At Portaire, the topic of technology and design is one that we live and breathe. Every day, our team members think of how technology can serve designers, free their time and enhance their life; ultimately allowing them to create more fearlessly than before.
Empathy and true understanding of the design process is central to us; after all, our founders Lori and Matteo are respectively interior architects and product designers, and they have experienced the highs and lows of being a creative. We create solutions that they would have wanted, and then bounce them back to you to explore.
Today, we set out to deepen our understanding of the state of technology and interior design alongside some incredible guests. We’re thrilled to present you:
- Joseph Troughton, an Associate Designer from David Collins Studio
- Alessandra Melchiorri, founder of Studio Sam
- Gemma Gillett, founder of Studio Gemma
- Janice Burkhart, founder of Burkhart Interiors
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Joseph Troughton, Associate Designer from David Collins Studio, balances timelessness and technology
Hi! Thanks for coming and chatting with us today. Could you introduce yourself and David Collins Studio?
Hello, my name is Joe and I’m an Associate Designer at London-based interior design firm David Collins Studio. I joined as an intern after graduating from a BA in Architecture! 12 years on, I manage one of our commercial teams, working on hotels, restaurants and bars across the world.
Founded in 1985, David Collins Studio is an award-winning interior architecture and design studio, delivering internationally recognised hospitality, residential and retail projects across the globe. The Studio works with luxury and heritage brands that represent the best in their field, as well as a select number of private clients that share an obsession with detail, craft and refinement.
What is your studio's design and project philosophy?
The David Collins Studio philosophy is to find what is unique about the project, the brand, or the site, and celebrate that through an interior design language that becomes synonymous to the project. For us, that is key, giving the client a design style that they can own, that helps to set them apart from everyone else and allows their voice to be heard. Every David Collins Studio project is an extremely collaborative process, working with the most amazing clients and incredibly talented consultants to realise a space that is rich in narrative, and enjoyable for generations to come.
David Collins Studio is known for its ability to absorb and communicate brand values. How does the studio translate brand identities into physical spaces, particularly in the context of retail projects?
We always approach our projects by fully immersing ourselves within the brand, understanding what the brand’s unique position is, so that we can distil this into an interior design DNA. This core set of details enable us to tell the story of that brand and communicate with everyone who enters the space. I always immediately think back to our work at Harrods, where we wanted to give Harrods a platform to convey their story and message alongside the other brands that feature within the store, and really tell the story of Harrods’ rich history and the way they have helped to shape the retail experience not just in London, but globally as well.
As technology continues to evolve, how does David Collins Studio stay ahead of the curve and incorporate emerging technologies into its designs? Are there any specific technological innovations that have had a significant impact on recent projects?
We’ve always had a really considered approach with regards to technology, and by that I mean that we only ever incorporate technology if we feel that it adds benefit to the experience, be it from a guest perspective or operationally. We like to pride ourselves on designing spaces that stand the test of time, many of our projects that were designed decades ago are still relevant to today, and being considered with our approach to technology is key to this. Typically, technology that has a screen date quickly because there’s always an emerging technology that supersedes it and replaces it. Avoiding screen-based technologies and using something that is a little more analogue is an effective way of introducing technology, whilst also creating timeless interiors. A great example of this is the kinetic chandelier by Ivan Black we commissioned for the double-height Lobby at Nobu Hotel Portman Square in London. It is a really simple technology at heart, but ultimately helps to elevate the space and create something really unique and memorable.
As a project manager, what softwares help you and the design team work better and more effectively?
We use a range of software that helps us to communicate our design, programmes that allow us to freely and effectively draw by hand, to other programmes that allow us to model our ideas in 3D, to stand inside it and experience it the way the end user will. But for me one of the most revolutionary softwares is one of the most basic – a digital whiteboard. A space where the team can collaboratively generate ideas, sketch options, refine and edit in one space simultaneously. It enables us to emulate the studio environment no matter where in the world we are, which of course is something that has become so relevant since the COVID pandemic. Obviously, nothing quite replaces that physical studio environment, where you can touch and feel fabrics and materials, but the digital whiteboard helps to give flexibility, enabling more of our studio time to be focussed on refining and editing the physical materials that we pride ourselves on.
