Not only does Joanna Wood offer a total design service including architectural as well as interior design, she is involved in every aspect of building design, and exudes a level of passion and energy for her work that is compelling and infectious.
This is matched by a self-confessed and enduring search for perfectionism. In her own words: 'If a job’s worth doing then it’s worth doing well. I don’t mind what it takes, as long as it’s perfect.'
Her attentive approach and internationally recognized expertise has drawn in the most discerning clientele over the past 30 years from Switzerland to LA, and the studio has completed projects as diverse as a castle in Spain, a private yacht in the South of France, a house in the Hamptons, the restoration of a pavilion at Hampton Court and refurbishment works at Winfield House in Regent’s Park, London which is the official residence of the American Ambassador to the UK.
Here, we interview Joanna to find out more about her design aesthetic, her inspirations, her approach to design – and ask her for her top interior design tips.
Joanna resists being pinned into identifying a signature style. She thrives on challenge and variety and is hugely proud of the supremely versatile approach her studio (opens in new tab) can offer.
With equal aplomb, it completes both luxuriously contemporary projects that involve cutting edge technology and classical restoration projects with a quintessentially English aesthetic. But one ingredient that does feature as the foundation of every project is a deep attention to the underlying structure and excellent spatial flow.
'Architectural bones are everything!' she says. 'Getting good, simple bones is the basis of decoration. The more experienced I’ve become the more I realize the importance of scale and structure rather than frills and bits.'
A firm foundation
Awareness of architecture and design seeped into Joanna’s subconscious from a tender age. She grew up in a 17th century home in Oxfordshire and her parents had artistic leanings and connections. Her father was the fourth generation in a family-owned medal making business – they made the Olympic medal – which gave Joanna a life-long love of sculpture and bronze work.
On leaving school at 18 she worked first for a real estate company specializing in historic properties around Kensington and Holland Park, before going on to work in the interiors department at Asprey’s in the 80s. Here, her boss and mentor taught her to focus on architectural construction and spatial flow, as well as giving an understanding of core practicalities such as plumbing and wiring, to accompany knowledge of fine decorating details including specifying classically-made curtains with complex swags and tails. This breadth of knowledge was remarkably rare for the time.
Within just a few years, the ambitious Joanna launched her own business, aged just 24. She modestly describes that transition as leaping into it 'with more enthusiasm than knowledge', but, as we all know, one doesn’t build a business on enthusiasm alone.
Ambition and business acumen
Any truly successful interior designer needs tenacity, drive and business acumen as well as creative flair. Joanna spotted the emerging need for design businesses that could offer the entire lifestyle and architectural package beyond interior decoration.
She also launched her eponymous retail shop in 1985. She went on to put her instincts and industry knowledge to great investment by co-founding two businesses with hugely respected experts – namely textile brand Lewis & Wood (opens in new tab) and lighting specialists Phillips & Wood (opens in new tab) – and owned and became the mentor of a third brand, the London-based upholsterers and bespoke furniture makers, Lawson & Wood (opens in new tab).
At the time of writing this profile, plans are also afoot for a second design studio in the Cotswolds in late 2021.
Client above all
While some designers are commissioned for the visibility of their thumbprint in the interior design, Joanna has always taken pride in ensuring it is her clients’ personality that shines in every project.
'The design is never about me. It is always about the client,' she says emphatically, and this means that 'listening attentively to clients, even if they are unsure what they want is truly important. That is absolutely key to what I do.'
She goes on to say that 'every level of every project we work on should showcase a clients’ personality and this includes their art and antiques.'
'Restoration and architectural sensitivity are particular specialisms but the studio can do everything!' says Joanna.
How has the interior industry evolved since you began your career?
'The industry has expanded beyond belief in the last 30 years – which is wonderful for designers and architects. How people live, how we enjoy our surroundings and how we enjoy our down time has become increasingly important.
'Homeowners spend more and more money, thought and care, thinking not just about the decorating but “how do I want to use this space?”, “how am I going to live?”
'In designing for modern living, we work within parameters set to a much higher spec now, in terms of product and thought input. The environment and how design works under the sustainability umbrella is now a huge part of the design process.
'On the downside, so much of design education is now online so it is all tech-based and there is much less hands-on learning.'
What do you consider to be a flaw or error in room design?
'What really rattles me is when the functionality of a space patently doesn’t fulfil its objective. I hate any room that isn’t comfortable. It’s also critical that design reflects the client, it should never be about the designer, and that is truly important.'
Who is your design hero?
'John Fowler stopped interiors being overly grand. He put skirts on tables, frills on cushions, used chintzes for curtains instead of heavyweight silks, laid rush matting and included painted furniture.
'He started his own career in Peter Jones in a painting studio, putting lines on chairs and tables. He demystified the whole grandeur of interiors which up until then had been quite swanky, by taking an approach that achieved rooms that were more relaxed and informal, and that’s a look I love.
'David Hicks then took a more modern approach into the 1970s when rock and pop styles were at their zenith. His use of pattern and color was exciting and innovative.
'Both of their styles still endure.
'Architecturally, I am very admiring of John Soane (opens in new tab)’s use of detail and I often use him for reference. And I’m very impressed by Lutyens (opens in new tab) who had an extraordinary way of mixing and matching periods and finding a solution with moldings which is hard to imitate but very inspirational, so he is a great person to reference, too.'
Where do you find inspiration?
'I find a lot of inspiration in theater; in another life I would have been a costume or set designer.'
Who would be your dream client (current or historical) ?
'King Charles II. He lived in an incredible time of innovation. He had a fantastic eye and supported architects and scientists and naturalists and botanists. He was also handsome and intelligent!'
Where do you shop?
- For their wonderful eye and fantastic luxury accessories: Guinevere (opens in new tab) (Kings Road, London).
- I never come away empty-handed from the basketful of dealers at: Blanchard Collective (opens in new tab) (Marlborough, Wilts).
- An auctioneers I'm working with a lot – I buy frequently in the sale room: Dreweatts (opens in new tab) (Newbury & London).
Joanna Wood's current projects
Current contracts are diverse and include a duplex in London's Eton Square for well-known scion of the banking industry, a coach house conversion in the Cotswolds; nine flats in Knightsbridge; and the restoration of a late 17th century townhouse in Kensington. The studio is also about to embark on the next phase of the renovation of Master’s Lodge, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
More about Joanna Wood
Book Author: She is also author of Interiors for Living (opens in new tab), published by Prestel, first edition 2015.
Instagram: @joannawooduk (opens in new tab)
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.
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