As a Clifton Village stalwart celebrates 50 years of styling Bristol homes, we chat to the boys behind the business about the changing face of interior design.
Originally established as a simple carpet showroom by local entrepreneur Michael J. Bracey back in the Sixties, Bracey Interiors – the Waterloo Street business we know and love today – soon began to evolve into one of Bristol’s first and largest interiors showrooms. Housing all sorts of fabrics and wallpapers, it brought major design houses – the likes of Warner, GP & J Baker, Colefax & Fowler and Creation Baumann – to the city. And in more recent years, under the guidance of Michael’s son, Ben, and his wife Alison, the design arm of the business has taken on some of the city’s most challenging interior design projects, as the Bracey name has steadily become synonymous with quality interior design across the region.
Keen to hear the inside story behind this quinquagenarian company, we caught up with Michael and Ben – who are marking the milestone anniversary with a week of events celebrating the best of Bristol interiors and featuring some of the industry’s best brands, designers and experts including Sunday Times interiors editor Katrina Burroughs.
Happy birthday guys! So, we’re curious, what was the Bristol interior design scene like when you first opened?
Michael Bracey: When I opened back in ’66, there wasn’t much of an interior design scene at all! The phrase just wasn’t used here. Interiors were seen as functional and there was little or no consideration of colour or design. Compared to today’s market there wasn’t anywhere near the amount of choice or diversity. Having started out selling carpet remnants, it soon became apparent that there was an increasing demand for curtaining, so we moved to bigger premises on Alma Vale Road, and became one of the first interior design showrooms in Bristol. We were also the first business in Bristol to support Designers Guild and Osborne & Little when they launched.
How has the business developed?
Ben Bracey: The business has changed massively in my 35-year working life. When we first started, it was all about plain dupion fabrics and there was hardly any pattern or scaled design. Now interiors and how we live in them have become an important part of people’s lives, and spaces have moved from being purely functional, to places where people celebrate their surroundings. The range and diversity of interiors products has grown immensely and there is now a wealth of local specialist makers and craftspeople as well as talented fabric designers in Bristol and across the South West.
You’ve seen all kinds of ideas defining the decades – which have you most loved – or hated?
MB: Back in the Eighties it was all about ‘frou frou’ – swags and tails, festoon and as much contrast, pleating and fringing as you could use. From a business perspective this was great as we sold lots of meterage! But I’ve probably most enjoyed seeing the return of ‘traditional’ designs – the old classics by Colefax & Fowler and GP & J Baker still look as good as ever.
BB: We can’t talk about trends without mentioning the classic avocado bathroom suite, which was all the rage in the late Seventies. It was not uncommon to complement this with a colourful ceiling and patterned floor tiles – making the bathroom a full-on experience to say the least… And let’s not forget the ‘peach decade’ that was the Eighties – when interiors were dominated by florals, fabric, and trimming, and peach tones were seen as a safe, neutral backdrop. I also wasn’t keen on the way pattern books used to combine samples of fabrics and wallpaper – it was in the days when interiors were very ‘processed’ and people just bought from a single book. Nowadays, it’s all about mixing and matching different design house fabrics and wallpapers to create interesting and imaginative interiors. I love the complexity of fabric designs using embroidery and colour – we’ve moved a long way from woodchip wallpapers!
Where do you find inspiration?
BB: It’s everywhere. To be a successful designer, you have to be observant – visit exhibitions, absorb your surroundings, read publications. Every year we make an annual pilgrimage to Paris to see all the new European collections being launched – it’s a great place to see what’s new, be enthused, and stay ahead of the game. The world of interiors is forever changing and it’s important not to be static and to be free in finding inspiration.
Favourite interior in Bristol?
BB: It would have to be Clifton Lido. Alison and I are both lovers of spaces that grow organically, and are not contrived, so Northern Standard in Bedminster, Meat Liquor in Stokes Croft and the Milk Thistle also deserve a mention – greatly imaginative, atmospheric spaces.
MB: That’s a tough one! We’ve been fortunate to have worked on some amazing projects over the years. Being such an iconic Bristol landmark, Bristol Zoo has probably been one of my favourites. We’ve worked with them on many projects, and Ben was able to work with them again on the design of the new lodge last year. It’s a fantastic space.
BB: Yes, the lodge was a great project to be part of. Working to a tight budget, our brief was to transform a run down, two-bedroom flat in the heart of the zoo into a bright, contemporary space that would allow visitors to stay overnight for the first time. While our design was inspired by the zoo’s animals and environment, we wanted to do something that wouldn’t feel too contrived, and that would appeal to all ages. The result was an African safari-inspired space, with its theme woven into every design element, from rustic textures and natural materials through to luxurious, eclectic animal prints. We were supported by some amazing designers including Harlequin, who supplied the stunning ‘tropical plants’ sofa fabric, Mr Perswall, who designed some amazing wallpaper in the Tiger Bedroom, and Designers Guild, who supplied some wonderful fabrics.
