6th December 2021 |
Spotlight: Award Winning Interior Designer Clare Morton

As we’re working with some awesome ambassadors for the Glug x ibis Styles competition we thought it was only polite to put them under the microscope, introduce and showcase them! 

Up first we have award-winning interior designer, Clare Morton. Clare Morton is the creative director of Studio Morton, the interior design agency that she established in 2012. 

After a successful career in the film and advertising industries, Clare made the leap to interiors after studying at the Sir John Cass School of Art at the London Metropolitan University which she’s since returned to as a guest lecturer. 

Clare’s bold and eclectic work centres around the design of residential, commercial and property development interiors in London. Enriched by her worldwide travels, she has a keen eye for unique and eclectic pieces of furniture. With all her clients she combines creativity, attention to detail and professional expertise to create vibrant and liveable spaces which pop with layers of colour and pattern.  

In a nutshell, she creates awesome, eye-catching spaces and transforms a room into an immersive experience.


Can you give us a bit of background into your career, where did you start and how did you end up where you are now?

After school, I did an art foundation course and then went to art college in Birmingham where I studied a BA (Hons) in visual communication.

I loved music as much as I loved art so after my degree, I immediately moved to London undertaking an internship at Tomato which was one of the coolest graphic design, film and music agencies in the late 90s/ early 2000s - it’s where everybody wanted to work! On my first day the members of the band Underworld came in for a meeting and I thought I’d absolutely made it as I made them tea and coffee and went out to get lunch for them and it blew my mind! From that point, I did some freelance work within the film industry and managed to secure a really exciting job working for a music video production company called Flynn productions. The company made videos for Coldplay, JayZ, Adele, The Killers. This job kickstarted my life in creative East London – Shoreditch where my studio is now. The East London scene was kicking off then, starting the progression of turning into what is now. 

I worked in a music video as a freelance production manager/producer for several years but unfortunately the bottom dropped out of the music industry with the digital download phenomenon which meant that the only way to pay the bills was to move over into making TV commercials. As my career progressed in TV commercials I found I was moving further and further away from the creative side and more into the project management and business side which although taught me many valuable lessons in terms of running my business now, it meant that I moved away from the creative side.

I felt very frustrated by a life of constantly seeing spreadsheets and not colours so took three months off to go and travel around India. It’s a massive cliche but I was on a beach in Goa looking around at how beautifully decorated all of the beach bars bungalow hotels were and realised I can decorate things beautifully too and decided there and then that I wanted to be an interior designer… it was a lightbulb moment!

I did some research into how I could become one and decided that the best route for me was to go back to art college and much to the amusement of my parents who luckily for them didn’t have to pay for it this time as I was 31! 


I re-trained and interior design I did a two-year FDA degree and got a Distinction. An FDA is almost a BA but you don’t do the dissertation which was good because I just had already done an art.

I had been working once again Flynn productions as their part-time TV commercials rep throughout my studies - downstairs there was an interior design company called Shaun Clarkson interior design and so used to go and sort of stick my head around the door there and asked them about interior design and when I finished my degree I managed to negotiate my way into an internship with them for three months while I was still working part-time.

I’d made sure all of my ad agency contacts knew what I was doing via posting on Facebook – I got a call from an ad agency that I'd done some freelance work with as a production manager they were moving offices and as I had made sure everyone knew that I was becoming an interior designer they asked if I’d like to help them with the design of their new office.

I’d finished my 3 months at Shaun Clarkson and jumped straight into the design of the Devilfish Office on Neal Street in Covent Garden – my first project. I didn’t have any experience on-site with a real build but I knew what I was doing in theory – I had a degree and the drive to take the risk! The project was a success and one of my favourites today although I nearly had a full-blown panic attack when the internal walls were knocked down because the level of responsibility and related cost had become apparent!

Through exhibiting at the New Designers exhibition at the end of my degree course had met someone who knew someone who commissioned show home interior design. That person turned out to be a marketing manager at a big Housing Association - she gave me and interiors stylish friend I’d teamed up with at the time a go on a low budget project which was also successful and I have been working with that company ever since.

Around the same time, my friend and I were approached by a lady called Helen who had just bought a £3 million townhouse in Notting Hill and so we jumped right into that which seemed like a crazily massive project but saying yes and finding a way to make it work is the only way to learn.

Sophie returned to her styling career full time at the Living etc magazine at which point I officially set up Studio Morton that was just over seven years ago and I have completed around 65 projects since.

How would you describe your style of work?


My style is very eclectic it's very colourful but importantly it is always in response to a brief so my clients definitely get a bit of me in there but importantly they get a style that is appropriate to what they're trying to achieve particularly in terms of marketing, how they want the people in their space to feel or how they want to feel in their space.

I’m personally inclined to a Bohemian Chic style which is getting I’d chic-er as I grow as a designer and my taste become more refined and elevated. It might also be a growing up thing!


