|Interiors guru Sue Timney|
I interviewed Sue Timney, President Elect of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) earlier this year for Homes & Interiors Scotland magazine. Sue has been at the vanguard of stylemaking since the early 80s. Her social circle includes the likes of Paul McCartney, Sir Paul Smith and Elton John ((I'm sure I saw her in the background of pix of Paul and Nancy McCartney's wedding!)
Sue is an artist and interior designer, whose inimitable black and white style can be seen on page 178 of issue 79 of Homes and Interiors Scotland magazine, which has just gone off sale.
Sue is one of the leading style-makers of the past three decades on the international stage and the good news for dedicated followers of interiors fashion is that she will be doing a talk at Scotland’s premier interiors event, the Homes & Interiors Scotland Exhibition at the SEEC on Sunday 30 October from 2-2.45pm, called Making Marks. You will also be able to purchase her signed books.
My friend and neighbour, interior designer Carol Yates and business partner, John Amabile (him aff the telly) are part of the prestigious Interior Design Showcase again and I'm keen to see what they come up with. They are one dynamic pair... (www.amabiledesign.com) John's doing a talk on Saturday October 29 from 4-4.30, called
Design in the right direction – using inspiration to create your perfect designer room
NO GREY AREAS
BOLD BLACK AND WHITE, DRAMATIC SPLASHES OF COLOUR, STRONG GRAPHIC SHAPES; DESIGN GURU SUE TIMNEY HAS AN INSTANTLY RECOGNISABLE STYLE, AND EVERY CORNER OF HER SPLENDID KENT HOME IS FILLED WITH IT
If you were a passing seagull (with an interest in interiors) who happened to land on a window ledge of the former officers’ mess in which celebrated designer Sue Timney lives with her photographer husband Justin de Villeneuve, you’d be forgiven for thinking human beings were a species with a sure sense of design and pattern, not to mention a fondness for black and white with splashes of bold colour thrown into the mix.
Sue and Justin’s home, The Clock Tower, in the seaside town of Deal in Kent is just 18 miles as the seagull flies from the coast of France. The house, which spans five levels, is suffused with a cool clear light from the sea, showing off Sue’s highly distinctive interior style to its best advantage.
Pattern and markmaking are meat and drink to Sue Timney, whose definite sense of her surroundings, coupled with a ‘restless spirit’ she credits to her early years in North Africa and then an itinerant childhood spent as the daughter of an army major.
If there is such a thing as style royalty in Britain, Sue is the real deal. A key player in the world of fashion and design since the beginning of the 1980s, her influence has permeated down the decades, seeping into the look of all our lives.
She has worked and played with everyone who is anyone in the global style business since the launch of her company Timney-Fowler in London in 1980, from Issey Miyake, to Paul and Linda (as well as daughter Stella) McCartney to Peter Blake, Ringo Starr, Sir Paul Smith, Elton John and many more besides.
Her background is a mix of strict discipline laced with touches of the exotic. She was born in Behghazi, Libya in 1950, where her Anglo-Scottish father – a talented amateur photographer – was stationed as a major with the Indian Army. Her mother came from Dumfries and Sue maintains she ‘has always felt Scottish, more than anything else’. Until recently, she had a holiday home on the island of Arran, where one of her sisters still lives.
Last year, Sue celebrated two major personal landmarks; her 60th birthday and the 30th anniversary of Timney-Fowler, the design company she started with her ex-husband Grahame Fowler in 1980.
To mark this, London’s Fashion and Textile Museum held a retrospective exhibition of her career. Leading names in the design world with whom they worked, producing fashion and fabric concepts for their labels, include Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Betty Jackson, Ralph Lauren and Diane von Furstenberg.
Sue and Justin’s home in Kent exemplifies her personal approach to design, while also showcasing the work of Justin, who famously propelled Twiggy into the limelight as the first ever supermodel during the 1960s.
His famous images of 1960s icons such as Twiggy, Marsha Hunt and Patti Boyd, digitally remastered for the 21st century, loom large throughout the house.
This couple, who married in 2007, also have a home in London, but according to Sue, this is the place in which feel most at home. “We have seven children between us,” she says. “All of him work in the arts, and we like this to be a place where they and their familes all feel at home.
“In the four years we’ve lived here, we’ve started to view this as our first home and London as our second. I have my studio here now which means I don’t have to travel in every day. Justin’s the same. He does a lot of bird photography now and being here suits him. A lot of writers and creative people live here. It’s that kind of place.”
Sue’s early designs were mainly monochromatic and graphic, heavy with architectural references. They flew in the face of trends at the time which tended towards highly-coloured and decorative patterns, often floral or with abstract shapes.
As her style progressed, she introduced strong colour notes and the use of photographic printing; mixing ethnic with modern illustration with graphics.
Like most designers, Sue embraced the task of transforming The Clock Tower, with relish.
