In conversation with Nathalie Deboel

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Photography by Thomas De Bruyne, Cafeine
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Over the next few months, we will be in conversation with architects, designers and other individuals whose philosophy and work influence how we understand our relationship to the spaces we inhabit.

First, we meet Nathalie Deboel, the Belgian interior designer who has recently launched her first furniture collection and whose unmistakeable designs feature in homes across the world. VOLA has been specified in many of her schemes, its purity of form complementing her own love of aesthetic simplicity.

 

Nathalie, when did you know you wanted to be a designer?

It was ever since I was a child. I was very sensitive to beauty, from walking in the forest to my passion for ballet. My energy for aesthetics has always been there and I was eager to learn, looking around at the world for answers.

I knew that beautiful things gave me peace and as I learnt with time, that enabled me to create environments that did that for others. It came very naturally to me.

 

Everyone is seeking more depth and meaning these days, especially at home. Why do you think that might be?

I think that people want to feel connected to the place where they live – they need to feel part of the earth. Home is somewhere we can disconnect from the stresses of modern life and connect to something more meaningful and natural.

We all experience feelings when we are in different spaces, so I want to understand what other people feel and then translate that into a design for their home. In our hearts, we all want to feel happy and comfortable where we live, but it is a very personal experience.

Essentially, I want to help people come back to the senses and emotions and consider that an important part of my role. In simple terms, it’s about creating places that make people happy.

 

What kind of process do you follow to achieve that?

Every project is different, of course, but I always spend time researching the history of the place. I look at the original architect’s vision, the materials that were used and the relationship with nature that the building has had over the years. Then it’s about finding a balance between respecting and referencing that and creating a place that works for how we live today.

I also look at the local habitat. The materials, textures and colour of nature around the place and how they can influence the design. And of course the light. That is very important – creating a house that works in harmony with the sun so that you get light in the kitchen in the morning and in the dining room in the evening, for example. It’s about living in partnership with the light, its different colours and intensities.

 

Your interiors are renowned for their natural materials, colours and textures and a very calm, serene atmosphere. What influences do you bring to your design?

For me it’s all about authenticity. I’m passionate about history and about art, so I’m inspired by how people have built homes over the past 200, 300 or even 500 years. Then the solutions appeared easier, more authentic, because there were fewer choices.

So I love to visit old houses for inspiration and to upcycle vintage objects – and I bring that philosophy to my work, especially if I’m updating an older home.

I also get a great deal of inspiration from Japanese culture. The use of materials such as burnt wood and the philosophy of living in small spaces appeals to me. In all my projects, I try to focus on the pure essence of life and then keep it very minimal. So a project in the City of London might be very different from one in the countryside of the south of France, but that philosophy and approach is the same.

 

How does your NOMAD furniture collection express your philosophy of meaningful living?

I love the refined beauty of the 1950s-1970s period of arts and crafts, when ateliers had such an eye for detail.

So when I created the NOMAD collection, I wanted to keep it small, so I could easily oversee production and quality. It all started when we entered the first lockdown and I was walking daily in the forest, wandering around more than usual. I was thinking about what do we really need in our homes to feel secure and calm. And it brought me back to natural materials, craftsmanship and simplicity.

My walnut library, for example, is intended as a centrepiece that displays books, souvenirs and objects that have meaning to the individual and their loved ones. There are no additional materials, it all slots together and is easy to assemble and transfer elsewhere. So it works in all kinds of interiors, from classic buildings to modern spaces. I suppose it’s that question we ask: what would you try to rescue if your home was on fire? Those are the things that matter and have the most meaning.

 

Do you have favourite projects, or is that an impossible question?

Every project, every client is another chapter in the story. And I always endeavour to make each project my best. The first step is always about getting to know and understand that people who will be living in the home. It’s like being a cameraman, trying to see inside them – everyone is so different, so it’s a new challenge each time.

It helps me to make a deep, emotional connection with them, almost like a psychologist. Then when eventually they see their new home, they will respond with emotion. Sometimes they are quite overwhelmed, you can see their happiness and that’s wonderful.

 

What would be your dream project?

I think a house in the Alps. An old building that needs adapting for the 21st century but with sensitivity to its history and surroundings. It would be great to continue the tradition and look at the history within. I would want the result to feel entirely natural, so that it feels like the building had always been this way but fit for today’s lifestyle.

 

What do you like most about your job?

The people I meet and my connection with nature. Those are the two biggest inspirations. That’s where the spark is.

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