Susan Quirke is an award winning interior and lighting designer based in London working on high end residential and commercial projects throughout the UK and abroad. She has won many awards for her modern style and combines interior and lighting design within her projects which range from office interiors, nightclubs luxury houses, villas and restaurant design.
1. How did you become an interior designer?
I was always interested in design and how things are built. I initially wanted to be a psychologist and went to college to do just that, but when I graduated I really felt like I wanted to pursue design and got a job in an Architects in Ireland as a project manager and trainee designer. I went back to college in the evenings and I definitely knew then that I wanted to be an interior designer; for the creativity and ability to manipulate a space to create something tangible. My psychology degree and organisation skills are still very much used in my job every day.
2. What are your favourite parts of the job?
The best bit for me is to see the project come to life. From initial sketches and drawings to actually being on site watching everything take shape and problem solving with the guys who are making it happen is fantastic. I would hate to be sitting at a desk all day and I get the opportunity with this job to actually see the work take shape to final stage. I love seeing how each building comes together and working with so many different people on a project.
3. What are your least favourite parts?
There are long hours and spending them on a cold noisy site can be draining but it’s all worthwhile in the end. Sometimes there is a level of waiting for permissions and legal issues which can slow a project down or when there are many parties involved trying to schedule everyone can be tiring, but it’s all part of the process.
4. Which project is your favourite?
My favourite project was also the most challenging – the Ice White House. It was a very complicated project with numerous elements from stairs and fish tank design to water walls and cinema rooms; as well as eight bathrooms a new extension and kitchen and even the landscape design. We were the interior designers, lighting designers and project managers so it was time consuming. The client wanted a mostly white scheme which we added colour to through the lighting. I love how it turned out in the end from a mock Tudor run down property to an ultra-modern sleek space. We added as much light as possible with glass walls and skylights and electric frameless doors. The lighting element was really complex making sure that feature lighting and bespoke chandeliers complimented the space.
5. Favourite piece of furniture you have designed?
I love adding a bespoke element to an interior. One of my favourites is this floating storage unit commissioned for an artist to store all his research books. It’s a floating unit with glass and white lacquer, which I’ve back lit it to add another dimension. The client loved it and it complimented the modernist white kitchen perfectly. I’ve bespoke designed chandeliers, fish tanks, cinema room seating, kitchens and even stairs. Every new item is a challenge that I relish.
6. Bespoke v shop bought?
I always feel that you should have something specific to your space. People think bespoke means expensive which isn’t necessarily the case, and I love supporting local workshops and seeing how all the elements of a piece come together. The client then has something special made for them which fits perfectly to their space and is a real talking point. Something they can be really proud of.
7. Favourite room to design?
I really like designing dressing rooms and bathrooms as you can really play with materials and lighting in these spaces. Dressing rooms are exciting as each client has a completely different vision, Some are very masculine and organised and some very organic and feminine. When designing bathrooms you can really let your imagination run away. I try to create a real spa like environment where you can relax and play with lighting and textures to create the mood. Cinema rooms are also fantastic spaces, being so dark you can be quite dramatic with the space.
8. What skills does an interior designer require to succeed?
You have to be very driven and organised. People always think artistic and creative and yes those are the obvious skills but you also need to be able to retain a lot of information and be very focused. Its important to make sure that what you have created is achieved to the standard and vision you want. You have to have a great eye for detail and also be very good with people. Most of your time is spent liaising between clients and contractors making sure that everyone is clear at all times on what is happening.
9. What are the key aspects to focus on when designing your home?
Scale and space planning. People tend to see things in large showrooms and think they are beautiful. However, when they get them home they realise that their space is too small for the piece. You need to make sure you understand your space before you go looking for pieces. Looking at how much light the space gets, how high the ceilings are and how narrow the doors are for access is very important. What looks great in a large brightly lit showroom may not look so good in your own space.
10. What is the worse mistake that someone can make when designing a space?
Cramming things that are too large into the space and also overdoing it. The key skill is to be able to pare back a scheme from all the lovely things you want to a clear style with only one or two feature pieces that stand out and aren’t cluttered. When there are too many features you eye isn’t drawn to anything specific and it cheapens the overall effect.
11. What is your favourite city?
Barcelona – I think it’s fantastic as I have to be near the sea and Barcelona is perfect for having the city and being by the sea. It’s also a fantastic city for architecture and even the markets are inspiring with the colours and ambience.
12. What would be your advice to anyone wanting to become an interior designer?
Start building your portfolio and inspiration book. Even before you study design you should have a good knowledge of the different design eras, materials you like, designers who inspire you. I get so many applications from budding designers and when I ask who inspires them or what building they love I know who the passionate ones are. They are the ones that have thought about design and have style files filled with things they like and admire. I know they are keen and passionate and passion is key to a career like this.
13. Lighting v interiors?
I love both but I definitely like to integrate lighting into the overall interior. Being just a lighting designer I would find too limiting as I like to define the space and use the lighting to highlight and compliment the space and materials. I love being able to do both.
14. What would have been your chosen career if not an interior designer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer and now I write a lot for my blog and articles about design. However, I could see myself retiring by the sea writing novels or else a marine biologist.