Nicole Salvesen is ‘buried in a box of wallpaper’ when we speak on the phone – an occupational hazard, no doubt, for the interior designer. Nicole is one half of Salvesen Graham, the interior decorator pair known for their classic-with-a-modern-twist style. The other half is Mary Graham, whom I can hear busily working in the background – theirs is clearly a close professional partnership.
Nicole and Mary set up Salvesen Graham seven years ago, ‘from a really lovely shed in my back garden’, Nicole laughs. The business and showroom, now based in London’s leafy Wandsworth, offers a comprehensive design service to both UK and international commercial and residential clients. Both classically trained, the duo have more than 25 years’ experience between them and cut their teeth with some of the world’s best designers. Mary assisted Leveson Design, helping Cindy Leveson create some of Goodwood’s most sumptuous interiors, and Nicole learned from the well-known classic English decorator Nina Campbell. Over the past few years, they have been included in House & Garden’s Top 100 Interior Designers, and were one of 35 designers in Britain chosen to be part of Country Life magazine’s Top 100 interior and exterior design experts. They are also in Country & Town House’s A-Z of the finest Interior Designers in the UK. (I’m suddenly very glad that our interview is being conducted over the phone rather than by Zoom so Nicole isn’t subjected to seeing my dreary office, which boasts a pile of laundry in the corner and several framed pictures propped on the floor that have been waiting to go up on the walls for weeks).
Salvesen Graham specialise in creating ‘future heritage’ interiors – classically beautiful and carefully curated spaces that are designed to feel stylish and comfortable now as well as in years to come. Their design pedigrees give them a sensitivity to historical and traditional interior schemes, together with a confident and playful flair for colour and pattern. They layer textures and colour and juxtapose antiques with contemporary pieces to create individual, timeless interiors with a quintessentially British edge.
‘Classical’, ‘heritage’ and ‘timeless’ aren’t necessarily adjectives one would pick to describe modern technology or smart homes, but for the last couple of years Salvesen Graham and Equippd have collaborated on several projects that defy traditional norms, bringing together beautifully designed and connected spaces.
I spoke to Nicole about what inspires Salvesen Graham and how they maintained their aesthetic vision while working with Equippd.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Traditional English heritage interiors. We’re very classically inspired – we try to create interiors for generations to come: interiors that aren’t based on trends. We are also really inspired by the individual project. Each project is different and people will come to us with an individual aesthetic as well as wanting that Salvesen Graham aesthetic.
We create specifically for the house or property. The project we are working on with Equippd in Cornwall [Trewithen, an 18th-century country house and estate near Truro] has been a very interesting one because the house is grade I listed, so there are lots of regulations as to what can be done with the property. For us, that is absolutely a house that is being created for generations to come. We are really inspired by the history of the building, so we are making sure that nothing is too ‘of the moment’. Equippd have been very clever in being able to hide everything tech related within the fabric of the house so nothing is too disturbed.
In London, we are doing another project where the client’s job is in music. He’s a composer and therefore the project is very led by what he does, who he is, and what his individual needs are. So this project would have a completely different aesthetic [to Trewithen]. TVC [a collaboration with Equippd on an apartment in London’s recently redeveloped Television Centre] was, again, a really different look. With a modern building such as TVC, we are not governed by its modernity. Of course, we are nodding to it and making sure we are sympathetic to it, but we want to create something that doesn’t feel like a modern box, so we want to give it that softness and gentle feeling that you’d find in a Salvesen Graham interior.
How do you maintain your aesthetic vision when working on projects with Equippd?
Years ago, our clients just wanted a dolly switch – they wanted things to be really, really simple. What we’ve learnt is that now the technology is there to be able to have simplicity as well as connectivity. We don’t want to see the tech – we want it all hidden away – and in order to do that, you have to have a really good team working on it. [Interior design and technology] definitely can work hand in hand.
Historically, we didn’t really work with tech companies, but in the last few years technology has become such an integral part of the design. We just trust Equippd so much and understand that it has to be collaborative. And that’s the other thing: [technology] didn’t work so well in a traditional home, it worked better in a modern home – now it’s possible to combine them both. It’s a real pleasure to work on that and make it sympathetic for the client.
Is the merging of tech and design a trend we’ll see in interiors more widely in future?
I think so. I think it’s really important that you don’t see it – we are creating timeless interiors, so the tech needs to reflect that. And we don’t want to create a situation for our clients, whereby they are going to have to update their tech in two years’ time! We collaborate with Equippd to make sure that doesn’t happen. I think that’s what people who have more traditional properties are worried about. We are trying to open their eyes that, if done cleverly, they don’t need to be worried about it.
Tell me about your future plans and aspirations for Salvesen Graham.
We have done a few collaborations – lighting, rugs and furniture – and we have a fabric range coming out, which is a really nice evolution of our brand. This is something we’ve been thinking about for years. We’ve been inspired by historical archives and the V&A, and looked through lots of archive fabric design. From that we started developing for where we felt there was a need in the market.
We are working on a lot more projects like Trewithen. Future heritage is really important; it’s looking at projects on a longer-term basis. It’s fun to have a client who knows they’re only going to be in their house for five years and that has a different edge to it, but more and more consistently we are working with clients who know they’re going to be [at that property] for the rest of their lives. So therefore we need to make that house work for them.
Salvesen Graham’s showroom is open Monday to Friday from 10 am to 5.30pm at 364 Old York Road, London SW18 1SP. Browse the Salvesen Graham Collection – an eclectic curated mix of beautiful furniture lighting and home accessories – at www.salvesengraham.com/shop-the-collection.