A partnership between designers Duncan Campbell and Charlotte Rey, London-based studio Campbell-Rey celebrates color and craft. Known for creating surprising dialogues between styles and eras, their references are rich in history and humor. Read on to delve into their world, and check out their Chairish picks for pure magic.
Tell us about how you launched your design practice. What brought the two of you together, and how did you decide to create a business?
Duncan: We met when we began working for the culture biannual Acne Paper when we were still in our teens and worked side-by-side, eventually becoming co-editors before setting up Campbell-Rey about ten years ago. We both come from academic families, so the artistic and creative industries were foreign to us, although we knew this is where we wanted to explore. Initially we set out in creative and art direction, mostly for legacy and craftsmanship brands, and organically this developed into design work. For the last few years we’ve been focussed fully as an art and design atelier that works across interiors, furniture, installations and objects.
Charlotte: Neither one of us has formal training in what we do—but we both worked from our teens alongside going to university and always learning by doing on the job. Our projects grew slowly and steadily to now encompass builds and full-scale renovations across Europe and the U.S. We take on a wide range of projects that all pique our interest in various ways. We love feeling challenged to dive into worlds through research and to create something magical. At the moment, we’re working on interior projects for villas in Italy, France and Greece aside from three London projects—including a nightclub launching next autumn—as well as just concluding our first New York project on the Upper East Side. We are also working on our first edition of artworks inspired by the English architectural tradition of follies and eyecatchers, which we’re very excited about.
How would you describe your aesthetic and approach to design, and how has it evolved over time?
Charlotte: We would like to think that our world is a celebration of conviviality, color, and exceptional craftsmanship with a love of historical architecture, traditional decorative techniques, and the ability to create surprising dialogues between styles, periods and objects. Our work is imbued with a playful, irreverent spirit.
Duncan: It evolves constantly depending on the nature of the project and the context of the creative, and in this lies the constant challenge and fun. We love to dive into research and to tell stories, to create complete universes and to imagine spaces that transport you somewhere else. It’s also very exciting for us to give new expressions to traditional decorative techniques, and to have the opportunity to create our own furniture and objects to tell the stories we want to tell.
Where do your biggest inspirations come from? And how do London and the Cotswolds influence your approach to art, design, and culture in general?
Duncan: We travel constantly, and we spend a lot of time meeting makers, craftspeople and studying historical architecture as our projects tend to involve a significant degree of architectural restoration. We both love attending art and design fairs, and we tend to come back to Italy a lot because of its design language and history of manufacturing. As we both live in London and the countryside, we are naturally inspired by nature, history and colourful characters that we come across there. London is one of the world’s wonderful melting pots of cultures, and we try to drink it in as much as we possibly can by going to the theatre, exhibitions and museums whenever possible.
You’re known for a true passion for vintage and antique pieces. How do you incorporate them into your work, and how do you place them alongside newer items?
Charlotte: There is a real sense of je ne sais quoi in an antique piece that stands out to us. Whether it’s something in the way it’s beautifully made, or perhaps it has an interesting form or colour or texture—vintage pieces are imbued with a very special creative spirit, and we believe this spirit is timeless and sort of stretches through history. There is a genius in a Biedermeier chair, or a Gae Aulenti lamp, or a Jean Dunand screen. Putting them next to each other just amplifies that, like how interesting people come together for a fascinating conversation at a dinner party. They improve each other by their proximity. That being said, there are no fast or hard rules, and an unexpected mix is always the most exciting.
You work on both residential and commercial projects. What’s the difference between how you approach each of them? Are there any commonalities in terms of process?
Duncan: A home, just like a restaurant or great club, has to be beautiful, comfortable and functional, and has to do the job as well as possible for the people who are going to enjoy it. Of course, they have to do very different things, and it can be a challenge to create something that caters to all those needs. With a house, it’s more personal. Some of our projects might take three or four years, so it’s a lot about the client and the dream we’re creating for them. With a commercial project, the requirements are perhaps less emotional, but it’s exciting to work in a more fast-paced environment when the metrics of success are very clearly defined.
