She is a designer by name but, in reality, London-based Sussy Cazalet’s practice spans furniture, interior architecture, event design and art direction – and her willingness to merge them all is setting her apart from the crowd. Cazalet’s raw and inclusive approach to her work makes for a welcome alternative to the pristine white walls and artlessly arranged glass vases which have become ubiquitous in so many interiors publications. “Some design magazines are so sexless I just wanna kill myself!” she laughs. “I feel like design has gone that way in the last 20 years.” It wasn’t always that way, of course. “Look at the Eameses then the Lautners, and the Cohlers and the Cappellinis, all these amazing designers that were coming from America, Austria and Italy in the 50s, 60s and 70s. They were all multifaceted. They weren’t one thing. They designed theatre sets, interiors, furniture. They also shot their furniture in a really sexy, amazing way. It was like they were artists. I feel like so often in interior design, especially in this country, people have lost that element of it being an art. You get those interiors shots of puffed up cushions and you just think ‘God!’”
Since founding her eponymous design studio in 2012, Cazalet has made a concerted effort to direct the way that the spaces she designs are documented, much like her aforementioned predecessors did. Her decision to include people in such photographs of the spaces, although it doesn’t initially seem groundbreaking, is crucial to her practice; art direction was her bread and butter long before she turned her hand to creating furniture. “For ages I’ve been trying to work out how to bridge the gorgeousness and the talent that you see in fashion now, in terms of art direction, and pull that back into the world of design too. Somehow to mix the two,” she explains. “There were the Guy Bourdins and then Julius Shulmans, or the super glamorous photographers from the 60s who shot awesome families in their awesome houses and managed to make it like a whole lifestyle, which no-one does anymore. It’s a whole way of living and thinking about each individual piece, and actually caring about how you are going to live in it.”
Cazalet’s impetus to draw on fashion references comes from her background; she first started out as a textile designer and studied Interior Architecture at Parsons in New York before returning to London to try and make it work full time. As a result, “my take on interiors was very much more set design and film-based,” she explains. “I worked in Pinewood and Shepperton studios quite a lot – any free time I had I went and worked on a film in the prop department. I was very much more into theatre and fashion, set design and photography.” Her route into interiors came about almost by accident, she continues. “I couldn’t have given a toss about a piece of furniture at that stage of my life; you know how people say ‘I was born an interior designer’? I really wasn’t. I would have happily lived on a mattress with no blinds. What I really enjoyed was the image, and creating an amazing image.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, tutors at Parsons told her she wasn’t disciplined enough for a career in interior design – “my beds were coming from the ceiling” – but determined, Cazalet decided to give it a go anyway. Alas, as soon as she got back to London from New York the economic crisis hit. Stuck for a job, she found herself working with set designers and art directors again, creating interactive and immersive events, both for big London venues and as part of her own endeavour. “Maybe my looseness with interiors comes from that, because I didn’t have traditional training.”
Then, after a stint working on the art direction for her good friend Olivia von Halle’s eponymous fashion brand, she was invited to design her house, too. “That was how it started. I kept attracting really interesting, unusual clients, and then I went into the interiors world for a bit, just because it was all-consuming. But I was always adamant to shoot my projects in a different way too.” It was a natural fit; her second interiors job was for Chanel’s global creative make-up and colour director, Lucia Pica. “Because she is a make-up artist and super demanding and creative and impossible, we did create something super, super cool.”
From creating interiors, designing the furniture which filled them was a natural progression – before long she was dreaming up custom pieces to fill the spaces. “I was probably really influenced by my ex-boyfriend,” who is one half of prolific design duo Barber & Osgerby, she says. “I was surrounded by furniture design for years when I was going out with him, so I guess that’s where it all kind of came from. One day I will be better than him!” she laughs. Collaborating with artisans and craftspeople around the world, she has created a niche for herself designing warm, curvilinear pieces. “I am very inspired by Modernist Brazilian designs from the 60s and 70s – modern not meaning straight lines, but Modernist as in really curvy, Oscar Niemeyer style”, adds Cazalet. Rich South American woods feature heavily, as do indigo dyes, and circles. The resulting spaces feel earthy, serene and cocooning – and, most importantly, like they might actually be lived in.
As for her own studio? It’s not as finished as you might expect. “It doesn’t look like an interior designer’s space. It’s like a chaotic jungle-slash-artist’s studio. There’s a white floor, it’s got loads of circles everywhere, it’s got masses of plants and cacti, loads of books and sketchbooks, it’s not a zsizsi, swanky really designed space. There is a lot of rattan and raffia, and I have got quite a few bits of 1960s furniture, there is a lot of wood. It’s nice, everyone seems to like it.”