An Interview with Campbell-Rey at Electric House, London
Duncan Campbell and Charlotte Rey are a creative consultancy and design partnership with an edge. Over the past few years, the Swedish-Scottish duo have successfully inspired, innovated and surprised us in pursuit of beauty and elegance. They met whilst editing the biannual in-house publication Acne Paper published by the Swedish brand and have since worked together across the fields of creative direction, branding, curation and design.
From art direction and design for Bulgari to designing retail space for Kitri and creating an arts initiative for Bentley Motors, their work is expansive, but refined. Acclaim received from publications such as Vogue, Architectural Digest and Wallpaper is a testament to the strength of their creative impact in London and beyond. We spent a morning together at Electric House to hear more about their experiences, influences, and travels. Follow @campbellrey for more.
How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?
Duncan Campbell: Something that moves you and doesn’t require any explanation.
What brought you together as designers?
Charlotte Rey: We have worked together for more than ten years, first as the editors of Acne Studios’ biannual culture publication Acne Paper and then as Campbell-Rey; creative directors, consultants and now as designers. I suppose you could say that we’ve honed our skills side by side and designing things together is a physical realisation of the conversations we’ve been having for years. After many years of discovering references together, finding out what we like, what we don’t like, what we’ve seen, what feels elegant, what’s interesting, what’s modern, what’s beautiful… ad infinitum. (laughter)
Tell us about the space within which you work?
DC: Our background on the magazine taught us to run big projects with remote teams and today we try to run our business in the same way. It's quite modern, I guess. Some days Charlotte may come to my place or I’ll go to her’s to work. At least two days a week we’ll be seeing clients or travelling. The beauty of working like this is that it’s very agile and we can work from almost anywhere.
How would you define your Campbell-Rey aesthetic?
DC: Whether it’s a piece of furniture, an object or an interior, we love to create moments that feel surprising and playful while still being imbued with a sense of wit or elegance. We often return to motifs like trompe l’oeil, perspective and geometry and love work in natural materials but our aesthetic is evolving all the time. Having said that, a love of materiality and a desire to create things that are beautiful and useful will always be at the heart of what we do.
CR: We are often inspired by the lifestyle and rituals of Italy – the long lunches and dinners, the centro di tavola style of eating, the conviviality, the mixing of generations and high and low culture while there’s always a focus on quality. We love the ideas of the passeggiata and the aperitivo – a walk at dusk through the piazza and taking time for the important things in life.
Do you collect art? If so, where do you find it?
CR: Yes, we both like to collect art and furniture. It depends completely, sometimes we purchase works from friends who are artists, sometimes we find things at auction or in galleries. A few pieces have been found chancing it online!
Is there a favourite space which inspires you?
DC: There are so many! It’s hard to choose. Lautner houses in California, the Villa Necchi in Milan, The Chrysler Building, anything by Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson’s Glass House, Palladio’s villas in the Veneto, in fact pretty much anything in Venice.
CR: Louisiana outside Copenhagen, Fondation Maeght, Corberó’s house outside Barcelona… I haven’t been to Naoshima yet, but love Tadao Ando’s lines at Chateau Lacoste outside Marseille. The Rothko Chapel in Texas or some beautiful, atmospheric homes I’ve been to. It’s about the atmosphere, the materials, the time spent there. I think you can feel beauty and happiness in the walls in some places.
Do you each have a routine or follow rituals?
DC: I think we both tend to be creatures of habit to an extent. Routine is important and we’re lucky that the work is so varied that it never feels repetitive. Having said that, we probably don’t like to be in the same place for too long.
CR: Not sure it’s a habit in itself, but we’ve both been told we’re quite OCD.
What is your favourite art gallery in London and why?
CR: I love spending an early weekday at the Victoria & Albert Museum or the Royal Academy.
Has social media had a positive impact on your work?