“I start from scratch every time I move,” she admits. “It’s hard to be a designer and not want to do that though sometimes it can be a curse!
“But here, it was a joy. The light from the sea is stunning and my desk looks out over the old parade ground with its flagpole and wrought-iron fences. “I find the architecture familiar and comforting.”
As you move through the rooms and up through the various floors, from kitchen to hallway, to bedroom and to library, Sue’s signature is everywhere. A compulsive collector, be it 20th century pots, picked up from ‘all sorts of sources’, from the Portobello Road via Italy and on to Japan, or military shields and insignia, she places these objects in a way which is always planned but never forced.
“I think there should be no holds barred when it comes to design,” she says, unconsciously employing the language of the military to describe her own style. “You should be able to mix styles but keep the authority going.”
This is displayed with panache throughout the house, but nowhere more forcibly than in the dining room, where she has several scenes set up. To the left of the wooden fireplace, a salvaged Arts and Crafts design surrounded by decorative plates, she has placed trademark horizontal black and white striped wallpaper.
Sue has two plates above a distinctive Jean Cocteau on fabric scarf made in the late 1940s by Zika Ascher, the hugely influential Czech textile artist, whom Sue got to know in his later years. Below this scarf is a red leather armchair picked up in Deal market by Sue.
The entrance hall when you walk in the front hall boasts a Timney treat in the shape of a bold diamond-patterned bureau painted in trademark black and white by Sue. It forms the centrepiece for a beautifully symmetrical vignette. Above it, hangs a large mirror while on either side it is flanked by two pedestals which Sue has also painted. She even painted the chandelier. Below the immaculate coving is a row of heraldic shields from her vast collection.
The house is full of personal touches such as little dolls, which are portraits of Sue made by her daughter, Alix Timney. Alix, who has two daughters, runs a company called Bagdoll (www.bagdoll.com), which allows people to customise their own dolls.
The hub of the house is the kitchen, says Sue. “It’s a place for family and friends to meet and greet,” she says. “In the winter, the great big black AGA makes it really cosy. In summer, the door straight out to the garden brings the outdoors inside.”
Clocks and clock faces, be they on the wall or on the floor, are a recurring feature in Sue’s designs so it is fitting that she now lives in a former clock tower. In the kitchen wall, an original old station clock hangs above an original Arts and Crafts cabinet.
On either side of the kitchen, which Sue admits, she ‘couldn’t have laid out better heself’, she has retained the existing cabintery, customising it with Hardwick White paint from Farrow & Ball, and adding black metal handles.
You could be forgiven for thinking you are being watched in this eating and meeting space, for perched above her collection of black and white mugs, Sue has placed a dramatic Piero Fornasetti wood laminate tray. “It’s very important to have an element of the surreal about you, I find,” she laughs.
Throughout the house, in the living room, in the spare rooms and the dining room, the walls are hung with scarves from the Timney-Fowler collection, which are stunning art works in themselves.
Then there are her heraldic shields, many of which are displayed in her library in custom-built cabinet by Arran-based wood carver, Dave Furze (www.kilmoryworkshop.co.uk).
No space is left untouched. In one spare room, there are three old school chairs from the 1950s which she has customised in various shades of muted greys, greens and charcoal. “I love Farrow & Ball paint for this kind of work,” says Sue. “One of the paints I used was Elephant’s Breath.”
In another guest bedroom, even the black and white bedding – which is from her own range, Timney at House of Fraser, makes a bold statement. On the other side of the room is a large military shield above a plaster torso draped with Timney-Fowler fabric.
In a half-landing, next to the original Georgian bannister and above a Tibetan prayer mat, you come across one of Justin’s most iconic images, a vivid portrait of Patti Boyd which was shot for the cover of Italian Vogue. “You get a beautiful light coming in to spaces like this,” says Sue, ever the artist. “The shelf above the portrait of Patti on which I have placed some vases is bathed in light from the nearby sea.”
In this beautiful home, no corner is left untouched by light or by the deft hand of its uber-stylish owner. If I were a passing seagull, I wouldn’t want to leave...
Making Marks: Sue Timney and the Design of Timney-Fowler by Sue Timney, Pointed Leaf Press, £40
What: A former officer’s mess in the clock tower of an old cavalry barracks which dates back to 1870s and spans four floors
Where: Deal, Kent
Signature Style: Bold monochrome patterns, often splashed with bright colour. graphic pattern. Fascinated by classical and architectural motifs, bold optical stripes and tartan and tribal imagery.
Favourite Bit: Definitely the kitchen from a family point of view. It’s where we all gather to meet and catch up. Our enormous AGA helps keep it cosy in winter. I also love my library because books are so important to me.
Best Buy: It’s got to be one of my vases. I have some real gems – including a rare and highly collectable one by an Italian modernist potter which I picked up in Portobello in the 1980s. There was a picture of me in Cosmopolitan magazine in the 1970s rooting around in Portobello market. I can’t help myself when it comes to vases.