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Helena Clunies-Ross brings her expertise to the INDE.Awards jury table

An INDE.Awards jury member of distinction – meet Helena Clunies-Ross, design notable with projects across the world.

Helena Clunies-Ross brings her expertise to the INDE.Awards jury table

West Village Townhouse.

This year Helena Clunies-Ross is a juror for the INDE.Awards. As Principal of her eponymous practice and a designer of repute based in London and New York, Clunies-Ross brings a wealth of experience to the awards table and will be adjudicating on entries to The Interior Space, where design within the home is the category focus.

While Helena Clunies-Ross Design was established some five years ago, the accomplished designer has a pedigree of experience that sets her apart from other creatives and this includes her position as former Design Director at Anouska Hempel. It is here that she honed her craft leading major projects from hotels in Singapore and Paris to private residences in Lake Como and beyond.

These days Clunies-Ross works across the globe, designing townhouses, apartments and stores in Manhattan, as well as new builds in Long Island and The Hamptons and historic restorations in London, the south of France and the Hollywood Hills.

Jan Henderson speaks to this fascinating woman of the world, designer of note and 2024 INDE.Awards juror to find out just what makes her tick.

Jan Henderson: Tell me about your early years?

Helena Clunies-Ross: I studied Fine Art and Art History at university, before working in real estate in London. I would always offer my design tips to prospective buyers, advising them on how they might improve a property in order to maximise its aesthetic potential and value. I then went back to study interior design at Chelsea College of Art and Design and worked at a number of hospitality design firms before taking a position at Anouska Hempel Design, where I became Design Director.

What drew you to interior design?

I’ve always had a fascination with the space one inhabits and the feeling it imbues – from arranging and rearranging furniture in my childhood home to dressing gardens for neighbours’ parties. This has naturally evolved into my career, creating environments that offer a way of life, focusing on balance, warmth and wellbeing.

Tribeca Lobby and Apartments.

Tell me about your studio, your staff and colleagues, and how you approach projects.

Our design studio specialises in high-end residential, hospitality and commercial projects worldwide, with a focus on enhancing the way people live. I launched Helena Clunies-Ross Design in New York as a solo venture in 2019. Over the past five years the team has expanded, operating between London and New York, with three of my sisters managing various aspects of the company, including our Design Director, Sophia.

Approaching each project begins with understanding the building’s essence and historical context. We progress from concept to completion, utilising research, imagery, conceptual layouts and hand-drawn sketches that develop into layered renders. Each team member has a knowledge of the client’s ultimate goal and contributes to the design’s evolution through various stages.

Our focus extends to understanding how families live in the twenty-first century, tailoring designs to meet their needs. While incorporating contemporary elements, we remain driven by the client’s wishes, creating a harmonious balance between their desires, the building’s potential and our signature style.

In essence, our design philosophy revolves around aligning what the client envisions for the space, with the inherent characteristics of the building. This collaborative approach ensures a marriage of functionality and aesthetics, resulting in spaces that truly work for our clients.

Tribeca.

What elements make for a well-resolved and beautiful project in your refined style?

Architecture is always a primary concern, and then the careful interplay and layering of textures, shapes and materiality. It’s about creating spaces that resonate with their inhabitants and surroundings, considering the view beyond the window as part of the scheme and palette.

Marrying raw and man-made materials such as wood, stone, metal and plaster allows for this interaction, with a focus on natural beauty and simplicity, and the curation of details; objects and art that hold meaning and memory, story and sophistication.

How does your background in Fine Art and Art History influence your work?

Studying Fine Art and Art History has instilled in me the approach of treating each project as a blank canvas. This involves stripping back to reveal the architecture and bones of a space, deciding whether to utilise its raw elements or embark on demolition and reconstruction. Allowing the architecture to influence the design process in this way empowers us to layer elements gradually like brushstrokes, avoiding unnecessary additions that exist only to mask.

My artistic background gives me the confidence to start anew with any project, ensuring coherence for both the space and its occupants. This approach allows me to observe how the raw space interacts with light and shade, enabling the design and styling to enhance and complement the architecture without distraction.

In painting a landscape, I focus on a view – a focal point – creating vistas and architectural perspectives. I translate this mindset into interior design by identifying focal points that captivate and enhance the overall space.

Tribeca.

Is there an overlap for you between designing hospitality and residential projects?

There’s definitely an overlap between designing hospitality and residential projects. At the core, we’re designing spaces that offer a lifestyle, achieving a delicate balance between functionality, luxury and comfort, tailored to the unique needs and experiences of the occupant, whether that’s a hotel or a residence.

