When Nina Campbell opened her eponymous firm in 1972, one of her first commissions was a castle in Scotland; she has not looked back since. Her unmistakably rich and elegant colour palette has made her one of the most influential designers in the world and her design firm is internationally known and respected.
Blue Arles Tray, Blue Monkey Napkin, Blue Gien Nets Plate from Nina Campbell shop
The business has grown to include a successful line of fabrics, wallpaper and trimmings distributed by Osborne and Little, as well as her retail shop, (a favorite of mine) for home accessories and gifts in London’s Knightsbridge neighbourhood and a showroom at the Design Center Chelsea Harbour. She has also authored several books on design.
Interior of Nina Campbell shop at 9 Walton Street, London
Campbell most recently spoke in the Fall Show’s Lecture Series in 2018. The panel discussion, “Divas of Design” featured Nina Campbell and Charlotte Moss, moderated by Show Chair, Suzanne Tucker. The design divas spoke to a packed house (who knew those words would become so taboo!?) “The Fall Show is always so glamourous and beautiful” she muses “I have found wonderful things there. I think there is a comradship amongst all the dealers. It is lovely to just connect and meet and talk with them. You might change your view on a style, or a period that you start to understand better. It’s like going to a museum.”
Nina Campbell speaking at the Divas of Design Panel at the 2018 Fall Show Lecture Series
Photography by Hernan Santander
I chatted with Campbell by phone from our respective London homes about design in the era of a pandemic. Luckily, isolation was not so isolating for Campbell, as she spent the beginning of the lockdown with her daughter and granddaughter on a farm in the country. “I did come back to my own home in London in June and promptly started cleaning out my cupboards.” She says being home has made her appreciate it more “everyone is always in a rush, coming in and out of the house, spending more time there, you can be amongst your possessions and appreciate them more. I think your possessions—the things you have bought on travels, that hold memories, that mean something to you, make a home.” She says. “I have lots of people in my home, and two pets. I also have my paintings, most of which are done by friends, and it’s all very cosy with people and memories.” When asked to name a favourite piece, she thought it over and replied “a Kate Malone ceramic pumpkin, inspired by the gardens at Waddeston (the 19th Century Waddeston Manor built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in Buckinghampshire).
Blue Sprig China, Blue Arles Tray from Nina Campbell shop
With more time spent at home, I asked what her favourite room is, where she goes for a moment of quiet and calm. “I love my bedroom because it looks out on the gardens” she shared. “It is peaceful. If I’m home alone I have the whole house, but with others there it’s wonderful to retreat to my bedroom.” But work needs a table “I work on my dining room table which is practically half in the garden.”
Tiffany Dining Table and Jennifer Chairs from Nina Campbell shop
She admits that the thing that has changed her perspective most is people’s attitudes. “Everything has become more casual” she says, “people coming by unannounced – the formality is gone.” But the isolation has not altered her design sense. “I haven’t really isolated as I was with family. Now I go into shops, talk with neighbours. It hasn’t really affected me. I talk endlessly to friends, especially in my neighbourhood. I have enjoyed the more casual social engagements. I haven’t been commuting. I am not travelling so my dogs are thrilled.”
A selection of Miami and Kendall desk accessories from Nina Campbell shop
Campbell says her clients attitudes have not changed much with one exception: “I think everyone has carried on, but in the shop I have seen people wanting new things. Tabletop has become much more in demand – people are growing tired of their place settings as they are now eating at home for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They want some variety, something new.”
Green Gallina Linen, Green Nets Gien Plate, detail, Nina Campbell shop
Blue Gallina Matte Linen, Blue Gien Nets Plate, Bistrot Cutlery, Nina Campbell shop
These days, spontaneity is what Campbell misses most, and the theatre, the opera, the ballet, and travel. Everything is just so much more complicated- “It stops you from being spontaneous.” She shares. “But there are people suffering so much more so I just feel incredibly lucky actually. In a way there have been many silver linings, but I feel uncomfortable enjoying it. I am very aware of it all.”
By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat
Ariane served as Show Director for the San Francisco Fall Show for 7 years through 2019. She is now the show’s international liaison as Director at Large, living in London with her family. Follow Ariane on her blog, Sojournest, where she focuses on all things home and travel.