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Audrey Carden & Eleanora Cunietti - Carden Cunietti

30th Jul 2013

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Audrey Carden and Eleanora Cunietti met in a London antique fair while both were scouting for distinctive pieces for clients; to say that their past was slightly different is perhaps an understatement. Audrey studied history at Glasgow University and had recently ended her job as a London property developer to concentrate on her passion for design, while Eleanora had graduated in Art and Design from Ontario College of Art and Design, but at the time of meeting was already working on her own within design. Luckily, what simply began as a shared love for antiques has spawned one of the most powerful interior design partnerships in the world. 

From there, they established the much-loved Carden Cunietti store in London’s Notting Hill in 1996, where their dramatic, eclectic accessories and interiors fittings from around the world became renowned. Now, they concentrate full-time on their thriving interior design practice in central London. Together, Audrey and Eleanora and their team of designers have designed numerous personal and harmonious spaces for clients in the UK, Europe and the United States. Their work has been published in numerous magazines around the world including House & Garden, Vogue, and Elle Decoration.

They are known for their commitment to listening to their client’s wants, needs and desires, designing artfully with an eye for dramatic, luxurious textures and accessories, and seeing all stages of each installation come to fruition.

Without further-ado, we invite you to chat with Audrey Carden and meet the award-winning Carden Cunietti...

What does interior design mean to you?
The luxury of working with beautiful furniture, luxurious finishes and fabrics - it's always inspiring. Our design philosophy is that creating a beautiful, glamorous space should be fun and enjoyable which is exactly what interior design brings to us every day.

Define the concept behind Carden Cunietti
I wouldn't say that we have a set design style but our ethos is to work to the clients’ brief to interpret their needs. Our aim is to create as comfortable a home as possible for the client - we always say it is their home, not ours, and our primary job is to help them realise their vision. We like a creative mix of styles and we love using luxurious fabrics and furniture to create serene interiors, all the while spicing it up with a dash of glamour. House & Garden recently described us as, "the place to come for glamorous interiors spiced with zesty colour and underpinned with luxury. The Carden Cunietti team are creatively bold, so expect the unexpected." Working on some of the world's most beautiful private residences for some of the planet's biggest names, we also pride ourselves on our confidential service. 

Tell us more about how was Carden Cunietti established
We met socially in the late 1980s and further down the pipeline found ourselves working (separately) as interior designers, however, slowly became friends and ended up going into partnership. It all then really started to happen in 1996 when we started our interiors shop on Westbourne Park Road, in an up-and-coming neighbourhood called Notting Hill.

Did any particular interior designer inspire you to start a career in design?
Andree Putman, Ilse Crawford, and Modernists like Eileen Grey and Line Vautrin - notice how they are all women!

You once had a Carden Cunietti store, do you have any plans to open another?
Probably not. We are so busy completing interiors that we simply don't have the time anymore, but we would love to do our own product range in the future. 

Tell us about the Carden Cunietti team
We are still a small team of about 12 employees and so we're still very much hands-on with what we do. Audrey and I head up each project individually with a small team of designers and administrators on each project. The administration side is a HUGE part of what we do and so we felt our assistants and finance directors deserved a mention! 

Run us through a standard day at CC-HQ
I wouldn't say there is a typical day as such, which is part of the fun of being an interior designer. We often attend site meetings first thing in the morning with the architect, contractor and any other members of the design team. The client is often present at these meetings too. When we are preparing for a presentation we work well in our well-stocked library putting finishes, fabrics and furniture together for schemes. We then present to our clients in different ways, whether it be by mood boards or 3-D visuals and large samples. A client presentation meeting generally runs for two or three hours. The most satisfying part of the job is when we install our projects - it's so exciting unpacking all the furniture and seeing the design come to life and a house become a home!

Which interior do you wish you had designed or simply love to spend time in?
We loved the Gora Kadan Hot Springs Hotel in Japan. The mix of stunning scenenry with simple Japanese style was sublime. We also loved Ed Tuttles' work on the Aman Hotels, which are all such calming spaces and what a hotel should be.