What does interior design mean to you?

Interior design fun it's about making people feel a certain way in space as well as showing them something! I like a bit of drama and theatrics, playfulness – I love to surprise and delight – it’s a creative cliché but I think I do achieve this in my work! You must give people an experience that they could never have dreamt of. 

The look AND feel are equally important but also practical considerations because you know there is no good having a space that looks amazing but you can’t use it.

If it’s impractical, doesn’t flow, the chair is too hard to sit on or if you use the fabric deteriorates quickly then it’s not gonna be a successful space. People need to be able to continue to enjoy these space they’re built to, they’re not film sets.


Who is your main inspiration in the creative space?


I try not to look at too much at what other people in my industry are doing you know I like to kind of innovate and lookahead so I get inspired by things that I see as I move around London around the world.

I’ve always been really interested in fashion influences - The catwalks always innovate – Vivienne Westwood, always for everything, I love what Simone Rocha is doing, Ashish and when Tom Ford moved into film making. 

In terms of interiors, Jonathan Adler was an early inspiration – his interiors and products are colourful, bright and very tongue in cheek. Shaun Hausman who designs hotels for the Andre Balazs properties including the recently open The Standard in kings cross, his work blows my mind but then I love California style and mid-century modern interiors so it would! I’m starting to look at Axel Vervoordt the Belgian design pioneer who is by no means a celebrity designer but Kanye West somehow persuaded him to design his home…. A very unusual collaboration that culminated in a high concept and sophisticated interior. 

The Italian female designers are doing some amazing work at the moment – Studio Pepe and Cristina Celestino – both use colour with great panache. I also enjoy Bethan Gray’s product design which is both bold and delicate at the same time.

What do you like about the ibis Styles brand and our hotels?

They’re really fun and colourful – they’re bright they're welcoming and they've all got an individual nature so they encouraging of playfulness and having a good time.

They’re similar to the show homes I design that are aimed at a younger market – they show that spaces can be enjoyed. ibis Styles are charming and I love the quirky ways they give a not to local culture in their spaces. – They are about fun and new experiences, they don’t take themselves to seriously while showing off the excitement of the cities they are in – they can be a little bit outrageous in terms of design which makes them a memorable part of the holiday experience.


What led you to change career paths and pursue Interior Design as a profession?

I was led to change career pass by growing frustration with what I was doing day to day being a TV commercials production can be something of a thankless task plus I’ve always been an “artist” so it became more and more heartbreaking to work in a creative industry but not be the person creating. I knew I had all of this all these ideas and artistry within me and I realised that the ad industry as it stood then was not going to allow me to express these so I had to find a way to express it all myself.

When in India that lightbulb moment happened - been waiting for it for to come for a few years – I couldn’t work out what I wanted to do and I think the fact that I just wasn’t stressing about trying to work it out and was taking a break and having an adventure cleared my mind so that thought could come into my head.

Now I think why have not been doing this my whole life?! In many ways, I have been a designer in my whole life I just hadn’t realised it!  

As I worked through my interiors degree it felt like a culmination of all of my skills and experiences – I need to have lived life a bit to be able to make the career change and to have the inspiration to put into my designs.  

The transition challenging - I didn't know if I'd be any good at it so it was a massive risk that might not have paid off , I had to work throughout my degree - money was a real issue as I could only work part-time so had to completely scale back – I didn’t buy any new clothes for two years!

Time was an issue - I worked three days a week, I was in uni two days a week and then at the weekend I spent Saturday and Sunday doing my coursework so not much time friends or my relationship at the time.

Anyone who seriously thinking about a career change needs to be discipline and consider heir day-to-day lifestyle and if they’re willing to compromise on that for a while.

It’s important to enjoy the transition though, I think I took uni a bit too seriously, I did really well of course but with hindsight, I would have had a little bit more fun with it and not been so hard on myself.  

What were the challenges of making such a transition in your career? And what advice would you give to someone looking to make a similar jump?


Can you give us a bit of background on how you create your work?

What materials do you use and what are your favourites? (how do you experiment with textures and materials?)

My process when I get a new brief would be a lot of thinking and I tend to walk around with the brief in my head for a few days before sitting down to actually work on it - 

I need to give myself headspace – the best ideas do not come when I'm sitting at a desk.

When I have an idea I then start to pull together images online - Pinterest etc to begin to show the mood that I’m trying to create, it might involve photos, art, other interiors, pieces of furniture that I’ve seen that I really like, material ideas, paint finished…. Nothing final but a pure mood to then develop from.

It really does start with a mood board for me – I then get more specific in terms of furniture fabrics finishes and any built-in items.

My favourite materials are definitely tiles I’m obsessed by tiles I love concrete I’m getting into natural stone recently so marbles - I love her very veiny marble-like Arabescato or a black “Marquina Nero” 


Where do you source your inspiration from?


