In conversation with: Arabella McNie

Arabella McNie is creative director at Design Centre Chelsea Harbour. She tells me about her career background, the trends she is predicting for SS22 and this year’s exciting WOW!House project.

You will have noticed Arabella’s dramatic installations in the Centre Dome during London Design Week (LDW) and Focus – giant slices of blue agate filling the three storey atrium (above) and before that outsize Chinese lanterns in pastel prints. This year you can visit her WOW!Room pop-up, this two room installation, on the third floor South Dome, is just a taster for the Design Centre’s ambitious WOW!House showhouse which will open in June (details at the end of this piece)

I wanted to find out a bit more about Arabella’s fascinating job and, despite being in the middle of LDW preparations, she took the time to chat.

Can you tell me a bit about your background, did you train in interior design? I spent my late teens thumbing through the pages of The World of Interiors and was lucky enough to get a job straight out of school, working for the legendary Mary Fox Linton. It was working alongside Mary that I developed a real love for textiles.

Following my time with Mary, I did a stint at Country Homes & Interiors where I truly learnt the art of styling. Following some freelancing jobs, my first curation role was The Wool House, which was the world’s biggest celebration of wool at Somerset House. That was a breakthrough for me and put me on the radar of Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour where I have now been creative director for six years.

Arabella – creative director at DCCH for the past six years

Do you create the amazing aerial artwork in the Centre Dome at DCCH? Where does your inspiration come from? The concepts for the installations we create in the centre dome and throughout the design centre are often led by colours or themes found in the new collections from our showrooms who are at the very heart of everything we do. Ultimately, every creative project we undertake is a vehicle for celebrating the medley of different patterns, textures, craftsmanship and objet found amongst our showrooms.

My inspiration comes from many different sources, whether that’s an exhibition, photography, even sometimes when I am out walking the dog – I love being surprised by quirky colour combinations, whether from nature or street art. 

Each installation that we create at Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour comes with its own set of challenges, and I have loved learning to think in detail and plan how things will look from all angles.  We work with some very talented model and prop makers that help realise my ideas for the Centre Dome aerial installations so we can continue to inspire our visitors.

Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour has an ever-evolving roster of events throughout the year that are very community driven and, as a team, we are always looking ahead to planning the next must-attend initiative. From my perspective, it is crucial that each project has its own distinct look and feel to ensure we are creating spaces that will inspire design professional and enthusiasts alike each time they visit us.

By pulling in samples from the new collections, Arabella predicts the trends for SS22

For London Design Week you illustrated the current design directions by creating a series of vignettes. Can you explain this process to me? The process almost always starts with the new fabric and wallpaper collections – as you can imagine this is incredibly exciting when you’re working across such a prestigious array of international brands. As the images and samples come in, common threads start to emerge – a new texture in weaving, patterns and motifs and colour palettes.  

It takes about three weeks of investigation, meetings with our showroom teams and sneak peeks to hone-in on the design directions for the season ahead, which we do approximately four months prior to London Design Week. One of my favourite parts of my job is that frisson of excitement as the first samples are sent through from our showrooms and we start to see things in person.

Once we have curated our core design directions, we look to the wider product launches to enhance and round-out the themes. The design directions give us a fantastic opportunity to showcase some truly standout collections and products and the stories behind them, which adds another layer of appreciation for the incredible talent and craftsmanship we have here at the design centre.

(London Design Week at Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour runs from Sunday 13 to Friday 18 March)

Sonia mood board for SS22
Bold patterns in the Sonia design direction, predicted by Arabella for SS22

What is your favourite design direction for 2022? It’s so hard to choose, because there are designs and colours across all the design directions that inspire and delight. However, I am particularly drawn to the shapes, forms, bold patterns and vibrancy of the palette around the ‘Sonia’ design direction that we identified for spring summer 2022.  Named after Parisian early 20th century artist Sonia Delauney, this trend channels avant-garde expressiveness.  Some of Delaunay’s recurring motifs – concentric circles, fractured squares and rhythmic compositions can be identified across fabrics and wallcoverings from Pierre Frey, Lelièvre Paris, Houlès and Casamance at Colony this season.

Arabella’s WOW!Room a taster of what to expect at the WOW!House later this year

About WOW!House

WOW!House is the Design Centre’s first-ever designer showhouse. This immersive experience will allow you to walk through 19 rooms plus a courtyard garden, with each space created and curated by an acclaimed interior designer.

The impressive 400sq m showhouse will be specifically built for the event and promises a wealth of design ideas. The sensory experience will be further enhanced by a soundwall composition by sound artist Peter Adjaye.

The WOW!House will be open throughout June at Design Centre Chelsea Harbour and tickets are already on sale, you can buy them here

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