January 31, 2018

Interior Design Inspiration: An Interview with Mark Lewis

We’re always on the lookout for interior design inspiration.


This month we caught up with Mark Lewis of Mark Lewis Interior Design, whose starkly beautiful designs have transformed everything from kitchens to toilets to entire homes.

How did you get into interior design?


During my twenties, I was working in costume and set design in the film industry, and I started renovating my own flat.


Friends would comment and ask for help on their flats, and by the time I was 30 I realised I could start a business, so I migrated over to interior design and opened my own studio.


I had no interior design training whatsoever. If you start doing something and it makes sense, that gives you the confidence to plough on – even if slightly blindly.


I made a lot of mistakes, to begin with, and still do, but every year it becomes a more cohesive process.


What’s been your favourite project you’ve worked on recently, and why?


A couple of years ago we did a loft conversion in an old factory space on Hoxton Square. It was a 200 square metre empty expanse of concrete and windows, and we had complete carte blanche with what to do.


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We worked on the layout with the client and turned it into an apartment with two en-suite bedrooms, an office area, a massive living and kitchen area and a big utility area.


I like to get in as early as possible and do the architectural stuff. It’s good to get your hands dirty with the construction side of things because then you know everything will be in the right place from day one.


We take a lot of our interior design inspiration from the architecture that’s already there. I don’t like anything that feels like it’s been plonked into a space or doesn’t belong.


You want it to seem like it’s always been there, like it’s part of the fabric of the building.


In this building we had some great girders and an amazing concrete ceiling, so we kept lots of bare concrete. We did lots of work but also lots of not doing anything.


What does a typical day look like for you?


Depending on how many projects we’re working on, I’ll usually spend around half my time in the office and half my time with clients or on-site.


The time on site is very valuable, particularly when you’re renovating an old building.


You can do drawings to the nth degree but you’re always going to come up against something surprising, so the more time you spend on-site the better, and the better your relationships with contractors will be.


How would you describe your signature style?


If I had to give it a tagline, it would be modern English. I like very traditional stuff, but it has to have that juxtaposition with modern functionality.


I love classic architectural features that belong with the period of the building, but furniture-wise it’s very carte blanche – you’ve got to get a nice mix.


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I tend to let my designs speak for themselves though – they do a much better job of it.


Our clients have usually looked at my Instagram or the photos on our website before they get in touch, so people usually have a good understanding of what we do.


What’s new for your practice?


We launched our home store about a year ago. I always get things made for projects if I can’t find what I want, so I thought I might as well start selling them.


We source things and reproduce them. I’ve sourced all sorts of wonderful things over the years, so I thought why not start a shop?


We work with various foundries, potteries, joiners and other producers, all in the UK. Most of what we sell is hardware, handles and brackets and things in cast bronze or iron or brass.


I’ve learned over the years that the more detail you put into a project, the more a room is going to hug you when you walk in.


None of the details need to shout and scream, but overall they should give you a sense of wellbeing when you’re in the space.


Where do you find interior design inspiration?


I take interior design inspiration from existing architecture. I go to a lot of National Trust properties.


I visited Cragside in Northumberland a little while ago. It’s an incredible Victorian country house designed by Richard Norman Shaw.


I’m not specifically looking for anything, but you never know what’s going to pop up.


Everyday life is a big influence. I’ve always got my eyes open, looking for some funny little thing, a hook or a handle or an architectural detail.


I like a lot of Victorian and Georgian architecture and finishing. I work on a lot of properties from those periods, so I feel like I need to understand what they did.


You’ve got to be sensitive about putting a modern element into an old property, so the more time I spend in very well-designed period properties the better I’ll learn.


What have you got coming up in 2018?


We’re doing a garden and basement flat in Hampstead, a basement flat in Tufnell Park, and a maisonette renovation in Kentish Town. About three or four projects keep us busy at any given time.


What’s your favourite room in your own home?


I like my downstairs toilet because it’s a bit like walking into a toilet from a western movie. It’s all dark and clad in wood and painted black. It’s quite strange.


Because of what I do, I probably change things more often than most people. You get to a point every five years or so when you just want a change.


What are your favourite interior design trends at the moment?


For me, everything has to be as classic as possible. If you’re renovating a space, chances are it will stay that way for 15 years or so, so if you’re too on-trend you’re in trouble.


I like a bit of compartmentalisation. We do a lot of pantries in kitchens. They’re really valuable spaces – they work very hard.


The pantry is a very traditional vehicle, but it means the kitchen can stay uncluttered and modern and gives it room to breathe. If there’s space, I’ll always try and get one into a project.


What’s your top DIY interior design tip?


Doors and floors. If you can spend any money on anything, spend it on your doors and floors. If you get those right, the rest will follow.


Think about the period your property’s from, and take your interior design inspiration from that.


Watch this space for more interior design inspiration…


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