Suzie McAdam’s interiors style: ‘Bad lighting can kill a room’

Interior designer on avoiding trends and the future of sustainable furniture

Designer Suzie McAdam has taken the Irish interiors world by storm since bursting on the scene in 2010, with the unique blend of whimsy and cool that she weaves into all her projects, which range from co-working offices to curating her Instagram feed.

Last week she took home the gong for Interior Designer of the Year, at the Image Interiors & Living Design Awards. Editor of the title, Amanda Kavanagh, says that McAdam "was chosen for her sophisticated designs that mix the best of Irish and international suppliers, which was evident in a space commissioned for Jameson in a listed Georgian building in Dublin City and also her residential projects that display her ability to blend eras seamlessly."

Here she tells us what she thinks sets her style apart.

How long have you been working solo as an interior designer?

After graduating from Interior Design in DIT in 2010, I cut my teeth with design firms in Ireland and California before setting out on my own in 2012. I worked independently for many years until 2017, when I hired my first employee and I now have a team of seven.

How has your design style evolved over the years?

It's grown up and feels more natural now. Visiting Eileen Gray's E1027 house (before its restoration) and also staying in Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation in Marseille during a college trip had a huge influence on me. They became my early design heroes and I was very much a minimalist when I graduated.

But the more I travelled to Paris, Milan and London sourcing for different projects, my knowledge of the great interior masters grew, there was an entire hidden interior world there, that wasn't part of any curriculum. From 20th century greats such as Dorothy Draper, David Hicks and Rose Cumming, to their modern counterparts including JP De Meyer, Miles Redd and Pierre Yovanovitch. Even on days off I am still reading and researching new design influences every day. Steven Gambrel, Veere Greneey, Jean Louis Deniot and Joseph Dirand are my current obsessions.

What sets your interiors apart?

Homes shouldn’t look like show houses; each piece, whether it is furniture or lighting should have a connection to both the client and the home it’s in. Carbon copy homes have become de rigueur and unique interiors take time and energy to create but I adore that process.

I like to draw upon multiple periods and genres; nothing inspires me more than the patina of time. A strong colour palette, stylistic eclecticism with a couple of moments of glamour. Many architects are terrified of fabric and furnishings, but there’s a refined approach to interiors that can truly enhance architecture and elevate it.

What’s been your favourite project?

I have always had a soft spot for Georgian architecture, so I have been lucky enough to work on two private residences in Georgian squares. There is something about the proportions, light and elegance that makes it a pleasure to design their interiors.

You’re currently doing up your own house. How different is designing your own space?

What I’ve loved about doing my own house is I can be true to my style, I can express, experiment and essentially take more risks. Although my husband has vetoed having pink onyx kitchen worktops, so we are having them in the master bathroom instead. Also, my approach has always been to understand what my clients’ style and aesthetic is and work that into their interiors versus imposing a particular look, so it has been interesting to explore my vision and inspiration.

I find film endlessly inspiring: Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, has been a particular inspiration for the design direction of my house.

The biggest mistakes people make in their home?

Being afraid of colour. In Irish homes, with our relatively grey sky and landscape, the introduction to some colour and tone is very important. I’m not suggesting to paint everything bright; a subtle natural tone can still have a big impact.

The design changes that can have maximum impact?

Bad lighting can kill an interior, no matter how wonderful it is, I always introduce layered lighting. Tables lamps, flooring lamps and pendants verses blanket downlighters. Don’t forget the candles too.

The interior trend that needs to disappear?

Industrial everything. I think exposed bulbs and metal have a place but are probably better in a loft conversion than throughout an entirely new house.

What should we buy next?

Sustainable furniture and lighting is a huge and positive trend I have seen in the industry, being more aware as to where pieces are produced and their impact on the environment. I’ve also seen a lot of buzz around the “Grand Millennial”, which is a “New Traditionalist”, ie devotees who love wicker, chintz and someone who has an appreciation for the past.

Hottest paint colour of the moment?

I was more led by colour trends when I began designing but I when I choose what paint shades to use now, I think - What will create the right atmosphere rather than what’s hot right now. My advice is never be a slave to trends or a single colour scheme, use it as your foundation and build from there.

Suzie Mc Adam's new concept store, The Design Seeker, opens in Monkstown village this month, retailing both contemporary and vintage furniture, lighting and textiles and will be offering a boutique design service by appointment.