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Tricia Guild, founder of Designers Guild

The legendary Tricia Guild reveals the secret to creating designs that thrill

Tricia Guild OBE is a British designer and founder of Designers Guild, a lifestyle company with showrooms in London, Paris, Munich, Stockholm and New York. She talks to Effect Magazine’s Charlotte Metcalf about a life in design

After I bought my first sofa in the 1980s, I immediately headed to Designers Guild. It was the first time I’d ever done anything as grown up as buy fabric and there was nowhere else I considered going. I didn’t want any of the stodgy sensible maroons and navy blues or conventional chintzes that abounded at the time. Designers Guild represented a fresh start with its palette of luminous pure colours, contemporary patterns and crisp cottons. 

Nearly 40 years on, when I was offered the opportunity to meet the owner Tricia Guild, I jumped at it. Walking into the King’s Road flagship showroom always seems like a homecoming because I have been going there for inspiration for as long as I can remember. Guild founded Designers Guild an astonishing 52 years ago and remains at the helm as Creative Director, with her brother Simon Jeffrey as Group Chief Executive. Today, the group employs over 230 people with showrooms in Paris, Munich, Stockholm and New York, with flagship showrooms on King’s Road and Marylebone High Street.

Design Guild, the emporium founded by Tricia Guild
Design Guild, the lifestyle company founded by Tricia Guild

I meet Guild at the showroom’s coffee bar. It’s no surprise that Designers Guild offers excellent Italian coffee to its customers, in line with its ethos of creating a hospitable environment. From the moment the showroom opened in 1972, selling furniture and ceramics as well as textiles, Guild was adamant it should be an environment and a concept, never just a store. “I was always about presenting a lifestyle and never about trying to sell an abstract fabric,” she says.

People need to stop being slaves to the idea of good taste and ask what colours they really want to live with.

Tricia Guild

We’re here to talk about Guild’s book Moody Blooms: Designing with Nature, published to coincide with Chelsea Flower Show, and an exhibition, Out of the Blue, celebrating the company’s 50th birthday at The Arc in Winchester (its original opening two years ago was scuppered by lockdown). However, such are Tricia’s achievements – from her OBE in 2008 to her numerous awards, including two Queen’s Awards for Export Achievement in 1991 and 1996 – that it makes sense to start at the beginning.

Guild began modestly as an interior designer, frustrated by the lack of any exciting textiles. “I became determined to create a contemporary lifestyle that was not about brown and beige,” she says. Inspired by a recent trip to India, she created a small run of block-printed designs and used the fabric to cover lampshades, cushions and sofas, adding rugs and ceramics, to show the collection as a lifestyle in situ.  She opened the doors, and the rest is history.

“People loved it, but I was so young and inexperienced that they thought I wouldn’t last,” she grins. “Then I went to Paris, to a small textile exhibition at Bastille. Brilliant, established designers like Manuel Canovas and Pierre Frey came along and weren’t at all snooty to ‘La Petite Anglaise’, as I became known.”

I’m always trying to produce excitement and get away from the safe and neutral

Tricia Guild, founder, Designers Guild

Indeed, one of Guild’s most extraordinary feats was the speed with which she won European and overseas fans. For years, she has distributed Christian Lacroix Maison and Ralph Lauren’s designs, as well as William Yeoward’s. “I was always received well in Europe as I wasn’t traditional English,” she explains. “My approach was very fresh and I was giving people ideas and the opportunity to buy one beautiful object or redecorate their entire home.”

Jardin Botanique Grande Peony by Designers Guild

We go back to her book, Moody Blues: Designing with Nature, exploring the influence of flowers on atmosphere and in design. As usual, she has worked with the photographer James Merrell. “We’ve developed a language together,” she says. “Photography is crucial to my work as it’s absolutely vital for me to see the look.” The book shows how Guild uses flowers, leaves, branches and stems to enhance a room’s mood, and her spring/summer collection reflects this. 

One of Designers Guild’s new ranges, Porcelaine de Chine, is inspired by Chinese and French ceramics; and showing us the intricate detail in a sumptuous Jardin de Botanique pattern of birds and flowers, Guild says: “Wherever you look, there is something beautiful.” This season there are also crisp glazed cottons and the Brera Lino IV range, comprising washed linens in 153 colours. I’d already spotted some striped blue and white slubby linens, part of the Brera Striato range, that conjure up a Greek island, typical of Tricia’s ability to evoke atmospheres. Then there are outdoor fabrics and cushions, reversible and trimmed, made from recycled plastic bottles and all anti-fade and anti-mould. Guild wears a signature tank top in bright cerulean blue over a crisp white oversize shirt, bestowing another pop of summery colour into the interiors she’s showing us. No-one else has quite her ability to put colours and pattern together so boldly yet harmoniously, in what she describes as a ‘mixy match’ way.

READ: How a hand-painted aesthetic is sweeping the design world

So what next? The Out of the Blue exhibition runs at The Arc in Winchester till 29th August, and aims to unravel Tricia’s creative approach. In June, she will be there in person to demonstrate how to combine colour, pattern, texture and form in a room.

She’s also developing a new brand with English Heritage that she’s excited about as it allows her to draw on its historic archives. Looking ahead to autumn, she describes her upcoming collection Tapestry Flowers as ‘more painterly’, drawing on the terracotta and sage palette of the Camden Town Group of artists.

Tricia Guild pictured at Design Guild, which is celebrating more than 50 years in business

She shows no sign of slowing down creatively. “I’m always going out of my comfort zone,’ she laughs, then adds: “Not that anything’s ever really comfortable – launching two collections a year is not comfortable for a start. But I need to keep creating to be stimulated.”  Looking back on what precipitated her success she says: “Perhaps it was because I was never scared of colour. And I’m still not, though neither am I scared to go all white.” Colour remains a Designers Guild foundation stone and today, its paint range comprises an impressive 184 shades. “I’m always trying to produce excitement and get away from the safe and neutral,” continues Tricia. “People need to stop being slaves to the idea of good taste and ask what colours they really want to live with. I like stimulating people into understanding what they really do want and that doesn’t matter so long as they’re excited about their surroundings. And their surroundings are not going to be exciting if they’re safe. So, I hope I’m always going to be causing a stir.”

A few days after I met Tricia, I visited a friend’s new home. In her garden were a round pink metal table and chairs and green metal sofas laid with patterned cushions in juice-fresh lime green and dazzling turquoise – all from Designers Guild. “It’s just a little bit of heaven, isn’t it?” sighed my friend. Tricia’s not just still causing a stir but lifting our hearts. Tricia’s designs make you reach for words like ‘happy’ and ‘joyous’. Indeed, Tricia herself, on describing this year’s indoor/outdoor summer collection simply says, ‘It’s really yummy actually.’ Precisely.

Effect Magazine is brought to you by Effetto