BORN the day after the Second World War ended, Nina Campbell's arrival – "just in time for tea," she jokes – was welcomed with dancing in the streets. That sense of celebration seems to have followed her ever since.
As one of Britain's most influential interior designers, she has helped create homes for the rich and famous. Well-known clients include Rod Stewart and the Duke and Duchess of York, while she has decorated some of the world's most sumptuous hotels, among them Hotel de Vigny in Paris, Villa Nova in Barbados and the Connaught in London's Mayfair.
She may have just marked her 65th birthday and her 45th year in business, but she is also celebrating being 21 again, having designed wallpapers and fabrics with Osborne & Little since 1989. She has also added another collaboration to her extensive range of interests – creating a fabric for Ted Baker. Using her Orchard Blossom print, the fashion house has produced a dress, cardigan, belt, clutch bag and man's shirt. "He approached me at the end of last summer, and it turned out to be a marriage made in heaven," says Campbell. "They do everything incredibly well, with little details that show they care. We work really well together and get excited about each other."
Born in London to a Viennese mother and Scottish father, Campbell spent many happy childhood days north of the border. "My holidays were always spent in Scotland with a great friend of mine, near Perth, which was just heaven," she says. "We went wild – we used to behave quite badly actually. And we used to sob on the way home on the train as we approached England. We were always happiest in Scotland."
Campbell started designing at the age of 20, with an apprenticeship at Colefax and Fowler, and one of her best-known commissions came from the Duke and Duchess of York, who chose her to decorate their new home, Sunninghill Park – sneeringly dubbed South York by the tabloids. "Doing that was enormous fun – it was a new house for a young couple getting married. I found it very flattering that they asked me, and we went round choosing furniture from the royal storerooms. It was like a wonderful shopping spree without a bill at the end."
Her most recent work includes designing interiors for The World, the luxury ocean-going liner. "I kept having to remember it was in a boat and it was going to rock, with windows constantly looking at a blank sea."
And she has just completed a challenging project in China. "Absolutely everything had to be sent there – even the paint we wanted to use had to be driven in from Hong Kong in a truck." The budget, she admits, was "pretty large", but that was for eight bedrooms and included even the smallest detail, from the hangers to the wastepaper baskets to the decanters in the bar to cards on the table. "I went to see that house in August 2008. My client said, 'My house is so ugly I've just torn it down.' Being Scottish, my heart leapt and I thought, 'It can't be that bad, there must be something we can do with it.' When I got there it was a hole in the ground and they were starting to build it."
She continues to collaborate, this year designing carpets for Stark and a paint finish for Smallbone of Devizes. And she's looking forward to brighter times ahead for the industry as a whole. "People are spending a bit more at home and also making it a bit cosier. You don't want to live in a cold, hotel-room box when things aren't so great."
She will also be contributing another fabric to a capsule collection for Ted Baker in the autumn, though she has no plans to change careers at this stage in life. "I don't think I should suddenly become a fashion designer, and I think sometimes the fashion designers who go into homes, it's quite limited and quite dull," says Campbell. "You should stick to what you know. But this is my business and if I can do something that is fun, why not?"
Nina Campbell (www.ninacampbell.com) will be speaking on British craft skills at Smallbone of Devizes, Glasgow, on 7 June, 6.30pm-8.30pm. Ted Baker (www.tedbaker.com)
•This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday on 16 May 2010