With the growing emphasis on sustainability and environmentally friendly design, how does David Collins Studio approach the use of technology to create more sustainable interiors? Are there any specific initiatives or strategies the studio employs in this regard?
We are journeying towards becoming a much more sustainable studio, and technology is helping us to achieve that. It allows us to measure that progress and continually become more aware of what impact our design decisions have. We have started to classify every material that we use in terms of how sustainable that material is, but technology allows us to quantify the impact of those materials, giving a holistic view of how sustainable each space is. Technology can also limit the amount we need to travel, with site walks in virtual reality, or effective design workshops that are all digital. It’s worth mentioning again our approach and track record to making timeless spaces, by considered use of integrating technology within our designs, making sure that what we design is still relevant in decades to come and doesn’t feel dated within a few years. The Studio has partnered with specialist consultancy Positive Luxury, to help guide our ESG+ policies and goals, within an industry specific framework.
The studio's philosophy emphasises detail, craft, and refinement. How does David Collins Studio balance craftsmanship with cutting-edge tech?
We celebrate the artisanal handcrafted approach to finishes; it is something that The Studio is proudly known for. Modern technology can help enable us, and the artisans we collaborate with, to realise something that may not have been achievable in time gone by, because the technology simply didn’t exist. Having something that is so obviously handcrafted in your design is key to balancing the new technology that sits within the same space - one complements the other. The moment that these contrasting elements sit side by side is when people really appreciate the qualities of each.
Where do you see project management in interior design going in the next few years?
Technology allows people to communicate more effectively, wherever they are in the world, and we have noticed that within our design process. One of our recent hospitality projects in Macao used virtual reality to bring a global design team together, enabling us to review the design and coordinate it as one efficient and effective team without the need physical visit site. It gave each person the opportunity to walk through the space and talk through their design, really simplifying what are otherwise quite complex designs, so that everyone left the virtual reality model with a much better understanding of the space and how it all worked together.
How can we keep in touch with David Collins Studio and your work?
Recommended reading: “What Makes An Interior Design Timeless?”
Alessandra Melchiorri, founder of Studio Sam, explores the relationship between craftsmanship and technology in interior design
Hi Alessandra! Thank you so much for sitting down and talking to us. Could you introduce yourself and Studio Sam?
Hello Clara! Thank you so much for thinking of me for this interview. My name is Alessandra, I am an Italian architect graduated from Central Saint Martins - I like raw materials, abstract art and I am in constant research for harmony. After 8 years working in interior design, I have founded Studio Sam London. Studio Sam repurposes unused marble into furniture pieces with a unique identity. Every piece is inspired by different places in Italy and their topography and we hand-build everything in our small workshop in Italy, employing traditional techniques alongside the best of modern methods.
How would you define Studio Sam’s vision and brand identity?
Studio Sam’s identity is a fusion between authenticity, artistic inspiration and durability. I always seek timelessness in my pieces and I like to work so that everything has a deeper, more respectful and thoughtful meaning. When I realised that there were so many precious and beautifully shaped unused marble pieces sitting at a Marble quarry in Carrara I thought, I must find a way to elevate these through my designs. The pieces we surround ourselves with, make us feel connected to the spaces we inhabit and therefore creating atmosphere through special furniture pieces isn’t only done for beauty, it’s also done for energy and positive experience. Besides being gorgeous and unique, a furniture pieces should also be welcoming, warm and comfortable.
Artisanship is a key component to the studio. How do you strike a balance between using technology and preserving the traditional essence of Italian craftsmanship in your furniture?