My inspiration comes from everywhere - of course, you the digital stuff Instagram, Pinterest etc but most importantly - travel it's all about travel! I try to go to new places as much as possible - Eastern Europe, Bali, Morocco Spain France New York, Sweden, Iceland….I have to get out there and see the world!

Milan design festival - it takes place in April and is where all of the new brands showcase new products – you see great collaborations, new trends and new ideas which then go on to be shown in London at the London Design Festival and also Clerkenwell Design Week. 



Do you have a specific way you approach a creative brief? / How do you take inspiration to deliver a brief?


The most important thing when I get a brief is to know and understand who that space is for. If its an office I want to know how those people work, do they want to be quiet/loud do people need to be encouraged to stay in the office for a long time during the day or not?! it's got to be about the people. If it’s a show home, who is going to be buying it, what’s the market what do they do in their spare time? how do they like to live? 

If it’s someone’s home this can often be the most difficult and because I’m not working with creative people - they don’t always know how to express themselves visually so I need to know to learn how they perceive themselves - do they want to show off to their friends do or do they want a cosy place that they can retreat to, is it a family space etc? 


How do you decide on which brands to collaborate with?

Brand collaboration - of course, it's about working with brands whose aesthetic meets mine but more often than not it’s about values - I’m always interested to collaborate and what I’ve seen from my trips to Milan is that sometimes what might be perceived as a ‘boring’ product can be brought to life by a great designer collaboration.

It’s my job to bring the creativity to a brand collaboration you know I’m not looking to them to provide the creativity but to be open to my insight while I’m respectful of what their parameters - open-mindedness, listening and mutual respect are key to great collabs!

What are the founding pillars of great interior design?

Founding pillars - you have to have a good structure upon which to build so when I'm designing a space I always create a scale floor plan first - I might also draw sections and elevations so I get the technical stuff right first before I then start to apply the fun stuff.

My clients are often impatient to get to the fun stuff – which chair, what wallpaper but there’s a process and that’s why my designs are successful. 

I create a mood board in tandem with the floor plan as the two feed into each other but yeah without a strong structure then the design will fall down.



What excites you about your industry? 

The exciting things about my industry? The people! There are some many like-minded people. Of course, its competitive all industries are but everyone is so passionate - when we will get together at events we all really geek out about how things are made, what they're made out of, the colours, the new ideas, up new things make you feel, where you want to use them… it’s an industry with a lot of really great innovators and it’s a great British export - the design here is very, very strong on the international marketplace and I think it’s exciting to be doing it in London that is still a major player in the international scene.

Is there a consistent theme you try and incorporate into your designs? 

There is not a consistent theme that I incorporate into my designs I think good designers continue to evolve and grow …. There will be aesthetic styles running through like colour and pattern because these are very close to my heart but I try not to impose rules…. I like to be open I like to evolve and I like to work with my clients to see where that takes a design. 


What role does travel and culture play in your creative style? 

For me travel is the most important inspiration – if I've got any time which I don't have much of these days because my business is so busy I will go somewhere…. I'll go to new places, I go to “weird” places I tend to not use the guide book, I’m naturally curious so I'll just wander around and find things!

You’ve got to see the world to be a good interior designer you can’t just look online you have to your experience how places and spaces feel.

I’ve just read a book about the second summer of love and dance music culture and how that has inspired so many things from fashion to interiors to advertising to more music – human behaviour creates culture and culture feeds into creative expression.

I feel like I'm sponge I pick up on so much and it goes in and then it will come out at some point and that’s the best way to do it not try too hard put to absorb it and then send it out into the world through your own design filter.

Have you had a favourite piece of work to date? If so could you explain why? 

My favourite piece of work used to be my Notting Hill townhouse project as it was so bohemian and close to my own aesthetic and but this year I was fortunate enough to be able to buy my own flat in the Hackney area – I hadn’t been touched for 30 years so I completely gutted it, re-configured it and decorated and designed it to my own taste to be an expression of where I am now in my life…. It’s almost like a self-portrait! 

I love it because it’s the first opportunity that I’ve had to design my own home after designing for others for so long. I put all of my years of experience into this project, I’ve got leopard print upholstery, moody dark colours, Victorian antiques, mid-century modern pottery, a roll-top bathtub and accents of turquoise throughout as that’s my go-to colour…. It’s calming yet vibrant at the same time!

I looked carefully at how I wanted to express myself in my home which was difficult because I had so many ideas….. I had so many design options.

All of the skills that I’ve learnt were channelled into my own home - how to make the best use of a small space and how to make it look totally fabulous! I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity and also glad that I became an interior designer and worked hard at my business as that enabled me to pay for it!


You can check out Clare's portfolio and channels by visiting her website.

If you want to speak to Clare, get advice on your own mood board for our Glug x ibis Styles competition, or hear her talk then make sure to attend our upcoming event. You can purchase your tickets here [see more]. Make sure you get in quick before it sells out!

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