With a career spanning over two decades, Celia Sawyer’s signature style is stylish, glittering interiors. Being in demand as a luxury interior designer has made her the success story she is and continues to be.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am Celia Sawyer, I have an interior design business in Mayfair London, and live between London and Sandbanks, which is a peninsula on the beach on the South coast of England in Dorset. I also have a house on the beach in the west coast of Barbados which is lovely to visit all year round. I have two children, aged 19 and 16 who keep me busy when I am not working on lovely interior projects. I started my business over twenty years ago, and now design homes, yachts, private aviation and commercial interiors worldwide.
Did you have an influence in your youth that shaped your career path?
I did very well in art at school and thoroughly enjoyed it, so my creative foundation started there. I was also quite observant and I remember when I was young, I used to love going to look at show homes and it fascinated me as to how they got the interiors to look so nice. That was probably the start of my future endeavours.
When and why did you decide to become an interior designer?
It was purely by accident. I bought a flat in London in 1990, added another floor when I could afford to. I had bought the roof space when I first purchased the flat and then designed and furnished it. Estate agents and others came to view the property and they were so amazed, they asked me to do others and it really started from there. Since then I have never looked back.
You started your design firm Celia Sawyer Luxury Interiors in 1997 and more than two decades later, you are still going strong. What and who inspires you?
I have always worked hard and my standards of service are very high, my staff know that about me. I believe that service accounts for almost all successful businesses. I am now lucky enough to stay in great hotels around the world, and I often write reviews as the service will make or break my stay. I listen to my clients’ dreams and ambitions and then make them into a reality, and that is why they come back for more. Most of my clients have been with me for years or are recommendations.
What are / have been your biggest challenges in your career?
To be really honest, every project is a big challenge as it is peoples’ homes and lives you are working with, so it needs to be right every time and no project is more important than another, so it is not project based in that way. Another big challenge in many businesses is to be able to re-invent yourself regularly, and that is something I have certainly had to work on.
The favorite part of your job?
The first part of the design, which is the creative bit is my favorite as well as the end result, so that I see what I have created and how it comes alive. It is a relatively organic process at the end, so it becomes very exciting and a tad nail biting too.
What is the best thing about being an interior designer?
Being able to create beautiful things for people and hugely improve their lifestyles and seeing the joy on their faces at what has been created for them.
And the worst?
When the suppliers you have commissioned let you down. This sadly happens often; you are dealing with the trades and ever so often you get a company who have made you promises that just couldn’t ever really deliver. If this happens, unless there is a very good reason, I never work with them again.
You have more than one home – one in London, one in Dorset on the Sandbanks Peninsula and a beachfront home in the Caribbean. May I make the assumption that each home incorporates its own style? What are your different decorating styles and do you have favorite room(s) in each home?
The home in Dorset on the Sandbanks Peninsula is not decorated as a beach house, purely because although it has a beach outside, we are living in the UK and most of the year the home needs to feel warm and inviting for our dark long nights. The design is simple yet warm; I have a lot of interesting artifacts and art in this house, as it is where I spend most of my time. My living room is my favorite room as it looks out on the view, but I also have my art pieces that I can enjoy whilst being in the house. I think it is very important to be able to look around a room and always find something interesting to look at from every angle.
Barbados is outdoor living, so my main focus is the turquoise sea outside. I have a cold tub in the garden, and it is very contemporary, clean and fresh – it is a proper beach house. My favorite place is outside in my cold tub.
What key pieces in your home can you not live without?
Great lighting is my main love. I indulge in purchasing some incredible lights, and I have them in my main home. You can’t beat fantastic lighting; they are like wearing a simple dress and adding the diamond earrings to it.
Do you have different taste in interior design of your partner / husband and how do you negotiate / solve that amicably?
My husband likes my style, which is great as if he didn’t, we could have problems. I have never created anything he hasn’t liked … yet!
Talk us through a timeless interior design style.
Timeless interiors are about not getting too into what’s fashionable right now. It is more about creating an interior that is classical and contemporary, not trying to have the trendy color schemes and styles that are in this year. I always tell clients to keep a simple palate and add the fashionable accessories if they want to keep in vogue, as you can easily change these relatively easily in the future, but you will still keep your timeless interior.
How important is it to accessorize?
It is of the utmost importance and people tend to not fully understand this part of the process. It is key to making the house feel warm, personalizing it, and creating layers of interest. People underestimate how important this part of design is and it is a real speciality of mine, so much so that I have designed my own candle and diffuser range.
Tell us more about your candle and diffuser range?
I have designed a simple range based on what you smell and how those smells make you feel, so it is about feeling good too. A house filled with the right smells can make you feel immediately comfortable, or be mood provoking, and I have a very sensitive sense of smell. The candle perfumes were created by me and I worked very closely with a British company called Sandy Bay to make the whole range come to life. When designing homes, yachts or hospitality, smell is paramount to first impressions and feelings of well-being. My design for Harrods is a special market and is very different to the candles I propose to get across the market of stylish homes. The candles for the Harrods buyer is very high-end, and something somewhat “out there” in terms of design, so I am working with an artisan called John Harte to help me create the right casing to encapsulate the candles and give enough “wow” to make it really stand out with gold and jewels of course.
How does one keep things modern / timeless without having to break the bank?
Well, this is where someone like myself comes in. It’s about knowing the tricks really, such as where to look and what to look for, items that make impact and knowing how to mix things, such as cheaper items with more expensive ones to make aesthetics work well.
Do you believe in repurposing dated pieces or should one just shop for new ones?
Of course, recycling if possible is always important to do. It’s amazing how you can transform something that is old into something unique which looks like a new piece.
You have done some exquisite interiors, and we would like to focus on the aviation interiors you have transformed. Explain the ethos behind it?
Private aviation is a very personal thing. When you are in the realms of the private aircraft world, anything is possible. This is because clients have to have vast amounts of wealth just to be in that position to have their own aircraft. What is great about designing aircraft for clients is that they are prepared to push the boundaries a little more than in their homes. It is a bit like an addition to their personality, perhaps a little bit of showing how they really would like to be perceived in a creative way. I find it a very rewarding process and something that I would certainly like to do more of.
Have there been projects that you have declined? If yes, why?
Yes, but not many. Some time ago, a lady asked me to design her house by the sea, however, she spent our whole meeting telling me she knew exactly what she wanted and where to get it all from, and didn’t really listen to my ideas so I decided to politely decline the project!
Describe yourself in three words.
Attentive, innovative and organized.
You travel for business, and hopefully pleasure too. Which have been your favorite places to travel to that have left a lasting impression?
Gosh I love so many places for so many different reasons. I love the Caribbean as the vibe is so good, Sicily as the food is so amazing, France and Italy for the scenery, South Africa for its wine region and New York for it’s amazing architecture … to be honest, there are so many places I love visiting, and all the contrasts give me design ideas to work with as nature is my biggest influence.
What do you do for fun?
Go out and eat, dance and have good wine (not often enough)!
If you hadn’t become an interior designer, what would you have become?
That’s a good question, I didn’t do well at school, so I would have only been able to either go back and re-do exams or start something of my own. One subject I have always been interested in is criminal law, but I am happy with what has come my way.
Any exciting plans on the horizon?
Yes, I am working on some TV shows, I already have had my own show on BBC1 and have an ongoing show on Channel 4 and now on Netflix USA which is called Four Rooms, where I get the chance to buy interesting memorabilia for my clients. I am in talks for some new shows, so hopefully they will come off as it is nice to diversify sometimes. I am also developing some candles which I am hoping to get into Harrods, but truthfully, I am always excited; there is constantly something else around the corner.