Susie Rumbold is the Founder and Creative Director of the multi-disciplinary interior design studio Tessuto Interiors, and Former President of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID). We were delighted to have the chance to sit down with Susie and ask her about her childhood memories of design, her influences and her advice for creating an interior that resonates.
We begin where it all began – childhood. Susie grew up in Australia in a house that was nothing out of the ordinary. "My parents house was 1930s brick bungalow with Hibiscus bushes planted round the door. Very traditionally Australian indeed." she tells us. Whilst this house was of no particular design note, by contrast, her grandparents – who Susie saw a lot of growing up – lived in a house designed by none other than celebrated Arts and Crafts architect C. F. A. Voysey.
"The Voysey house was one of his 'cottages', with lovely Arts and Crafts movement detailing. It would have been a copy of a house originally built in England and the drawings would have been sold to someone in Melbourne who built my grandparents' house, in the 1920s." (She laments that tragically it's been recently demolished "to make way for a hideous concrete block".)
She takes us back to her parents' house, and where she recalls a very traditional interior. It's her father's Easy chair that seems to been one of the most significant pieces, not for its design, but, as is so often the case when it comes to memories – what it signified. The Easy chair, a huge, looming presence for a young girl, was where Susie's father would sit and watch television, often with Susie perched on his knee. It was also the designated chair that when you weren't feeling well you'd be bundled up on and looked after until you were on the mend. "As an adult," she confesses, "the chair isn't all that comfy at all", adding that it's the headrest that's the culprit – "it's best when you're not tall enough to need it!"
Conversation soon returns to her grandparents house – "a treasure trove of curiosities" – including a huge collection of clocks, but it's her grandmothers' Lady's Workbox which holds the fondest memories. "I've got it tucked away somewhere at home and will every so often get it out and look at it." In terms of materiality – blue satin, mother of pearl and Abalone inlay – the workbox was clearly mesmerising for a young child, but the design's ingenuity also made an impression.
"The lid of the box turns into a table for sewing. She'd keep all her sewing gear inside the box, and together – I wasn't allowed to touch it unless I had an adult with me – we would explore all of its compartments." This delight in furniture's intricacies, and as Susie puts it "the cunningness of design", continues to influence her work today. She also shares that her grandfather, (who helped launch the textile company James Templeton's Australian division) had 'perfect pitch' when it came to colour. "It was amazing, really – he could see a shade of blue in a piece of fabric and then, years later, recognise exactly the same shade of blue in something else."
We leave Australia now and send Susie off to Radio 4's desert island, asking the self-confessed magpie which three objects from home would she pack into her suitcase?
"We have a gurgle jug in the house and every year from Boxing Day until the first day of Spring I keep it filled with daffodils. It represents a family tradition and I would try to continue it on the desert island with whatever plants I could find! It also makes a wonderful gurgling noise when you pour water from it which has always made me smile. The second piece (or 'pieces' if that's not being too cheeky?!) is a collection of glass obelisks that have miniature pagodas and other ornate buildings carved out of them. I can't quite put my finger on what it is I like so much about them... I just find them clever and cunning. The third piece is perhaps a more conventional choice – a 1930s Georg Jensen serving platter which I've always thought it just a beautiful piece of design."
We conclude by asking Susie what advice she would give to someone wanting to create an interior that feels grounded and welcoming.
"It's the old pieces that will ground an interior and bring depth and character to what could otherwise be a bland space. Craft brings narrative and authenticity, and is a great starting point for conversation, bringing a room to life. Of course time is also a filter – if something has 'stood the test of time' it will have meaning and substance. Another tip – and perhaps one which can be overlooked – is to always consider proportions. Don't feel you have to hold on to things if they just don't work in a particular space." Ultimately, she concludes: "If you feel an affinity for a piece, go for it."