Scottish interior designer Sam Buckley on his relationship with colour

The Edinburgh-based designer discusses with STIR how he designs his most path-breaking interiors, the visual impact colours make, and how designers should challenge the status quo.

by Pallavi MehraPublished on : Oct 28, 2021

Edinburgh-based interior designer and architectural technologist, Sam Buckley, recently garnered recognition when his project, the Merchiston home went viral on Instagram. After initially working as an architectural technologist in Edinburgh, in 2009, Buckley moved to Milan to study for a Master’s degree in interior design. Thereafter, Buckley started work in art direction for fashion brands alongside endeavours in architectural design and interiors. Presently, Buckley heads up Studio Sam Buckley where he designs furniture and objects along with indulgent interior schemes for residential and commercial clients.

Here, in an interview with STIR, the multifaceted Sam Buckley discusses his inspirations, design processes, and how he pushes the boundaries of design.

  • Buckley discusses his inspirations, design processes, and how he pushes the boundaries of design | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    Buckley discusses his inspirations, design processes and how he pushes the boundaries of design Image: Courtesy of Laura Meek Photography
  • Buckley designs homes that challenge the status quo |Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    Buckley designs homes that challenge the status quo Image: Courtesy of Alix McIntosh Photography

Pallavi Mehra (PM): All your work has a common theme—bright colours. What draws you to these hues and how do you decide the colour palette for each project?

Sam Buckley (SB): I have always been interested in colours, and while learning architecture and interiors, I was amazed at how often spaces are just left white. As a rebellion against the idea of the white box, I have always wanted to explore the use of colour and how it can affect the mood of a space. I also feel that although colours can change a space, it's not always down to the colour, but the application of the colour. Additionally, I find similar effects can be achieved using different colours, leaving the choice of hue down to a conceptual idea or a more arbitrary aesthetic choice. This can result in unique colour combinations for each project, something I am very happy to explore.

The Merchiston home in Edinburgh that recently went viral on Instagram is a kaleidoscope of colour | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
The Merchiston home in Edinburgh that recently went viral on Instagram is a kaleidoscope of colour Image: Courtesy of Alix McIntosh Photography

PM: What inspires you to design the projects and products that you do? What is your relationship with colour?

SB: It will usually start with conversations with the client. I don’t accept jobs unless I feel there is a really good connection between myself and the client, and that together we can explore something a little different. I have always been an ‘ideas person’ so the conceptual part of a project is really fun. Thereafter, I like to find inspiration in minute details, or from an ethereal viewpoint, then jump off into abstraction and see what happens.

  • Sam Buckley’s projects question the prevailing standards of how things are supposed to look. This Merchiston home is bold and unique | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    Buckley’s projects question the prevailing standards of how things are supposed to look. This Merchiston home is bold and uniqueImage: Courtesy of Alix McIntosh Photography
  • The bedroom of Merchiston home with a built-in desk and bespoke radiator cover is experimental like all his projects | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    The bedroom of Merchiston home with a built-in desk and bespoke radiator cover is experimental like all his projectsImage: Courtesy of Alix McIntosh Photography

PM: Please talk about your process, both how you conceive or plan your interior design projects and then how do you go about executing the project? Do you decide the colour theme first or later?

SB: I will always start with the necessities. What does the client need from the space, how will they live/work within the space, and what are their perceived outcomes. At this point, I like to boil down those ideas to a fundamental concept, then rebuild back up without any preconceived notions of how to do that. If we start to look at solutions too early, quite often there will be baggage that is superfluous to the intended function. This is where my years of work as an architectural technologist come into their own, as I am not scared of suggesting an extension or a reconfiguration of the space. The colours come later on, although it's the colours that have the most visual impact.

  •  In this psychedelic Edinburgh apartment, walls are covered with graphics in the shades of blue, green, yellow, maroon and pink, featuring a chair in orange and two-tone blue console | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    In this psychedelic Edinburgh apartment, walls are covered with graphics in the shades of blue, green, yellow, maroon and pink, featuring a chair in orange and two-tone blue consoleImage: Courtesy of Alix McIntosh Photography
  • Buckley’s design aesthetic, which can be described as ‘joyful minimalism’, brings together a bright colour palette, bold furnishings, and a touch of nature to the Merchiston home | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    Buckley’s design aesthetic, which can be described as ‘joyful minimalism’, brings together a bright colour palette, bold furnishings, and a touch of nature to the Merchiston homeImage: Courtesy of Alix McIntosh Photography
  • Even the doors add a pop of colour with handmade enamel graphic push-plates | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    Even the doors add a pop of colour with handmade enamel graphic push-plates Image: Courtesy of Alix McIntosh Photography

PM: Your interior design projects question the prevailing standards of how things are supposed to look or function. What is your ultimate goal for these projects?

