x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

'I don't like stage-set places'

Home in the life of Nina Campbell, an interior designer whose career spans more than 40 years, has clients throughout the world, including the UAE.

Nina Campbell in the living room of her home in London. Her style has been described as traditional with a contemporary twist.
Nina Campbell in the living room of her home in London. Her style has been described as traditional with a contemporary twist.

At least 20 or 30. My mother loved doing up houses and we moved all around London when I was a child, which I loved, because it meant we kept going to choose new wallpaper and I was constantly getting new rooms. I never found it traumatic. It was exciting, like a new adventure. I still move every five years or so.

I live in a two-bedroom house in Chelsea, which I bought four years ago. It was perfectly ghastly then so I pulled it down and rebuilt it over a year. It's known in my family as "the hut" because, when I saw it, I thought it couldn't possibly be a house - it had to be a hut. It was the ugliest house I'd ever seen. Then I went upstairs and saw this magnolia tree, which was opposite the bedroom, and thought, "Gosh I've got to live opposite that". I knew then that I had to make the house work and realised that if I gutted the whole ground floor and made it only entertaining space, it would suit my lifestyle. I widened the windows and levelled the floors and dug a basement, which now has a guest bedroom, laundry and TV room. Upstairs is my bedroom, bathroom and the guest loo. I wanted to create light as well as space for entertaining and storage. I've been able to be completely self-indulgent with this house as I live here on my own; the only compromise I had to make was that I wanted underfloor heating in the bathroom but I couldn't because the dogs get overheated.

My style has been described for me as contemporary traditional, because I value traditional values but I like a contemporary twist. I like colour - not hysterical colour but colours rather than beige: I don't want to live in a hotel room. I love aqua, lavender and amethyst shades and I always love a touch of black - I feel it grounds things. I like there to be a flow. My bedroom at the moment has pale pink linen with grey; it reminds me of my childhood. It's quite 1950s really. And I love satins.

I think what's important about a home is what goes on in it: the fun you give; the entertaining you do; the conversations you have; the relaxation you can give. Of course you have to have a beautiful house but these are the important things. My mum was less relaxed than me: everything had to be perfect, whereas I believe that you make everything perfect at first - but then you live in it and the dog sits on the sofa or someone spills wine. It really doesn't matter, you can clean everything - but if that happened to my mother she would have been hysterical, jumping up and down, which makes everyone else nervous and then they drop everything. I don't like stage-set places; I think you've always got to make people feel at ease. I can't bear going to someone's house when there's nowhere to sit down. I like good quality furniture too. You have to think of practicalities. I would never buy something cheap for the look. If I buy something I make sure it's well made. Quality is endearing and, with a patina of age, it just gets better. Some people go for the quick fix, but I'd rather have nothing.

Over the years, yes. My professional life has spanned 40 years, so it would be tragic if it hadn't. But my values have remained the same. There's now so much more to work with: you can laser-cut wood, engrave glass, digitally print things. Not everything changes, though: Howard's was the best sofa-maker in the 1870s and it is still the best sofa-maker now. That's what I call real quality. You go to Christie's and buy one of its old sofas for more money than a new one. Something else that has changed is how we all use space. Twenty or 40 years ago you wanted a formal dining room; now most people entertain in or near their kitchens. Here I have a dining space rather than a dining room. I love having people round here; I love Sunday lunches.

I've worked in Kuwait extensively, and Dubai, Jordan and Lebanon - all for local Arab clients. For the past 10 years I've usually had a project going in the Middle East. I've enjoyed working with those clients enormously - I've found their homes are tremendously important to them, that their family space is much more closed to the public and that there are public entertaining spaces as well. You can make the family space cosier and then be more formal in the entertaining spaces.

I love it; I think it's magical. I think the UAE and the Middle Eastern countries I've been to have a very sensual quality, in as much as your senses are stimulated. There are smells of orange blossom, there is good food and a generosity of spirit. All the things that some people find difficult to cope with, I find romantic - for example, the fabric on my living room walls is inspired by the mashrabiya wooden screens that women look through to see what is going on. I love the idea of seeing what is going on but being hidden - there's something rather wonderful in that. I think there are lessons to be learnt; there's a mystery there, not everything is on view.

Nina Campbell products are available in the UAE from Hollands and Burton, 04 4220024, www.hollandsandburton.com