With hotel design, the focus is on catering to every guest’s needs from the moment they step through the door. So, essentially, we’re curating a premier residential experience by approaching spaces with the same meticulous attention to detail.

Designing with this mindset means envisioning the ultimate guest experience. It’s about leaving nothing to the imagination and taking care of the journey one makes from the front door onwards.

Considering how individuals navigate through spaces, whether it’s welcoming guests at the front door with a place to put your bag and keys, building the powder room off the hallway with easy access upon arrival, creating a living room that seamlessly adapts to various scenarios, or creating an atmosphere of warmth and comfort – all ensure a harmonious flow within one’s home and is exactly what the essence of hospitality means.

Tribeca.

Are there different challenges in design for the various countries and continents?

Designing in different countries presents unique challenges, considering cultural nuances and architectural differences. However, adapting to varied contexts enriches the design process, ensuring each project resonates with its location.

A notable contrast between designing in the US and Europe lies in the priorities. Europe often leans towards prioritising style over comfort, while the US places a significant emphasis on ensuring comfort without sacrificing aesthetics where possible.

What inspires you?

My design ethos is enriched by a myriad of inspirations, from Art Deco with its geometric precision and luxury materials, to the ever-evolving dance of seasons with its interplay of light and shadow.

Finding a sense of calm within my designs is a reflection of my interest in the art of meditation. Creating vistas that gently lead the eye from one point to the next, like a guided meditation – gently leading the mind away from chaos and encouraging it to let go. I see a lot of similarities in Japanese design, which is a particular source of creativity for my work, with its harmonious blend of simplicity and sophistication, balance and tranquillity.

Travel has always been a vital source of enrichment to me, observing how different cultures live and inhabit spaces as well as appreciating the history and architectural diversity. From the classic elegance of European cities to the contemporary flair of the New York metropolis, you’ll find parallels in the blend of traditional and modern elements in our work.

I draw inspiration from cinematography, art, opera and the set design principles of the stage; respecting framed views within our designs and playing with lighting dynamics to create spaces that feel like curated scenes. Classical music also resonates deeply with me. The form, the drama, the harmony; all have a part to play in how I see design – not in isolation, but as a fusion and product of our experiences.

Tribeca.

What are some of your favourite projects and why?

We’re really excited about a project we just completed in Tribeca. It’s a double-height aspect loft, featuring a 20-foot (6-metre) bronze patina bookcase that rises over the living space. The study showcases some stunning pieces of artwork and an ochre velvet sofa that wraps around ochre-coloured fabric walls. The bedroom is dark and moody with a black four poster bed and Japanese antiques.

The space is a testament to the lifestyle we offer our clients – an understated elegance and simple sophistication that invites you to stop and breathe into a gentle embrace of textures, shapes and materiality.

One of our West Village Townhouse projects was also really significant as it one of the only remaining Greek revival properties in the area. Built by Stephen B. Peet in 1845, and situated on a beautiful landmark West Village block, it comprises an elevator, health spa with steam and infra-

red sauna, movie theatre and a 32-foot (9.7-metre) garden with south-facing terrace.

Another project that stands out for us is our Tribeca Apartments. This project is particularly significant as it was one of our first projects in New York and provided us with the opportunity to develop our first furniture collection. The project was a series of apartments across different levels including lobby and terraces.

Detail from West Village Townhouse.

What are you working on at the moment?

We’re currently working on a number of high-end residential properties, ranging from apartments and townhouses in Manhattan to projects in the Hollywood Hills and the south of France. We’re also working on some exciting hospitality and commercial designs, including a fashion showroom, and we’re collaborating on a product line with a New York-based lighting and furniture company, ROOM. We’ll be launching my first collection of furniture with them this May.

We will also be launching a sister company to HCR Design this year, which is a sibling collaborative. Our brand will focus on offering a carefully curated selection of pieces and bespoke items for the home and hospitality.

West Village Townhouse.

What would you like to design next?

We have a couple of really exciting next steps which we’re unable to talk about at the moment, but we plan to open a showroom-cum-studio space in the near future – somewhere that our clients and potential clients can come to experience what we do.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I love to go to the opera and to see the New York Philharmonic. New York is an amazing place to explore, it satisfies my love of food, art and architecture, as well as antique shopping and discovering new places. I also enjoy life drawing and volunteer for youth empowerment programs.

Every experience I have inspires the work I do. Enrich your senses, and you enrich the thoughts and ideas that feed your designs.

Helena Clunies-Ross
helenacluniesross.com

Tribeca.

More on the INDE.Awards with Adam Markowitz and the object-makers

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