A WORLD OF GOOD TASTE. Tino Zervudachi is an internationally acclaimed decorator with an eclectic aesthetic. He has an illustrious clientele that includes some of the world’s most discerning business people, art collectors and bohemian aristocrats. His designs can be seen in sumptuous homes around the world.
Tino Zervudachi, Flammarion just published a book on your work with text by Natasha Fraser with the title Tino Zervudachi: Interiors Around the World. Is it the first book about your work and why did you make it?
It’s the second book about the work; we did another one about 14 years ago with a different publisher. Many friends, clients and colleagues asked when the second book was going to come. The coffee table book process is very long and this book began about four years ago. The reason for doing it was to make a record for the previous periods in one’s work. We had a body of photography that showed many different styles of work around the world. Explaining that there are different ways to do interior design and that the same person can do different things was the motivating force.
You started your career in the early eighties with the renowned British interior decorator David Mlinaric. What did you learn from him?
I learnt that the most important thing always in the business of interior design is to get the rooms to be architecturally correct as far as one could, a logical collection of rooms that suits the owner’s way of life, before even thinking of decoration. Everyone lives differently and has a different approach to how they like their rooms to be. Some people collect art, some books, some don’t collect anything. Some people are terribly messy, some immaculately tidy. To create the environment for that person to be extremely comfortable in is success.
You worked for many interesting people of the time, such as the Rolling Stones. How was it?
Very exciting, and I still am lucky enough to work for extremely interesting people around the world, thank goodness. Working for Mick Jagger was great fun; he has remarkably good taste and I still do things for him. The early eighties was a funny time to think of doing interior design compared to now where everything is so available and so easily accessible. In those days interior design was still a slightly mysterious business, and only those in the know knew where you could get things and how to get things or even what was available. We live in a very different world in terms of interior design these days.
“A sense of quality and an understanding of architecture that respects its environment.”
TINO ZERVUDACHI: INTERIORS AROUND THE WORLD
By Natasha Fraser. Flammarion 2022.
Tino Zervudachi, how do you work with the effects of the changing times?
It is great fun when you have done something for somebody quite in the classical style and 20 years later you get a call saying, “I don’t want all of this stuff anymore, I want it to be modern. Get rid of all of this old stuff, I want to sell the Gauguin and I want to buy a Kiefer.” However, part of what makes people’s houses unique to themselves is the accumulation of things through time and through their families or experiences and travels. The most successful very contemporary interiors for the clients I’ve worked for are those where we’ve mixed things up from the past and from the present, and making space for things for the future.
Has the requirement of your clients changed very much?
Ways of lives have changed. The appropriation of rooms has changed. People traditionally would always have had a library, a dining room, the breakfast room, a drawing room and a petit salon, etc. These days a lot of people wouldn’t even know what to do in all those rooms, they want one big room for when they’re a big group and then a huge kitchen for other times. That incredible shift makes it all exciting and different, and one has to find new solutions to make these rooms interesting and relevant to the lifestyle, but also relevant aesthetically; and make them so that they’re not like everyone else.
Which is the most challenging room?
It depends entirely on the client. There’s not a particular room that’s challenging. What’s challenging is the client who’s insecure about what they’re trying to achieve. That’s the most difficult thing in our line of work.
The book shows many projects and you don’t seem to have one specific style?
Interior design isn’t necessarily about style, it’s about understanding what brings a person and that architectural space together, why they want to live in it, and how best my teams and I are able to make it work for them. My role is to find out what the client wants and make it what they want so that they’re happy with the end result. It’s more interesting to start from a clean slate for every project and not reuse the curtains we did for Mrs. So-and-so or the sofa we did for Mr. Duda. They’re paying for my creativity, and I think about it all very carefully so that they end up with an interior that’s unique to them.
Do you try to incorporate the particular locality into your designs?
I do. It’s my role to envelop the house and the person’s life in that house as best possible within its environment. Plenty of other designers and architects want to make a Swiss chalet feel like an apartment in New York, but I find that counterintuitive and it makes for an environment which doesn’t feel happy or authentic in its place. If there’s one thing I’d like people to sense when looking through the book, it is that there’s a sense of quality and an understanding of architecture that respects its environment.
One of your clients is the Austrian art dealer Thaddaeus Ropac. How do you work with a person like this who has taste and many works of art that he can put in his homes?
Thaddaeus was very clear that the house in Greece was going to be the home for some of his art, and which artists he wanted to include. His selection works extremely well with the very pared back and simple interiors that we planned. I sorted out a muddle of rooms that had been turned into several apartments and went back to what the house really was. I took off the old plaster work and took away false ceilings to expose beautiful 200 year old wooden ceilings. We remade all the floors with the local traditionally used stone for that type of house. It was more of an architectural project.
Do you also consider yourself an architect?
The French term for my profession is l’architecte d’intérieur. In England, people have always been called interior decorators or interior designers. I think the French term expresses it better. I’m an architecte d’intérieur and also a decorator.
“A bit like painting a painting, once you’ve added one brushstroke you then need to choose where you’re going to put the next brush stroke.”
Tino Zervudachi, do you often help your clients to buy furniture, objets or art?
Absolutely. Many need us to buy it all, either because they’re too busy or not confident enough. Many we do it together, and many have a lot of it already. For Thaddaeus, we, with his partner, selected furniture and had furnishings made for the rooms that we felt were proportionately and stylistically appropriate to the volumes that I had created. The selection of art was made by Thaddaeus, but in the knowledge that we were making wall spaces and in some cases needed to block up doors and so on from room to room in order to create a wall space big enough for the art that he wanted to live with.