Charlotte: A home should represent the person or family living there, while with a restaurant or bar, we often like to create more fantastical universes that transport the guest to somewhere glamorous, or fun, or sexy. We always design for how we want people to feel in a space and set the scene accordingly.
Finally, what would be a dream project for you and why? What’s something you would just absolutely love to design?
Duncan: We’d love to do a hotel in Venice, the most mysterious and improbable place on earth. I’m also thinking about the mountains a lot at the moment, so a chalet or a hotel in the Alps would be a dream.
Charlotte: At the moment we are working on our first architectural artworks inspired by the English tradition of eyecatchers or follies—it would be amazing to create site-specific editions in a natural environment of exceptional beauty, such as Siwa in Egypt.
ON CHAIRISH & VINTAGE SHOPPING
What do you find most compelling about Chairish?
It’s a treasure trove, anything you can think of is available on the site.
Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have?
What are a few of your favorite pieces on Chairish now?
An Eileen Gray Lota Sofa, a pair of Puiforcat Art Deco Candlesticks with faux lapis lazuli stems, a Venetian Murano glass mirror, a fantastic pair of Venetian grotto-style side chairs, and a green ceramic handcrafted Italian pillow stack stool.
SOME DESIGN FAVORITES
Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:
Carefully placed mid-level lighting is great for creating atmosphere and making rooms that feel cinematic. We always say you can’t have enough lamps!
Favorite decorating “cheap thrill”:
A heavy ashtray in an exotic stone.
Favorite iconic piece of vintage design:
Duncan: A gilt plaster console commissioned from Alberto Giacometto by Jean Michel Frank for Nelson Rockefeller’s Fifth Avenue apartment. Maybe my favourite room ever.
Charlotte: A Serge Roche mirrored stool from the early 1930’s with lions feet from Elsie de Wolfe’s collection.
Favorite paint color:
Duncan: I find it hard to get away from olive green.
Charlotte: I’m always drawn to a deep burgundy.
Favorite piece of decor in your home:
Duncan: A Venetian grotto chair with dolphins for legs. Quite ridiculous and a lot of fun.
Charlotte: My Josef Hoffman Fledermaus dining chairs.
Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:
Duncan: I love designers from the past who were as interested in the grander aspects of their architecture as they were tiny details like a door handle. This makes me think of Josef Hoffmann, Piero Portaluppi or Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann for example.
Charlotte: We often talk about the importance of mixing styles and creating juxtapositions between high and pop culture—uptown/downtown, if you will. I love how Gabriella Crespi took more humble materials like rattan or wicker or plexiglass and made some of the most beautiful pieces of furniture combining it with brass and steel.
Favorite style icon:
Duncan: I always think David Hockney looks pretty great.
Charlotte: Carolyn Bessette meets Nina Yashar.
Design destination every creative should visit at least once:
The Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan. We visited together when we were very early in our career and it changed everything.
Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:
Duncan: Work hard and be nice to people.
Charlotte: Be on the business side of rock’n’roll and on the rock’n’roll side of business.
SOME LIFESTYLE FAVORITES
Favorite vacation destination: Italy
Favorite hotel that’s inspired your work while traveling: The Gritti Palace in Venice
Favorite restaurant: Lunch at the Colombe d’Or
Favorite small museum: Sir John Soane Museum in London or Hotel Nissim de Camondo in Paris
Favorite podcast: The Blind Boy
Favorite Instagram accounts to follow: @the_london_list, @petronestudio, @therascalhouse
Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift: A painted and handwritten note
Favorite flower: Ranunculus, tulips
Favorite adult beverage: Negroni
Favorite way to unwind at home: Dry martini
Favorite entertaining essential: Beautiful glassware, it really does make a difference.
Lead image: photo by Angela Hau