I believe there is a very thin and delicate line between traditional craftsmanship and technology, of course technology is a great supporting and multifaceted tool and it can empower production in many ways. However when we are always looking for a quick fix, the idea that AI can solve all our problems can be quite dangerous - every product we create is built to serve people and technology needs a person to wield it effectively. Ultimately, as humans, we are anyway imperfect and it’s also about the beauty of the imperfection and daring to do it - some crafts thrive on traditional techniques and might benefit from very minimal technology intervention.
What can designers, architects and stylists do to preserve these traditional techniques?
Now more than ever, the survival of small artisanal businesses is under threat and that is why it is so important to support and protect the tradition and keep the hand built craftsmanship alive. We often talk about ‘’ethical’’ suppliers and this is not just in terms of sustainability but it is also about helping people in the community and championing traditional skills. Personally, as an interior designer myself, I always do background research on new suppliers and check where their pieces are being made - little things and just being more aware of what and who we are specifying can make a huge impact.
Could you provide some examples of how technology has influenced the design and functionality of your furniture and interiors?
CNC (Computer Numerical Controlled) machines are the perfect example of how artisans have evolved through time and they have adapted to new technologies. Machines like these that can transfer our detailed drawings into final products make sure that the final result is always 100% accurate. Embracing technology enables innovation and efficiency so it is essential to keep learning continuously and adapt but human touch and craftsmanship carries an element of individuality that technology can’t replicate.
Do you plan to use new technologies such as Artitificial Intelligence or Augmented Reality in your work, and if so, how and why?
At the moment I am not planning to us AI or AR, although I believe that the only way to be creative is to always keep an open mind. Each project is so different, it reveals to you as you go along and I don’t like the idea of being stuck to one concept - I think there should always be space for change.
I also think that the beauty of imperfection is so important, a house should always belong where it is and it should be surrounded by things that provoke a feeling in you. Interiors should enhance your life and I am not convinced that this research for harmony and for the people who own the space could be achieved through Artificial intelligence.
How can our readers keep in touch with you and your work?
Of course, you can find us on instagram @studiosamlondon or visit our website at www.studiosamlondon.com.
Recommended reading: “British Craftsmanship: 5 Makers, Designers And Brands You Need To Know”
Gemma Gillett, founder of Studio Gemma, explains the importance of collaboration and the technology designers need
Hi Gemma! Thank you so much for chatting to us. Could you introduce yourself and Studio Gemma?
Hi, lovely to chat! I'm Gemma, and I have been an interior designer for 18 years (yelp!) I studied for a Bachelor of Design in Interiors in NZ, and upon graduation, I worked briefly in NZ before moving to London for ten years and now in Sydney, Australia. I primarily work within the private residential sector as I really am a people person and love enriching people's lives with better-designed homes.
Since setting up my own practice, I love to diversify my time - by that, I mean I have interior clients but also spend my time obsessing over joinery. You'll often find me on Instagram posting joinery-related content and giving educational insights into what can be a quite secretive industry! I am also designing some furniture (joinery-related) that I hope to get prototyped in the next few months.
What three words would you use to define your studio's vision?
Fun, Collaborative and Functional.
Collaboration is a key aspect of your design philosophy. How do you involve your clients, team members and contractors in the design process and push them beyond their initial expectations?
Yes, collaboration is definitely at the forefront of our studio. Involving clients and contractors in the design process is vital to creating exceptional outcomes that exceed the client's initial expectations.
We love listening to the client's vision, goals and preferences to ensure that we deeply understand their needs. We then produce stage one "concept" documentation which becomes the bible of the project.
This is primarily a visual document with overarching words to help inform decision-making. When we present the stage one document to clients, they normally get VERY excited.
Every client operates differently, and we will lean into that - some love to be across EVERY decision with you, and others are happy for you to take the lead and only involve them if something is major.
Once on-site, we love to integrate with the contractors. Believing that involving them in detailed discussions and sharing our design intent whilst seeking their input and expertise allows us to push the limits of design. They are a wealth of information; as a designer, you can learn A LOT from anyone on the physical tools!
