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Putting the eclectic in dark interior design, with designer Naomi Astley Clarke


naomi astley clarke
Putting the eclectic in dark interior design, with designer Naomi Astley Clarke
Clara Carlino de Paz
October 18, 2023

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Boldness. Drama. Pattern. Colour.

For designer Naomi Astley Clarke, interior design is the art of crafting bespoke fantasy spaces that know no bounds but the comfort and imagination of her clients. Over her 25-year career, Naomi has demonstrated the transformative power of charm and darkness in shaping environments, and today, we have the incredible opportunity to chat to her directly and learn more about her work and design philosophy.

In this article, we engage in a conversation with Naomi to delve into the significance of tailoring spaces to clients' needs rather than personal preferences, and the interplay between opulence and craftsmanship. We also explore how patterns and playfulness breathe life into dark interiors. Finally, we present two of her remarkable projects, the Sloane Square Pied-à-Terre and Shepherd's Bush townhouse, exemplifying her distinct style marked by dark, opulent, and eccentric elements. Are you ready to step into the intriguing world of (dark) design?

Introducing Naomi Astley Clarke

Naomi Astley Clarke is a well-established and highly experienced interior design studio renowned for its expertise in the art of sensitively renovating and revamping both residential and commercial properties. With an impressive career spanning over 25 years, Naomi has solidified her reputation as one of London's most sought-after designers. The Naomi Astley Clarke studio proudly offers an unparalleled Interior Design and Decoration service that sets industry standards.

As the go-to designer for celebrities, Naomi boasts an impressive client roster, which includes world-famous movie stars, producers, music moguls, accomplished professionals, and visionary entrepreneurs. The studio places the utmost importance on protecting the privacy of its clients, and its exceptionally talented team is dedicated to delivering a truly unique and personalised service that consistently exceeds expectations.

The importance of glamour and comfort

Naomi Astley Clarke is renowned for her signature glamorous style, which seamlessly combines bold elegance with an inviting, relaxed atmosphere. Her distinctive approach embraces bold colours and opulent materials, resulting in spaces that exude timeless charm. In her words, Naomi’s style is all about “Timeless elegance that doesn't take itself too seriously.”  The words she associates with her work are: “Cool, Glamorous, Relaxed, Elegant, and Uplifting”. In fact, “much how (she views) most of (her) clients!”.

Collaborating with a diverse team that brings together fine British craftsmanship and global design influences, the studio crafts interiors that capture the hearts of their clients. Their mission is to curate homes that are not just luxurious but also highly functional, offering a warm and inviting ambiance that feels like a cherished retreat.

Naomi describes the intersection of glamour and comfort as follows. “Our homes should reflect our personalities and act as a calming point of refuge at the end of the day. Our spaces should suit our needs and be full of warmth, joy and comfort. From colours, textures and materials, always choose finishes that are as lasting and timeless as possible and suit the architecture of the building. That way they will always be suited to the home they belong in even if fashions come and go. For my clients, I look to bring endless elements of fun, vibrancy, joie de vivre and timeless glamour.

Creating spaces for your clients, not for yourself

Every space designed by Naomi Astley Clarke is a meticulously tailored reflection of each client's distinct interests and lifestyle. Every detail is thoughtfully considered and customised to perfection; every wallpaper, rug, piece of decor or array of accessories is purposeful.

Whether it's a shoe closet precision-fitted to their exact shoe sizes, bespoke shelving designed with varying heights for the impeccable storage of prized BRIT and MTV awards, or seating solutions carefully chosen for the utmost comfort during script-reading sessions, every element is a testament to their unwavering commitment to personalised excellence.

Naomi Astley Clarke's expertise is unparalleled, resulting in designs that are not only intelligent but also invigorating and captivating. She emphasises, “I create interiors for my clients, not for me. I love it when a client brings their own ideas to the table – it is the soul of what we do. I take into account all of their passions and quirks so the final design really couldn’t belong to anyone else."

