Established interior designer Benji Lewis has responded to the current situation by setting up an online advisory service, designed to give quick, interactive advice on clients’ living spaces. Thanks to our changed working practices his new business is booming.
FD: How did you get started in the interior design business?
BL: I studied languages at university and then worked at Bonhams, the auctioneers, for two years learning about antiques. To be honest, I was always going to end up in my current career but I didn’t know how I was going to get there. I ended up studying at the KLC School of Design in London, then worked for a firm of top end carpet makers in Sloane Square. They specialised in really top quality bespoke carpets and as a result I got the opportunity to visit some extraordinary houses. I drank in all that new experience and absolutely loved it. In 2000 I took the plunge and set up on my own as a designer.
FD: Do you have any projects on the go at the moment?
BL: Lots! I’m currently working on the renovation of a chateau in the French Pyrenees. One of my big interests is conservation and I like what I call a ‘healthy house’. Old French building techniques are different to ours and there’s no point sealing everything up with concrete, the house has to breathe or it just gets damp.
The house is a glorious mix of an 18th century façade on a 16th century structure, and the owner is keen to reinstate the sort of furniture that suits the period. We’re not aiming for a museum, though, which would be depressing to live in! We’re mixing in lots of little touches such as contemporary lighting, which will make the house suitable for a 21st century lifestyle. The house has to feel like a home.
FD: How did Zoom that Room come about?
BL: It was an idea borne out of necessity. I’m used to going where the work is, but all of a sudden that wasn’t physically possible. I set up this online service in April 2020 and I can honestly say I’ve never been busier. It’s enabled me to offer a much wider range of services, from giving hints and tips to helping with a full project, and I think it’s appealing to a wider range of clients as well.
FD: How does the service work?
BL: Before we do the Zoom call, I like to get a feel for the client by asking a few questions and seeing some photos of the room, then during the call I can offer some ‘on the hoof’ tips and follow it all up with an email.
I’m very keen on looking at the practical as well as the aesthetic. For example, clients quite often say that they have a room they’re not using much, and they’re not sure why! I’ll start off by looking at things like whether the room is warm enough, whether there’s enough light, whether the furniture is too big for the room or whether it’s the right furniture at all. It’s surprising how often changing one or two things can have a huge impact, and that’s very cost efficient for people who don’t have a huge budget. My years in the business have given me a great ‘little black book’ of contacts, and I’m very happy to help source products and make suggestions on what to buy.
FD: Why do you think it’s been so successful?
BL: It’s cost effective, and I think another advantage of offering a Zoom service is that people find it less intrusive. I’m not physically coming into the house, so you can show me as much or as little as you want to!
FD: What are you commonly being asked at the moment?
One of the main things I’m seeing at the moment is that people are struggling to delineate their space. Adult children might have moved back home, partners might be working from home, and suddenly you’re sharing the house with lots of other people. It’s important to carve out a little bit of space for yourself to be a sanctuary – not many of us have the luxury of putting a whole room aside, but you can designate a little corner as your own.
To find out more or to book online, visit www.zoomthatroom.com. Prices start at £90 for an hour’s consultation.
All images (c) Benji Lewis 2020 and show examples of Benji’s work.0