What’s been your greatest career accomplishment?
It's a tie - either winning Designer of the Year 2013 or it's any moment that our work gets printed in a magazine, which is always thrilling. We found that at the start of our game and as young designers, to get your work published is incredibly hard. Back then everyone was in their 50s and 60s, with no 20-something designers. I look at where we were then and the people in the industry today and I'm so thankful as there are so many people that were similar to us trying to make it. We were so lucky.

How did you feel after winning the House & Garden Designer of the Year award?
We were absolutely delighted. It's amazing to have your creativity and hard work recognized by one's peers.

What’s been the most interesting project you have worked on?
Last year we designed a nightclub in Ibiza for a client's 40th birthday. Definitely not the standard Ibiza nightclub you may think as it was actually inside the client's house!! It catered for 500 people, had a full bar and LED screens behind the DJ booth. 'Epic' doesn't even describe it. We've also completed a football club for a private football field in LA. The client, a British man, built himself a football pitch and wanted a club as a hangout for his mates. It's hardly surprising that we're generally quite unfazed by unusual requests and have worked on everything from a G5 Gulfstream jet to a luxury yacht.

Your work predominately covers residential projects, how many commercial projects have you worked on?
We've done offices, shops and restaurants but usually it's for existing clients or friends. Nikki Tibbles' Wild At Heart space in Pimlico was one of our favourites. We'd love to do a hotel - that's our next dream project!

What projects are you working on at the moment?
We're currently finishing a large hotel in Warsaw, a house in Highgate and a house in Los Angeles. New projects coming up include houses in St John's Wood, Kensington, Barcelona and The Cotswolds. Beyond that, who knows what the future brings!

What interior design trends can you foresee?
I think pastel colours are definitely making some headway; pink for example has become really popular. Revived metal finishes like copper and brass are looking great at the moment. We update our website constantly with our pick of the trends we're championing. You'll see on our Style Tips that we're loving honeycomb and sculptural marble too.

What's your favourite design indulgence?
It's got to be velvet or leather-lined drawers, and bronze inlays on floors.

A lot of your past projects have been based in Notting Hill, do you think Notting Hill has its own design style?
The actual design itself is sometimes a bit more daring than other parts of London. The challenge is that all our clients in Notting Hill know each other and so we always have to ensure that every house is different!

What do you love about the area?
The fact that Portobello Road still remains and is still as ever-cool as it's always been.

Whereabouts do you both live in London?
I'm located in Kensal Rise, while Eleanora is in Brondesbury. 

What other cities could you live in, in terms of inspiring design?
Los Angeles. They have some of the best shops out there, while it feels that every international company is there too. Don't even get me started on the weather...

What does a ‘home’ mean to you both?
Home is a place where I sleep, entertain friends, cook and relax... It's my sanctuary. 

Describe your own home in three words
You'll get different answers from us. For Eleanora it's Casa-Cunietti-Calm as she's just finished all her building works, but for me it's Carden-Contruction-Chaos as I'm just about to start mine!

What inspires you both daily?

Though our husbands will of course want a mention, we both get it from everywhere whether it's fashion, travel, art or film.  In terms of design, we can get fixated by colours we see, while we love scouring websites for design inspiration or attending big design fairs in Paris, London and Milan.

How do you both relax?
We travel as much as possible, cook and drink wine. We also exercise too - I'm mad on playing tennis at the moment while Eleanora practices bikram yoga and pilates. 
Lastly, what do you think has been the key to your success? 
Our husbands work together in the same office and we all go on holiday together. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, we are essentially just great friends. We are different and work in different ways but we compliment each other greatly. If we were both the same then it wouldn't work. At the start, it was definitely a case of opposites attracting. Although we share the same aesthetic sense, we readily admit to having very different personalities and sensibilities. It's these differences though that have made the partnership a success. While I'm the 'starter' in the relationship and good with people, Eleanora (American-Canadian) is a 'finisher', with a good head for detail. It takes a long time to figure out that Yin and Yang thing. It can be a real struggle, and some people in business partnerships don't make it.