Opulence and craftsmanship: hand-in-hand elements

Naomi Astley Clarke's partnership with skilled artisans ensures the creation of custom-made joinery and furniture that perfectly align with the unique vision of each project. With an extensive network of suppliers spanning the globe, the studio has access to an unparalleled selection of soft furnishings, fabrics, lighting, and antique treasures. Additionally, their connections with distinguished art dealers in London enable them to source exquisite artwork, further elevating the overall design aesthetic.

We asked Naomi why supporting craftsmanship and art is important to her and her clients, and Naomi’s response was a beautiful testament to the quality of her designs.

“We work tirelessly to ensure a keen attention to detail and the highest level of finish; only working with the most skilled craftspeople and designers.”

She continues. “From our craftspeople to our suppliers, we are always sourcing as locally as possible wherever we can. My work has also emphasised embracing reclaimed finishes and second-hand furniture. Increasingly, my clients are prioritising swapping new furniture for quality antiques at a similar price point. For many, the thought of decorating with antiques previously conjured up images of highly traditional tastes and stuffy old collectables. But this has changed. People really appreciate how storied items can bring warmth, history, and soul to their homes.”

“We mix fine local craftsmanship with design flair from around the world, we use bold colours and opulent materials to create the look our clients love. The word “bling” is about as far removed from our design vocabulary as possible. This is one of the reasons why our clients, many of whom are the tastemakers for the next generation, come to us to create their homes. We offer an unparalleled Interior Design and Decoration service - our space planning is second to none, our designs are intelligent, uplifting and exciting.” 

Celebrity homes, and our fascination with their interior designers

Without a doubt, Architectural Digest's YouTube channel has breathed new life into the age-old fascination with celebrity homes. This interest may have been simmering for centuries, but it gained a renewed vigour, particularly during the pandemic when celebrities began showcasing their homes as backdrops in their social media posts. As a result, the general public's fascination with the interior designs of these homes has grown significantly... And Naomi is just at the front lines. To get a sneak peek into this glamorous world, we had to ask Naomi the following questions…

Are there any specific considerations you make for celebrity homes?

Naomi: Ensuring that we exceed our clients’ expectations is at the heart of everything we do. Our designs are intelligent, uplifting, and exciting and our space planning is second to none. We vigorously protect our clients’ privacy, and our small team ensures that we deliver a unique and personal service. The majority of the work I undertake is from referrals of past clients which is the highest form of validation and endorsement that a designer can wish for. 

Everything that I create is bespoke to a client - from a shoe closet being tailored to their exact shoe size, measuring MTV awards to ensure they will fit on a bookshelf, a comfy chair for reading scripts to good lighting for a make-up, glam area - and in order to do this you have to get to know your clients and their families well. It goes without saying that you also have to look after their money and be completely trustworthy - my clients know they can tell me anything and I will always work in their best interest. 

How did you progress your career into celebrity interior design?

Naomi: I worked for Sally Metcalfe at George Spencer Designs for around 5 years and then subsequently Stefa Hart at Hambleton Decorating before setting up on my own. I set up my own studio because, whilst freelancing for Stefa and Sally I was inundated with private clients and so over time I gravitated towards working for myself. There was never a grand plan in terms of setting up my own studio, it has merely evolved as my workload increased and has now become an obsession!

In terms of why my approach is unique I think that is for my clients to say but ultimately, I consider myself to be someone who is in the service industry - not a diva who needs to be obeyed. I'm a total workhorse and my clients’ homes are there to make them happy. Of course, I will push them to discover new things and to stretch to the edge of their comfort zone, but I don't ever try to steer a project away from my clients' end vision. I am creating something for them. 

What are some common myths about working with celebrities you'd like to eradicate?

Naomi: The common myth is that celebrities often have a reputation for being high maintenance, this has not been my experience at all even remotely.

