Interior Design

Designer Profile: Susie Atkinson

A keen focus upon craftsmanship, natural materials and warm atmosphere underscores Susie Atkinson’s approach when injecting elegance into private homes and some of England’s most alluring hotels

Susie Atkinson
(Image credit: Liz Seabrook)

Creating memorable interiors that ‘feel’ as good as they look takes enormous attention to atmosphere and detail and Susie Atkinson has amply proven her deft touch in both regards. 

From her studio in London, Susie and her team of 10 offer a full interior design service from concept to completion for both contemporary and traditional settings. Residential projects have spanned the Caribbean, Majorca, Greece, Scotland and Germany in addition to those in the UK. In 2020 the studio also completed a 1930s motorboat.

From the cossetting glamor of Beaverbook Hotel (below) to the timeless sophistication of Dean Street Townhouse and Limewood Hotel, the relaxed classicism of Babington House and the soft modernity of Soho House Berlin, she has had a remarkable influence upon hotel design alongside her work with discerning private clients around the world.

Here we explore Susie Atkinson’s design ethos and her support for artisan makers and reveal why comfort and warmth are pivotal to her work. 

Bar of Beaverbrook Hotel by Susie Atkinson

The glamorously inviting Parrot Bar created by Susie Atkinson at Beaverbrook Hotel

(Image credit: Susie Atkinson/Simon Brown)

Step into any room created by Susie Atkinson and you immediately feel a harmonious sense of comfort and connection to place. Every project begins with meticulous research into the history of a property as well as its locality, alongside thoughtful consideration of the client’s lifestyle, aspirations and design brief, of course.

Susie Atkinson

(Image credit: Liz Seabrook)

'I need to spend a lot of time in the places that we are designing because I believe in the atmosphere of a space: whether it feels cold or dark or light. I’m very sensitive to the warmth or coldness of a space and I also look at the surroundings outside to really get the feel of a room,' Susie reveals. 

Beaverbrook Hotel morning room by Susie Atkinson

The timelessly elegant morning room created by Susie Atkinson at Beaverbrook Hotel

(Image credit: Susie Atkinson/Simon Brown)

'Achieving the right balance of color and texture is so important in designing rooms that are instantly welcoming so that the moment you walk in you just think, "Oh yes, I really just want to stay here and relax". 

'At the heart of what I aim to create is somewhere that people feel completely cossetted or indulged, whether in a traditional or a contemporary setting.'

Susie Atkinson Limewood Hotel bedroom

One of the recently redecorated bedrooms at Limewood Hotel, created by Susie Atkinson

(Image credit: Simon Brown)

Personal passions

Susie Atkinson bedroom design Beaverbrook

The Rudyard Kipling Suite created by Susie Atkinson at Beaverbrook Hotel

(Image credit: Susie Atkinson/Simon Brown)

Natural materials are the bedrock of Susie’s aesthetic. 

'My big emphasis and focus is to use as many natural materials as possible, it’s something I’m passionate about and always have been,' Susie says. 'I love stone, slate, wool and cotton and linens, the texture of wood , or the coolness of leather.'

Championing artisans and furniture makers wherever possible is another great passion. 'We spend a lot of time researching an area to find out if there are quarries, craftspeople, ceramicists locally we can work with. We aim to design specific pieces for each project – from beds to tables – and, wherever possible, we use local craftspeople.'

Susie’s desire to support skilled specialists led to the launch of her own ranges of artisan-made pieces – starting with her much lauded ‘Laid Bare’ furniture collection in 2020. 

Fabrics, lighting and accessories, including Bobbin mirrors, soon followed. 

Championing craftsmanship

Daybed by Susie Atkinson

The Bulrush Day Bed from the Laid Bare collection from Studio Atkinson

(Image credit: Studio Atkinson)

'I love discovering new talent from young people but I’m also very aware of old skills dying out and those need to be tapped into before it’s too late,' Susie says, 'I’ve worked with many of our suppliers for many years and to be able to showcase their work is fantastic. It gives me the ability to design things I love – or that we can’t find  for a project. The combination of being able to use trusted suppliers as well finding new ones is a great joy and such an exciting part of my job.”'

Slider chair, Studio Atkinson

The Slider Reclining chair from the Laid Bare collection from Studio Atkinson

(Image credit: Studio Atkinson)

Susie’s own ranges of artisanal products (above) fall under the ‘Studio Atkinson’ branding and the newest collection, launched in November 2021, is the Plato range of colorful powder-coated steel lamp bases (below). These are handcrafted by metalwork specialists and – like all Susie Atkinson pieces – proudly made in Britain.  

