We talk to top interior designer Helen Bush of Sunninghill Interiors, who has recently settled in Bath
With clients ranging from high society to hip-hop superstars, high-end interior designer Helen Bush – owner of Surrey-based Sunninghill Interiors, who has recently arrived in Bath – is surprisingly modest and unassuming.
She says: “Regardless of who the client is, I just throw myself into the job. The trick in this business is never to take yourself too seriously.”
A qualified curtain-maker, Helen discovered her talent for interior design when she realised she could walk into rooms and instantly envisage them re-designed. “Something just clicked and I realised I had found my vocation. Every project excites me, whether it’s a rural cottage or a luxury apartment in Mayfair. I love the idea of creating something spectacular out of a blank space.”
Which is exactly what Helen does, tackling each project with the same sense of purpose that gets the job done. She manages her team of multi-talented staff – whose skills range from forging unique pieces of furniture from 400-year-old trees, to the most delicate, hand-applied special paint effects on anything, from floors to walls, furniture or wood – with her trademark matter-of-fact approach. And if you thought the days of murals were gone, you’d be wrong. Helen’s talented team produce all manner of wall imagery, with designs that range from subtle to dramatic, sophisticated to stylish – but invariably spectacular.
Bound by confidentiality, Helen cannot share some of her most impressive work but, thanks to her eagle eye and propensity for tackling the tiniest to toughest jobs, she has an impressive portfolio of work.
“I would honestly love to photograph everything. Sadly, privacy is paramount for many clients, so I’m unable to share all the images I would like.” Helen admits that the immense level of planning and skill involved renders interior design a considerable challenge.
“But that’s half the fun. Inevitably, every project has its ups and downs and there are moments when you wonder if it will ever come together, but my guys are just so fantastic it always does.”
The words interior design sound incredibly glamorous; but what attributes does an interior designer need? “Vision, an eye for detail and hard work – all three are crucial to get the job done. As anyone in the business will tell you, glamour is the last thing on your mind when you’re stomping around a renovation site wearing a hard hat and muddy boots.”
But even working alongside architects and building contractors on long projects, renovations, restorations and refurbishments, Helen admits, “no matter how precisely you plan, anything can go wrong at any time.”
So, are there any tips she can share to help ensure a project runs smoothly? “It all comes down to planning. On the face of it, my role appears quite simple: all I have to do is satisfy the client. But clients invariably have exacting requirements. If they decide overnight they want gold, hand-painted pillars or a Carrara marble kitchen worktop, this is what I have to deliver.
“It’s easy to assume that interior design means simply choosing paint, curtains and a few cushions, but clearly it’s far more than that. Colour, materials, textures and light all come into play: getting the balance right is key to achieving the final effect.”
It seems a great eye, an ability to decide what will and what won’t work, plus stamina and staying power are essential to see a project through to completion, regardless of what clients or circumstances may do to disrupt its development?
“Absolutely,” Helen nods. “A dedicated team is also crucial – your success is often reliant on the skills and loyalty of others. Fortunately, my guys (and ladies) share a range of superb skills and craftsmanship that encompass an amazing vast range of talents so my clients know that, whatever they want, we can do it.
“Larger projects, such as country estates, often include garden design too. Restructuring works may include the installation of bespoke hand-built kitchens or bathrooms, or hand-painted special effects, such as limed oak furniture, or marbling on materials that are anything but.
“Colour, materials, textures and light all come into play: getting the balance right is key to achieving the final effect…”
“Re-upholstery is a great way to revitalise tired furniture. You’d be amazed at how simply recovering a sofa or chair can transform a piece of furniture you love, or the look of an entire room. “Some clients have unusual requests, such as coordinating furnishings to match the colours in a particular painting, or wanting a newer home to look characteristically old. Thankfully, my loyal team of specialist painters, joiners, carpenters and upholsterers have years of experience.”
So,what qualities does one need to succeed in the competitive world of interior design? “Confidence, determination, self-belief and guts. You need these to transform a vision from a mere concept to reality. Oh, and a hefty dose of patience,” she adds. “Few projects complete overnight – some take weeks, several months or even years.”
“Most importantly, you have to love what you do and put passion, heart and soul into your work. These essential qualities determine the ultimate success of any design project – without them, you can never truly bring a space to life.”
And what brings Helen to Bath? “Love,” she confesses. “They say you never know where you’ll find it but I found it in Bath. I think I’ve found both the right man and the right home here in Bath, although my number one love and passion is still interior design.”
How does Surrey compare with Bath? “I love it,” Helen smiles. “I love the architecture, the atmosphere and especially the people, who are so warm and friendly. Bath properties have a wonderfully unique character that makes the prospect of working here very appealing. I’m so glad my life’s journey has brought me here. Bath is a beautiful place and so welcoming. Now I’ve arrived, I don’t ever want to leave.”