead to the unlocking of lovely designs that are truly individual.
We also had the great privilege of working on the refit of the interior spaces and decks of a super yacht, which we completed 2 years ago. The yacht was designed by Jon Bannenberg and our refit was sympathetic to the original design, which was very glamorous with lots of polished teak joinery with brass inlay. It was the largest project I have ever had the pleasure of working on. We utilised all of our amazing supplier’s craftsmen, especially those that could provide bespoke designs. Needless to say we worked with Collier Webb a lot and created a beautiful bespoke brass bar for a salon and we re-sized the Brassica wall light and installed it onto the thin uprights between windows in a room named the Panoramic Room due to the views and the scale. We also selected lots of table lamps from Collier Webb for use as bedside lamps in the 6 cabins. Collier Webb neatly and subtly drilled the bases so that the lamps could be surface mounted, which is of course essential for use on a boat.
I like interiors that look like they have developed over time and are not too ‘designed’. I would say that our signature look is joyful, art filled and surprising, with unusual furniture selection and every space is inviting and stand alone. We are of course completely client led so each and every interior is totally different from the last.
Advice for aspiring interior designers
Work for someone you respect and learn all you can. Travel a lot in your own time to experience interiors around the world. Travel is of course a bit tricky at the moment, so armchair travel and great books can also work!
The client first and the building parameters second. At the start of the project the client will be developing their style ideas for the project and these ideas become honed and refined by the building parameters; the light, the ceiling heights, the position and location. For a room, a piece of art can dictate the colours, look and feel.
We always commission bespoke pieces. We love the idea that an individually designed piece only exists for one person and that is our client. It is very special to have a beautifully designed, one-off piece made just for you.
Favourite room to design
I love to design drawing rooms, sitting rooms and studies. Supreme comfort is number one priority.
Favourite room in your home
The sitting room is my favourite room. I have tall floor to ceiling sash windows that flood the room with light and I live on a tree lined square so I can almost touch the leaves outside. This gives me a sense of calm and quietness.
Favourite item in your home
I went to the antique markets in the south of France last year and became enthused with buying lots of furniture, lighting, mirrors and had everything driven home in a lorry. Needless to say I couldn’t squeeze it all into my home; so many treasures are in storage. But I did buy a pair of huge bamboo throne like chairs, which are magnificent. These chairs are my favourite pieces at the moment.
I think good lighting can make a room homely. Table lamps and floor lamps provide pools of light which are really intimate. Carefully placed pendant lights above dining tables and centre tables for example are inviting and homely. Less is more in my opinion. I always seem to remove excessive ceiling spots which can make a room over bright and clinical.
While away the hours
My downtime is spent with a huge stack of carefully chosen books on interiors. I live, eat and breath interiors and much prefer a book or magazine to websites.
In January this year I spent a week in Berlin and fell in love with the city, the ambience, and the Berliners! Coincidentally during lockdown I watched the brilliant Netflix series Unorthodox, which is based in Berlin. I love the city and have a burning desire to go back.
We are busy with some unusual projects at the moment, including a house in Spitalfields which was first used by Huguenot silk weavers. There are exposed beams in the ceiling which have notches carved into them that silk skeins which would have hung from. It’s a privilege to work on such a historical house in such a fabulous part of London.
How did you come to work with Collier Webb?
Collier Webb are on my stomping ground, flanked by some of the most exclusive interiors shops in the world. Collier Webb are in a great position and have a lovely welcoming showroom, and on entering I am always struck by how beautiful and well made the pieces are. It has been a great pleasure to work with Collier Webb over the years.
Favourite Collier Webb pieces
I have three favourites; the Brassica Wall Light, it casts a lovely glow up the wall and around, the Bamboo Mirror which is totally glamorous, and the Frank Table Light which can be painted any colour you like, or just left plain white.
Follow Olivia on Instagram for more @oliviaoutred