In this interview, Henry Borg Barthet explains what it is like being an interior designer in today’s ever-changing world.
What or who, inspired you to become an interior designer?
I studied Art under my uncle, Esprit Barthet. He used to tell us to open our eyes and see what is all around us and appreciate the shapes, colour and light. Later, when I realised that making a living as an artist would be nearly impossible, I received training in architectural draughting, at a time when the profession of interior design was non-existent in Malta.
Luckily, while I was working for the architectural firm which was designing the Tigullio in St Julians, I met Eric Blakemore who was a partner of a London firm of interior designers. I went to their London office where I experienced the workings of an interior designer firm and I guess that’s what started it all.
The art background, the experience of an architect’s office, the exposure to international interior designers gave me the inspiration to start an interior division in the firm of architects that I was working for in Malta.
Later, I emigrated to Canada, where after a stint working for Canadian interior design firms, I started my own company designing projects all over Canada and the USA.
How do you keep yourself updated with innovative designs and interesting things on the market?
Today, more than ever before, there are so many products and concepts available to the interior designer that if one does not stay in the loop, you can easily get out of touch with what is going on around you. Reading magazines, visiting fairs and suppliers, searching on the internet for the latest trends are all ways to keep up-to-date. A case in point, three or four years ago, LED lighting was an innovation, while today it is all the rage. For a while, wallpaper was passé and now it is back with a vengeance. These things are examples of how fast things change.
What are your views with regard to aesthetics versus practicality when it comes to design?
While aesthetics are important, a design has to work, houses have to be homes. Your clients should be able to live in pleasant surroundings which are practical. In my understanding, form over function does not work, function over form may not work either.
A good design is a balance of both principles. A good design reflects your clients’ personality and way of life. Many designers design for their own objectives, they want to impress potential clients with their portfolio. All they focus on is that the house is aesthetically pleasing and they do not consider how the family is going to function within their new home.
The career of an interior designer is becoming increasingly popular, thus more challenging, so in your opinion and as a message to all new and upcoming interior designers, what would make one stand out more than the other?
One does not become an interior designer simply by reading Homes and Gardens or Elle magazine. It is not enough to like what you see around you and think that you can replicate the same look. A knowledge of the history of art, a good technical background, a comprehensive knowledge of materials, colour, lighting etc. are all essential components.
Listen to what your client has to say and what his / her wishes are and then together, you can determine which interior will best suit their lifestyle and their particular requirements. One extremely important point is to keep within your client’s budget, an expensive concept does not necessarily mean good design.
Interview compared by Pauline of INDHOUSE.