DC: Yes, absolutely. People find you from all over the world and can follow your journey closer, which means they can understand the thinking behind your work in a more holistic way. Instagram has been great for us – it’s like keeping a visual journal of work and inspiration. It’s lovely to get to connect and share with people directly. We get people writing to us all the time, and new clients often pop up on Instagram. For all the complaining about social media in the modern world, when used on a certain way it’s definitely been a good thing for us.
What do you wish every child were taught?
CR: I wish there was a greater focus on play, storytelling and imagination in general for everyone.
DC: How VAT works! (laughter). Certainly when I was growing up there was no focus at all on preparing you for self-employment or entrepreneurial skills. Maybe it’s different now, but I would have loved to have some basic training in tax, bookkeeping, employment, and other things you need to run a business. Maybe they could have skipped a few of the trigonometry classes.
Do you travel for work? If so, where do you love going?
CR: Yes we travel constantly for work, which is incredible. Italy is a place we return to over and over and over again and it only keeps getting better every time!
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
DC: Good food and lots of travel.
Have your Scottish and Swedish upbringings influenced you?
DC: It’s not something I think about a huge amount. I love returning to Scotland – both Edinburgh for its ordered Georgian elegance and the awe-inspiring wild beauty of the Highlands and the West Coast, but I’m not sure how “Scottish” that makes me. Perhaps the Celtic sense of hospitality is something I relate to.
CR: Yes absolutely, more than I’d like to admit (laughter). We both come from historically rich countries and I think our interest in history can be connected to that. We also come from places with a strong material tradition, which I think we can see in our work. But I can see now more than before how Sweden has influenced me, it’s the light, the wilderness, there’s an innocence and gentleness too, which is wonderful.
Which designer of the past would you like to work with?
CR: There’s a few heroes, but not only designers. I think it’s about the potential of extraordinary minds that’s more fascinating to me. Be it a designer or an architect or an artist or a math genius, some people are just wired and think differently. To answer your question; Picasso, Nikola Tesla, Corberó, Georgia O’Keefe, Jorge Zalszupin… We went to Carlo Mollino’s apartment in Turin in November, and his life, innovations and thinking with his interiors were just wondrous.
DC: The more I discover about Piero Portaluppi the more fascinated I become with him. There’s a really incredible sense of imagination and playfulness in everything that he did, coupled with a breathtaking attention to detail and materiality. Even though we have no design or architectural training, once we started making small tabletop things we wanted to make furniture, and then when we started making furniture we wanted to design a house. Now we’re designing a house I don’t know what’s next (laughter). I’m very inspired by people like Portaluppi and Carlo Scarpa who would work on the big architectural ideas, the volumes, the finishes, the way rooms flow – and then they would also design the furniture, maybe a pattern for the carpet, a doorknob or a teaspoon for the same house. It’s not about having to be in control of every element (although there is that too) but I love the idea that the tiny things are as important as the big ones.
Would you say you work within a community?
CR: Yes, but I’ve never thought about it like that before. I suppose when I do consider it, basically a lot of the people around us are creatives in one way or another. We spend a lot of time together and we work together - some are artists, some are painters, some are writers or editors or architects, and some are also entrepreneurs and creative business minds. It’s interesting how people are now more focused on their creative voice rather than defining exactly what they do. We see so much more cross-pollination within our peer group and in the wider world than even a few years ago.
What advice would you give designers following in your steps?
DC: Work hard and be nice to people. Try lots of things and see what sticks. Learn by doing. Constantly try to refine your offering and don’t neglect the business side of things.
Is there a piece of furniture on your wishlist?
DC: In a dream world maybe an original Fornasetti trumeau and a brass coffee table by Gabriella Crespi as well as an Eileen Gray Transat chair or some vintage Venini glass.
CR: Joaquim Tenreiro’s rocking chair or Jean Royère’s wicker daybed. I’m also thinking that Donald Judd’s piece Untitled (Stack) in green would look amazing as a shelving system…
Do you love what you do? If so, why?
CR: Yes, because we have amazing fun and get to work really, really hard making beautiful things and meeting interesting people. That’s incredibly rewarding.
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.