Meet the interior designer: Barbara Ramani

It's Pooky's famous Q&A - this time with the brilliant interior designer Barbara Ramani...

Based in North London, Barbara Ramani Interiors has in just a few years built a portfolio of eye-catching residential projects, from opulent living spaces to ingenious basement and loft conversions (often featuring a Pooky light or two!). We talked to Barbara about interior design, what inspires her, and how her background in architecture and visual marketing informs her work...

How did you get started in interior design?

I was lucky to have always been surrounded by beautiful interior design as a child. Growing up, my mother was a curtain maker but also specialised in furniture upholstery and would consult clients on colour schemes for their homes, so the interior design of our home was always changing because of her passion for design. Very inspirational!

I went on to study architecture at the Mackintosh School of Art. However, although I adored the course and learnt a huge amount, I always felt disappointed that once the design of the building was finalised, I couldn’t get stuck into the interior details. I started looking for a way to get into a more interiors-based design role and found myself working as the visual merchandising manager for Space NK for four years as part of a team that designed the window and in store monthly campaigns. Although it gave me a brilliant understanding of logistically how to roll out detailed design information to stores all over the UK, it did not fulfil me creatively.

So after having my first child I decided to make a change. I began styling and designing small projects in people’s homes for free with the aim to pull together an interior design portfolio that would hopefully allow me to apply for a role in an interior design office. However, as luck would have it, one client who I had styled their apartment, managed to sell said apartment and went on to ask me to take on the interior design for their 4-bed home. So, I obviously jumped at the chance and since that point, more and more projects have been rolling in through word of mouth and client referrals.

How would you describe your interior design style?

I am personally drawn to mid-century modern, so that style does feature and run as a thread throughout my designs. However, my aim from concept is always to be adaptable for my clients, listen to their likes and dislikes, and take a huge amount of inspiration from certain loved pieces within a client’s homes. They may point out a piece of furniture, a light fitting, a piece of art, a book or an ornament that they already own and adore and that often leads me on my journey to the end design.

My aim is always to create a space that reflects my client’s personality and character, so I try not to impose my own style too much. I find that by always listening closely to what draws my clients to certain designs and pulling in those individual pieces, it always makes for a richer, more collaborative and ultimately more bespoke exciting design. I also love to inject bold blocks of colour – whether that be on a wall or piece of furniture. I tend to use large prints, and pattern more tightly and sparingly on cushions or within art.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Well I am a keen long-distance runner and am always very inspired by nature. I find that at the concept stages of design I am always pulling some element of the outside in: woodlands, beach, countryside or simply a built-up urban landscape. One of my projects called the Mountain Forest Bedroom was inspired by my love of the Scottish Highlands. I’m originally from Glasgow, lived in London for 12 years and have recently moved to Brighton, so I’m sure elements of the stunning South Downs and Brighton Beach are going to crop up in some of my upcoming designs.

I also take a lot of inspiration from the fashion world: Jacquemus, Mother of Pearl and Victor and Rolf to name but a few. Artists such as Isabelle Feliu, Frederic Forest or Christiane Spansberg can also all help me to get to a starting point for a design. I love following the work of some amazing interior designers such as Sophie Ashby, Jordan and Russell from 2LG, Sarah Sherman Samuel, Em Henderson, Dorothee Meilichzon and Diane Rath. But generally the best way for me to be truly inspired is to be out and about walking amongst the incredible architecture and design that you find everywhere you look in the cities I have lived in and travelled to. It’s the best way to spark off new ideas.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

I absolutely thrive off client satisfaction. Every space must look beautiful but most importantly it must function perfectly for my client’s needs for me to feel like the design is a success. So I spend a huge amount of time hashing out exactly how my clients would like their home to function, and I go into minute details of what activities will take place in each room.

