veryone wants a piece of Petra Palumbo. The Scottish interior designer, who is usually based in the Highlands, is in town briefly and it's clear fans are keen to capitalise. We’re meeting at her new Mayfair pop-up and I would say we sat down to chat but, in reality, the sitting was rather one-sided, with Palumbo frequently leaping up to greet friends and followers as they drop in to say hello or take a look around. Warm and personable, each visitor is greeted like an old friend and given a personal tour, Palumbo’s passion for her work evident in the enthusiasm she has for each piece.
Palumbo launched her eponymous retro-nostalgic sustainable homeware brand in 2018 with a range of hand-painted carafe and tumbler sets. “I was trying to think of a sustainable solution to reduce plastic waste within the home, while creating something that was practical, but also beautiful.” They sold out overnight. “I knew then that I was on to something.”
Having since expanded to offer everything from quirky Delft tiles painted with animals, croissants and playing cards to colourful home accessories and glassware, Palumbo’s eponymous brand perfectly encapsulates the personality of its founder, with her unique blend of Lebanese heritage and Scotch sensibility. It is, perhaps, surprising then that design and interiors were never the master plan. “I never really had a dream, like, ‘I want to be an astronaut’,” she laughs. “I just knew I wanted to have a brand, and to be my own boss.”
We meet in the basement space of Mayfair’s Lamb Gallery, where Palumbo has curated her favourite pieces from her flagship store in the Scottish Highlands, where she shares an idyllic sounding home in a former fishing lodge on the River Beauly with her husband Simon, daughter Vaila, Raisin the pug, and a beloved clotted cream Citroen 2CV, affectionately named Pom-Pom. “My dad’s had it since I was born, and I’ve been driving it for about 12 years.”
A celebration of the colours of spring, every surface of the pop-up space is crowded with colourful hand-painted glassware, sweet Fairisle knits and kitschy ceramic tiles. Surrounded by her creations, Palumbo exudes the sort of cool confidence innate to many British aristos; her father is the property magnate and art collector Baron Peter Palumbo and her husband the 16th Lord Lovat.
Raised between London and Berkshire in a tight-knit family, Palumbo spent a large chunk of her adolescence helping out at her mother’s needlework shop, which was “very much an extension of our home.” The same can now be said for her Beauly flagship, which she opened last year, in order to be able to spend more time with her daughter.
“Family is a huge part of my life,” she gushes. “I love working with them and I try to include them as much as possible.” And keep it in the family she does, enlisting her husband’s aunt to hand knit Fairisle blankets and woollen babygrows and collaborating with her mother – Lady Hayat Palumbo, the creative force behind South Kensington’s Tapisserie – on a capsule of needlepoint kits.
This laser focus on family is inherent to Palumbo’s personality and her brand. “The Lebanese are very clanny, similar to the Scottish, so they’re very much about family, hosting, being generous – that really translates into my passion for the home. I love hosting and having people over. They use a lot of colour and prints, too, and so I think I’ve translated that through my work.”
There’s a real personal touch to Palumbo’s brand, something, she stresses, is by design and is evident from her handwritten logo and signature painted glassware to her popular Delft tiles, which were initially created as a gift for her husband eight years ago. “Literally everything comes through my studio and the idea was to capture nostalgic moments,” she says of the kitschy sketches of overflowing laundry hampers, cocktail shakers, pets and disco balls that decorate each tile. Fans will be pleased to hear an expanded range of serving trays and coasters is due to be released later this summer.
Aside from drawing on nostalgia and her heritage, Palumbo finds inspiration wherever she can: from travelling, the natural beauty of the Highlands, folk art and the work of fellow creatives. “Vera Neumann is a huge reference to me,” she effuses. “She's long since passed away but she's brilliant.” Others include textile designers Jacqueline Groag and Anni Albers, and Hockney “for colour”.
As she walks me through the space, my eye is caught by a rainbow of muslin napkins, set up in the centre of the room around an antique jug, bursting with fresh tulips. “These are hand-dyed in Lebanon,” she tells me. “After the explosion in Beirut, I wanted to support local designers and artists who are really struggling with the current situation there and getting supplies – it’s just a nightmare – so a friend put me in touch with a girl called Mona Ayoub, and I commissioned her.”
Having cut her teeth at Christian Dior, after studying jewellery design at London College of Fashion and completing a master degree in Sustainable Textiles at Chelsea College of Art and Design, Palumbo’s approach to design is about far more than just aesthetics. “Having studied jewellery design was brilliant. It's very precise, and you can think in 3D. That really helps me design now and think about the product in its entirety.
“We [also] look at the materials of the product: how much energy is used to make it? What happens when it breaks? Can it be recycled? We’re the antithesis of throwaway culture. If you buy one thing and you buy it well, it’ll last you forever,” she explains. “I want people to treat my pieces like heirlooms and hand them down to the next generation.” Perhaps therein lies the appeal.
The Petra Palumbo Summer 2022 pop-up is open 11am - 7pm until Saturday 30 April at 32 St George Street, W1S 2FJ; visit petrapalumbo.com