We chat to Natalie Rodrigues about a creative childhood, a hands on approach to client consultations, and unique design projects in Essex
When did your love for design first start?
I guess it was as far back as I can remember – and it started with colour! As a child I was obsessed with dressing up in my mum’s clothes and choosing the wildest combinations to put together. I was a child in the 60s and 70s so there was always plenty of colour and wild combinations! However, by the age of 11 I think that had tempered somewhat. My parents let me choose the design of my bedroom and, even then, I remember going for a natural, biophilic design of grasses depicted on the wallpaper and plenty of plants and wooden furniture.
Were you a creative child?
Yes, the arts were always important in my family – I was encouraged to not only attend ballet (very badly!) and to play the violin (also very badly!), but I used to do pottery and was forever drawing and painting which I loved, particularly still life. When you are looking at a subject to sketch you are focussed entirely on how each line makes a shape, how two surfaces meet and what colour and shading gives to a drawing and it makes you a master at observation. So, you tend to use these skills when looking at all the details in the world around you, anything from architecture to fabric patterns to how a piece of furniture is put together.
When did interior design become a career consideration?
Although I had a creative background, I fell into property management for many years as the role suited my homelife and the flexibility around bringing up a family. However, I was never satisfied and realised that my design projects for friends and family at the weekend was what I really wanted to be doing, so once my family were old enough and were less in need of me, I retrained and went on from there.
What inspired the launch of Rodrigues Interiors?
At the end of my studies at the world-famous KLC School for Interior Design in Chelsea, I managed to graduate with a Distinction and was Runner-Up Student of the Year! The studies were so detailed and they demanded such a high level that by the time I graduated I had the confidence to go it alone and to have my own business doing what I had loved for so many years.
From day one, what did you want to offer?
I wanted to appeal to as many people as possible, as I believe that everyone has a right to have great design in their homes as the benefits to this is not only aesthetic, but has such a positive effect on mental wellbeing. I knew that I was not interested in offering a digital design service like others offer, where everything is done through email. That, to me, never gets to the heart of the client or the design. A good design can only come about through interaction with people, so meeting the client and being on site when the design is coming to fruition is important to me.
Have you evolved in any way since then?
I now specialise in three main areas: growing families, young professionals and discerning retirees! Each has their own particular needs and design requirements, but all need one thing – to achieve a beautiful, yet functional home that suits their own uniqueness – and that is where I come in.
What services do you offer?
I offer an entire home service from designing kitchens, bathrooms, pantries to master bedrooms and living rooms. I prefer to provide a full service which is all aspects from space planning, to producing rendered 3D drawings, lighting design all the way through to sourcing the right furnishings, whether it be the right window treatments or the most gorgeous sofas. I can refer trades and can also offer project co-ordination to ensure everything runs smoothly. The ultimate goal is to take as much pressure off the client as possible, so that they can enjoy the whole process.
How do you like to work with a client?
Communication is absolutely key to having a great relationship between designer and client. It is my job to glean as much information from the client as possible, which can take time, so that I fully understand what they are wanting to achieve. Only after I have a full client brief, can I then translate this into a beautiful and unique scheme for them. Gauging the client’s reaction to a design presentation is really important as this is the time to carry out any tweaking or last-minute changes. Once I get the go ahead, I keep the client fully informed throughout the whole process with regular site visits, emails and zoom calls, whichever is appropriate at the time. This is their design for their home and I am very respectful of that.
Do you work a lot in Essex?
Although I go across the border into London, Suffolk and Hertfordshire, yes most of my work is in Essex at the moment.
Can you give us an example of a couple of recent projects in the county?
I recently completed a design for a retired couple in Chelmsford who had not really done anything to their property in 40 years! I was tasked with refurbishing the hallways, living room, dining room, snug, stairs and landing. It was certainly challenging as, in the clients’ words, ‘we are rather set in our ways’. However, the renovation was amazing. Dull, plain interiors were transformed into bright, sunny, colourful spaces, exuding a fun and joyful personality that matched the client.
At the moment I am doing a whole home for a wonderful client just outside Stock. We started with his home office, which was great for me as the brief was to create something as ‘funky’ and ‘out there’ as possible. The client trades in vintage items from the 60s so it was important to create that vibe. His office suite is totally bespoke and has a specific design to it that is unique to him, so I am very proud of it as it is truly stunning. I am now in the process of completing the designs on the orangery, master bedroom, second bedroom and living room. The client has gone for the whole home service so I am also sourcing all of the furnishings, fixtures and equipment and project co-ordinating the trades. It is also my first time specifying a smart controls system within the home, which I believe is only going to become more and more popular, particularly within mid-to-high end properties.
You are based in Chelmsford – what do you love about being there?
Chelmsford is such a great base for me – I can jump on a train and can very quickly get myself up-town, which is important as lots of my sourcing and inspiration is from there. Likewise, I am in the heart of some very beautiful countryside with all that it has to offer. There are some wonderful properties round here that I am just itching to get my design hands on! I love to take trips not too far away to Long Melford and other areas within Suffolk for the antiques and crafts which is great. We are always threatening to move by the sea, but this could be way off into the future. It’s important to dream, but for the time being Chelmsford is stuck with me!
What can we expect from you in 2023?
I have the client near Stock to finish off, a master bedroom and ensuite for another client, another partial home design starting February and then it will be my own home that will be going through building renovations where we hope to double in size the first floor. At the same time my design studio will be built and I am so excited for that! And if I can find the time, I am also looking into upholstery training as I adore this aspect of interior design. So, everything to look forward to!