Summing up Sussy Cazalet’s work in just a few adjectives is nearly impossible. Drawing inspiration from past decades and the craft of local artisans this bright designer is redefining contemporary British interiors. Eager to delve deeper into her aesthetic universe, we visited Sussy in her London home and studio in collaboration with Urbanears.
“My place is such a mess.” This greeting—a common caveat coming from interior designers—is what Sussy welcomes you with. “Sure,” you think to yourself, while preparing your inner eye for a minimal, tidy showroom-like space, walking through the yard of her West-London home-turned-studio. In this polymath’s case, however, though, your preconceptions just might be proven wrong.
Amidst countless visual curiosities, the interior and furniture designer has created a warm place that is calming and exciting in equal measure—one that seems to make time stand still. What she creates here allows people to feel exactly the same way about their own four—or more—walls. While fellow colleagues like to put the limelight solely on their products, Sussy places the human and other artistic mediums in context. She documents her designs with real humans and conceptual storytelling, and turns up the favorite tunes coming from her Urbanears loudspeakers while designing for East London radio station. We spoke with her about more fun, less adaption and how to create spaces that are everything but a mess.
You started out as a textile designer. How did your path evolve into interior architecture and design?
I didn’t initially gravitate towards interior design—it wasn’t at all something I have always dreamt to do, although I always knew I was going to do something creative. I dabbled with photography, studied textile design, and got into painting. After university, I started working for a textile studio, painting patterns. I realized quickly, though, that I just can’t sit all my life in a studio and paint, I needed to train up into something. I decided to go to New York and got into Parson’s to study interior architecture. They told me throughout the entire course I should be a set designer, though.
Why was that?
The way my brain worked was just highly inefficient: pretty good with coming up with mad ideas but very bad at sorting the reality of it. After my studies, I came back to London and worked with set designers and was part of some amazing shoots with people like Nick Knight or David Sims, but I burnt out quickly with that job. I went on to work for an architecture firm and learned to work in a more focused way, and on more commercial projects. A year later I went on to work independently—I was always on-site, from art direction to hosting events and organizing crazy shoots with even crazier clients and friends. That all together carved my path towards interior. I didn’t go the linear way and I think that is what my clients like about me.“I didn’t go the linear way and I think that is what my clients like about me.”
Today you don’t just design spaces, but also design your own furniture. How did you come to design both?
I do love meeting dealers, traveling around, exploring designers’ work, seeing new things and getting inspired, but what actually gives me real pleasure is working with a client on something we have imagined together, creating something essentially new. One day, I had this American client who said to me “I hate everything here, British design is so bad.” And I responded, “cool, so why don’t I just design everything for you in your house?” She was a wonderful, open-minded spirit. “Fine,” she responded. That snowballed into a lot of other projects and I am now just about to launch my own collection that will be sold online.
So what is so wrong with British design?
As in, for example, the car industry, England is great in mastering a technique. British design is very handsome, functional and well-made. I think a lot of the creative skills “went missing” when all the cheaper products arrived and started imitating quality. The craftspeople here are amazing, though, and I love to jump in my car, drive up to Sussex or Norfolk and spend a day with a carpenter, woodworker or a ceramicist. Otherwise, I don’t know what I am talking about anyhow.
How would you describe your aesthetic vision and the elements you use?
I am very concerned with where furniture and materials come from. Apart from local craftspeople, I also work with these wonderful women from a textile company in India, helping them keep their job. I am also sourcing from a company where tribes of women in Madagascar who used to weave and create things together have gathered together again to continue their traditional work. They would otherwise be in poverty, left with basically nothing.
In terms of aesthetic elements you will never find me using a lot of geometrical shapes, or harsh colors—anything that might stress you out when you are hungover and tired. I am careful with elements like metal and plastic as I want to create spaces and objects, you will always want to touch and surround yourself with. I am very lucky that most of my clients have an understanding for the cost of ethically sourced fabrics and a certain price point that comes with them. it is not just the quality but also the stories behind them.
How do you incorporate functional objects in your work, for example electronic devices?
Actually, one of my first own designs was a DJ console system for the concept store Clerkenwell London. I also worked for a radio station in East London where I designed exclusive speaker covers. I got inspired by Japanese design from the ’70s and ’80s when speakers were almost seamlessly integrated in bars and tables. These Urbanears speakers I have in my space fade into my own interior perfectly, even if they’re not physically integrated. I can carry them from one room to the other, they just blend in so nicely. I also love that green!
Is music in general important in your working process?
It is everything. If people don’t like reggae, soul and jazz they are not allowed to come and work for me. I listen to music all day long.
Unlike many other interior designers, part of your practice is to involve people in the documentation of your spaces. Why is the “human aspect” so important to you?
I have been told often that my photography is to abstract, but I don’t care. If they don’t get it, they don’t get it. It is so sad actually how badly interior and spaces are shot nowadays. Look at the ’60s, the ’70s, look at how Julius Shulman put interior in context with real life. I don’t know when it all went wrong, actually. I guess my set design background helps me to bring that back.
Speaking of context in real life, how do you think minimalist lifestyle magazines and the constant concern of how our life and space appear have affected our actual way of furnishing?
I am really not a fan of clean, cold spaces. We are living beings—it’s in our nature is to be surrounded by patterns and materials that are moving, changing and soft. Concrete, metal and sky light lights might look good on photos, but those materials actually stress the hell out of you. In terms of social media I think the overall more minimal social media interior trend developed because most people just want to look like they are organised and generally got themselves together. I do think though we are moving away from that now. Bring back the sexy 1970s, bring on the fun!
And how do you feel about your own space?
It’s certainly not my dream place and I am just about to change a few things, that is why you don’t see a coffee table. I also want to get rid of all these sofas and get Japanese benches and sofas. My place is also full of art from my friends. I got a lot of things temporarily lent to me and then fell absolutely in love with them.
In terms of commissioned work—do you need to step back and separate between your own taste and a client’s vision? Can you design something you personally don’t like ?
“I can’t work well if a project doesn’t feel authentic.”I have to admit, I don’t have the right temperament for compromising with my work. You can be into whatever you want but I can’t work well if a project doesn’t feel authentic to me. Something that often happens is that people think they want your aesthetic, but what they actually want is an artistic life, my life, which I cannot design for them.That can get really dangerous.
Let’s say you can design your life for yourself: What would at this point be your ultimate dream project?
I want to do work more on health-inspired spaces. I would only use organic materials, raphia, wood, lava stones, bamboo and create both a calming and very functional, thought engaging place, ideally in the countryside or in L.A. Oh, and I would love to carve a room into stone. But who knows … I might not even do interiors anymore in a few years, just furniture and textiles. Or just do Qi Gong in a field in Ibiza and never talk to anyone else ever again [laughs].