I first heard the name Tessa Proudfoot, almost 10 years ago, when she designed a fabric range for St Leger & Viney – an iconic oversized polka dot that was such a fun element to add to any interior project! I was thrilled to find out she will be re-launching these designs soon, having them printed locally in a gorgeous range of colours. I was thrilled when she agreed to answer a few questions for me and I really enjoyed getting to know more about how she started with her first project ever in the mid 80’s and has gone from strength to strength ever since.
How do you measure success in your business? For example is it money in the bank / happy clients / successful design / amount of followers or something else.
Success for me is the delivery of an outstandingly well-designed project and, above all, happy clients
Can you tell me about one of your greatest projects, not necessarily the biggest one, but one that brought you the most joy and sense of accomplishment?
Ten years ago, I was involved in the creation of a magnificent home for long standing clients in Sandhurst. I was at the initial briefing with the architects, Enrico D’Affonchio, and literally watched every brick being laid. My clients also funded a trip to France and Belgium to source the perfect antique pieces for the home. The clients trusted me implicitly, so I was able to push boundaries in terms of the finishes, colours, textures, furnishings and placement. It was a real highlight in my career.
When and how did you start your business? Please tell me a bit about yourself.
Tessa Proudfoot & Associates was opened in 2001. Prior to that I had spent the 90s in partnership in a small retail outlet in Rosebank known as Mona Lisa. From this platform we did domestic interiors projects and were the agents for the Gordonsbury Hand Embroidered Linens manufactured in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, the agency fell apart with the collapse of Zim and it was more viable for us to go our own ways and operate independently from a home studio. In 2001 I had an opportunity to design and manufacture soft furnishings for several clients in the USA and this led to three years of wonderful experience in the export market and an insight into American design. By 2004 my team had grown to include a project manager and a driver, and since then things have gone from strength to strength and we are now a team of four with three project managers, a driver and an off-site accountant.
Can you remember your first design project when you started your business? What was it? Can you take us back there…
My very first project was long before I actually started a proper business. It was a study for a lawyer in Durban. He was totally open to my ideas which was so generous of him.It was in the mid 80’s and paint effects such as marbling were the absolute IN thing, and Osborn and Little had produced an exquisite chintz that was a rendition of a rich terracotta Italian marble. He allowed me to make up a small sofa and armchair in this fabric which was the beginning of my love affair with gorgeous fabrics. I designed a Perspex trestle desk (very on trend in those days) with a thick glass top for his workspace, sourced a vintage Oregon pine armoire for him to store his files in, found a really lovely kelim rug (no 80’s interior was complete without a kelim) introduced a pair of navy ceramic ginger jar table lamps with massive Chinese hat shades also in navy, and finished it off with an antique dining carver as a desk chair, also upholstered in navy. The walls were painted a soft terracotta which tied in with the faux marble fabric and luckily the client had great taste in art, so we hung some of his pieces on the walls. I was terrified but luckily, he was thrilled with the end result.
South Africa is such a vibrant country, we are so lucky design-wise to be inspired by Africa. What are your favourite design aspects or inspirations of South African design?
I love utilizing African artifacts in my interiors even if the overall scheme is not necessarily African inspired. For example, there are wonderful daybeds that I use as coffee tables, grinder stools which I use for side tables, and a group of beautiful headrests can look fantastic massed together on a wall. I also like to include contrasting texture in my interiors, so if the upholstery is rich and luxurious like a sateen or a velvet, I like to add a natural grass lampshade or basket into the space to create a contrast. I also love African pottery vessels for just about anything – their simple shapes work in virtually any interior.
If you ever feel overwhelmed or out of your depth in a project, what do you do?
I leave it alone and do something entirely unrelated, like watch something on Netflix! I often find that I overthink when faced with design challenges and if I rest on it the solution always comes to me one way or another. I also brainstorm with my team and they give me honest feedback and give me the breathing space to find the out of the box solution.
Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to? Someone that inspired you to become an interior designer? Or someone that still inspires you today?
I have never had the good fortune to have a mentor, but there has never been a time in my life that I had any doubt that I wanted to design interiors which makes me feel very blessed! I have however, drawn great inspiration from design geniuses such as Stephen Falck on the local front; internationally, David Hicks, Johan Saladino, Rose Tarlow and more recently Kit Kemp, Kelly Wearstler, Mary MacDonald, Axel Vervoordt and so on. I am constantly inspired by the beautiful work of other designers.
What have been your biggest challenges along the way? And has it made you stronger and wiser? What lessons have you learnt from the challenges?
My biggest challenges have been on the administrative and financial side of running a sound business. A design business is like any business, it will fail unless there are solid systems in place both on the financial side and on the practical, every day running side. I learnt this lesson the hard way and now I am definitely stronger and wiser but above all, I have learnt to surround myself with specialists. As a creative, one needs the freedom to create and this can only happen if your practical bases are covered and you have proper systems for salaries, VAT, UIF, ordering, receiving goods, deliveries to site etc.
What are your plans or insights for your business for the future? Do you have any goals that you want to accomplish this year? I don’t want to know specifics of your business but just what are your feelings for the future and do you have a vision / plan / goal for your business in the future?
COVID19 has certainly had a massive impact on the design industry and it remains to be seen how this will pan out. From my point of view, I would like to remain optimistic and suggest that people will be working from home more, thus needing to reorganise their spaces to suit this, adding on studios, yoga/exercise spaces and home offices. This will hopefully lead to people rethinking the way they live in general and result in us making homes more attractive, more comfortable and more of a sanctuary. Giving more importance to private spaces like bedrooms and pyjama lounges rather than entertainment spaces may also be something we see. If this is the case my goal is to tap into the market worldwide and develop an online design facility manufacturing locally and exporting product to the overseas market.
Without giving away trade secrets, what is your favourite local shop / supplier / designer / artist / creative? And why?
My favourite local shop is the one at Babylonstoren. Their glassware, crockery, hand printed linens and fragrances are uniquely South African but totally international in their sophistication. I also love La Grange – their products are unusual and contemporary which is much needed in SA. I can’t say that I have a favourite local designer or creative. There are too many incredible talents out there to choose. A few examples are Michael Chandler, artist/potter/creative and artists Fiona Metcalfe and Deborah Bell.