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With a number of prestigious accolades to his name, including being featured in House & Garden’s top 100 interior designers list, British Vogue’s Secret Address Book, as well as being one of three runners up in Homes and Garden’s Designer of the Year for 2020, Adam Bray is a force to be reckoned with in the world of interior design. Informed by a background in antique dealing, Adam employs a magpie-esque process to sourcing rare objects, furniture and textiles. In many ways, Adam’s approach to design affirms an assertion made by John Simons himself in one of our earlier articles, namely, that there is little difference “…between looking at furniture or looking at Sculpture or Paintings.” We sat down with Adam in his newly opened show space, located in Camden, North London, to discuss his passion for interior decorating and why the Natural Shoulder look works for him in his day to day life.
What was your introduction to interior design and at what point did this interest develop into a career?
I had always looked at decorating magazines. I started off working for an antique dealer when I was sixteen and a lot of our clients were interior decorators, so I began delivering antiques to these very well finished houses and it became extremely interesting to me. Then when I started my own antiques business, a lot of my clients were decorators. One of these clients asked me to decorate their house and that was that. I had been asked to do some paint colours, and whilst I had no idea what I was doing, it turned out ok in the end!
The shop I began working in was in Marylebone high street. I grew up in Marylebone. It was a stop gap, or at least I had intended it to be, before I became a photographer, which was my original career aspiration. I went to the job centre one day and there was an advert for a job working as shop boy at this antique store, and that was that.
What inspires your work?
I get a lot of inspiration in terms of colour, by looking at paintings. In particular, Abstract-Expressionist paintings, and artists such as Mark Rothko. I did a whole flat which was inspired by Rothko, no fabric patterns anywhere, just big blocks of colour! Movies are another source of inspiration. I always watched a lot of movies growing up. Moreover, I spend a lot of time looking backwards at some of the great houses from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, taking their design aspects and making them more applicable to modern day life.
It is difficult to pin down one source, because as most post people who work in design will tell you, you are looking at so much all the time, I would almost liken it to the de-programming scene in A Clockwork Orange. It is is almost impossible to say which one image or home you like the best, or have been most inspired by. There are just so many amazing images and houses.
Sometimes, if I am seeking inspiration, I might just take an early trip to the National Gallery and have a wonder about. I always get something out of that.
Do you feel that your profession has impacted your style?
I think that I am very lucky in that I don’t have to wear a uniform. I think in my line of work you are expected to be somewhat expressive in your clobber, which I am not. I think I am actually quite conservative and old fashioned in my style. I sort of like that “Business in the front, party in the back” attitude, in that I like to look quite clean and put together but at the same time very scruffy. I love the way that you see great painters, like Lucien Freud, wear very expensive clothes which have been totally worn to death. An Anderson and Shepherd suit as pyjamas!
What is it about the Natural Shoulder style, versus the more conservative English cut, that appeals to you?
It feels a lot more international, and somewhat more informal, whilst still looking tidy. I love the soft shouldered Ivy Jackets. In my opinion the Sack Jacket is an amazing garment. It feels incredibly comfortable and fluid, without being a traditional English sports jacket, which can make you feel as if you are playing a role. I really like clothes that mould themselves to you, rather than the other way around. There is no sense of great expectation when you put on one of these jackets, you just wear it and do your thing, which is really nice.
Returning to your early days in the antique shop, can you remember the first piece of clothing you purchased with your first pay check? What was it and where was this purchase made?
I had to wear suits for work and this was in the mid to late eighties. This was the age of the big suit, but that simply did not appeal to me. I got all my clothes second hand from a guy in Kensington market who had really great suits. There was also a great stall on Portobello market I used to frequent. I used to go to Kensington market to get old tweed suits and would always be on the look out for knitted ties. I always liked the professorial, American Ivy look even when I was a teenager. I opted for sewing rather than wood work when I was at school and I used to buy these Prince of Wales checked trousers, horribly baggy things, which I would then try and taper myself. Never a great look, but oh well.
Interesting that you should mention getting into the Ivy look at such an early age. Did you have a sartorial hero at the time, someone who inspired this mode of dress?
