Interior designer, Elisa Fanella, talks UK interiors infused with Italian flair
Exciting times for Italian Harrogate-based interior designer, Elisa (Cirulli) Fanella, who was recently nominated as a finalist in the 2017 Northern Design Awards Designer Maker category, alongside award winning surface design specialist Annette Taylor-Anderson of ATADesigns for their delightful wallpaper and mural design collaboration, The Italian Infusion Collection. Focus SB's PR consultant, Suzi Baker, discovers what motivates this talented Italian designer, who was 'born wired with a sense of style'.
Having grown up in Italy loving interior design since childhood, you didn't enter a career as an interior designer until 2007, whereupon completing your training your first role was for the quintessentially English Laura Ashley. How did your Italian roots influence your design work early on?
Since when I first visited England as a student at the age of 18 I noticed how much more cosy the interiors of the English houses were in comparison to the Italian ones. The game of textures, patterns and colours was very distinctive, and was what made the rooms warm, interesting and welcoming especially at night. Often gardens and botanical themes were cleverly brought indoors through the use of floral curtains, wallpapers and upholstered pieces. I gathered that it wasn't simply due to the source of inspiration behind some of the brands on the market back then, more so linked to the lack of good weather and the rainy days that made people want to curl up on floral sofas - rather than in the wet green fields - and stare at the sight of colourful and cheerful gardens when forced to be indoors.
Laura Ashley had a beautiful storyline behind the brand. A family business started on a kitchen table, almost for fun, which subsequently developed into a tasteful and exquisite collection that took over the nation. I've always been a softie and easily moved by the human side of things, whether we are talking about business or not. That is very much the result of many years of human studies in school and numerous nights spent reading the classical Odyssey, Troy, Iliad and so on!
I guess what I saw at the same time was the excess of patterns and colours strongly 'abused' and the struggle for the eyes to rest, due to the sometimes very 'chintzy' look these rooms were oozing. Beautiful original architectural features of Victorian and Georgian houses were completely lost because of the fussy patterns on the carpet, walls and windows. Italian architecture is one of the greatest examples of 'balance' and 'everlasting' but ever so 'functional' buildings. Take the Pantheon or the Colosseum; one colour in the structure, multiple harmonious shapes (curves, rectangular, square panels) all combined in the right measure to serve a purpose and stand the test of time.
That was the Italian approach towards my first projects… elegant simplicity and balance in the rooms. Not to forget that the Italians do live in 'homes' not showrooms. They make their dwellings practical and functional, ready at any time of the day and night for their large families dropping by, often arriving on the doorstep for a 'quick' meal or a coffee en passe.
Craftsmanship is still very much desired. En vogue for 2018 is the Japanese 'Wabi-sabi' decor trend for imperfection. Do you see this trend aligning with your Italian-UK fusion approach to interior projects, or is it your view that a trends-led approach isn't always the best idea?
I'm always keeping an eye on how the world is evolving and constantly changing. Not just the world of Interiors but also the fashion one from which I take great deal of inspiration. It's good to incorporate new ideas, materials and patterns but also customise and use them sympathetically with the architecture of the building you are applying them to, as well as to a client's taste and budget. Most of the time you also have to incorporate pieces of a certain emotional value, so the 'wabi-sabi' approach has to be brought in in order to make that specific element part of your scheme, forcing you to produce an adapted version of your original plan. Ultimately, no design is perfect and forever, but it certainly has to be bespoke and surprising - beyond your client's expectations.
What are the main challenges for you when it comes to styling an English home interior?
Hi, I’m Alice’... Maddy’s Room, inspired by
Alice in Wonderland. The project was shortlisted for
the Northern Design Awards in 2012.
Possibly helping my clients visualise the rooms I design and break the boundaries of their obvious choices. I'm so passionate about what I do that I can be a bit of a hurricane of enthusiasm and ideas. That sometimes can be quite scary… especially when I try and push the audience beyond their comfort zone! In all fairness though, it's just been recently pointed out to me by various clients that the one distinctive strength of mine is possibly my ability to 'spread the love for colours', knowing at the same time how far I can push my luck with them.
Are homeowners as willing to push boundaries as a typical Italian home owner might be?
Ah... that made me smile Suzi! The Italians are born wired with a sense of style and therefore they know how to break boundaries and associate juxtaposed elements from the minute they leave their mother's wombs. If they need a second opinion, rest assured... it's just an opinion. The beauty of my role in this country is possibly this one - breaking my own boundaries in order to take into account all the individual elements that come with a new project, to make it unique and totally adapted to my client.
Summarise your inspiration for Maddy's Room, shortlisted for Northern Design Awards 2012
Maddy's Room was a project I started working on in 2010 and finished in 2011. At the beginning of my career as a sole trader in 2009, I met Annette Taylor Anderson, the brain and hand behind ATADesigns. I attended 100% Design and immediately fell in love with the striking and creative designs of Annette's wallpaper collection. We got on straight away on all fronts, at both a creative and personal level.