It’s not quite as cut and dry as that, there’s a third category. Those who give one carte blanche are usually businessmen for whom I’ve worked for many years and have done sometimes double digit number houses for them and their families. Then there’s the ones who want to know every detail, and it can be a very enriching experience when one’s lucky enough to work for that kind of client who has great knowledge of not only their own things, but historically about everything. Then there’s the third category who want to have a general idea of what’s going to happen and care about some aspects of the project. It might only be one room that they’re very specific about, how their bathroom or kitchen or petit salon might be done, but the rest they’re fine with.
People sometimes say what you propose is too expensive?
However rich people are, some of them are always thoughtful about how the money is spent and we try to be thoughtful with them. Just because people can afford it doesn’t mean that they want to afford it. We do our best to be like a tailor and cut the cloth to suit the client.
Is what you do also an investment?
If clients are able to see what they’re buying as simply transferring cash into another valuable asset, they understand and feel comfortable doing that. When clients receive a huge estimate for things that don’t retain their value, curtains or things like that, then obviously there can be a resistance. However, I’m lucky that most of my clients understand that the enhancement of their homes and having a really beautiful house and spending the extra money on incredible silk curtains or whatever it is does have a value in that it enhances their home which enhances their life.
Is your work very different in different countries?
You have to really change your mindset from place to place. Working in India, for example, the patience level has to be stretched to its most extreme. It’s great fun and you need a lot of energy to work in countries like that. We were lucky enough to come across a series of incredibly kind and talented artisans who were really engaged in the process of doing things they’d never done before. Not only was it exciting, but it felt useful, and the client was amazed about what we were able to achieve with local talent.
Where is most of your work?
I have three principal offices, in London, Paris and New York with a satellite office in Los Angeles. When I travel I’m not necessarily in the office, I often meet my teams at the projects. It’s really difficult to do a project and not visit it regularly because the overall vision of the final product that’s in my head is very difficult to, in detail, explain. It needs me to be on site to catch things that might be going wrong or improve things as we go along. A bit like painting a painting, once you’ve added one brushstroke you then need to choose where you’re going to put the next brush stroke.
What would you share of your long experience with a young person starting in this line of work?
I hope I’ve learnt that you still keep learning every day. What I’ve learnt, and partly why I’ve been doing it for so long, is that listening to what the client wants is absolutely essential. In order to have the confidence to know how to respond, to work hard and know about what it is one’s instructing other people to do, you have to have knowledge and you pick up the knowledge as you do the work but you also need to research and for every project I’ll do research in order to feel that I’m really at one with the building and understand what the building is, as well as what the client wants. If you put those two things together, with a little bit of imagination, you can go far.
Tino Zervudachi: ARTIST’S STUDIO REIMAGINED, LONDON.
Photo by Ambroise Tezenas.
VAL DE LOIRE FAMILY CHÂTEAU RESTORED, FRANCE. Photo by Derry Moore. Image from Tino Zervudachi: Interiors Around The World (Flammarion 2022)
Tino Zervudachi:ESCAPE TO GREECE, HYDRA.
Photo by Derry Moore.
Tino Zervudachi: ESCAPE TO GREECE, HYDRA.
Photo by Derry Moore.
Tino Zervudachi: COLLECTOR’S HIDEAWAY, GREECE.
Photo by Derry Moore.
Tino Zervudachi: BOLD NAUTICAL DESIGN.
Photo by Antoine Bootz.
“The new way of creating a style is all through social media and that’s why people are lost.”
Tino Zervudachi, how is working for younger clients?
It can be frustrating because they’re very often in a hurry and don’t necessarily know what they want, but they think they do. By the same token you can learn from their approach to a more modern life, and if you listen to what they have to say it can be very instructive.
Do you create a close relationship with each client?
To create a bond of confidence is one of the most important things of all, because if there’s no confidence between the client and the designer/decorator you’ll be second guessing each other. If the client is feeling that they’re not being listened to or if I feel that I’m not being listened to, then there’s something wrong in that relationship and best to just let it go.
At the end of a project should the client feel that the house is all theirs?
I don’t feel I have any ownership over any of the houses I’ve ever done for anybody. The fact that they feel it’s theirs is the sign of a successful project, and that I have just helped them is the way it should be.
In the book you mention that many clients became your friends over the years?
That’s true. Some people think that’s wrong. I enjoy it because it’s part of my life. I give a lot to them. They give a lot back. There’s no reason why that complicity shouldn’t go on in your private life.
Are many of your projects ongoing?
We recently had to turn a room into a huge library because the client had bought a book collection they needed to house. I really enjoy those adjustments, because it shows the house is living and you’re able to add another layer. I’ve got clients I do that with all the time. Another thing is that you find yourself working for people’s children, sometimes even grandchildren, and that is also very enjoyable because you knew that grown up child as a young child and so you know where they’re coming from.
How do you respond to the fashion nowadays for bright colours?
I love clients who like to explore colour and I encourage them to do so. I personally prefer, for my own taste, slightly calmer colours, because I think they’re easier to live with. But there are certain rooms that can dictate a stronger colour, which is great.
Has the digital age helped to change people’s taste?
Clients say, Oh, I saw this, I saw that, and they spend 20 minutes trying to find some image that can be useful or is completely irrelevant sometimes. Just because you’ve seen 30 photos of different ways to do a curtain doesn’t necessarily mean that any of them are relevant to that particular place.
A multi ethnic city like London may also have very different tastes?
That’s right, and design is much looser and far less clear cut than it was historically or in the past when there was a Louis XVI or a George I or George II style or a Biedermeier style. The new way of creating a style is all through social media and that’s why people are lost. They follow influencers who are saying what they think is the right way and create little tribes. You could subdivide them into a hundred different groups.
All Images by Kind Permission.
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