Capturing your client's vision is also important for your studio. Are there any specific tools or software that help you gather and analyse this information?
We are still old-school - we use a mix of drawing software in 2D and 3D, moodboards (in Canva) and samples within each client's box.
Canva is where I have folders for ideas that I will refer back to for clients. I am highly visual and like my Canva library to contain index information. I.e hardware, door details, window dressing details - anything that I have found visually stimulating to me, I save in there.
Design technology is moving quicker than ever. Are there any particular tech innovations that have significantly influenced your design approach?
There are so many other tools out there that I am keen to learn. I am intrigued by virtual and augmented reality – I haven't yet properly had time to play around with them, but it is definitely on my to-do list!
Is there any technology in the design field you believe will really change the industry?
Any new AI technology could be groundbreaking in the ability to whip up 3D interiors with your prompts! And faster sourcing in finding similar products you like by prompting the technology with a photo!
Smart home technology is also another way that tech is coming into designed spaces. How do you balance the integration of technology with the aesthetic aspects of a space? How do you ensure the technology seamlessly blends with the overall design concept?
Clients lead this one. Some clients lean heavily into technology and the ability to automate everything - if that is the case, we will try and find something that is simple to use but looks good (Crestron etc).
Other clients prefer the old-fashioned approach because they have had bad experiences with home technology.
The ability to turn the heating + music on and turn down all the household curtains with one click would be my ideal!
Are there any design processes that you think should remain offline? If so, which and why?
Concept sketching – Freehand sketching is a fundamental part of a design process, with YOUR ideas free-flowing and not influenced by what technology allows!
Thank you so much for chatting to us! How can our readers find out more about you and your projects?
You can find me on Instagram. I am always open for a chat and to answer any questions because I love the community side social media offers, like connecting us together today.
Janice Burkhart, founder of Burkhart Interiors, breaks down thirty years of industry experience and knowledge
Hi! Thanks for coming and chatting with us today. Could you introduce yourself and Burkhart Interiors?
I am Janice Burkhart, owner and founder of Burkhart interiors. We are a turnkey interior design firm. Getting the clients needs and wants met is our #1 goal. It can encompass everything pertaining to floor plan design, construction finish selections, all aspects of furnishings down to the bath towel.
What is your studio's focus and mission?
Our mission is to provide beauty in all aspects of life for everyone.
Your journey in Burkart interiors is reaching its 30 year anniversary – congratulations! How do you think the design industry has changed since you started?
Oh wow in principle, the design industry has not changed, but the way in which we do business with technology has changed. Drapery is still handmade…
The attention to detail is a hallmark of Burkhart Interiors. How do you leverage technology, such as advanced visualisation tools or digital modelling, to ensure precision throughout the design and execution stages?
This is such a new and exciting part of our Industry. We have so many tools to extract what we see in our brain and present it to our clients
You are based in Dallas, but operate in the US and beyond. Could you tell us a bit about working with international clients, and how technology can help?
For many many years, we have worked with clients via FaceTime to show them selections. It has made our business expand and fun to work with different areas of the world.
Burkhart Interiors serves both residential and commercial clients. Can you share how technology has played a role in adapting your design solutions for commercial spaces, and how it differs from your approach to residential projects?
Commercial design is more technical and relies heavily on space planning. The new renderings really help sell this for us.
Could you tell us a bit more about how technology was crucial for the Ferguson virtual renovation?
Oh gosh! This was such a fun collaboration and All drawings, renderings and video were created abroad and relayed to us. It went so smoothly and followers really enjoyed the process.
Do you have any advice for designers just starting out in today's technological context?
Best advice would be to stay in tune with what works and always be open to the new technology.
Thank you so much for chatting to us! How can readers stay in touch with you and your work?
Thank you for reaching out! Please feel free to follow along on our Instagram @burkhartinteriors or our website www.burkhartinteriors.com. Or send us an email; we love to hear from followers, clients, potential clients.
Recommended reading: “Achieve The Look: "Quiet Luxury" In Interior Design”