20 Minutes with Amy Brandhorst
by Nele Tüch, June 2020
The interior designer bringing colour back onto the map of Berlin's creative industry
As a self-taught interior designer and colour-guru Amy Brandhorst brings life to social media, brand cooperations and your home. The girl from London furnished her way into projects by the likes of Adidas, Indie Magazine, Peach Berlin or Highsnobiety. She’s the Berlin-based it-girl of home and space design, leaving a trace of Picasso-èsque and Mirò-like hues. Her style is light and modern, mixed with special vintage-finds. Her approach is intuitive and intrinsic but based on the psychological effects of colour and interior design on wellbeing. With only 24, numerous publications on her and her Kreuzberg apartment, a great sense of style, as well as amazing connections into the Berlin creative industry and an inspiring portfolio, Amy is sure to leave her impression on the scene. We asked her about work-destiny, the Berlin housing market, her relation towards fashion and being a young independent freelancer.
Nele Tüch: You’re a self-taught interior designer. Would you have always guessed that you will work in a field like this?
Amy Brandhorst: I did do a short online course in interior design but apart from that yes, I’m completely self-taught! When I was younger, my goal wasn’t to be an interior designer. I wanted to be a lawyer, and then a social worker. But my whole life I’ve been obsessed with architecture, houses and interiors. In South East London where I grew up, there’s a collection of beautiful Victorian houses and equally cool 50s/60s/70s apartment blocks. I moved around a lot when I was growing up – I lived in five houses, including three Victorian and one from the 1920s. Every time my parents found a new house, it was outdated and they would modernise it themselves. I used to draw plans and layouts and then present them to my mum. I became very familiar with the idea of knocking down walls and completely changing a space and I really enjoyed the process, so looking back it makes sense that I’m doing it as a career now.
NT: You are working for big companies like Adidas, smaller brand and image events but also individual people. What has been your favourite project so far?
AB: My project for Adidas that I did alongside fellow designer Emilia Margulies was my favourite so far in terms of design. We were so creative with colour and shape and there were multiple elements to the room – you see something different from every angle and that’s what we wanted – a dynamic, memorable space. I also really enjoyed a smallish one-bedroom apartment I designed in London’s Royal Wharf, which was right on the River Thames and brand new. The way the light reflected off the river and came through the huge windows was exquisite. I felt really lucky to design an apartment like that quite early on in my career.
“My goal is to create spaces that lift people’s moods as soon as they enter and improve their lives in some way.”
NT: What would be your dream project?
AB: I’d love to design the interior of government buildings / social housing and bring in elements of interior design psychology. I would do a lot of research and work with architects and psychologists to use colour, shape, lighting and layout to hopefully improve the inhabitants’ wellbeing. You don’t need to have a fancy client to create a beautiful, cool space. My goal is to create spaces that lift people’s moods as soon as they enter and improve their lives in some way.
NT: Your apartment is an old piano factory in Kreuzberg and has been featured in many international publications as a home-story. How did you get this apartment?
AB: When I was studying in Berlin, a friend of mine was temporarily living in this apartment. She kept in touch with flatmates and then years later I was looking for a room, and they had a room free at that exact moment, so it just worked out. I was really lucky. I’m aware it’s incredibly difficult to find an apartment in Berlin (before I lived in six different places in Berlin…and they weren’t so nice)!
NT: Fashion and interior are connected. This is not only apparent when looking at flagship-stores of big fashion brands or fashion influencer’s homes, we can also see this phenomenon take shape in your cooperations with lifestyle and fashion brands – as an interior designer but also as a testimonial and model. What is your relation to fashion?
AB: There are parallels between fashion and interiors for sure. You’ll see textures and colours on the catwalk and then see furniture designs mimic them, or vice versa. For example, metallics, ruched fabric and dark colours on the catwalk could translate to a gothic interior theme. I think the general visual direction of fashion/interiors can be similar, but of course, there are different things to consider when styling clothes or a space. When interior designers ‘dress’ a room, we need to use our spatial planning skills to think about how to ensure all furniture is functional and in proportion.
“I take great comfort in the ‘small town’ vibe of Berlin – I admit, it’s nice – but I do think that some healthy competition and investment in the creative scene would have its benefits.”
NT: You are often seen at events, talks or parties and you are part of the Berlin creative landscape. What’s your take on this scene?
AB: Berlin’s creative scene is a pretty tight circle, so if you attend an event you’re bound to know someone, which makes you feel a part of the community. However, the scene isn’t quite as connected as I’d like it to be. I think we need more shows and exhibitions that attract visitors internationally and involve local designers – something like design week/shows in NYC, Milan and Copenhagen. Designers in these cities are pushing boundaries and creating incredible work, possibly because their work is more visible on the world stage. I take great comfort in the ‘small town’ vibe of Berlin – I admit, it’s nice – but I do think that some healthy competition and investment in the creative scene would have its benefits.
NT: You moved from London to Berlin. Why did you choose Berlin over London?
AB: I’d already spent a year studying in Berlin and I moved back here within a month of graduating. I was young and eager and wanted to explore the city. I was always drawn to Berlin’s architecture, streets, shops, bars, style etc. If you get into a good rhythm, the lifestyle here is great, but I’m aware I’m very lucky to have a nice apartment and that’s a big part of why I feel at home here. I also saw an opportunity as there weren’t many interior designers in Berlin, so I was able to win projects without experience. I probably wouldn’t have got them in London! I’m working in London almost every month as I co-run Topology Interiors anyway, so I don’t feel like I miss out.
NT: You’re working as a freelancer. What did you wish someone had told you before going the step into self-employment?
AB: File and keep track of everything! In my first year of freelancing, I didn’t and it came back to bite me. I hate the admin side of things, but I’m (slightly) better at it now. I know I read this advice myself years ago and I thought ‘Nah it’ll be fine, I’ll do it later’. I’m telling you, it won’t! Also, be prepared for the financial ups and downs. Some months I’m struggling and others I’m not, so I have to be careful with my spending. One massive positive about being self-employed is how much freedom you have – you can plan your day exactly how you want it and that’s such a liberating feeling. I definitely think I work more hours now than I did when I was employed, but when I’m really into it and enjoying a project, I don’t notice.
“I’ll never get bored of design and I try to search for new exciting opportunities where I can – that for me is personal leeway.”
NT: What is your personal interior-mantra?
AB: Amplify the natural light in your space with mirrors and reflective surfaces. Natural light is vital for improving your mood.
NT: Personal leeway (=Freiraum) – what does it mean for you and where can you find it?
AB: I think it’s about loving the work I’m doing, having the freedom to meet lots of inspirational people and hopefully helping others along the way somehow. I’ll never get bored of design and I try to search for new exciting opportunities where I can – that for me is personal leeway.