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With Atelier NM, Najwa Mroue has made one of London’s leading interior design studios

A nomadic childhood spent in France, war-torn Lebanon, and the former Czechoslovakia led interior designer Najwa Mroue – founder of British interiors studio Atelier NM – to seek a creative route towards a sense of safety and security.

Najwa Mroue never expected to become an award-winning interior designer. Born in France, she grew up in Lebanon and Czechoslovakia (later, the Czech Republic) before settling in the United Kingdom, and she initially turned to design as a way to create spaces that felt safe after a childhood defined by unrest and constant movement. 

“Interior design was always like therapy for me,” the founder of Atelier NM explains. “I grew up during the war in Lebanon and there was so much destruction, moving, and hiding. We lived in chaos without a stable place. People take it for granted to have a lovely home, but I had to create my own home to feel safe. It’s where I feel absolutely protected – everything I didn’t feel growing up. That’s the gift I want to give others.”

The living room at one of the apartments designed by Atelier NM at Chelsea Barracks features an eclectic mix of furniture and art that creates a welcoming atmosphere that reimagines what luxury is.

Since founding Atelier NM in 2015, Mroue has developed a signature style defined by a contemporary vision of luxury, bold colour, and playful materiality – and London’s prestigious developers and wealthy clients are embracing her vision. Last year, Atelier NM won the coveted 2023 Society of British & International Interior Design (SBID) Award for Best Apartment over £1 million. The apartment in question is in London’s exclusive Palace Gate, a street south of Kensington Gardens, and belongs to a Saudi Arabian couple who wanted a London pied-à-terre to enjoy with their four children. “We were up against so many big guns,” says Mroue. “We were shocked to win.” 

From an outside perspective, however, the win was less unexpected. The project challenges expectations and boldly mixes patterns and colour to create a kaleidoscopic vision of family living. “It was such a fun, creative project,” says Mroue. “My client didn’t care about the rules.”

Emerald greens and greys define much of the interior, while each child’s bedroom is designed to reflect their different personalities. In the open-plan sitting room, veined marble surrounds frame the two fireplaces with matching custom dining tables; and in the primary bedroom, a contemporary, electric blue take on toile de jouy by Manuel Canovas is paired with a baby blue and pink headboard. “The flat has so much zingy personality and character,” says Mroue. 

Mroue’s journey to the heights of the design industry was far from straightforward. “I come from a family of academics and professors,” she says. “Even my twin sister is a biochemist. I was always creative, though.” Despite her creative ambitions, however, Mroue initially studied sociology at Beirut’s American University and undertook a PhD in gender studies at Leeds University on scholarship.

In 2009, while still studying and working as a campaigner for Amnesty International, Mroue became pregnant. She told her property-developer husband, Karim Bazzi, that she wanted to focus on a more creative journey, and he supported her in re-directing her studies to a short course at KLC Design School in London’s Chelsea. It was a decision that proved to be a turning point in her life, and after her son was born, she returned to the school to complete a two-year interior design diploma. 

The dining area at the Palace Gate apartment features open shelves where the residents can display art and personal objects, ensuring the space feels like a home and not a showroom.

After graduating, Mroue took on several internships but it quickly became clear that conventional employment wasn’t a good fit with motherhood. Encouraged by her husband, she began to explore independent practice. Together with Bazzi, she founded Home One Interiors, a service that provided clients of Home One – Bazzi’s business – customised home staging to maximise their investment when selling or renting. 

People take it for granted to have a lovely home, but I had to create my own home to feel safe… That’s the gift I want to give others

Najwa Mroue

“Through Home One Interiors, I met someone with a tiny one-bedroom apartment, who didn’t want to hire a massive firm,” she recalls. “It was perfect for us both.” He was so pleased with the results that he employed her again when he bought a two-bedroom apartment. Mroue decided to found Atelier NM and set up a studio in Kensington that quickly gained a reputation via word-of-mouth.

Jewel-like tones give a bright character to one of the Chelsea Barracks apartments designed by Atelier NM.

In 2019, shortly before the pandemic, Atelier NM was approached by a “guy in fashion who took a lot of risks” to reimagine his apartment in the prestigious Chelsea Barracks development. Most of the apartments were designed by London studio Albion Nord and the client wanted something to set his home apart from the rest. “It looked wild,” recalls Mroue. 

With pink carpets adorned with birds, vibrant patterned fabrics from Dedar in Milan, an abundance of Spanish art, and a striking, geometric dining table from Kassavello in Portugal, it attracted plenty of attention. Word soon spread, and Atelier NM was soon approached to complete three more apartments within Chelsea Barracks. “The second apartment was for a client who is a little bit more conservative,” Mroue says. “The apartment looked more grown-up but also very cool, with lots of bookshelves and a bar that lit up.”

These characterful interiors grabbed the attention of developer Mount Anvil, and Atelier NM was invited to bid for the Chelsea Botanica development in Imperial Wharf – a boutique collection of 133 homes, located moments from the River Thames and Imperial Park. “It was our first ever bid, so our expectations were low,” says Mroue. “We got the job and did absolutely everything in all the apartments, choosing everything from hinges and door handles, to finishes.” 

The bold yet elegant style that Atelier NM became known for at Chelsea Barracks also defines the interiors at Chelsea Botanica – think bright green bathrooms clad in onyx stone complemented by pale green timber joinery in the kitchen. “We were bang on trend for calming luxury rather than opulence and for bringing the outdoors in,” says Mroue. “It turned out to be the fastest-selling development in London in 2022.”

A rendering showing the open-plan living and dining area of one of the apartments at the Chelsea Botanica development. Surrounded by large areas of glazing, the interior opens up to a spacious terrace with enviable views over London.

Based on the success of Chelsea Barracks, Mount Anvil commissioned Atelier NM to work on an even bigger scheme at One Clapham, with 300 existing and new-build apartments. “It is near the railway and so has a more industrial theme,” says Mroue. “We used bolder colours to give it a younger vibe and reflect how important transport is to Clapham’s history.”

Most recently, Mroue has been working on her biggest project to date – the interiors of a listed building in Belgravia. The three-bedroom home is being converted into a rare four-bedroom apartment and has posed several challenging planning issues. “We haven’t compromised on anything, though,” says the designer. The kitchen, for example, features reflective brass metal leaf, which Mroue describes as looking “elegant and expensive”, and the living room features two cabinets with a similar gleaming metal finish. Working with luxury surface atelier Benjamin Rayomond, Atelier NM also hid all the air conditioning units behind embossed plaster doors so they read as works of art rather than pragmatic appliances. 

The dynamic combination of pattern and texture in one of the Chelsea Barracks apartments Atelier NM completed in the early years attracted attention from luxury developers and set the tone for the studio’s signature style.

Atelier NM is also working on a new apartment for a young couple in Westminster – where she installed adventurous 3D wallpaper – and projects in Kings Cross and Kensington. For each project and despite wildly varying clients and briefs, Mroue’s aim remains the same: “My mission is to create homes where you feel joyful and secure.”

Read more: Interior Designers I Interiors | Design | Penthouses | Property + Real Estate | London