A complicated relationship between darkness and interior design

The common narrative goes as follows. Interior designers tend to avoid using dark colours in their designs primarily because dark hues absorb light and can make spaces appear smaller and less inviting. Lighter colours, in contrast, reflect more light and create a sense of openness and airiness, making the living space feel more expansive and welcoming. While dark colours can convey a cosy atmosphere, they must be used carefully to prevent a room from feeling sombre or confined, which is why designers often opt for lighter shades, especially in common areas. Now that the common advice is over, let's get a little more creative.

In our opinion, opting for a dark shade is a great way to add drama and comfort to a space, embracing rather than fighting the long winters common in the UK and Europe.

Textures, textures, textures

Naomi is an expert in layering textures into her designs. Naomi believes that “our living spaces should delight the senses” which is why she used “dynamic textures” when designing. “When it comes to introducing textures, think about the overall design scheme. For example, neutral hues provide a wonderful backdrop for other colours, materials and textures to shine. Think about connections – be it colour, texture and shape – between things and let that be how you shape the space.”  

Pattern and playfulness

One of Naomi’s signatures is her playful and colourful treatment of art and pattern. To learn more, we had to ask her about her love for murals, and why and how she uses them so often. The fundamental reason is that Naomi loves “creating something that is truly unique to the owner”.

“Recreating the panorama of someone’s favourite places or memories is a true joy. For example, I once commissioned a mural where a client’s childhood home is nestled in the lush painted landscape. To do so, I partner with a wealth of craftspeople who are specialists in this area, including Somerset-based mural artist Frederick Wimsett, whose exuberant designs never fail to astound. His murals are often inspired by 18th-century chinoiserie, but we’ve recently designed a jungle-themed WC for a client of mine where we created a tropical paradise with flowers and foliage cascading from the ceiling, with flying flamingos and monkeys hanging from vines. I also love bespoke wallcovering brand, de Gournay, known for its highly covetable vivid reimaginations of garden scenes, filled with whimsical oriental birds and flowering plum blossom trees. The gilt finish to their papers provides such a glamorous, dreamlike quality to a space.”

As many of you will recognise, adding such artwork and pattern into a space is no easy feat, as clashing can change how these are perceived. But to Naomi, “Bold is beautiful when it comes to pattern and it is a pivotal element within any scheme of mine. There are no rules, have fun with it!”. 

Eclectic dark interior design in action

Sloane Square Pied-a-terre

In the heart of Knightsbridge, Naomi Astley Clarke undertook the complete refurbishment of a first-floor lateral apartment within a striking red-brick Victorian mansion building. Her vision was to achieve a perfect blend of cosy sophistication and bold glamour, maintaining a chic and crisply simple ambiance. To strike this balance, the studio deftly played with colours and textures, carefully selecting dynamic textures to complement the chosen palette.

Central to the design was the bespoke kitchen, a showpiece in itself, featuring off-black cabinetry with brass accents and plush velvet-covered banquette seating, adding to the allure of the monochrome theme and creating an ideal space for both entertaining and relaxation. We can't forget the living room and dining room, doused in black paint and white-gold textured murals, with a gorgeous scatter of reflective surfaces full of perfect imperfections and beautiful irregularities.

It's also important to mention the bathroom, painted in a grey matte paint so dark it appears to be a black interior, only interrupted by the lavishly gold fixtures and white splashes of marble. The dark space is not moody, rather, a space full of opulent visual interest, and a great backdrop to a relaxing self care day.

Shepherd's Bush townhouse

In collaboration with Simon Smith & Michael Brooke Architects, Naomi Astley Clarke's design maximised space while preserving natural light, resulting in an open, colourful, and art-filled interior. The Shepherds Bush townhouse showcases her signature blend of classic elegance with contemporary flair, utilising fine craftsmanship and opulent materials.

The homeowners' desire for excitement and brightness was achieved through a timeless backdrop enriched with modern trends, with British craftsmanship, innovation, and quality evident in bespoke joinery, Drummonds bathroom fittings, and hand-painted murals by Nancy Danniell. The colour palette ranged from neutral tones to vibrant hues, and bold patterns were integral to the design, reflecting Naomi Astley Clarke's distinctive style.