Plato lighting by Susie Atkinson

Plato light by Susie Atkinson

(Image credit: Alexander Edwards)

Becoming an interior designer

Hallway by Susie Atkinson

Susie Atkinson has a passion for art. This vignette is in a penthouse suite by Susie Atkinson in London

(Image credit: Susie Atkinson/Alexander Edwards)

As with a surprising number of hugely respected talents, Susie’s first career was not in interior design. She moved to London after her A levels for her first job as a pudding chef in a Fleet Street club then Directors dining before becoming a PA in the financial department of a city firm. Her yearning to seek fulfilment in a creative profession was encouraged by her sister-in-law who worked in interior design and when Susie signed up for an intensive course at the Inchbald School, she knew she had found her calling. 

'I was totally inspired. It set my creative juices going and I felt so happy to know that I was on the right path,' she says.

Her first position was with Chester Jones

'I went for an interview and was completely terrified but luckily got the job,' Susie recalls. 'I was very much a junior, learning as I went. He was the perfect person to work for. He is a true all-round designer – an architect, an interior designer, a furniture designer, a brilliant colorist – he’s super talented and a perfectionist. It was an amazing experience and I think I almost only knew later how very lucky I was to get that role.'

Susie worked for Chester from 1987 to 1990 and after having her second child set up her solo design practice from her kitchen table – learning every element of running a business and growing her client base by word of mouth. Her eponymous London studio and team was officially launched in 2010. 

Formative influences

St Martins Lofts living room by Susie Atkinson

Organic shapes and natural materials in a penthouse suite by Susie Atkinson

(Image credit: Susie Atkinson/Alexander Edwards)

It seems obvious to ask a designer what formed their design aesthetic and yet the responses are rarely the same. It is immediately apparent why Susie’s most potent memories play a subliminal role in the importance she places on the feel of a room and the use of handmade pieces within it.

'My mother and grandmother both had amazing taste. But it was whilst visiting a boyfriend’s aunt that I remember a standout moment. The house was in Yeovil in Somerset and on arrival we had drinks in the drawing room and I was mesmerized by the way the room had been decorated. It was the first time I had ever seen seagrass on the floor and I remember thinking it was unusual and strange. There was a pale blue moiré silk taffeta on the walls and I absolutely and instantly loved the mix and the contrast which seemed to me so glamorous yet relaxed; formal yet informal at the same time. I loved the color palette of pale blues and natural sandy tones alongside beautiful art, low lighting and candles. It was quite a defining moment.'

Her school education was also pivotal. 'I don’t think I realized, until recently, the impact that being brought up in a very strict convent school had on me. I remember everything being cold with hard surfaces, uninviting colors and feeling that I didn’t like the atmosphere: it was very tangible and had a significant effect on me giving me a life-long aversion to unwelcoming spaces and to being cold.'

The love of handmade 

Living room in St Martins Lofts by Susie Atkinson

Contemporary luxury by Susie Atkinson

(Image credit: Susie Atkinson/Alexander Edwards)

Susie’s love of pieces made by hand also began at a very young age. 'It’s something that has always been with me,' she says. 'I love nature and spent a lot of time pressing leaves and flowers in my childhood and one of the things that was very good from my schooling was that every child had to knit four 6in squares each month which the sixth form sewed together to make blankets for the homeless. We were taught many skills using our hands: sewing, cooking, knitting and needlework.  So I think I’ve always been interested in how things are made.'

She later expands, 'I also remember my grandmother knowing where every item in her house came from: who made it or who gave it to her. The next generation moved into a throwaway era where you could have anything and buy things so cheaply but thankfully there is now a reversal. I’ve noticed that the younger generation is so interested in how things are made and where they’ve come from, and it really matters to them. That’s how it used to be and that’s how it should be: to have less and value it more. Hopefully there is a big movement towards that sentiment again.'

Susie’s championing of British craftsmanship and honoring of local materials aptly  demonstrates her own commitment to that cause.

Susie’s design heroes

'Chester Jones is obviously one of my heroes and also Roger Banks-Pye. I’ve always loved Veere Grenney’s work too. I’m always visually inspired, so visiting exhibitions, galleries and looking at artists and fashion designers also influences me.'

Design forte

'I do feel I have a winning team and a very loyal team… We all work very closely together – everyone in the studio knows what is happening on every project and I think we have a good system in how we approach and complete projects. A really dedicated team makes everything work efficiently and effectively, enabling us to deliver on budget and on time; that is our mantra and we are all really proud of that.

'There is so much more to a project than just designing; it’s a complex series of balancing acts; the relationship with makers, workmen on site, the support of my team and most of all keeping the client happy and managing their expectations!'

Dream project

'I would love to do a hotel on the coast... that would be a dream. I love nature and being by the sea and I love the possibility of creating something different and unique. There are some Victorian brutes of properties on the coastline that need to be taken in hand and could be transformed into something incredible.'

Kerryn Harper-Cuss
Contributing Editor

Interiors editor and brand consultant, Kerryn Harper-Cuss has worked on four interior magazines and edited three of these, most recently The English Home, where she was Editor-in-Chief of both its UK and US editions for almost 12 years. She now writes for a number of high caliber publications, moderates design seminars and is particularly delighted to pen profile features on world-class interior designers for a regular slot on the Homes & Gardens website.