SB: I work from quite a scientific methodology across all my jobs. I am constantly reassessing how things can work, and constantly experimenting with different materials, colours, volumes, etc. This leads me to question a lot of what is considered the norm. Interiors are such individual and personal spaces that to try and establish a norm is to white wash an artistic endeavour that in my opinion is a disservice to the industry.

  • Buckley's own bright abode that experiments with different materials, colours and volumes | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    Buckley's own bright abode that experiments with different materials, colours and volumes Image: Courtesy of Alix McIntosh Photography
  • To begin, Sam designs his spaces in 3D environments. Here the living room of his home with a graphic rug in technicolour palette| Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    To begin, the Scottish designer designs his spaces in 3D environments. Here the living room of his home with a graphic rug in technicolour palette Image: Courtesy of Alix McIntosh Photography

PM: All your projects showcase vibrant hues and are experimental. What advice do you have for interior designers who want to achieve a similar design aesthetic without going overboard?

SB: Experimentation is key! I design all my spaces in 3D environments, and try to render my thoughts very accurately. During my Master’s course, I was marked down because my ideas were deemed to be too expensive. Then a few years later, a similar idea was executed by a very large fashion brand in one of their flagship stores, which confirmed the validity of the concept.

Find the boundary then bring it back just enough to satisfy needs whilst hopefully still maintaining a unique aesthetic.

  • Buckley’s home showcases his trademark design aesthetic in vivid hues | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    Buckley’s home showcases his trademark design aesthetic in vivid hues Image: Courtesy of Zac + Zac Photography
  • Buckley’s design language is that of modernism with post-modern sensibilities. A red and pink striped velvet sofa adorns the living room of his house | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    Buckley’s design language is that of modernism with post-modern sensibilities. A red and pink striped velvet sofa adorns the living room of his house Image: Courtesy of Zac + Zac Photography

PM: What must a designer remember in order to create works that challenge the status quo?

SB: Question it all. Don't just jump to a solution because it’s pre-existing. Most of the time that solution won’t be 100 per cent right, so there could be a better way of doing it. But if you just choose the closest thing, then you might not be addressing the main issues.

PM: What are the most significant projects you have engaged with and your most cherished collaborations?

SB: The Merchiston home was to date one of the most exciting projects. The client was very receptive to my ideas, and because of their open mind, some interesting ideas were arrived at.

PM: How would you define your design language and what lies at the core of your philosophy?

SB: It's a mix of modernism but with post-modern sensibilities. I enjoy the uncluttered nature of a lot of modernism, yet I like a sense of play and intrigue when designing. I wouldn’t say I am a maximalist, as I don’t like spaces to be too busy. I think it was 2LG Studio who proclaimed the style as ‘joyful minimalism’. That kind of rings true to me.

  • For the designer, interiors are all about balance, like his kitchen pictured here which features door finishes in different colours | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    For the designer, interiors are all about balance, like his kitchen pictured here which features door finishes in different colours Image: Courtesy of Zac + Zac Photography
  • Sam Buckley’s distinctive bedroom in the shades of indigo | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    Buckley’s distinctive bedroom in the shades of indigo Image: Courtesy of Zac + Zac Photography

PM: How did you create your signature palette to suit an easy, comforting living sensibility?

SB: It’s all about balance. I do like a rich palette, but I will often mix in pastel shades to balance these out. It also depends on the light. In Scotland, we get some very nice long summer days, but in the winter, it gets dark at about 4pm. With this in mind, I will tend to use a lot of very rich and heraldic colours, as they work well to create a comforting, snug space. I shy away from pastel schemes. I find that without the balance of some richness it can be hard to ground the space in a natural way.

PM: Who are your early influences and interior idols if any?

SB: Frank Gehry was one of the first architects that I was really interested in. My parents took me to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao when it first opened, and I was in awe of its lack of conformity, of its expressionism, and its use of new materials and technology.

  • Sam often uses pastel shades to balance the rich colours | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    He often uses pastel shades to balance the rich colours Image: Courtesy of Zac + Zac Photography
  • Sam Buckley promises to experiment and play in his upcoming projects | Studio Sam Buckley | STIRworld
    Buckley promises to experiment and play in his upcoming projects Image: Courtesy of Zac + Zac Photography

PM: According to you, what are the biggest challenges for a designer in the post pandemic world?

SB: Post pandemic, I think the hardest thing for young designers is to get exposure. I would love to be able to take on a few students and share with them my methodology. Admittedly, there are very few people who can come through an education system and denounce it, but someone has to, and it’s those people I want to work with. I don’t care about just earning a wage, I have to push this as far as possible, otherwise, what’s the point?

PM: What's next for Studio Sam Buckley?

SB: You might see more objects and furniture in the not too distant future, but at any rate, you will see plenty of experimentation and play!

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