Designer outlet: A couple with an individual take

Interior designer duo the Duffins pride themselves on their contemporary twist

Colour, texture and pattern combine in a chic city apartment

Sarah Duffin, one half of the husband-and-wife design team at Malcolm Duffin Interiors, believes that 2021 is set to be the Limekilns’ firm’s busiest yet.

Up until last year the team’s work had been mainly residential, but that changed with lockdown. Sarah says: “We had to shut for three months at the beginning – like everyone else – but since we’ve been back at work, a lot of hotels have taken the opportunity to refurb while they were closed.”

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Private clients were less likely to want a project on the go during lockdown, Sarah believes, but that is now reversing, with many clients having money to spend and plenty of ideas on how to improve their homes. “People have spent a lot of time looking at four walls, so where they were thinking about long-term, instead a decision has been made. We’ve never been so busy, and the property market rush fuels that too.”

Sarah Duffin

Sarah first met Malcolm when he designed her parents’ home. Having become a couple, they set up shop in Edinburgh in 1994. The firm now employs another interior specialist and office staff.

She recalls: “We started out with Malcolm as head of design and me as head of operations, but over the years it has changed and we now run the company together.

“I have my own clients as well as working on bigger projects as a design team.

They have just completed work at a hotel on the Isle of Harris, one of their largest projects. Sarah says: “As well as the interiors, we have replaced the roof and windows, and redesigned its branding – new menus and website – so a complete redesign from top to bottom.”

The Duffin designed holiday home in North Berwick

In the past, the Duffins have tackled full residential refurbishments and extensions as well as interior work. Sarah explains: “People over the last few years have been improving rather than moving so we are seeing increasingly larger projects.”

The work takes them all over the UK, and currently they have irons in the fire in Spain, France and the Netherlands, but typically their clients are in Central Scotland.

Sarah describes their style as classical with a contemporary twist. “Malcolm is very traditionally trained and with older buildings you do have to respect the architecture, but our style is in no way stuffy, we are always wanting to add colour, character and points of conversation.”

Trips to London Design Week and trade exhibitions mean the Duffins are able to stay familiar with fresh trends, returning to trusted suppliers but also looking out for new up-and-coming brands.The result is a unique look for each client, room and property.

Sarah says: “A blank canvas is great fun but in older country houses we will work with existing pieces, antiques and art.

“It is all about getting to know the client, what they like, how they live. “A lot of our client base is repeat business and we take pride in that.”

A recent townhouse project in Heriot Row, Edinburgh, provides a good example of this kind of work (see cover picture). Sarah says: “We were given free-reign over the whole house, and as soon as it was finished it sold for a record price.

“The main room ceiling is exquisite, so the rug was placed to reflect it and highlight what was there already. The rest is calm and cool and definitely not fussy.”

A beach house in North Berwick was a contrast. “Again it was a whole house refurbishment. We discovered two windows beside the fireplace that the owner didn’t know were there, so that opened up the whole living room.

“It is a holiday home and we’ve been fortunate enough to stay there ourselves. It is just so warm and inviting with no feeling of formality. It was designed to be a shoes-off, comfy house and that is exactly how it has worked out.”

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