20 February 2012

INTERVIEW: Naomi Cleaver

Feb 2012 Naomi Cleaver

The TV presenter and interior design guru talks practical innovation, copper taps and why the 'eco' message has become even more significant since the recession...

Q: Do you think the 'eco' message has got lost among consumers since the recession or is it even more relevant?
A: I think the desire to be more eco-friendly is just as strong but it's interpreted in a different way. Particularly in the recession, people want to save money, and cutting back on energy and water saves money, which by association makes them eco-friendly.

Q: People want luxurious products but they also want to be eco and save on water and energy, can you marry the two together?
A: I'm not a huge fan of gadgetry, in fact I always say a fancy kitchen does not a good cook make. But, I do think there are certain gadgets, like hot water taps and waste disposal units, that are very clever in a simple way, and if they can demonstrably save you money then why not invest in them. In my research I've discovered that we send five million tonnes of plastic to landfill in the UK. One million tonnes is the equivalent of 20,000 two-litre water bottles. Just by investing in one tap means you'll never have to buy bottled water again and then on the hot side. If you're drinking lots of cups of tea, then it's going to save you energy.

Q: What trends are you seeing in kitchens and bathroom design at the moment?
A: Because of the downturn, I think we're going to see a resurgence in basic gadgets that were very popular in the 1970s, like pressure cookers that are incredibly energy saving and Tupperware, which is all about food preservation. So the eco message is not just about saving money it's about saving resources.

Q: Is the overused term 'the bathroom is a sanctuary' just a bit of a cliché?
A: I think the point to remember is that bathrooms and kitchens are extremely important places in a home, just as much as living rooms and bedrooms are. The very specific thing about bathrooms is that they have to work particularly hard because they have to fulfill very black and white functions. But they have the potential to fulfill rather more abstract desires and I think that's where the wellness factor and the saying 'the bathroom is a sanctuary' comes in.

Q: Describe your own home? What drew you to the products you chose?
A: I like simplicity, so I'm really very happy with beautiful, simple things and that's what my home is like. When I'm designing a room, I let the space dictate the product. When I specify products for my clients I like to keep things beautiful but practical.

Q: What have you been up to lately?
A: I've been busy designing my own collection for Royal Warrant holders Barber Wilsons. I was frustrated with the lack of finishes, other than chrome, available in brassware so I decided to come up with my own. It's called the Cuprum range, which is Latin for copper. Models are available in weathered bronze, brushed brass and copper, obviously. Each tap also features a ceramic disc with a picture of a sun for the hot taps and a snowflake for cold. Sticking with the eco theme, for my kitchen taps in the same collection I've added a foot pedal operating system to help eliminate water wastage.

Q: Do you think that product innovation has suffered as a result of the recession?
A: I'd like to think that actually what the recession has done is strip away all of the innovation we didn't really need. Before the recession I think we'd moved away from practical innovation. I love product designing and innovation but it has to be practical. When I was filming I saw all manner of crazy product innovations and some people do love that kind of thing but I prefer to keep things beautifully simple.

Q: What product would you like to see next?
A: I'd love to see a return to coloured sanitaryware, although, even though I'm a fan, maybe not avocado. There's a wonderful company in the UK that will take certain models and fire them in their own kiln in a huge range of colours. So I'd definitely like to see more of that creeping through. I think coloured sanitaryware does work, you just have to marry it with products that complement it.

Q: In his book '43 Principles of Home' Kevin McCloud made the controversial comments that structurally, there's a negligible difference in quality between a £5,000 kitchen and its £50,000 equivalent and made the point that you can find a decent oven in a skip....
A: Unless you're looking at skips in Belgravia, then the comment about picking up a decent oven from a skip is nonsense. I also don't agree with the comment about a £5,000 kitchen being the same as a £50,000 kitchen. He was probably just trying to make the point that you can get decent products without spending a fortune.  I made a similar point in my book about Elizabeth David. She had a very basic kitchen and she was an amazing cook. You don't need a fancy kitchen to be a great cook.


Q: What products stand out as truly inspirational during your career?
A: Genuinely, InSinkerator's filtered water and hot water taps. Also, and this is going to sound really dull and boring, but I've just bought myself a chest freezer. It's incredibly energy-efficient, it costs something ridiculous like £24 to run for the whole year. So I would say, that's my top favourite product for innovation.

Q: What inspires your designs?
A: I live in Devon now, which I love, so I'm very inspired by nature and art. When I work on a project I always look at the building and I speak to the clients about what they love. I know some designers can design a room in five minutes, but that's just not me. I spend time getting to know the client, what they like and what they dislike, so I build up a picture of their lifestyle.

Q: Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?
A: Well you won't know him, but Steve Jensen, a guy I was at art college with. Sometimes when you're at college it's not just the teachers who influence your work it's your fellow students. He is a wonderful, incredibly talented guy. He's still designing, in fact he does a lot of work for Vivienne Westwood.

Q: Whom do you admire most in the industry?
A: I really admire Patricia Urquiola's work. I think she's amazing, truly inspiring. I have a real affection for female designers and I think we need more of them. This is perhaps going to sound really sexist but I think female designers sometimes have more of an affinity with domestic design. Don't get me wrong, boys are great, we love boys, they're really talented. I just feel that ladies are sometimes more suited to a domestic situation.

Q: What's been the highlight of your career?
A: There have been so many. It's hard going sometimes, but I love filming for the television. What I'm also grateful for are the peripheral projects I've been able to get involved with. I've been working for the Design Museum, organising and holding master classes for kids. I've also had the chance to go to some of the most amazing places in the world. I'd love to get more involved with product design in the industry and I'm hoping my tap collection is just the beginning.

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