For example, I have had long conversations with couples about the type of view they like to wake up to, the positions they like to sit in when they are watching tv, how high and far away that tv should be, the amount of steps they would be happy walking to get from one kitchen cupboard to the fridge, how exactly they would see their baby’s nursery adapting year by year over the space of a decade. On one project we counted out exactly how many jackets, shoes, hats, scarves, buggies, scooters, roller blades (the list goes on!) there would be so that I could design a perfectly functioning cloakroom space. Planning for all these small details has a huge impact on the layout of each space and allows every room to function in a completely bespoke way for the client’s needs. So when I get messages and photos back a year after a project is complete telling me how much a client is still loving their home I get a HUGE sense of satisfaction.

How does lighting play a part in your interiors?

For me it’s all about layering. I always start from scratch and plan out where every light switch, light fitting and plug socket will be positioned (I hate seeing stray wires!). Firstly I think it important to be able to flood a room with light from the moment you walk in a space so I always tend to start a lighting layout by having a large central ceiling light that is wired back to the light switch. Not only is this functional but a central ceiling light can also act as a beautiful dramatic gem in the centre of a space and also create drama through light and shade. After that I think about how the space is to be used. Do we need a focused table lamp for someone that will be working from home? What type of light does the client prefer when they are applying their makeup at their dressing table? In the evening when the client is entertaining, where would everyone sit and would they prefer a focused light or a soft light in specific corners of the room to soften the light and add ambience. I also try to cast light over individual loved pieces of artwork, ornaments or maybe an armchair where a client would plan to sit and read.

Which recent project are you particularly proud of?

I recently completed a room called the Building Block Nursery (above), where I designed an abstract geometric wall mural. The basis of the work was colour and geometry, much of it inspired by Russian art. I opted for strong graphic features such as horizontal black and white stripes that run from floor to ceiling with the design then counterbalanced with blocks of deeper shades and tones. Instead of treating the walls, floor and ceiling as separate identities, my aim was to blur the lines so that the space would feel like a continuous piece of art. The simple playful geometric wall mural flows seamlessly over the top of architectural details such as the skirting, shelves and window frame, and the carpet being chosen to colour match the navy wall paint so that the eye flows smoothly from one surface to the next. I designed and planned it all out on a 3D model and then drew out the design in pencil on the walls – intricate, time-consuming work but highly satisfying to see the end result. The clients have told me that their little boy traces out the shapes on the wall with his fingers... I thought it was just lovely that he is learning about shapes through his bedroom design.

Do you have any tips for creating a 'cosy' space? 

One of the early rooms I designed for a client, called the Opulent Mid Century Snug, for me, epitomises the ‘cosy corner’ idea. With luscious textures of sheepskin, brass, marble and velvet corduroy, it’s the perfect little hideaway for a Netflix binge! Only accessible from the client’s kitchen, this room was a hidden gem within the property. The brief was to provide a cosy space for the family to gather and watch a film in the evenings, so I went about pitching the idea of transforming the space into a secret private members’ club. At only 11m sq, the layout had to work hard! Each piece of furniture was chosen not only for its style, colour and material but also for its scale and size with the aim of creating the feeling of more space while also increasing the amount of seating. A few of the highlights were the enormous bespoke brass-trimmed circular mirror, and beautiful brass wall lights to light up the walnut wood panelled alcoves and cast light over the beautiful Tom Dixon fan arm chair. The seriously comfy grey corduroy velvet bespoke corner sofa sits beautifully against the woody caramel hue walls and the wall mounted television is disguised using a warm soft black paint. It’s the perfect spot to hibernate in the winter months.

Finally, do you have a favourite Pooky light?

My favourite Pooky light that I used in one of my early designs is the Larger Aquila pendant with traditional chain set in antiqued brass. Such a delicate, beautiful simple tear drop shape. I hung three of them above a concrete brass dining table and the juxtaposition of these delicate and heavy materials worked wonderfully together. The Galore floor lamp in brass and white is also right up my street and I have my eye on it for my very minimal white cream and black living room. The Bow Tie three-arm chandelier in black hits the mid-century style mark and would also look incredible as a feature light in my hallway.

All photos of Barbara's interiors by Fiona Murray. See more of Barbara’s work on her website and follow her on instagram here.