There were a lot of people that I thought were really cool. I wouldn’t say I was necessarily aiming for an Ivy look, but its just that the main look for my age group at the time was the sportswear thing, which just didn’t suit me as a young man in glasses. It never looked right on me. I loved the way that Steve McQueen dressed, that casual look that he wore in Bullitt: chinos, desert boots and a Harrington. A great look. The other look that I loved and wore for years, was the Robert Redford inspired Peacoat and button down style ensemble which he wore in Three Days of the Condor with Faye Dunaway.
Artists too, have inspired my mode of dress greatly. Artists for me always look amazing, they don’t care and they don’t have to. I think Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon looked fantastic. In the case of Bacon, I love the fact that he had this heavy, expensive tailoring, as well as custom leather jackets handmade in Italy, but would wear these items with total nonchalance. Miles Davies, throughout every era, even towards the end of his life looked fantastic! He carried it with such conviction. I think that really gets to the crux of it, you have to be somewhat appropriate for your setting, but perhaps more so than anything, you have to pull it off with conviction.
On this topic of great artists and musicians, if you could choose to attend a concert or exhibition, from any artist or musician, dead or alive, would would it be and what would you wear?
Well … It would have been really amazing to wear 18th Century clothes. Regency clothes! But I wouldn’t wear them to see Miles Davies in! I think that the Ivy look, as I wear it now, feels very comfortable to me, so I would probably stick with that. For the most part I wear jeans and loafers year round.
I would have loved to have seen Count Basie at his absolute prime, in the late 1930’s / early 40’s. Bill Evans I would have loved to see play too. Kenny Clark, also. Too many great Soul singers for me to mention … Sam Cooke, of course but there are so many more! I honestly would love to have seen any of the Jazz/Bebop greats from the last century in the right hot and smoky environment. Just to be in the atmosphere of that kind of freewheeling creativity would be amazing.
I always loved Jazz and was very lucky in my musical education in that the Marylebone library had a really strong Jazz department. I used to borrow records and tape them all the time. I recently read the interview with John Simons where he discusses the Blue Note records and the impact they had on him and I share much of his feelings towards them. For me the aura those records carried was so sexy, dark and sophisticated; it promised a world that was so different to the one I knew at the time.
Do you recall your first visit to our store? What motivated you to visit and what were you first impressions?
It would have been when you first moved to Chiltern Street, I had a girlfriend who lived in the block of flats opposite at the time and I would often pop in. I was quite intrigued by it, it did not feel like it was of its time, rather it felt like it had been there forever. It was nice to come by a shop where I liked the items and could buy them right off the peg. I feel that the shop has changed for the better too over the years, in that it feels much more curated and merchandised.
What is your number one style tip for the readers at home?
I would keep it simple: just try and look clean. It is not a bad look to aim for, looking clean! I’ve been worrying about my clothes since I was about twelve. I used to really worry about having well shined shoes, I don’t do that anymore. Don’t worry so much! It’s the same attitude I apply to interior design; don’t overthink it! I like a uniform, personally. For years I have only worn blue shirts but I am about to have a radical swing; I plan on switching to cream shirts! It has been a long journey that has brought me to that decision but that is where I am at. I am having a nice couple of shirts put together now. I probably have enough blue shirts to last the rest of my life. Clothes, like everything else, you come and you go with it. It is a radically different world now to when I first started getting interested in clothes. When I was sixteen and seventeen and I wanted to buy clothes, you basically had a choice between mass produced fashion and vintage. I wore vintage everything, apart from shoes, for years and years. Once I started to have a little bit more money I began to have everything made, but then I found you guys and that simplified a lot of the shopping experience for me.
Finally, what item of clothing could you not live without?
If I am wearing trainers I always go for a later model Nike Air Max. I love the shirts I have made for me. Jeans wise, I used to swear by Edwin 55’s, but I am in between denim brands at the moment. During the winter I like a good coat; a great big tweed coat will always serve you well. I also swear by blue merino wool jumpers from Anderson and Shepherd, and that’s it really!
Photography: Alex Natt
Interview: Sean O’Byrne
Adam is photographed wearing a number of items from our new Spring/Summer range.
“Shop the Look” below to browse the collection.
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