Salvesen Graham

Nicole Salvesen and Mary Graham are co-founders of Salvesen Graham, one of the most sought-after UK interior design companies. We speak to Nicole and Mary about their favourite projects, most trusted suppliers and the new Jennifer Manners rug collaboration.

A Little Bird Salvesen Graham

How did you two meet and why did you decide to set up the company in 2013?

N: We knew each other at Durham University but we both got into the industry separately through different avenues.  Mary through art history and then working at English Heritage. I was working in property and for a furniture company.  Then once we both became interior designers, we reconnected and would meet up to have a drink and mull over the industry.

M: It was definitely a company forged over glasses of wine in our late twenties! We also founded our company at a point in the industry when it was becoming much more professional and transparent.  The industry moved from old-fashioned, higher-end decorators to actually being more of a profession. We’d learnt so much from our brilliant female mentors and wanted to come together and try a new way of working, a new angle. We wanted to combine creativity with a new business acumen

Oh dear, I feel like we should have a great romantic story about how we met – I saw Nicole across a crowded lecture room and knew that in 20 years time, we’d be here. But this is the real story!

How does it work with the two of you – do you take turns in the projects or work on your own?

N: When a project comes in, Mary and I will always be the creative directors and it’s done together.  But it wouldn’t work logistically to work in the same capacity on each project so we tend to assign one of us to a project so the client has one port of call.

M: The allocation can be down to geography of where the project is, fit with the client, workload etc.  The team does more of the day to day project management but one of our USPs is that the client can always call us at anytime. We also have What’s App chat groups with all our clients.  It definitely isn’t a 9-5 job.

A Little Bird Salvesen Graham The Collection

The Collection by Salvesen Graham has been hugely successful.  Please can you tell us how this started out and more about your upcoming launches?

M: When we first started, we consciously began with collaborations.  We were a small company and we didn’t have huge amounts of capital to develop a range of product.  We started with the furniture with David Seyfried.  With Jennifer Manners, we met her and loved her – she is like a force of nature and has such a great zest for life and the scallop rugs have been so popular.  These relationships still continue today – tomorrow we see samples of a new rug design we’ve done with Jennifer Manners (to be launched around January 2023).

N: Then during lockdown, it gave us the moment to pause and think ‘Let’s push this idea of our own products through that we’ve been talking about for so long.’ We’ve already launched items like our bamboo trays, lamps and mirrors and our fabric and wallpaper collections launch on June 23rd. There are also lots more furniture pieces that are in development that will come out in the coming months and year.  We want to organically create a broad range that people can dip into our aesthetic outside of our projects.

M: Yes, we love the idea that somebody could do an entire room in Salvesen Graham products!

Do you have a favourite project?

M: Last year, after 5 years we finished a project we had been doing in Cornwall.  It has been designed for the next 100 years and we were very mindful that everything we sourced was built to last.  The client was really playful and creative so it was a lovely balance of being sympathetic to an old house but also having fun with it, particularly with the accessories.

N: Yes, we feel strongly that interiors can’t become like fast fashion, we need to be more conscious that things last longer.  Whether that is making sure they are sustainably produced, that you repurpose a piece or that you ensure that the interiors we create our timeless, that last for generations.  That for us is really satisfying.

A Little Bird Salvesen Graham

We imagine that you keep redoing your own homes – is that right?  Or do you focus all that creativity on your work?

M: If you like interior design, then it’s in your blood and you don’t stop thinking about it at 6pm. I moved up to Yorkshire a few years ago and Nicole is currently doing a house in France and we are always tinkering. We are both doers too: if a picture is in the wrong place, we will sort it out, even if it’s 11pm at night. Installations are heaven for us, you’ll literally find Nicole and I carrying the sofa up the stairs.  Where we both trained, our bosses always said ‘If you want a job done, do it yourself.’  We tell that to our team too, just roll up your sleeves and get things done.  It’s an excuse for me to wear my boiler suit too!

N: I don’t look so good in a boiler suit,  so I wear a skirt!

Where do you get inspiration for interior design?

M: I think over Covid, we really felt the lack of travelling for inspiration.  I was in the countryside but I missed galleries and the urban visits.  But then you find it in different ways, so we spent a lot more time looking at our coffee table books.  We’ve always loved people like John Fowler, the great English decorators and American designers of the past.  We found the time to look at their work much more.

A Little Bird Salvesen Graham Balineum

You must have a long list of very trusted suppliers – please could you tell us some of them?

M: For fabrics, we’ve used Claremont since we started out.  They are extremely consistent with great quality. But only trade people can go in there.  In terms of High Street, our street of choice would be Pimlico Road.  We always go there with clients for the first meeting to see what they are naturally drawn too – from Robert Kime to Rose Uniacke.  It’s a great place to go on a Saturday and see an interior style that might really suit you, that you can create back in your home.  Another place is New King’s Road for inspiration.  I love Charles Edwards for handles – they are beautifully made and really heavy.

N: Waterworks is a great company, depending on your budget of course.  They are a good one stop shop with a great selection of tiles and good service.

M: Balineum (left) do great tiles too – Sarah Watson does beautiful individual tiles.  If you only need small runs for a downstairs bathroom, you can get amazing old Portuguese tiles from Etsy or Ebay too.

What’s on your shopping list?

M: There is a fabric that I love which is called Rose and Fern by Jean Munro and it is the most beautiful block printed fabric.  It is saturated with colours, almost a royal blue background with these blousy roses.  It’s heavenly and I’m trying to work out is it just going to be a cushion or something more.  That’s the challenge for us, we are exposed to so many beautiful things and how do we narrow them down?

N: I’ve got a huge shopping list as I’m buying for our house in France.  I’m definitely going to get some of our side tables.  We’ve just done a cane side table with glass shelves and a glossy paint finish.

M: It’s very much our signature of having quite a classic room and then adding in these pops of fun and side tables are a great way of doing that.  We always joke that there always needs to be somewhere where you can put a glass of wine, whether it’s a bathroom, bedroom or drawing room!

Which are your favourite IG accounts?

N: Sarah Watson of Balineum has a great IG feed.

M: Jenny Rose Innes – it’s of her house and garden too.  She is in Australia but it feels so English. I love her posts.  We also love Butter Wakefield (right) – she is so joyful, it puts a smile on your face.

N: Also SJ Axelby and her Room Portrait Club. Her feed was such a source of joy during lockdown.

A Little Bird Salvesen Graham Butter Wakefield
A Little Bird Salvesen Graham

What’s the first thing somebody asks you sitting next to you at dinner once they know you are an interior designer?

N: Most times, they ask about our Scallop rugs!

M: Or they ask, which one are you?!  Like Ant and Dec.

Anybody else you want to collaborate with?

M: There are a couple of other projects in the pipeline.  Also I would love to see some of our fabrics made up into clothes.

N: Yes, going outside of our industry would be great, across brands.

Which are your favourite spots in your own houses?

M: Comfort is very important to us, houses shouldn’t be show pieces.  You need to make people feel welcome, a cushion to make the chair comfortable, the right lighting.  We look at it all holistically.  In my house, we built an extension which is supposed to be the playroom but I’m thinking I will move the kids elsewhere!  It’s very peaceful, looking out over the countryside, quite American with it’s boarding and painted white.  I couldn’t do much to this house as it’s old but this felt like a space that’s really mine and it’s just a lovely room to be in.

N: I’ve just done our dining room in our new wallpaper and I love it.  It’s really fun and joyful. Even people who aren’t drawn to traditional wallpapers are won over!

A Little Bird Salvesen Graham

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