Construction and fit-out – an interior designers’ insight


I have been an interior designer since 1982. My first boss was a contractor, he called me just a few weeks ago, he had completed a shopping centre overseas and Liam Fox came to visit to showcase British construction companies trading successfully overseas. I learned quite a lot during those formative years and still love the building-site end of interior design procurement.

In later years I formed my own fit-out company, we did many high-end projects from the Government building offices of the Design Council to the London Hard Rock Café and UniLever’s innovation offices, a truly remarkable space.

My team of tradesmen grew over the years and we became a big machine. I found that providing bespoke turn-key solutions provided both me and the client with a nimble method to identify issues as or if they arose. As an interior designer that made my installations unique. I have much experience on fit-out installations and beyond that I have worked as a consultant to many companies on design and fit-out.

One of the biggest issues designers face is the inability to understand how plumbing, electrics, extraction and general weight installations work. My experience has helped me identify issues often before they arose, albeit as a designer and female, sometimes I would be besmirched but more often than not, real men admired my insight.

With my team we have worked on some very private high-end properties. My men were always in uniform, you may think I’m mean but I chose electric pink as my t-shirt colour, it was specially chosen to be different from the standard for fitters – a black or grey polo shirt. People would call me to say they had seen my men on a building scaffold or on a project because of their identity.

The uniform became a possession of pride for each member, when at the beginning the biggest plasterer I had ever seen came to work for me and when I showed him the uniform, he said “you want me to wear that?” And I told him that if he wanted the job he needed to accept two things; his boss was a woman and the uniform was pink. Ten years later the t-shirts were worn with pride and became quite renowned in the builder’s merchants.

Construction and fit-out is very much in my blood and something I have been keen to retain. A contractor needs a good design to showcase his work; a designer needs a trustworthy, competent and accredited contractor to showcase their designs. I have worked in recent years with contractors who sub-out to contractors who do not understand designer products – especially in leading technology such as lighting systems where electricians have made horrendous errors and then roll their eyes saying ‘Interior Designers, what do they know?”

And therein …is why I created The Society of British & International Interior Design (SBID). A professional accrediting body for interior designers, manufacturers, architects and specifiers. Designers must be competent and contractors need to know how to separate those who have reached professional standards and those who have taken up a hobby and named themselves a designer.

Gaining the right professional accreditation with an industry trusted organisation is paramount to ensuring professional designers gain the value and recognition they deserve. Our members are accredited at the highest standards and our contractors and experts in contract fit-out are the best in the world. It is the perfect synergy and something I am proud to represent.

Renowned Interior Designer and CEO of The Society of British & International Design (SBID), Dr Vanessa Brady, OBE talks about her experience in fit-outs and why it inspired her to create a professional accreditation body. This post is part of a series penned by leading figures from across construction, architecture, design and retail in recognition of our Centenary Year.