Discussing interior design with Dee Gibson: Founder of Velvet Orange and Kalukanda House
It seems nothing is impossible for Dee Gibson. The London based interior-designer who graduated from Interior Design School before founding her interior-design consultancy Velvet Orange. This was just the beginning for Dee, who has since returned to her roots to design and build Kalukanda House, a hip piece of paradise in Weligama in Sri Lanka. Runway Gallery caught up with Dee, to discuss all things designer, from Sri Lankan antique shops to the Duomo in Florence, and everything in-between.
Nobody has a way of capturing the earth’s rich and diverse beauty, quite like Dee. While living and working in London, she has drawn from styles across the globe which are showcased in all her projects, including a South African and Norwegian fusion in a large period property, and a fabulously French renovation in the south of the city. This is, of course, before mentioning Kalukanda House, a hotel build in Sri Lanka, which Dee shared, is the project that makes her the proudest. “It is a personal project, but I took all the bold steps I would want to, and it paid off” she shared: “Designing sustainably, working with our natural gardens and sourcing furniture from local craftsmen or having things made bespoke by artisans resulted in a space that takes you back in time which the guests are raving about”.
Dee draws from the memories of her travels and showcases them throughout her interior design projects. From the emerald tones of a summer holiday in Lac de Montriond and a helicopter ride in the mountains of New Zealand to the vast landscapes of Yosemite and Death Valley spotted while road-tripping from San Francisco to Las Vegas. Countless locations have influenced Dee’s creativity; however, it was her trip to Italy and Greece, whose impact can be seen most prominently in Kalukanda House. Recalling her trip to the Duomo di Firenze in Florence, Dee noted how “You see these beautiful white stairs, huge columns, a painted ceiling and golden leaves and angels. They just paint the picture of a very different time”. Dee went on, describing how ancient Greek ruins influenced the columns in the house, saying: “I visited some of the ruins in Greece and I loved the beautiful, sweeping, organic shapes and huge curricular arena’s. I’ve put big columns in my place in Sri Lanka. That kind of thing that is very evocative and reminds us of the past”.
The colonial architecture of Kalukanda House is just one of the ways in which Dee interprets the past in her designs. The house combines a sense of nostalgic Sri-Lankan charm with the luxuries of the contemporary day, which, she shares, is something that is not currently a common trend in Sri Lanka: “It’s funny because people who were born and raised in Sri Lanka really like modern architecture, and when I was building the house, all I wanted was to build a colonial-style house so that I could go back and connect with a different time. Meanwhile, everybody else in Sri Lanka just wanted to move forward”.
Expanding further on other noticeable differences between designing across the two countries, Dee discussed the contrasts between the value of antiques across the two countries: “I could find antiques relatively easily, and I had a brilliant time going into these antique shops, where I was able to befriend the owner and then bring things back to life. They are now very much in use in Kalukanda House. In the UK, however, antiques can cost an absolute fortune. The value that is placed on genuine antiques over here is a huge contrast”. In filling Kalukanda House with these antiques, Dee provokes the ever-important conversation of sustainability, which, she predicts, will only become bigger in the future. “Sustainability and social impact are big considerations for designers and consumers, and we should be thinking about careful design and investment in pieces that are as carbon neutral as possible”. Dee went on, “There is far too much rubbish that can be bought online that is cheap and can be thrown away. I hope we can work towards eliminating that so that a more mindful design process can be used. When looking at big trends for the future, I hope it involves sustainably, and ethically sourced artisan led pieces from other countries, crafts and conscious design practice.
In her campaign for sustainability, Dee is especially keen to promote these ethically sourced artisan pieces and is using her role as a designer to encourage her customers to fill their homes with goods from across the world. “More people will make a greener choice if they are given that choice by a designer, so I think we need to lead by example”. She continued, “When I think about ethically sourced products, I want to focus on the cottage industry, wherever it may be in the world, to make sure that these people are not exploited and that they are paid fairly. We need to make sure that these small artisans are recognised and celebrated and that everybody is paid fairly”.
While Runway Gallery is focused on the relationship between art and fashion, Dee highlighted the similar relationship between fashion and interior design: “I will say to 90% of clients that interior design is like getting dressed to go to a party”. She continued, “fashion is a metaphor for interior design and interior trends are mirrored on the catwalk. If green is on the catwalk, then green will be in our homes. The relationship between fashion and interior is so intertwined and so fluid”. The fluidity of this theme is addressed by Dee in her discussion of Runway Gallery, as she shared how “it is great to see a gallery that has curated so many different styles, and you can really see the theme of art and fashion that comes through the pieces. There is a diverse range of artists at Runway Gallery, and this is important for interior designers like me”.
It is, however, hard for Dee to pick a favourite from the vast range of artists at Runway Gallery, as she revealed: “I love Bruce Atherton’s work. The fluidity in his painting and the layers of text and phraseology are very evocative. The pieces have beautiful colouring and make me feel sentimental. I also have been enjoying the pieces by Belinda Frikh for their strong, simple and emotional shapes and Evi Antoni’s butterflies and graffiti-style artworks are gorgeous. I also recently spotted Gary James McQueen’s Flayed Angel on Instagram, which I can’t forget to mention”.
So, after a life or travelling and designing across the globe, what is Dee Gibson up to now? “I am closing out a fabulous job in Dulwich with clients who were referred to me by previous clients. They are adventurous with their taste and listening to what I am suggesting without shying away. I am really excited by this one”. Dee continued, “Another project is in the planning phase. One of my first clients from almost 15 years ago has returned to us for an extension and kitchen design. I love the relationships that I build with people”.
By Megan Slack – Contributing Editor
Magazine by Runway Gallery