Meet the Designer: Jenny Gibbs, Principal of KLC
Listed by House & Garden magazine as one of the most influential contributors to British design, Jenny Gibbs has been leading the way in interior design education for over 30 years. As the founder and principal of KLC School of Design, she oversees an organisation which puts design at its very core. With their focus on producing career-ready graduates, KLC uses their industry links to bring together new students – often career changers or those completely new to the spaces – with experienced interior designers and industry experts, to propel their alumni into the world of design and interiors.
We chat to Jenny about the origins of KLC at her kitchen table in the 1980s, the evolution of her personal design style at home and how using antiques can bring a special permanence to a space.
How did the idea for KLC originate? How did the school start and develop?
A number of friends had asked me to help them refurbish their homes inspired by the redecoration I carried out on a slightly dilapidated Victorian villa on a very tight budget. While this was good for my ego I was very aware that there were huge gaps in my knowledge and, when I couldn’t find the sort of practical, down to earth course I needed, I decided to organise one of my own at home. I put together a team of experts who encouraged me to go the extra mile and do it properly with pre-prepared plans for students to work with, beautiful samples and materials and a properly bound set of notes to take away.
Twenty six people attended that first course and requests for a variety of short courses on different aspects of design and decoration followed and so I started planning whole terms of fun home-related one to five day courses. Some of the early contributors – Mary Berry did an inspirational cookery demonstration and Kevin McCloud taught regularly for a few years – later went on to become household names.
As numbers grew, I started using local church halls and other venues and then the move into our first proper premises made it possible to introduce longer courses and it has all grown from there.
The school has taught a vast number of students since it was founded in the 1980s. Are there any alumni that you are particularly proud to have worked with?
Many of our students our career changers and have no formal art or design background at all so I am always particularly proud of students like these who are able to release their innate creativity and go on to develop successful careers. It takes great courage to make a complete change to your life in that way. Huge numbers of our alumni are thriving in the interior design profession here in the UK and all over the world although they are not necessarily big household names.
Current high profile students include Sara Cosgrove who headed up the design team at Harrods for a few years and now has her own consultancy with offices in Dublin and London. James Waterworth, who has had a meteoritic career in hospitality design, and is currently the European Design Director for Soho House as well as Katie Stone, Associate Director at Katharine Pooley Design, Emma Pocock, part of the much lauded double act, Pocock and Turner and Anna Burles who designs creatively conceptual residential and commercial spaces for a list of prestigious private clients.
What sets KLC apart from other interior design courses?
There are two things I think which add great value to the experience that students have with us – our location here in the Design Centre Chelsea Harbour and our exceptional industry contacts. These are a wonderful source of inspirational speakers and experts, support tutoring, projects, advice on current practice, work experience, internships and employment. As a very career-focused school we have an outstanding careers service and students always comment on the particularly friendly and professional atmosphere. We are also fortunate to have a particularly supportive validating partner in University of Brighton.
How would you describe your personal interior design style? Has it changed and evolved over the years?
When I look back at the photos of that Victorian Villa which I was immensely proud of at the time I cringe! It was the era of the frilly blind and the avocado bathroom suite and I had them all. That said I had shown much more restraint in the living rooms and those have stood the test of time much better. There is a moral somewhere there perhaps.
These days I would say that my style hovers somewhere between contemporary classic and eclectic and, for me, colour and light are the all-important priorities. Our current home is a lovely, light, lateral conversion over three floors. There is a natural temptation when you are immersed in the interior design world to want to update your own interiors with every new style. As this is of course completely unrealistic the solution is to go for fairly neutral backgrounds which allow me to ring the changes with different punches of colour, texture and style.
What trends do you see developing in interior design over the next few years?
The changing and more informal way we live is to a large extent driving trends in interior design. Separate dining rooms and the need for formal dining furniture are fast becoming a thing of the past. Kitchens often incorporate sitting and eating areas in one large space. With population growth and high real estate prices homes are shrinking in size and so spaces need to be flexible and furniture designers too, are responding with creative multi-purpose designs.
Set styles are becoming a thing of the past and the skill is in blending different pieces in a sympathetic and cohesive way based on sound design principles. This is an exciting trend which encourages more individuality, introduces authenticity and timelessness and makes it easier to include upcycled and recycled objects and furniture, neatly linking in with the move away from a throwaway culture.
Bespoke is the new luxury and manufacturers have responded by making it easier for their designs to be individually customised. This in turn allows for technology to be discreetly incorporated. Rooms increasingly have a curated feel with individually commissioned pieces and artwork playing an important part in the overall look. Surfaces are going to be one of the big stories in future years while we experiment with a variety of natural and man-made finishes which can also introduce rich texture and pattern. Technology will play a part here too with intelligent surfaces that can adapt and respond to levels of light and heat to keep a room ambient and comfortable.
So overall I predict that there will be more discreet luxury, less ostentation and more individuality in interiors in the years to come.
Do you use vintage or antique furniture in your design schemes?
I love mixing antique and contemporary furniture, fabric and objects in schemes as this really adds depth and individuality. There is something grounding about the notion of a connection with the past and it is fun to use antiques in a slightly different way or to create a striking juxtaposition of old and new. Whether you opt for recycling or upcycling this approach is very much in keeping with the way we are all thinking today. In my home I have hung old paintings over modern consoles, placed a contemporary lamp on an antique sewing table and a huge blue and white Shenlong lidded jar on the island unit in the kitchen
Do you have a favourite preloved furniture piece? Is so, why do you love and what does it mean to you?
The standout piece has to be a longcase clock which is a focal point at the base of the staircase. After a period of serious saving, we went to an antiques fair with the intention of buying a dining table and came home instead, with a clock! This is not perhaps quite so irresponsible as it seems as not only is the elegant case the most beautiful example of red japanned lacquer work but, on closer inspection, the name of the maker was the same as that of our eldest son.
Unsurprisingly it is a favourite and much treasured possession!
If you could choose one piece from Layer, what would it be? Why do you love it and how would you style it?
Now that is a 20 million dollar question! How to choose from the fantastic collection of furniture, lighting, decorative objects, mirrors and fabrics on the website? I thought I had solved it at a stroke when I spotted the stunning pair of 1950s Italian pink velvet lounge chairs by Gigi Radice Minotti in the ‘New In’ section – perfect for my sitting-room, set together at an angle separated by a ‘Gold Butterfly’ side table and framed by the simple, gold-edged, cream curtains as a backdrop.
But then I came across a vintage backlit flower mirror which would make a really stunning feature over the sink in the small guest bathroom but, then, a final search clinched the decision. The stylish, Kaiser desk lamp would bring a new energy to the study and provide a striking contrast to the Empire style of the desk, while the celadon shade would enhance the soft palette of the watercolour above. Decision made!
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