Guy Oliver has worked as a designer for over 20 years. His practice is known to have a balance between private residences, yachts and aircraft and niche luxury hotel projects. Guy has gained a reputation for his unique style combined with an unusual level of creativity backed by a solid understanding and knowledge of diverse periods and artisanal techniques.
How did your interest in craft begin?
My mother had an antiques business and my parents were both avid collectors and as a result I started collecting at an early age. They taught me to appreciate how things are made, how they feel and weigh and about attention to detail. From a very early age, I came into contact with furniture makers and restorers, polishers and engravers, artists, silversmiths and glass makers and in turn they taught me that looking behind or underneath an object is as important as looking at it and will reveal its ‘character’, a maker’s mark, an inventory stamp, the patina of age and the quality of the workmanship.
How do you select craftsmen and commission works for your projects?
Over the years, you build up a network. In my adult life, I studied with artisan makers at the Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture and I still work with them today. Craftsmen and artisans know each other and a cabinet maker will introduce you to a signwriter, a polisher to a gilder, a furniture maker to a wood carver and so on.
Can you tell me about a particularly challenging project and a particularly exciting project?
My most challenging project was delivering Fera, the restaurant, at Claridge’s Hotel, every single element of which was bespoke and designed by me, from inception to completion, in 5 months. It was a seemingly impossible brief, bringing sustainable organic food to a Mayfair hotel that is known for its 1920s and 1930’s glamour.
I had excellent working relationships with marble masons, plasterers, carpet and textile weavers, embroiderers, metal and leather workers, glass and cabinet makers and we created glass ceilings, architectural light installations and unique furniture all within one coherent new space which felt as if there was a continuity with the past, because the design vocabulary worked with the architecture and culture of the hotel. The whole process was very much like writing a symphony and conducting an orchestra all at the same time.
Image Credit: Oliver Laws
Does your own home reflect your professional style and what craft do you collect?
That is a tough one, it is hard to be objective about your own space. My home is very eclectic, which I suppose reflects my personality. I used to say that “ the carpenter’s door is always broken” or “the cobbler’s children have no shoes” because there is no deliberate over-arching plan and it has evolved over time. There are a mix of things that I have picked up on my travels as well as art and antiques that I have collected or been given. Certainly there is an artisan theme to many of the items that I have collected, a Japanese temple, wood carvings from Cambodia, pottery from Istalif ( north west of Kabul ), tiles from Uzbekistan, pieces of architectural salvage from lost buildings as well as furniture that I have designed for exhibitions or prototypes for projects.
What new up-and-coming makers do you have your eye on?
The Scholars of The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust work to an incredibly high standard. I make a point of attending the City and Guilds Graduate shows. Recently, I came across two carvers there that I rate: Miriam Johnson and Sue Aperghis.
What did you learn from your time working in Afghanistan?
Not all artisans and craftsmen are able to read two dimensional drawings, designs or sketches. Sometimes you have to work with 3 dimensional forms or models and spend more time with the maker in their workshop to explain what it is, as a designer, that you are trying to achieve. The philosophy and ethos of The Turquoise Mountain Foundation (of which I am founding Creative Director ) is to encourage indigenous craft, often in post conflict or post disaster environments and to promote excellence in the work that is taught and studied. There is an incredible dignity in an artisan seeking to achieve the highest standards in their work and to be able to earn a living in that way. TMF helps students develop their skills and teaches them how to run a business. It reminds me of a Confucian saying that I love “ it is better to teach someone how to fish, than to give them a fish”
What’s next for your business ?
Project wise, I am working on a vintage yacht, a boutique hotel and two private homes. On the philanthropic / charitable side, I am a trustee of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, an Ambassador for The Museum of London and also for the ICRW, which is a charity that promotes gender equity in emerging economies and of course I support The Turquoise Mountain Foundation.
You can contact Guy Oliver at Oliver Laws.