Jenni Greenwood on designing Britain’s most expensive home
You may have watched Channel 4’s documentary about ‘Britain’s Most Expensive Home’ in February, featuring Arista Design who won the project in a competition set by billionaire owner, John Caudwell. Since then Arista has been nominated in five categories in The International Design and Architecture Awards 2020, hosted by design et al. Senior interior designer Jenni Greenwood reveals more about the three-year ‘mega’ mansion transformation in the heart of Mayfair, and what’s next for Arista Design.
How many interior designers were you up against in the competition to win 'Britain's Most Expensive Home' project, and how did you feel about winning?
I think it was about 10-12. This was before my time though. This was done about four years ago, the director of Arista Design led the initial design concepts and was successful. Every designer had a number and the client didn’t know which number was assigned to each designer, so it was just based on the design concepts and ideas and the client chose Arista Design which was great!
What were the biggest challenges you faced working on a 44,000 sq ft Grade II listed ‘mega’ mansion?
I think the biggest challenges that I faced during this project were trying to answer everyone’s queries on a daily basis whilst also trying to design the rest of the building. For months, I would get about 40 'phone calls a day and about 100 emails every single day. Trying to answer all of that and actually carry on designing the rest of the project and organise the next client meetings whilst managing a team of people was very difficult. However, I’m quite a laid back person and my mantra in life is to just keep going, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” as they say. I think I’m a very hard worker and always have the end goal in sight. When I would commute to site in Mayfair from Cheshire (that’s where I live and is where Arista Design headquarters is), I would get the 5.30 am train in order to get to the first site meeting at 8.30am so a lot of my days were 12/13 hour days, that was sometimes quite hard but when you love what you do, you tend not to think of it as laborious and more the enjoyment you receive from creating innovative spaces and designs.
The end result is breathtakingly stunning. How different was this to other projects you’ve worked on?
The overall look of this project is not the norm whatsoever. It’s very opulent and grand. I tend to design to suit the building whilst keeping the clients needs and vision in mind. Mayfair House was built in 1876 by an Irish architect, J T Wimperis. His work was very opulent for the Victorian era and we wanted to keep it this way. I have designed many high end residential properties but every single one of them is different. The project I worked on before Mayfair House, was a Caribbean luxury villa that was designed in 10 pod-like buildings where you had to walk outside, underneath an oasis of different palms, to get to the next room. It was enchanting. I have also renovated an original Arts and Crafts building, so everything I have done is completely different. I feel that adaptation, as a designer, is the greatest quality to have, it has taken me to great places and given me amazing opportunities.
Focus SB’s Ambassador luxury switches and sockets finished in polished brass were specified for the project, how important is finish continuity when it comes to interior details?
This is important to me and has been on every other project. Normally in residential projects I would specify the same switch plate, socket plate and ironmongery but in the case of Mayfair House, it didn’t have continuity of finish. The building was split up into eight zones, at the early stages of the project by the design scheme, to handle the project in a more manageable way. Even though this project is a residential build it almost isn’t, as there are so many commercial features like a nightclub in the basement, a spa, a commercial kitchen and 14 guest suites so it’s more like a hotel. With that, comes different designs to segregate areas, therefore finishes in each area/room changed a lot and we ended up using bronze, polished brass and polished nickel as the metal finishes throughout the house. For example, the spa’s metal finish was all bronze, the night club was polished brass and piano and day room was polished nickel.
Has the media buzz surrounding this fantastic project boosted business?
Arista Design has had a lot of enquiries and the future looks very exciting with the possibility of the expansion of our offices and studios opening up in different countries.
Did you ever expect when you first started out as an interior designer that this career choice might propel you into the limelight?
No, for the honest answer. I’ve never really wanted to be on TV but this opportunity was too good to turn down. Also, when I graduated from university, which was nearly 10 years ago, social media wasn’t really a thing, whereas nowadays people make money from Instagram. So many people are “influencers”, I find it crazy but it is appealing in some way. When the documentary had aired on TV, I woke up to 152 WhatsApp messages and 263 new followers on Instagram, which is a lot to me.
What’s your favourite design style?
I am currently, in the background of my actual job, designing my own home. I have bought a 16th century carriage house from my parents. It’s basically derelict but we have planning permission to renovate it, so that’s what I’m doing outside of work at the moment. It’s always been my dream to design my own home and it’s finally happening. My taste is mixing old with new. I love traditional features in a building and adding one off pieces of furniture. I love white walls, with high ceilings and traditional ceiling mouldings and adding contemporary abstract artwork. My degree is in Fine Art and Art History and I have always had a love and great appreciation for art. I like to let the art tell the story of the room, rather than the design altogether, more eclectic with a contemporary twist.
If you were to advise anybody thinking about a career in interior design what would your top tips be?
I would advise anyone who wants to pursue anything the same, work hard, believe in yourself and take every opportunity that life gives you. Even if you don’t think that the opportunity will benefit you in any way, take it, as you never know what it will lead to or who you’ll meet.
Specifically for prospective interior designers, the best advice that I would give them, is to gain experience within the industry. Even if it’s just a small Saturday job, I started as a sample girl for an interior design company when I was at university and now I have just completed this amazing project that is Mayfair House. Knowledge is key, I’m constantly learning everyday, and staying up to date and relevant in this industry is vital for success.
What’s next for Arista Design?
We have so many exciting expansions happening within the business. We have also just had planning permission accepted for a luxury spa that will be one of the best and most exclusive spa retreats in Europe. We are also working on a high end luxury residence in the UAE.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
People don’t realise, if they’re not in this industry, but interior design is very time consuming and a lot of work goes into it. It’s not a 9-5 job, it becomes your life. You have to be dedicated and passionate in order for you to still love your job at the end of the day. I mainly have worked on projects in London and internationally, throughout my career so far but I actually live on the Cheshire/Shropshire border and it’s very rural. When I’ve been in London with work all week, there’s nothing that I love more than being outside with my horses and dogs. Spending time with animals is so good for your mental health and this is something that people are becoming more aware of and gaining a better understanding that a healthy mind is a healthy person. When I’m at home, I try to forget about work until the next day and spend time with positive people that I love.
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