On Board With…Interior Designer Karen Robson
Karen Robson has been an interior and furniture designer in the commercial and domestic design sector for over 29 years. As Head Designer at Paulus & Brown, she has worked on many prestigious projects, including a restaurant redesign at Belvoir Castle. In addition to this, she has accomplished a huge array of projects which include multi-million pound hotel refurbishments, design briefs for leading London schools, fitting out restaurants, and even redesigning a prison visitor centre.
In 2019, Karen was appointed by Simon Craddock, owner & operator of Bainland Country Park, to deliver an ambitious project for his 45-acre eco-park set on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The brief was to design the interiors of two purpose built 12-bedroom holiday villas; transforming them into the park’s flagship offering amongst Bainland’s existing collection of lakeside lodges, shepherd’s huts, and glamping tents for friends, couples and families looking for retreat stays in the countryside.
Working closely with Simon to bring his vision to life, Karen’s task was to create two exciting fresh designs that pushed the boundaries of expectation. Capturing the quintessential essence of an English garden and that of a country house, The English Country Villa and The English Garden Villa were unveiled at Bainland in summer 2020 and featured on Forbes.com in 2021.
Here, we sit down with Karen to find out more about her projects and also her top home styling tips for budding interior designers:
1. Why did you choose to get into interior design?
I love the creativity and the opportunity to really express myself and bring design visions to life. For me, having the ability to impact people’s quality of life in a given environment really motivates me and gives me purpose. Whether it be a corporate space, holiday villa, library, restaurant, or home - interior, spaces can make an immense difference in how individuals experience life and that is something I wanted to be a part of.
2. What do you mean when you say you are a self-confessed ‘fabricolic’?
I love the thrill of unwrapping a new fabric collection, exploring the combination of textures, weaves, and intense designs - I also have a cosmic passion for colour. It is difficult to delineate, but what is most exciting is that when one fabricolic meets another - there is just an eruption of extraordinary designs! Simon was a brilliant client in that respect and never shied away from being bold or adventurous, while encouraging me to create memorable interior schemes that would inspire his guests.
It was definitely a collaborative approach, as Simon has a great eye for design, and we spent hours discussing art-work, designs, and furniture pieces. In the English Garden Villa lies one of our favourite collaborations - two cocktail chairs in copper faux leather backed with a beautiful leaf fabric from Designer’s Guild. They offer the perfect spot for afternoon tea or an evening drink!
As an interior decorator and stylist, my role is to encourage my clients to broaden their design vision, not compromise, and to explore the extraordinary, all while helping them make the right decisions for them.
3. Which is your favourite room in Bainland?
I love them all! But if pressed, it is probably the explosion of English garden flowers brought to life by the Osborne & Little collection which can be found in The English Garden Villa. This room encapsulates the quintessential English herbaceous border in full bloom, bringing an uplifting warm sense of wellbeing with the magnificent floral print. The botanical theme runs throughout the bedrooms and I endeavoured to use wallpapers and fabrics that were botanically correct. For example, the Orchids in the Terrariums by Sanderson, and the extraordinary peonies depicted on the Designer's Guild wallpaper.
Fortuitously, I had recently worked with talented landscape designer, Jody Lidgard, on the design for his Gold medal winning garden in Chelsea 2019. This experience provided the inspiration and colour template for the English Garden Villa at Bainland. We brought Jody on board with the Bainland project to not only landscape the villas but to embark on a replanting and rewilding programme for the entire park. It is a very exciting project and Simon was very keen to create a sense of the outdoors inside.
4. What were the challenges in making this project a success?
Simon’s vision was simple and clear, to build Britain’s first purpose-built villas to host 24 people that would be luxurious, yet welcoming to families. However, it is a challenge to create communal spaces to accommodate that many people whilst avoiding an institutional or formal feel. So, we set about designing the living spaces that would attract the coming together of multi-generational guests that we knew would be the primary client. The successes of this can be seen in 6.5m custom-made sofas in each villa that we commissioned Nottinghamshire-based designers Paulus & Brown to build. In fact, they produced all the extraordinary pieces of furniture, from the eye-catching bespoke headboards to the fun barstools at the kitchen counter. We were also careful to create cosy intimate spaces to escape the hustle and bustle, so guests can enjoy using the quieter Library areas. I am also really proud of our kitchens; we went for a design impact which didn’t compromise on functionality and our carnation pink kitchen gets a great response from the guests!
5. You must get asked all the time for your design tips on how to create that hotel or holiday villa style at home.
I do! And there are a few simple inexpensive ways to create that design look in a bedroom. Lighting is crucial when it comes to the foundation of any room. The loveliest way to achieve this is to pair some bedside tables or chest of drawers where you can place a simple, yet elegant lamp to create that extra warmth in the bedroom. Also, by adding a reading lamp by an occasional chair, it creates another relaxing zone in the bedroom. The next most important element goes hand in hand with lighting, Mirrors. This is a staple design piece used to maximise light and gives any room a bright and open feeling. I also recommend bringing instant colour and a luxurious feel to a bedroom with a striking upholstered Headboard. My go-to for impact would be printed velvet that can be accessorised with a few complementary cushions in different textures, for example linens and wools that enhance the richness of the velvet.
Another signature of my designs are Occasional Chairs. I adore using distinctive chairs to update a room. When clients ask me to refresh rooms, a new or reupholstered chair is an instant win and also allows clients to be creative without too much commitment. It is definitely common for me to be asked to add texture and colour to bring to life the more “greige” rooms. During these unprecedented times and being stuck inside our homes, it is exciting exploring designs, textures, and colours we probably would not have previously thought of. Certainly, layering looks have become increasingly popular with a rise in sales of Cushions & Throws, which is another simple way to create that hotel look at home.
6. What is your next project going to be?
Thanks to the extraordinary success of the Villas and the great dynamic with Simon, I am delighted to now be working to refresh some of the smaller lodges. There is also a longer-term plan to upgrade the main reception area at Bainland to incorporate a farmer’s market style offering with a café and also a homewares shop. Simon’s sense of fun and inquisitive mind allows me to really let loose on my bold ideas, which I value! I look forward to working with him to continue to push the boundaries of expectation for a lodge stay experience and for Bainland’s guests to feel a sense of luxury and tranquillity they wouldn’t find anywhere else.
On a personal level, I have been busy helping friends and clients improve their homes and home offices. With the decline of the “The Greige Age” people are eager to explore new textures and introduce pattern (much to my delight!), with many looking to hotel design for inspiration. Although some are apprehensive at first, I always encourage thinking outside the box, which helps clients soon realise how uplifting it can be to add an accent of colour or sumptuous texture into their scheme. I like to take pride in my friend recently following my advice after he felt shame sitting in front of his plain grey wall. Soon after speaking with me, he put up a shelf and carefully curated some treasured possessions which reflected his interesting and vibrant personality – I am glad to have at least one positive impact throughout these Covid times!
I am also very excited to announce that I have been asked to join Rebecca Orde on her new project, offering a comprehensive consultancy on future proofing homes. Rebecca, who runs a successful project management company, has become the go-to person when companies are seeking advice on how to future proof housing developments – whether this be within the disability sector or the increasing numbers looking to downsize. I have been tasked to ensure that compliance does not mean interior design is compromised – as everyone needs a little bit of texture and colour in their lives!
For more information on Karen Robson and her interior design projects visit:
www.bainland.co.uk, www.paulusandbrown.com, www.instagram.com/saltgatehouse