With a deft understanding of color combinations and a passion for blending unique patterns and textures, Susie Atkinson, founder of design firm Studio Atkinson, is a talent after our own hearts. Her sophisticated taste led her to work on several Soho House properties (a dream project for any English designer—or any designer in the world, for that matter). Today, just 10 short years after its founding, the firm that bears her name works on a mix of enviable, elegant residential and commercial projects.
We spoke with Susie about how she launched her impressive career, the ways in which London influences her work, and why she’ll never be one to embrace the latest trends. See what she had to say below, and be sure to shop her charming curation of one-of-a-kind vintage and antique finds, exclusively on Chairish.
First things first… how did you get your start as a designer? And how did you launch your firm?
Having left the Inchbald School of Design, I began working for Chester Jones. He was an ex-partner of Colefax and Fowler and trained in classical and contemporary interiors. After I had my first daughter, I began from my kitchen table at home, doing friends’ houses and the like, until word got out. Once the business grew, I opened my first studio 10 years ago. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to work for Soho House, and I worked on Soho House Berlin, Babington House, Dean St. Townhouse, and the Electric, all of which helped launch my career on a wider scale.
How would you describe your aesthetic, both as a designer and personally?
As a designer, I work very closely to the client’s brief and I like to create atmospheres that are understated but with elements of modernity and sophistication. My goal is always to enhance the architectural details of a space. Personally, I like a calm, warm, and welcoming atmosphere—relaxed with curios and pieces that I have gathered over the years to remind me of different moments in my life. I like a space to make you feel cosseted and happy with interesting things to look at.
You talk about how you try to keep your work from being influenced by passing trends or fashions… tell us a bit about that. How do you achieve a timeless look but still keep things feeling relevant and up to date?
My starting point on any project is the architecture: This is what influences my interiors. The light and surroundings are also what inform my design decisions. I try to use this backdrop as the canvas to build on. Bringing traditional and contemporary pieces together, I think, helps achieve a timelessness, and including a client’s possessions helps to make each interior feel individual.
Trends come and go, so it’s important for me to not become too influenced by them. I try to avoid creating interiors that are too much of a statement, so that clients don’t tire of them a few years down the line when the trend has moved on.
Being based in London, how would you say the city influences your approach to design? What are some of your favorite things about the design scene there?
London is such a vibrant city with so many different cultures coming together. Combine that with the incredible arts scene—be it fashion, music, or the wealth of galleries and exhibitions—and these are all influences in my work. I love the fact that there is always something new to see, be it a fabric, wallpaper, furniture, artwork. There are so many amazing makers and craftspeople all around us in London, and I find it thrilling to see beautiful things landing on my desk that inspire me for future projects.
You also work on commercial projects, as well as residential. What are some of the differences between the two, in terms of your approach and also the end result?
I enjoy working on both commercial and residential projects—both have different advantages. With commercial work, I find it easier to express myself as generally budgets are given, a brief is set, and you are more or less let go—but then there are constraints in that things need to stand up to wear and tear. Fabrics, for example, need to be durable, fireproofed, etc., but still aesthetically pleasing. Private projects are much more detailed and have much more client interaction, where the person’s existing pieces need to be included, for instance. This can sometimes be challenging, and I find private work much more time consuming, as everyone’s home is so personal.
What would be a dream project for you to work on?
My dream project would be to design a beachside residence—I love being on the coast and always imagine the type of house or hotel that I would dream to stay at. It would be such fun!
On Chairish & Vintage Shopping…
What do you find most compelling about Chairish?
I love the breadth and variety of beautiful products. It’s a joy to shop on, as there are just so many beautiful things across a range of periods and styles.
How does sustainability factor into your design choices and love of vintage?
It’s hugely important to us—we hate waste and would never design with pieces that we know won’t stand the test of time. That’s why we love vintage and antique pieces: The quality is incredible, and pieces are still in perfect nick even though they were made in the 1800s. It just demonstrates the value of incredible craftsmanship and quality.
Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have?
A Frits Henningson leather wing chair
What are some of your favorite pieces on Chairish now?
Any rug by Märta Måås-Fjetterström—I am obsessed with her work!
Some Design Favorites:
Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:
A stunning pendant light
Favorite decorating “cheap thrill:”
I love putting up a wallpaper border. It transforms a space and adds a bit of fun to a room instantly—plus they are very affordable!
Favorite paint color:
This is a very tricky question! At the moment, it’s Messel Green.
Favorite piece of decor in your home:
A beautiful collection of shells I bought from a family in Ireland who had collected them over four generations. They’re all meticulously ordered and labeled with wooden lollipop sticks and sit in groups in 26 glaze-fronted box frames, and I have them on the wall by my staircase at home. I am passionate about shells: they possess such natural beauty and they remind me of walking with one of my daughters on the beach while shell hunting and finding something special.
Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:
There are so many! But particularly John Fowler.
Design destination every creative should visit at least once:
The MoMA in New York
Some Lifestyle Favorites…
Favorite vacation destination:
I recently went to Comporta in Portugal, which is just an hour south of Lisbon, and I absolutely loved it. It’s so unspoiled, with a 60-kilometer white sand beach with no one on it!
Favorite hotel that’s inspired your work while traveling:
I love Hotel Ett Hem in Stockholm by Ilse Crawford. I went many years ago now, but it still remains my favorite to date!
The River Café in London
Favorite small museum:
Pallant House Gallery in Chichester
Favorite Instagram accounts to follow:
Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift:
A box of different garden seeds
A peony or primrose
Favorite adult beverage:
Favorite way to unwind at home:
Walking or pruning in my garden
Favorite entertaining essential:
A great seasonal tablescape
Lead image by Paul Massey