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How To Build a Better Relationship Between Architect and Interior Designer

“Look what I have to put up with” has likely been uttered the world over by both architects and interior designers when working together. Historically, architects alone were responsible for both interiors and exteriors, with mid-19th-century names like Sir John Soane and Robert Adam reaching acclaim for their interior design prowess.

That began to change after both World Wars, when a need to conserve architectural features burgeoned and greater importance was placed on artisans, craftspeople and furniture makers. Interior design as a standalone vocation was born. Now, the process of creating and curating space relies on more people - and a more diverse set of specialisms - than ever.

Distilling these disparate skills and perspectives into a finished project can prove a challenge. With that in mind, these four leading architects and interior designers share their takes on how best to navigate the oft-difficult relationship.

Gain a deep understanding of the client

Depending on their desired outcome, clients will first approach either the architect or the interior designer. Are they looking to add or dramatically modify space? Then they will naturally contact the architect. Or have they spotted a carefully styled corner of their dream home among Instagram’s parade of pretty squares? The likelihood is they will be heading straight for the interior designer with their moodboard at the ready.

Whichever comes first, both interior designers and architects must gain a deep understanding of exactly what matters to the client. Detail is vital here, says Rodrigo Moreno-Masey, founder of the eponymous architecture practice: “From the view they treasure to the way the light hits a certain spot in their favourite room, it’s about building a story around the minutiae of their lives and turning it into a palette that comes together to create a space. Identifying what makes the client tick at the earliest possible stage gives a clear idea of who will lead the project.”

For this to work, the understanding must be mutual, according to interior designer Sue Timney: “They need to know who you are as a designer, why and how you do what you do, and how that can be adapted to suit them. You then emphasise both yours and the client’s visions, which in turn forms a new, third vision.”

Work together to develop a cohesive vision

A lack of kindred vision between architecture and interior design led Reda Amalou as an architecture firm to begin its foray into interiors. “Success is based on trying to bring one idea to fruition,” says founder Amalou. “How we get there is our job as architects or interior designers. The entire discussion around how they can work together is centred on every member of the team having the same vision and design narrative.”

Sue Timney concurs, “The most successful projects are those where everyone comes together as a team at the start to discuss and establish a cohesive way of thinking, a creative philosophy. It’s about opening up discussion, reaching the same plane and gaining a mutual understanding of where everything’s going. ” Design narrative to Amalou, creative philosophy to Timney; call it what you will, every project needs common ground and once this is reached, progression should become easier.

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Make everyone’s responsibilities clear from the beginning

A creative vision is realised when contrasting yet complementary minds align. To architect John Allsopp, this happens most seamlessly when everyone involved sees the creative vision as the ultimate role, but each own their individual role within it. “Some of the most successful projects have been those in which the interior designer has led and we have sat back. It’s about finding that shared weave.”

This differentiation between specialities comes to life through scale, Allsopp continues: “As work gets larger and more complex, it becomes apparent that you need to let the architect be the the architect, shed egos and find ways to collaborate on what’s ultimately the client or owner’s vision.”

Does that mean architects and designers should stay in their lane? Not quite, according to Timney. “Despite not physically building the space or looking at the technological side of things, as an interior designer I understand the space. As good interior designers, we have a lot to offer, even at that very first stage before everything has developed - that’s where we can make a big difference.”

Open up to the idea of an entirely new role…

A source of inspiration and temptation, Instagram has changed the way people feel about, design and live in their homes. Today’s narrative requires the creators of those spaces to have a more rounded perspective than ever, while also sharpening their creative niches.

Finding the balance between overarching vision and fine detail calls for a whole new role with its own set of educational requirements, explains Amalou: “The role of artistic director will happen in the design and architectural world. Today, it’s a bit of a mess.”

Taking cues from its origins in the advertising industry, the art director would have a cohesive vision of where a project should go: “They’d establish the narrative or creative direction of a project, pull a team together and see it through to completion. Not every architect or designer is capable of this role.”

Until the industry figures out how this new creative leadership position fits into the oft-fractious team, there’s one thing that every project can hone in on: Leadership. “Every project needs a leader,” affirms Timney. “It’s anarchy otherwise.”