Jan Wilson Image 16At this years BCFA’s Annual Luncheon held at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel, London, Jan Wilson was awarded the 2016 Panaz/ BCFA Lifetime Achievement Award for her services to  interior design.

We asked Jan to tell us a little bit about herself, her work and the joys of working within in this industry…

So Jan, could you give us a short history of you? 

Born at an early age in a suburb of Sydney, Australia to the vagrant gypsy life, one of 7 siblings I attended New South Wales Institute of Technology as a sometime night club hostess. Graduating to a student I studied the form and shape of my fellow male compadres and by sensory stages obtained a “Degree of Pleasure”.

With these new found skills I headed on a research trip to Europe where I found myself and a number of other things besides. Returning to my studies I graduated in Architecture and often had cause to recall the words of my Senior Tutor – “there are only three great Arts – Poetry, Sculpture and Cake Decorating (of which architecture is a derivative)”

In 1978 I gravitated to the UK and was able to secure a position in the heated offices of Richmond Design; who coincidentally specialised in hospitality interior design. I have specialised in that field ever since; in 1988 I founded RPW Design with Patrick Reardon, Fiona Pow and Susan Webster, within days of discovering I was pregnant with my third son, and in no time at all we had shrunk to 2 employees. But fortunes revived and by 2008 I had bought out my partners and until selling 51% of RPW this year to Ariane Steinbeck I have rowed the boat myself. Along the way I have acquired two husbands, three sons, no pets, a passion for gardens and landscape design and spent as much time as possible painting and drawing, and designing properties globally. A couple of years ago I accidently acquired a vineyard in the Dedham Vale and would encourage you all to do the same. Up until now I have lived in London but I now seem to be put out to grass.

“I didn’t get into it, I’ve been thinking about the built environment for as long as I can remember”

Can you tell us how you got into design?

I didn’t get into it, I’ve been thinking about the built environment for as long as I can remember, since I was a child building my first tree house! No space and no one is safe when I’m in their space, I’m thinking, assessing, working out what I would do with that space. I would like everyone to think this way. I believe we would all live better if we did.

What has been the biggest inspiration throughout your career?

There’s been no one big thing – just a lifetime looking, assessing, questioning, thinking why something is good. That’s how  civilisation is created- the essence of what humanity can offer the world.

I know it is hard to say, but do you have a favourite project?

Whichever project I am working on at any given time is my favourite, I dream about this stuff. For example currently my focus is creating my own house up at Dedham Vale Vineyard.

Any advice you could share for young graduates about to embark on their careers in design?

DRAW, anything, everything – its toilet training for designers. If you don’t hone this fundamental communication, looking and learning skill how will you ever convince someone to invest their hard earned cash in creating your ideas

And finally what does this award mean to you?

It’s wonderful to have all that effort recognised. I’m reminded of the W B Yeats poem-

Cloth of Dreams

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I see that with designers every day in my office. It’s so precious and important – that the dreams are good ones and that we tread softly on them

Thank you Jan, and congratulations!  

Here are some of Jan’s great projects from over the years;


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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