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An interview with Sue Timney

Sue Timney explains how she uses colour and gives advice and tips on creating colour schemes.
My name’s Sue Timney, and I’m a designer of interiors and actually products as well.
I have to say, a lot of my colour is intuition. So I’ll dip into colour books, but actually it’s a mood and a sense and a feel and a philosophy I’m after. And that is where the strength of been trained as an artist, as a fine artist, comes in. There’s a confidence and an innate sense of physicality about colour that as a designer you might get taught in a more pragmatic way, I use it more intuitively. And I think my background as an artist helps me considerably with that.
I think one wonderful bit of advice that I’ve learned through having to do it the hard way is, as you know, I started with black and white, two very contrasting colours. And I think for anybody else starting in colour who’s a little bit afraid– and there are some people who are a little bit afraid. By the way, there are some people who have an innate, wonderful sense of colour. They don’t even know it yet until they start trying. And it’s not something they’ve learned. They’ve got it.
But for the people like me who have a sense of what they wanted but didn’t know how to do it, you could start with two very contrasting colours– red and black, or blue and yellow– and actually then develop exercises around that and introduce one tone at a time into that mainstay and therefore build up the use of colour. Get familiar with just two colours and using them together, and then gradually introduce one other tone or highlight, and then maybe another. You don’t have to start with a whole palette in order to understand colour. Sometimes it’s easier to minimise it and learn deeply about one aspect of it. And then that can be applied to another group of colours more easily.
The really interesting aspect of colour and how it changes and why it changes for me is tied in a lot with politics of the time, the economy of the time, what’s happening in ordinary people’s lives at the time, what’s happening in fashion and film and fine art. Let us not forget fine art. Because that’s how we respond. And so the ’90s, which was the beige, was all about being quite depressed and not taking a risk. Let’s face it. And not having the confidence to say, this is the sort of colour I claim. It doesn’t have to be reflected everywhere, but I believe in this. The economy and the time that we went through reflects that beige aspect of life.
Today we’re in a different era. Although having said that, our politics has just changed radically. So let’s wait and see what it brings. But I think it will be quite polarised because that’s exactly what’s been happening. And we can’t forget what’s happening around us in relation to colour or the way we look at shape and form. We can’t. They are together the lives we lead.
If you ask what’s coming next from Sue Timney in terms of colour, the exciting thing is I don’t know. But I will know when I’m starting to do it and when I know what the remit is for each particular job. So for instance, I’m working on a hotel. And the owner, a wonderful Indian lady who owns quite a lot of property in London adores flowers and trees. And so immediately I’m beginning to think about different tones that relate to what she wants and how I can make it work for me within my philosophy. So that’s the answer. When I start to get a tighter brief and get to have an understanding of each job, then the colour emerges from that.
But if you ask me what’s next, what’s coming next in terms of light colour in the fashion side of interior design, I haven’t a clue. And I don’t really care, to be honest because I work within my own world of that.
I’m not really a commercial designer. And therefore, that’s less relevant to me. In fact, being a brand name designer, having my own products as well, means that I hope I kind of lead a way. It’s my way, and it’s not everybody else’s way, but it is a sort of a vision of sorts.
London inspires me, and all the obvious places inspire me, as they do with everybody else. But I actually get extra stimulation from just walking the streets in the markets, and the odd places that most tourists wouldn’t go, most visitors, apart from all the obvious places– markets, and unexpected secondhand shops and popups stimulate me most of all. And just seeing people on the street and the way they’re dressing and the colours that get put together. And all those odd aspects are really where I get my extra stimulation from.
Well, of course, I have to say the particular market I recommend is Portobello because I’m right beside Portobello here. Especially at the odd end, not the tourist end, because believe it or not, there are two ends, and they’re very distinct. And knowledgeable marketers, as I think I am, certainly know the best ends, and the top end of Portobello Road where it meets Golborne Road is amazing.
My comfort zone is being uncomfortable and finding a way through. I love the challenge of something new and making it work in my way and not always knowing at all whether I’m going to do it at the beginning and working last minute. As you saw when you arrived, I’m finishing something now that has to be finished in an hour and a half. And I suppose I’ll do it, because I usually do, but there must be something about the adrenaline that means I don’t quite know what, where, and how I’m going to do it, but I do. So I love the challenge of being slightly uncomfortable, and it happens every day.
The designer Sue Timney has worked in Britain, Europe and Japan for over 30 years creating interior projects celebrating her own brand of exotic classicism under the Timney-Fowler and Sue Timney banners. Her work ranges from commercial and residential interior architecture to product design.
In this video, Sue talks about:
  • how to choose colour palettes
  • advice on experimenting with colour
  • how her approach to colour has changed, and what’s coming next
  • how London and its markets inspires her
  • getting outside of your comfort zone.
As you watch, consider:
  • Where does your inspiration come from?
  • Can you think of ways you might apply Sue’s advice?
Add your thoughts in the Comments.
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The Power of Colour

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