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A Review: In Conversation with Nina Campbell

Earlier this month the world-renowned interior designer and doyenne of effortless elegance Nina Campbell spoke at Annabel’s for the first time to give a fascinating talk to an intimate group of Members about the part she played in creating the iconic interiors of the Club and her career beyond the Birley Clubs.

Wearing her trademark tinted heart-shaped glasses, Nina told the audience that it was great to be back at Annabel’s, the place that helped to kick-start her decorating business when she was 20 years old — the Club was one of her first commissions.

With the wit and warmth she is known for, the designer entertained the audience with many amusing stories that really brought alive the fun she and Mark Birley had shopping for pieces for the Club back in the late 1960s. She explained how everything that was bought for the Club either had an amusing story or was memorable in some way, and that much of the original décor remains the same, albeit refined a little throughout the years.

The story behind how Nina “got her toe in the door” at Annabel’s was just as entertaining and revealed how confident and ambitious she was as a young designer starting out. Nina said: “I was at a dinner party and I said to Mark that I thought the vitrines [glass display cabinets] by the bar looked quite shabby. He said ‘well, if you think you’re so clever, why don’t you have a go’. So I turned up the next day with a swatch of red silk, and that was the beginning.”

There was lots of laughter when Nina recalled one eventful trip to Limoges. Evoking a time when travel was glamorous and felt like a real adventure, she said: “We arrived at the hotel in Limoges around midnight, after a long train journey from Paris, where we had had the most wonderful lunch, and they had no record of our booking. We panicked and thought ‘Oh no, where are we going to find a room at this time of night?’ It turned out that all the rooms were empty, so it was fine in the end.”

During a chat before the talk, Nina revealed to me that her favourite part of the Club is the Buddha Room. She, like many others Members, loves the Buddha statue which dominates the room, and the bordello-red lacquer walls. It was her idea, she tells me, to paint the walls red. The Buddha, however, was purchased by Mark from an antiques shop around the corner on Mount Street.

It’s clear from looking at the décor of Annabel’s that Mark did not follow a certain look or style, it is truly eclectic. According to Nina, Mark bought what he liked and he only bought the best. It grabs your attention straight away – you couldn't possibly take it all in, in one visit – and it is an intriguing mix of the homely and the glamorous. The picture-clad walls give the vibe of being in someone’s home, albeit a very glamorous person, yet the Main Dining Room, with its Art Deco style brass-clad columns, which glow a warm gold in the soft lighting, and cosy corners with banquette seating, is redolent of an opulent Parisian brassiere. As Nina puts it: “It is like seeing a glimpse into someone else’s lifestyle, which is also partly yours. You own a slice of this enclave.”