An insightful interview with BUSILIS studio director, Charlotte Vandersleyen, about spaces, architecture and the keys to understand interior design processes.

Interviewer: What is the state of interior design and the changes in home design and decoration since the shifting brought about by the pandemic around the world?

Charlotte VandersleyenDuring the pandemic, things have been a bit different business-wise for everyone. People have less projects, they have been producing less content and even have problems to photograph spaces. This year everything has been going down, all the design events, less to invest in prototypes and so on. Suppliers haven’t launched new collections… That’s usually a source of inspiration; to see what other people are doing.

I think of creativity as a muscle, it’s something that you need to stimulate and you need to exercise to keep being good at it. Because of the situation, I believe people have been refining the trends that have been there already for the last few years rather than reinventing the wheel.

I: What kind of redefinition or visual trends you might say?

CV: It shifted towards some kind of architectural detailing, more than decorating. People are more focused on alignment in the building, preserving elements, I think the structure itself has become more of a feature in the last few years. In general, I would say just simple and elegant rather than over the top. In furniture, a bit more organic, round shapes, more like a nice object to have in your home rather than something just functional, a more sculptural approach.

In terms of materials, the natural looking – I do not mean only timber or metal but also glass or cement, concrete-, things have been quite trendy the last few years. And ‘terrazzo’ has made a comeback, a huge comeback. All these things that you don’t need to decorate afterwards, you don’t need to paint them, they just are nice naturally.

And then in terms of colour, white is becoming fashionable again. I am happy about that because I am really sick of Magnolia [laughs]. White colour exposes everything rather than disguise it, as a single colour, it makes the details stand out, definitely a slightly more contemporary take.

Also, pastel colours have been a trendy thing in the last two years, and not only applied on the walls but to the whole space.

I might as well open my own studio, because at the end of the day, if you are not making your own dream happen, you’re making someone else’s

I: How did you start in this business?

CV: I studied Architecture and I was working in Portugal and then in Belgium, then at one point, my husband and I moved to the U.K. I was working freelance, but each time I was talking to recruitment firms, they would always look at my interior design portfolio and say, ‘Oh! that’s really good. Can I put you down for that other interior design job instead of this?’

I found it more fun because you have more creativity in interior design without having all the paperwork that goes with architecture.

I ended up continuing doing interiors for a while and started in a small creative studio with a permanent position. I stayed there for two years  because it was quite fun and a nice little team. But then, I just realised that actually I knew more than I thought I did and I was running the whole project. And then I thought, well, why am I doing that for someone else while I could actually do this for myself?

That is how I founded BUSILIS studio. There is a sense of achievement that you get from doing something for yourself, which I have to admit, is quite rewarding. I am doing both Interiors and Architecture. Soon I will be launching a brand-new furniture collection. This is something that I’m doing on the side. It kind of opens up opportunities that I didn’t think of before.

I: What are the most important elements to think of when you get involved in a new project?

CV: We must not forget that, although we are trying to make the space look beautiful, the clients need to be live in it, it needs to be used on a day-to-day basis. It’s not a conceptual artwork. We are not talking about something that is just nice to look at, you need to be able to use it as well.

Being practical, functionality is really the number one of my list of priorities, the most important part. I listen to the client’s needs and determine the layout.

You have ask them, for example, how do you see yourself using the space? Who is going to use it? You have to think if they have children or if they are alone, what is their lifestyle? What kind of function will they perform in there? Not everyone is using the space in the same way. Having that initial conversation, you will make sure that whatever you come up with as solution will be the best for them.

Also, the second most important thing is what you are starting with, what is already existing in the building. Being true to the original building and respecting / preserving original features when there are any. The situation in London is, in fact, that most of the projects I have are renovations. You do not want to destroy the whole thing to build something new. I am mindful of what was originally there and respecting the architecture.

I think architecture and interior design are kind of linked, it’s not one thing and the other. Decoration, on the other hand, can be replaced like wallpaper or a sofa, but if you get rid of the fireplace or if you get rid of the original tiles in your project, they are gone forever.

I believe the things that you change thanks to interior design can have a long-term impact  on the way people live in their spaces

I: How do you create an inspiration concept?

CV: Usually, I start looking at the constraints in the building, for example: Is your building listed? Is it protected? Is the plumbing in the right place? I think that because of the renovation kind of context in London, that would define a lot of the layout in the first place, even before aesthetics.

The ‘program’- which is what the client wants and needs, the way they are going to use it, the activities that they want to perform in there- adds a second layer of complexity to the concept : making the space functional within the constraints. I always propose a couple of options: what the client initially asked for and what I think would tick the same boxes but would make the most of the space. People are often amazed by their space’s potential, they just hadn’t thought of doing these changes to their space.

In terms of style, it depends a lot on the client’s preference, if they like something more modern or more traditional. I will usually sleep on it after doing the survey and taking pictures of the existing space and by the time I am starting to work on the project I have got a pretty clear idea of what I would do. I always take the existing features into consideration and the client’s budget.

I gather some images and I try to get them to understand my vision by showing them images of existing projects, you kind of collage different ideas, you sketch, you show materials, you have a conversation. It’s a bit of going back and forth, it’s not unilateral, it’s a process, you end up getting something really unique and bespoke for that client in that space.

I: In project development, how do you manage that idea into the reality of the job?

CV: As I said before, functionality and previous research of the actual space is a must. The idea never goes first, I think it’s the opposite. The concept is taking the constraints, features, functionality and aesthetic of the place into consideration making the most of the existing. In the London market it is quite rare to get a blank canvas.

We are not applying a random image to any place, like creating “minimalism”, “victorian look” or “industrial”, I guess for some other projects with more freedom or different objectives it might be like that but, for most projects, I think it’s the other way. Applying ideas that are bespoke to this particular project is then a very natural process.

“On a construction site, the less unexpected things you can have, the better results you get

I: What would you say are the key skills to organise a project?

CV: You have to be able to communicate your vision with the team. The people who are going to implement this, builders, and so on. The real key is to do everything really, really well, detailing, produce a clear documentation, make sure that every single piece that you are putting in there will have a reference, you must have a template for everything.

Being well organised and tag everything, every piece, every piece of furniture, light switch, colour palette, you get to the point where you need to make sure that whatever you do, everyone knows what they are doing because it’s all clear, a well-crafted plan.

On site, you need to supervise, making sure that things are done properly in the first place so you don’t have to redo them. At the end of the day, it’s saving money and time for everybody.

I: What is the most rewarding part of doing it?

CV: It depends how much the client lets you in to reach the full potential of their place. If they trust me enough, I will make sure that they get the best solution for their space and for the best budget, I have their best interests in mind.

If they let you do what you think will be best, you usually get the spectacular end result and seeing the product materialise, all these efforts were worth something because the end result is amazing.

And when the clients look at it and say ‘Oh, it is better than what I could have ever imagined!’, you get recognition for your professional work.