We love interior designer Ana Engelhorn and her perfectly imperfect approach to design. Born in Switzerland, Ana has caught the attention of magazines like Homes and Garden and Belgravia as well as being shortlisted for 3 prizes in the Design et al awards. We were lucky to talk with her about her passion for the ‘wabi-sabi’ principle, the design process, and her inspirations, as well as getting some tips and advice for young designers.

So Ana, the ‘wabi-sabi’ principle? What is it? And how are you incorporating it into your work?

For me, wabi-sabi in design is the celebration of the imperfect – be it material finishes, asymmetric objects or antique furniture – it is the notion that an object or material is alive and evolves with time. At Ana Engelhorn Interior Design we love to work with homes and materials that have a history, that have become more beautiful with age. If a wabi-sabi product were a person, it would be a beautiful older woman with silvery grey hair and wrinkles that tell stories of her past. However, we also love bringing together the old and the new, incorporating antiques, with their tell-tale signs of wear, with modern pieces to create a fresh, timeless look.

What are the most important things to know about you? How did you get into interior design?

I took the long route, first studying Business Administration and then working in hospitality. In my private life, I moved a lot and always did up my own homes. I loved the process but never thought about making it my living, it just didn’t cross my mind.  It was a natural process for me to buy properties, do them up and then sell them. It was during this process that I was told I should do this for others and it just clicked. So, I went back to study design and moved to London to do it professionally.

Talk us through your design process

Before any actual designing gets underway, I take time to get to know my clients and their projects, be it a home or commercial property. I like to have the first meeting at the property so I can see it and find out what they are looking for, the scope of work required and the desired result. We then have a second meeting where I go into the business side of things – the Design Brief, the estimate and the contract. It’s important for me to have full transparency and clarity not only on the design and cost but on each of our responsibilities – I find good communication lays the groundwork for a strong, positive working relationship. If the client is happy and we decide to work together, I go into discovery mode, creating the best design for my client. Using samples, floorplans and sketches I present it to the client, working with them to ensure everything is as they envisioned. If the client is happy and would like me to do the sourcing of the FF&E, I will proceed. I like to stay flexible, however, giving them the Design Plan if they want to source the products themselves. 

How do you find products to use in your work? Do you have a favourite magazine / social platform you use? How about your favourite website?

I draw inspiration from many different places. Magazines are a great source – I actually still prefer this traditional print media to digital media like Pinterest or Instagram (although I do look at them all). I find it so satisfying to take magazines apart and put the pages in my home filing system to draw on for inspiration at a later date. My favourite website right now is my own! I just finished redoing it and I am so happy with it (and the fact that the process is over), that I look at it every day. In general, I do like looking through other interior designers’ websites to catch up on their news and look at projects they are working on. I think it’s important to stay open to browsing through designers online to keep an eye on what’s out there. A variety of things influence me. I love different cultures and I have lots of hobbies and personal interests, but I am not one who can say ‘This is 100% me’. My biggest inspiration is my family, which in itself is very diverse culturally. We all share the same ethos of mixing old with new and loving materials that adapt to and evolve with spaces.

What is the most frustrating aspect of your job as a designer? And the most rewarding one?

The most frustrating is when clients don’t understand the overall cost savings an Interior Designer can give. When you do things yourself, bit by bit, sometimes getting decisions wrong or changing various aspects after the fact, things can end up costing much more than if you get someone professional to draw everything up for you, helping you make a decision on everything from the start. Plus, the trade discounts an Interior Designer can get you can make a huge difference to your FF&E cost. The most rewarding part of a project is seeing a very happy client at the end. It’s especially nice when I have helped the client to go for a design or to choose things they would not have gone for on their own. With my guidance, they’ve taken a risk, but one that has pushed the boundaries for them on what they thought possible. That’s the real pleasure for me.

What bathroom trends do you think we’ll see in 2019 / 2020?

I am hoping for more perfectly imperfect finishes like Opus Bathrooms! I love it when manufacturers are not afraid to produce something where the finished product is out of their control.As for the new trend … I think people are ready to move away from the clinical white and beige look towards warmer, homelier colours with texture.

What are you most proud of so far?

Since moving to London, I have built up a business and put myself out there, networking and meeting suppliers. I am proud to have caught the attention of magazines like Homes and Garden and Belgravia as well as being shortlisted for 3 prizes in the Design et al awards. So, in the end, I would say I am proud of my progress, believing in myself to start and pushing through.

What advice do you have for young designers or architects reading this interview?

Don’t be afraid to start. You will be amazed to find how many people you actually know and, if you present yourself as an Interior Designer, how many will love your work.

So, what’s next?

It’s the start of design season so lots of shows and networking opportunities coming up!