When I was approached to refurbish Maddy's bedroom, I went through her belongings and story books - Alice in Wonderland totally jumped out. Annette had recently printed the 'Floating Clocks' design, and by looking at Alice's world, the Floating Clocks, the round white and red Egg Chair, and the MyYour Baby Love flower lights, these became the starting point of that scheme. Going back to trends you mention above, that's how keeping an eye on what's new out there feeds the creative juices and that's exactly what happened in the design process of Maddy's room.
What would you say your Italian background adds to an interior design project?
The game of juxtaposition and the undeniable addiction to colour 'in primis' (firstly). I was lucky to be born and study in Rome. Every morning my trip to Uni was a free ride sightseeing the most beautiful monuments on this planet. Varying from buildings erected during the Roman Empire to modern ones; all harmoniously smiling at me as I stared at them through the bus window. There the balance of all opposites is achieved almost naturally, something I find equally natural myself by combining old and new, dark and light, cold and warm materials and so on.
Then you enter places like the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum, and the celebration of colours begins. The scale of those paintings and the finest details encapsulated in the rosie cheeks of cherubs can only be the work of the greatest masters that have walked on planet Earth. Have you ever wondered how they could be laying on their backs for hours and hours close to ceilings and voltas, still able to achieve the perfect result perceivable by somebody looking at them from so far down and with a different perspective? Talented genius, is the answer! I'm naturally drawn to colour and bright hues. I'm comfortable using them without hesitation and fear - scary thought for some.
Ultimately my natural gift of being able to engage with people in general, and particularly with anyone I work with, influences the relationships I build with my clients. I take my time understanding their taste, their likes and dislikes, passions, families, values, and their priorities. In some cases I'm blessed with long term precious friendships too. Not long ago somebody wrote an article on one of my refurbishments of a Victorian house in Harrogate and called it 'Decorated with Friendship'. I'll spare you the finest details but that particular job I will always remember fondly, as the little girl born during the refurbishment ended up being called Eliza.
How do you approach sourcing furnishing and lighting designers, manufacturers and new materials?
I love incorporating Italian furniture within my schemes. I find the Italians are still strong when it comes down to design, the use of innovative materials and craftsmanship. For all that, I could never miss my yearly appointment in Milan, 'Fiera del Mobile' (Salone del Mobile Milano), where the focus is on furniture, lights and kitchens. Buyers from all over the world visit this show. But equally, I'm a great fan of wallpapers, funky accessories and luxurious fabrics. The trade shows in this country such as Decorex, 100% Design, Tent - and London itself - are the ideal ones to visit, to keep you updated and inspired.
Do you have a favourite designer right now?
I tend to look at the fashion scene more than the interior one, that's probably why I love Chanel, Gaultier, Lacroix and Dolce & Gabbana so much. I take a great deal of inspiration from them and I'm lucky to be able to incorporate their styles into my schemes as their designs have been introduced into wallpapers and fabrics collections lately. As for a favourite designer… it's a tough battle between Jonathan Adler and Kelly Wearstler I would say.
How important are the finishing touches such as electrical wiring accessories in the overall design?
Pearlescent Ladies of Fleur mural (warm buff).
The Italian Infusion Wall Coverings & Murals Collection.
They are a bit like jewellery to me… would you put together an outfit for an important do and leave the house without the proper accessories? It would mean half a job done.
Do you have advice for those seeking to work with an interior designer, and how to find the right one?
I would imagine the first and most important starting point is 'word of mouth'. Ask around first. Trust people who've had some work done by somebody in the trade, whether it's a friend, your architect or a supplier, before searching the net. Recommendation has always worked for me and that is why it's very important to dedicate time to your clients right from the start. My alternative is always Linkedin - I always check people professionally via that
Well, my life has always been 'on tour' and constantly moving and evolving. My professional approach is naturally following on the same path.
After a joint venture with stylist Nicky Dyer as ElNi Interiors, I reverted back to Elisa Interiors at the beginning of the year. I'm also in the process of transforming what used to be the Elni Interiors shop into a design hub. The studio, spread over three floors, will become a creative space with multidisciplinary businesses under the same roof.
We are looking into having a creative and welcoming atelier in town where a designer, an architect and a garden designer are able to help potential clients all the way through the process. In addition, thanks to my passion for art and sculptures, I would like to see the studio as an exhibition and events venue, strictly linked to these two disciplines. The future will see more and more bespoke and tailored made key pieces and accessories - I'm already collaborating with other creative businesses in order to achieve that.
‘Less is more’… one of the contemporary
ITALIAN kitchens recently designed and installed
in a Harrogate apartment.
The starting point was the Northern Design Awards last year when I collaborated with Annette on The Italian Infusion Wall Coverings & Murals Collection, suitable for both residential and hospitality interiors. We call this collection "Art for Walls". Infused with beautiful buttonhole embroidered doilies, Milanese marble sculptures, and highly scented English roses in bloom and in decay for an antique flair; featuring the pearl, resting on a bed of scattered leaves and blended delicate flowers on overlapping backgrounds, these gorgeous designs are now available in a range of fabrics suitable for window dressing, upholstery and accessories.
I will definitely be working in collaboration with Annette on further collections in the future.
Discover more about The Italian Infusion Collection at ATA Designs.