Most memorable projects or milestones?
BB: Being asked to design the master bedroom at the House & Garden Show in Olympia was a great honour and confirmation that, within the industry, we are known for good interior design. Over the years we have brought many recognised names to talk at our events – Kevin McCloud, Anthony Little, and now Katrina Burroughs – which is a great privilege for us.
Tell us more about your anniversary events
BB: We’ve got a whole week of them planned between 9 and 15 May, to celebrate our journey. We’ll be hosting talks featuring some of the most recognised companies and figures in the industry including Little Greene Paints and Colefax & Fowler.
What do you think has been the secret to your success?
MB: Being the first to bring all the major design houses to Bristol allowed us to gain a great reputation in the region.
BB: Experience, loyalty and commitment are all vital to our business success – and humour has been important too! We are very fortunate to have a great team of designers, seamstresses and fitters, and without their talents we wouldn’t have the reputation we have. We are also lucky to have a very loyal workforce – many of whom have been with us for decades – and long may that continue.
What looks do you predict for the coming year?
BB: It’s all about using colour and creating ‘layered’ interiors which will stand the test of time. Simplicity is key. It’s better to rely on one or two amazing products to create the interest and ambience, rather than confusing the interior with too many products. The new collections from Designers Guild – who are renowned for their bright, eclectic palettes – are returning to the floral designs which they became famous for in the 1970s, and another key trend is the re-emergence of ragged and dragged wallpapers that were so popular over 20 years ago. Design houses are celebrating new weaving and design techniques, as well as encouraging and supporting traditional printing techniques. Bakers, for example, have produced a handmade collection based on old Indian printing skills. There are also many small design houses emerging now, which is exciting (bluebellgray, House of Hackney etc). I think the biggest advancement in terms of interior design in the 21st century is that there are no ‘rules.’ If you look at Colefax & Fowler and GP & J Baker (founded over a century ago and with their roots in traditional classic design), they are now embracing modern printing and weaving techniques, colour, and cutting-edge contemporary designs, which are just as exciting and appealing.
What are your hopes for Bracey’s next 50 years in Bristol?
MB: I hope the Bracey name continues in the world of interiors, and there will be a centenary celebration.
BB: I’m very proud that my parents, brother and sister have and still do work in interiors, and it would be great to see this legacy continue through to the next generation. My two daughters also both work in allied industries – one is a chartered surveyor and the other is an architect – so watch this space!
For more information about Bracey Interiors and The Design Workshop, or the 50th anniversary events, visit http://www.braceyinteriors.co.uk or call 0117 973 4664.
- 1960: The birth of Bristol’s DIY boom as styling and decorating homes becomes a national hobby.
- 1966: The Interior Decorators and Designers Association is established. Michael Bracey joins the world of interior design by opening his first business on Alma Vale Road. Bracey Interiors evolves to become one of the first design showrooms in Bristol.
- 1970: Tricia Guild founds Designers Guild.
- 1975: Love it or hate it, the avocado bathroom suite becomes a must-have interior feature.
- 1980s: Warm, pale hues are bang on-trend and peach dominates many Bristol homes.
- 1982: GP & J Baker receive Royal Warrant in recognition of the supply of fabrics and wallcoverings to the royal household.
- 1985: Michael Bracey Interiors takes the bold step of opening a comprehensive showroom in The Mall in Clifton Village. Covering five floors, the business showcases some of the best home design services Bristol has to offer, as well as a raft of accessories and furniture.
- 1986: The ‘yuppie pad’ look is in, dominated by high-tech styles. Grey is the shade of the moment, offset by chrome and black detail and accessories.
- 1995: After the excesses of the Eighties, the minimalist, more natural look is in. Painted effects – sponging, ragging, rubbing, dragging and stencilling – also experience a surge in popularity.
- 1995: Bracey Interiors relocates to the heart of Clifton Village, at Waterloo Street, where it still lives today.
- 1996: The launch of BBC DIY home improvement show Changing Rooms re-fuels national obsession with interior design.
- 2000: Bristol’s property market soars and neutrals are in vogue.
- 2003: Ben Bracey takes over the reins at Bracey Interiors.
- 2010: Personality and individuality are back in; colour and creativity are encouraged in the home. 2016: Bracey Interiors celebrates half a century of interior design in Bristol!