Bright Young Things: Inside the exuberant world of design duo Campbell-Rey
If you’re a fan a moodily opulent, maximalist interiors, chances are you’ll know about Campbell-Rey. The London-based design duo Charlotte Rey and Duncan Campbell are some of the most sought-after in the industry thanks to their distinctive aesthetic, which sees them transform apartments on the Upper East Side and breathe new life into Mediterranean villas and holiday homes. Here, they talk creative inspiration, collaborative energy and why they’ll always gravitate towards the extraordinary.
Duncan Campbell and Charlotte Rey are almost too fresh-faced to have clocked up over a dozen years working together. But as the saying goes: time flies when you’re having fun. And what fun – with a large side helping of exuberance and fantasy – the creative duo are enjoying.
When we speak, the friends in both work and life are about to fly to New York to put the finishing touches to a residential project on the Upper East Side that, owing to Covid, has almost entirely been managed via WhatsApp (and which is heavy on azure-blue terrazzo flooring and custom-made green sofas). Then there’s the Belle Époque sleeping beauty of a villa in San Remo they have been tasked with breathing new life into, as well as the restoration of a family home across the French border in Cap D’Antibes. “We like things that are quite extraordinary, and our clients gravitate to us because of that,” says Rey of their international customer base.
What is just as interesting is Rey and Campbell’s unconventional trajectory into the world of interior design, and how their work straddles multiple mediums; the pair met in the late Noughties whilst interning in Paris on the biannual cultural magazine-slash-book Acne Paper, which they would go on to edit for several years. Edinburgh-raised Campbell read law at King’s College whilst Rey, who grew up in southern Sweden, moved to London for a Fashion History and Theory BA at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
As the cult title closed in 2014 (it was resurrected last year by Acne Studios founder Jonny Johansson), they co-founded their eponymous creative practice in London. Heritage brands who admired the publication quickly came knocking, commissioning Campbell-Rey to create books or consult on branding and art direction, which then naturally segued into requests for ephemeral retail spaces. Then came carefully conceived product lines, such as the exquisite Murano-crafted coloured glassware stocked by Matches Fashion, and a range of scene-setting furniture for luxury online platform The Invisible Collection.
“It wasn’t a huge leap to consider how things appear on a page to real life,” explains Campbell in relation to how the various disciplines all complement each other. “It’s been a very organic progression. As people who are interested in storytelling, that serves us well because when we present a concept to a client, we’re not just saying: ‘here’s a chair and a cushion’, we’re exploring the feeling of a space, it’s almost like creating a small movie.”
The duo share a penchant for colour and opulence, and are influenced by the classic architecture of northern Europe via the convivial way of life in the Mediterranean. Their affection for history and decorative arts is clear: “We’re always considering how to breathe new life into the traditional,” says Campbell. Indeed, they regularly call on specialist painters such as Magdalena Gordon to add layers of interest to the otherwise perfunctory features, such as a pediment-topped door frame with a lifelike marble finish.
The list of designers they admire is extensive and diverse, ranging from Gio Ponti to Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann. They cite the legendary architect Josef Frank for the way he would consider how the interior would talk to the exterior of a building and turn each room into a work of art – something the duo have taken a handle on as they collaborate more closely with architects and landscapers across each of their projects. “That concept of creating a complete universe is very interesting to us,” says Campbell.
They mine books – and not Instagram or Pinterest – for inspiration, working most weeks out of Rey’s office in her Chiswick home, which she describes as “very green and very calm and very lovely” (Campbell splits his time between Camden and the Cotswolds, where he has a home with his artist husband, Luke Edward Hall). Of their library-worthy collection of titles Rey says: “The shelves are creaking, it’s terrifying!”
Both tend to treat their own homes as laboratories, playing with concepts there first. “If you’ve an idea, you don’t always want to wait for a client to commission it,” Campbell explains. “It’s fun to use our own homes as spaces to try things out.” Much of the furniture they produce, for example, began life as things they wanted for themselves. The Ottavia Console is one such example. “We made a little console for the end of my bed in London – it’s a slim space, so it had to be quite narrow with very fine tapering legs. That’s something that we sell now,” says Campbell.
Travel and gallery visits also feed their imagination. Working together for so long means the pair have built up an exclusive bank of shared references, bringing a unique collaborative energy. “I can say to Charlotte: ‘Remember that yellow wall we saw in that palazzo?’ and she will know exactly what I mean,” laughs Campbell. Friends joke that their dialogue sounds like ‘whale language’, comparing their shorthand to the clicking sound made by the mammals under the sea.
When not jetting off around the world, the duo are busy expanding their collaborations. In the works is a collection of accessories for The Lacquer Company slated for next spring, and following on from their debut range of Gustavian rugs with Swedish brand Nordic Knots, they’ve been working on an exclusive colourway of said rugs for the hotel Il Pellicano in Tuscany. The increasing demand for bespoke furniture from clients makes for a natural synergy with The Invisible Collection, whose modus operandi is to offer one-off designs conceived by interior designers. There is another instalment planned for next year, with Campbell keen to create a range of lighting.
Yet despite their appreciation of exquisite craftsmanship and luxury, the pair stress that, like many millennials, they are not discriminative when it comes to provenance of items. “We love beautiful antiques, but we’re also very happy to mix them with more contemporary pieces,” says Rey. “We call it Uptown-Downtown, which is the idea that something like a fridge magnet you found in a museum shop can hold as much value to you as a beautiful piece of furniture. One shouldn’t supersede the other, everything should be given space and equal representation, coming together as a symphony.” In Campbell and Rey’s composed world, the result is always harmonious.