THE ART OF PERSONALITY-DRIVEN DESIGN
Personality-driven design is all about creating spaces that truly reflect the unique tastes and preferences of each client. Whether you’re working with a free-spirited artist or a minimalist with a passion for clean lines, understanding your client’s personality and incorporating their style into the design are key to creating a space that feels like an extension of who they are.
I experienced this first-hand when working with two vastly different clients on two polar opposite projects.
One was a penthouse apartment in the sleek Onyx building in Cape Town’s Foreshore. A blank canvas, newly fitted with crisp joinery and monochromatic bathrooms. Its floors and tiles were minimalist, providing a clean slate for our design vision — workable. The brief was to incorporate the client’s art collection and bring the interior to life.
The second project took us to a multi-level abode in Camps Bay, where a client and her son sought a fresh start. Built in the ‘90s, the house’s architecture was a patchwork of styles and struggled with some major layout issues. What began as a small renovation soon became a larger undertaking, but our brief remained steadfast (and pretty similar to the former): translate the client’s style, bring out their personality, and create a home that is perfect for them using their existing art and furniture.
These two clients were worlds apart, on contrasting ends of the personality spectrum. Both were challenging, not just in the planning of the interior, but also to learn who they are, what they like, their tastes and habits, and how they live.
To begin the process, I always start at the heart of the home by asking the crucial question: Do you cook?
The one client didn’t cook at all, and the other absolutely loved cooking, so her kitchen was the most important place in the house. That’s a good starting point — either you focus your energy on that space or you don’t. It’s important to know what the clients are passionate about and start fleshing things out from there. I never try to sell a concept to a client if I’m not confident it will enhance the way they live.
After that, I always go the colour route. I love colour to start with, so I will always try and push for at least one or two strong colours — metallics included. The one client had an extremely colourful personality, a free spirit. The way he dressed and the type of art he collected told a story. The other client, on the other hand, was more ‘stable’. She is a mother and the house was not just hers but shared with her son, so the colour palette was more grounded. We decided to go for natural tones highlighted by dusty brights (what I call colours in a shadow). There’s still energy, but with a mood. The result was a much calmer interior.
I don’t do white. I rarely paint a ceiling white if I can get away with it. White belongs on paper, and what is a piece of paper with no ink on it? I think I also have a bit of a split personality: little bits and pieces of my personality are always visible in my work. That said, I think we also choose clients that we can relate to in some way. Working on an interior someone will be calling their home is very different from working on spaces that people only move through periodically.
For the Onyx apartment project, the brief was a colourful layered cake. Layers upon layers. I think it was exciting to work on, because I would never have gotten to the end result if it wasn’t for the influence from the client and his personality. Needless to say, I never presented any of those ideas to my other client! Despite their similar briefs, the final designs went in completely different directions.
Since the apartment was, in essence, a shell fitted with joinery and sanitaryware, with floors and tiles that still needed to work with everything else we threw at the interior, we had to find novel ways to keep and enhance those elements without removing or redoing anything. It can be challenging to work with fixed elements that weren’t specifically designed with that particular client in mind. Especially this one not being a cook at all! The Onyx client was almost unstable if viewed from a distance. You really had to get to know him and what he is all about. But the interior reflects him one hundred percent: bold and layered. It was a difficult project. Things changed a lot, but to doubt and panic were also inherently part of his personality.
The second project was a complete gut. Only the walls and the roof remained standing. The rest was a complete redesign of a space based on the client’s needs, style, and demands. This interior ended up being more timeless, with softer and gentler colours and textures. Much like the client herself. She is a very calm person with a classic dress sense, and she knew what she liked or disliked. The Camps Bay house project also ended up being more streamlined in nature. The client was involved from the start, but also trusted us in the process. I think, in a way, the end results for both projects reflect what the process was like, what the clients are all about, and how the spaces and architecture limited us while also enhancing the final design.
For me, designing homes is more about the client, their needs and their likes, than a portfolio project to be published. The only way to achieve a good result is by making mistakes and trusting the organic process of getting to know the person you are creating a space for. It’s not window dressing. It’s a 360-degree product that needs to deliver on more than just a visual level. Even though I try and incorporate some of my personal tastes and likes into my clients’ interiors, in the end, it’s more about them than me.
Before meeting clients, I try to keep a complete open mind as to what I want, what they want, who they are, and who I think they want to be. Ours spaces are extensions of our personalities and who we are, so it is important to listen to them. They will be living there. My job is to listen, analyse, and then solve the problem. Problem solving is the line art drawing: the next step is colouring in that drawing. It’s a process. To be able to start colouring in, you need that basic line drawing.
Etienne Hanekom Interior Design