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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Designer Profile: Sophie van Winden, Co-Founder, Owl Design

Sophie van Winden, Co-Founder of London-based interiors studio Owl, talks joyful design and the end of throwaway culture.

Founded in 2014 by Sophie van Winden and Simone Gordon, Owl Design is a London based studio renowned for their distinctive and daring use of colour, pattern and texture.

City road by Owl | Photography by Rachael Smith

Owl’s unique design flair can be seen across their residential and commercial projects. The combination of Sophie and Simone’s leadership, along with their inventive design approach, produces memorable schemes that exude pure joy.

The talented design duo have gained a wealth of acclaim for their brilliant work in and around London, and 2024 sees them taking their skills further afield, to a project in New York.

Upminster by Owl | Photography by Veerle Evens

With Simone currently on maternity leave, we caught up with Sophie to find out the story behind Owl and how they developed their unique approach to design.

What is your earliest memory of design having an impact on you?

I loved redesigning my bedroom when I was young. I would spend family holidays on the beach drawing crude floor plans, playing around with layouts of my furniture and would be so excited to get home to try them out. The new layout always felt so new and fresh, like I had cracked some sort of code and gained space or light or just the feeling of a whole new bedroom. I found it thrilling!

Rusthall Avenue by Owl | Photography by Veerle Evens

Where did you study design and what did you specialise in?

Myself and Simone met at Ravensbourne where we were studying ‘Interior Design Environment Architecture’. This was a mix of interior design, architecture and urban design, with a bit of product thrown in. We bonded from day one as we had similar styles and outlook on design. It was such a natural step to work together post university and start our own thing.

Upminster by Owl | Photography by Veerle Evens

What kind of designer did you aspire to be and who are your inspirations?

I always felt I had something unique to offer. I found the 80s exciting – our house growing up was full of Ettore Sottsass style patterns and colour but by the time the Noughties came around I found the greige and pale wood trends all so bland – I knew I wanted to bring back colour and pattern and interesting silhouettes. I was really inspired by my parents growing up, especially my Dad who wasn’t afraid of a bit of kitsch and bold use of colour and pattern.

Coppermaker Square by Owl | Photography by Megan Taylor

What was your first professional design commission?

We were asked to help on an eco-resort in Jamaica as soon as we graduated. It was an exciting first project! Unfortunately, the project never went ahead but it was a great experience. We then worked on a café on Portobello Road called Bluebelles of Portobello, followed by a cocktail bar called The Toy Shop in Putney. All very varied projects but fun and great learning curves.

Coppermaker Square by Owl | Photography by Megan Taylor

How would you describe Owl as a studio and a community of designers?

Small and relaxed. We try and work all together at least once a week but we are flexible about working from home if it suits the individual better. We have always done hybrid working and the pandemic just seemed to reinforce that the way we work is right for us. It’s great to come together to bounce ideas of each other and talk over samples in person but there is a lot of focused work needed in this job and so working from home with no distractions is often essential.

Coppermaker Square by Owl | Photography by Megan Taylor

What are the key characteristics you look for when bringing new talent into your studio?

We like to work with people who have good, positive energy, enjoy being part of the team but also can bring their own ideas to the table. At Owl we like to think outside the box and actively encourage new ideas and concepts.

Coppermaker Square by Owl | Photography by Megan Taylor

Where is the majority of your work based? And how has travel helped to shape and influence your ideas on design?

Most of our projects are in or around London. We have some further afield, we have been working on one in New York, one in Deal in Kent recently. We are by no means tied to London only, but it makes sense to have the majority there for ease of site visits. No more in Jamaica yet but we would definitely be up for it!

Coppermaker Square by Owl | Photography by Megan Taylor

You are renowned for your distinctive use of colour, pattern and texture – how do you approach selecting paint, wallpaper and wallcoverings that successfully transition through the seasons?

We always take the design as a whole and think how it will work in day to night, summer to winter, and even different uses of the same space; from working at home at the kitchen table to hosting dinner parties for example. It is important to us that the materials and overall design last – aesthetically and practically. We prefer to take a bit longer to choose to get it just right rather than rush just to get it done quickly. If you are going to live with something for 5-10 plus years what is a few extra weeks on a delivery time if it means it is perfect!

Upminster by Owl | Photography by Veerle Evens

What do you think should be a key focus for designers moving forward in 2024?

It might be talked about a lot but sustainability in design needs to be an ongoing priority. There are so many aspects to this but looking at the longevity of the items you propose, where and how it is made, and its life cycle are so important to factor into any design. But also, its impact on the end user after installation such as its toxin content is needed to taken into consideration. Throw away culture is over, sustainability and long term health is in!

Long street by Owl | Photography by Veronica Rodriguez

If you hadn’t become an interior designer what would you be doing?

Well I was torn between furniture design and interior design before going to university so perhaps a furniture designer. Or if you ask my much younger self a pig farmer – but one where they don’t kill or hurt the pigs in any way, so not a very profitable one.

owldesign.co.uk | IG: @owldesignlondon

City road by Owl | Photography by Rachael Smith
Rebekah Killigrew
Rebekah Killigrewhttp://www.rebekahkilligrew.com
Editor | www.architecturemagazine.co.uk | www.interiordesignermagazine.co.uk

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