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Founder and Managing Director of Velvenoir, Alexandra Schafer talks to SBID about the role of art within space and shares how she and her team work with interior designers at a global level.

What are the origins of your consultancy?

My professional background is in hospitality and  PR/marketing while my passion is art. I love hospitality because it’s all about creating an experience for the client and art is all about the feeling. I lived in London and Sydney, working in hospitality, and when I was in Australia I was introduced to Aboriginal art. It really struck me how wonderful it would be to have access to those artists but if you’re not knowledgeable about the scene it can be intimidating. People have also told me they feel intimidated going into galleries. I launched Velvenoir back in 2014 to bridge that gap between art and the client.

How do you work with interior designers?

Ideally, we introduce art consultancy at the beginning of the process because then we know the budget, the direction of the project and the design brief; we can then work hand in hand with the designer to select pieces, discuss framing and any other topic that may arise and is relevant. We’ll look at the space and understand the client and the budget then propose anything from painting, fine-art photography to bespoke art installations to make the space unique. We then put a tailored proposal and presentation together, showing both the art and design – so the designer can present it to the client for discussion.

What if the designer isn’t used to working with original art?

We can train the designer to present the work confidently, especially where a designer might not be so used to working with art, or if they are presenting highly priced pieces. We make sure they understand the art and equip them to be able to stand by the proposal or have one of our experts on the ground join the designer to his/her client meeting.

Interior image of IHG Hotel Indigo Antwerp using art in spaces
If your consultancy is not involved from the start of a project, how do you ensure the art you select will be right?

This is more of a challenge. We receive all the renders and materials in confidence and based on those we can create renders or share videos from the artist studio of the art, so the designer and client can envision the art. It’s about feeling the art and understanding what it can do to transform your space. Well-chosen art really makes or breaks a room, so this process really helps both the designer and client to understand the look and feel. It´s a time-consuming process – yet I´ve experienced it in the past, our clients do enjoy and appreciate the open and transparent communication and insights into artist studios.

Do you think people understand the value that original art can bring to a space?

People confuse art and design, the design is so important, of course, but art is also vital to give the space a soul and character. This does not only work for residential projects, I also believe contemporary art from career artists will add a character and soul to the corporate and hotel space too. Again, you have to look at the bigger picture –  In a hotel, if you have a good strategy for your artwork you will get a good return on investment. We’re finding that increasingly designers are speaking up and educating the client about how art plays a role in the project and how it’s important to consider it from the beginning. These designers will push to allocate a separate budget for art and not just have artwork covered under the FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) budget. If no one thinks about art until the final stages, the designer could have an empty wall to fill. It does happen in both the residential and commercial sector. In the end, you have to ask yourself what service and quality would I like to create for my client…

Interior image of IHG Hotel Indigo Antwerp using art in spaces
Are you seeing any trends in client requests?

I do feel that clients are taking more creative risks and becoming more open to buying different types of work. Designers are also starting to explore different options and understanding that engaging artwork is more than just decoration. I think it’s about using all sorts of mediums, not just paintings and the trend I can see now, is most designers do enjoy working with dedicated art consultants at their side since art sourcing and buying is quite time consuming – but a great service to add on to.

Why do you think designers value your services?

More designers are approaching us because they want to add value to their business. They can offer their client an art consultancy service to create an art concept tailored to their project. With so much reproduction in the art world, many clients want to own something unique. Also, if they use a consultancy, the designer or client can reach out and access art or art expertise instantly. It’s a time-consuming process to source art, to keep up with who the emerging artists are and to build relationships with galleries so we can manage the process. We also provide international access and curate a selection based on the client, the design concept and the given a budget and brief. We have independent art consultants around the world who we can bring in as we see fit. Each one has their own expertise, know-how, focus and we’ll bring them in to help us find the best artworks for our clients – internationally of course. This way, we provide different opinions and art suggestions, from different cultures and markets and at the same time, truly make art accessible at a global level for all of our clients.

(Image Credits: Hotel Indigo ® Antwerp interior design by IHG.)

This week SBID delved behind the scenes with one of our student design competition judges, Jane Hay, the International Managing Director for Christie’s Education. As students across the UK have been celebrating the announcement of the Designed for Business category finalists, revealed on Monday 29th October 2018, Jane shared her advice about curating creative careers and how she would choose to spend the £30,000 prize fund to help kick-start a career in the competitive industry.

Can you describe your current job?

I am the International Managing Director for Christie’s Education, a global division of the world’s leading art business, Christie’s.

Christie’s Education is a specialist provider of higher and continuing education, and an internationally recognised centre of academic excellence in the study of art business and the art market, art history and art world ecosystems, curating and connoisseurship. We offer master’s degrees in London and New York, and are dedicated to preparing students for entry into the art world, placing great importance on analytical skills, object-based learning, research and scholarship, and the practical experience of art and business as the keys to professional success. We also offer a wide range of continuing education opportunities, both online and on location in London, New York and Hong Kong, designed to introduce the fundamentals of art, collecting and art business.

Jane Hay, Managing Director of Christies Education feature for SBID interior design blog, The Judges Insight, Designed for Business student design competition

What is your background and how did you get into your industry?

My father was an art teacher and latterly an antique dealer. Appreciation of art and design, and its role in creating our social fabric, was a theme running throughout my childhood. I was very lucky to secure a job at Christie’s by writing to them and asking if there were any positions available. Since then I’ve held several positions in the company, including Specialist, Auctioneer, Global Divisional Director and UK Managing Director of Christie’s. I have now been at Christie’s for thirty years, including six years at Christie’s Education.

Jane Hay, Managing Director of Christies Education feature for SBID interior design blog, The Judges Insight, Designed for Business student design competition

Which people do you admire most in the industry and why?

I most admire those who have deep knowledge and expertise in their chosen field, are generous with that knowledge, and continue to look for ways to challenge and innovate.

How do you feel about being a judge for SBID’s new student design competition?

I welcome every opportunity to support young creatives. The Designed for Business student design competition should have a significant impact for the eventual winner’s career prospects, so I am excited to be part of it.

How did you find your judging experience?

We considered works of a very high standard from across all categories. I was impressed by the dynamism of the entrants and their ability to connect deeply and creatively with topical issues and to use their talents to communicate ideas in ways that could have real commercial potential.

What advice would you give a young designer starting out in the industry?

Immerse yourself in the creative hub in your city, live where the creative people live and work, and insert yourself into their world. Spend six months listening before you start selling yourself – you will learn a lot. Any job is better than no job; it’s about being there and gaining visibility. Be part of the conversation.

If you had won £30,000 just after graduating from University, what would you have done with it?

I would have rented live-work space in the creative hub I just referred to and got to work! There is no substitute for hard work.

Click here to find out more about this year’s Designed for Business judging panel or visit our website here for further announcements and information about this inaugural student design competition!


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