Meet the interior designer – Gabrielle Blackman

gabrielle blackmanOur exclusive chat with Gabrielle, interior designer and hero of DIY SOS

“Life is messy! Whether you are dealing with a life-changing injury or trying to get your kids out of the door to school…good interior design reduces stress and improves lives. I work really hard to add beauty and joy back into the homes of families in crisis.”

As a star of BBC show DIY SOS, Gabrielle Blackman is one of Britain's most recognisable interior designers – frequently moving viewers to tears as she helps transform the homes and lives of people in difficult circumstances, from Grenfell survivors to army veterans.

Away from the small screen, her practice Gabrielle Blackman Studio has a 20 year history of stunning interior design and construction projects, with an emphasis on comfort and beautiful elegance. We spoke to Gabrielle about her work, lighting and the life-enhancing power of good interior design…

gab blackman 1Photo by @syarifahphotography via Gabrille Blackman Studio

Tell us a little about your background and how you got into interior design … When did you realise you had an ‘eye’ and how did Gabrielle Blackman Studio come into being?
I trained as an artist, so I always had confidence creatively. I managed to get a job working for Mary Fox Linton after I left Art College and was then lucky enough also to work for Nina Campbell and cut my teeth in the world of Yacht Design. After years of hard work and learning, I eventually got the courage to set up my own business.

How would you describe your interior design style or ethos?
My love of interior design is really all about combining my two favourite things - people and beauty.

I love the challenge of making someone's life more enjoyable and beautiful. The clients I work with, whether they live in a historic building or a small apartment, have similar challenges and stresses.

My style is all about comfort and elegance.

gab blackman roomPhoto courtesy of Gabrille Blackman Studio

Many of our readers will know you from the wonderful (and often very moving) DIY SOS, which certainly tests your design and build skills under time pressure. How did you come to be involved in the show?
I was approached by the BBC 12 years ago, I was totally ignorant of how mad TV can be. I naively thought, ’oh that looks fun and worthwhile, how hard can it be?'

It has been the hardest thing and the best thing I have ever done. It has taught me so much about resilience and positivity. Also how to create a beautiful home with no time and no money, which is good to keep your skills sharp!

The families we have helped over the years have become great friends, as have many of the incredible volunteers and suppliers who make it all happen.
The trades who volunteer on the show are absolutely wonderful and have taught me so much. My practice is very much hands-on and site-based, I love the hurly-burly of a building site. It is the most creative and exciting place to be, even in the lashing rain and mud!

Working on DIY SOS has totally changed the way I look at the world. Despite what you hear on the news, people are good and they do care.

diy sosThe DIY SOS team. Photo courtesy of Gabrille Blackman Studio


There have been many celebrated episodes on DIY SOS, in which you and the team have helped groups such as the Grenfell community and military veterans. Which have been your absolute favourite projects?

Ohhh that’s a tricky one… each one of the projects has been so important to me.

I think probably my favourite has to be the Veterans Street build. We transformed an entire street of houses into homes for wounded veterans. There was a huge wave of support and we even had a visit from Princes William and Harry who got stuck in painting walls and laying paving slabs.

Veteran Street is now a thriving community. I am so proud of it and the superhuman efforts put in by the trades who made it happen.I learned a lot about the effects of PTSD and how the layout of an interior can reduce the symptoms. We created a safe calming community for veterans who had given everything for their country. It was an honour to be involved.

diy sosPrinces William and Harry join the DIY SOS team for the Veterans Street project. Photo courtesy of Gabrille Blackman Studio 

One thing that always comes across in the show is that interior design isn’t just a peripheral or luxurious thing: having your own space where you can be happy – a home you can be proud of – is actually very important psychologically. Is that something you’re conscious of when you work on projects?

Life is messy! Whether you are dealing with a life-changing injury or trying to get your kids out of the door to school - good interior design can help. I work really hard to add beauty and joy back into the homes of families in crisis.

Often the focus has, quite rightly, been on coping with the crisis. The joy is in creating a beautiful kitchen that is sociable and well-lit and making sure the other siblings have awesome bedrooms too, or finding a way to fit a bath in the house for a parent whose back is in agony from lifting an older child up the stairs for years.

These carers are warriors and deserve everything. Good interior design reduces stress and improves lives.

Back to Gabrielle Blackman Studio – what do you enjoy most about your practice work?
Good interior design is personal and thoughtful. I love getting to know my clients and making an interior that is tailor-made for them, comfortable and elegant. I am lucky to have incredible clients with beautiful houses. The most rewarding thing is to see the house in use, loved and full of life.

I also love the messy smashing and bashing of a building site in full swing. I work with great trades who really know their stuff. There is a lot of shouty chat but we get the job done.

What are your favourite interior design inspirations – online or offline?
Offline I love to travel and go galleries and museums, I alway have my eyes open and am constantly looking for new ideas. The V&A is one of my favourite places to wander around and absorb the wonder of it all.

Online - Instagram is brilliant to see the lovely work going on, it's all so exciting!

Photo by @syarifahphotography via Gabrille Blackman Studio

What would be your dream interior design project?
I would love to design a fabulous riad - I am obsessed with Marrakech having travelled there recently on an inspiring work trip. The architecture is timeless, the tiles, use of colour and textiles are second to none. It would be a dream to work with such talented artisans.

How does lighting play a part in your interiors?
Lighting is EVERYTHING! You could design the most beautiful scheme, but with bad lighting it will look like a supermarket.

Lighting also changes how people feel about themselves. A good lighting scheme makes people look more beautiful and feel more confident. It's like an instagram filter you get to live in.

I learned a lot from working in TV about how to light a room to make my clients look wonderful. The most flattering lighting comes from diffused warm light at head height. I use a combination of table lamps and wall lights with shades as the primary light source and absolutely always use warm white for your bulbs. This is very simple to do and makes my clients look about 10 years younger and feel fantastic.

Recessed down-lights are the least flattering light to use, as they cast hard shadows from above in a single spot, a necessary evil for kitchens and bathrooms but I try to keep them to a minimum.

gab blackmanPhoto courtesy of Gabrille Blackman Studio  

Any lighting tips you’d like to share?
Always use warm white bulbs for the most flattering glowing light. Keep overhead lighting to a minimum.

Use table lamps as your main lighting source if you want to look beautiful - they work as well as any Instagram filter.

Cordless portable lights are a game changer and perfect to change the look of your room without having to spend a fortune on new wiring.

Finally, do you have a favourite Pooky light (and if so, why that one?)
I adore the Phileas battery powered lamp - it is the hero lamp for any scheme, adds warmth and cosiness and really elevates outside spaces to feel incredibly glamorous. It works everywhere!

Phileas rechargeable table lamp in antique brass finish


See more of Gabrielle's gorgeous interiors at Gabrielle Blackman Studio and follow her on Instagram.



Get the look...

gabrielle Photo by @syarifahphotography via Gabrille Blackman Studio

Inspired? Gabrielle Blackman Studio interiors are all about comfort, beauty and elegance. Here are some Pooky lights that would work splendidly with the look...

 larger bulbusLarger Bulbus pendant in clear glass

wisteria blue green glassRegular Wisteria table lamp in bluey green glass 


larger dexter in copper

Larger Dexter pendant light in copper

starskyFour tiered Starsky chandelier with clear recycled pressed glass strips


Find more inspiration on our interiors blog and browse Pooky's enormous range of stunning lights and shades here.