A celebration of Nina Campbell's style as she marks 50 years in the business

Over the course of half a century in interior design, Nina Campbell's versatile take on English interiors has been in demand around the world; we discover the hallmarks of her style here

If I asked her for help with a project, she would respond with generosity and enthusiasm. The talks she gave for us were immensely popular and she would always make time to judge a competition, support a fundraiser or come to a party. It seems astonishing that someone with so much energy should be celebrating the 50th anniversary of her business.

Nina is a wonderful mixture of sophisticated worldliness and down-to-earth fun. Her life has always informed her work and the blending of the one into the other makes both enjoyable. She is a marvellous hostess herself, so the rooms she creates for clients are welcoming and comfortable. She is a mother and grandmother and understands the practical needs of a family home. She is an indefatigable seeker-out of craftspeople, so her schemes are threaded through with originality and her attention to detail is forensic. The monograms on the bed sheets will be perfect and the lurcher’s basket will be in a dog-friendly place. For five decades, Nina has been creating rooms that invite their occupants to live well and she’s carried the flag for British interior design the world over – so here’s a loud ‘Hurrah!’ for La Campbell.

Sir Peter Osborne, Co-founder of Osborne & Little
When I started Osborne & Little with Antony Little in 1968, I was very much aware of Nina, but we didn’t know each other well. We have always had our own rather zippy style and, although Nina came from that Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler tradition, we saw her fitting in rather well with what we were doing; she’s a bit left field and leans towards the contemporary side of English country-house style. She was feisty; she still is, of course.

At our first meeting, she walked in and said, ‘Look, I’ve got children at home, so if I’m going to work with you, I’m going to need a nanny. I don’t drive, so I’ll need a car and a driver. And I’ll need to have my hair done every week.’ Well, we whittled that down as much as we could and got on with it. It was worth it. We were overwhelmed by her first collection in 1989 called ‘Braulen’, which comprised beautiful prints based on visits that she had made to grand Scottish houses. It was a sensational start.

The thing about Nina is that she is very decisive. She knows exactly what she wants and she comes to designing patterns from a decorator’s point of view. Nina knows how to capture the zeitgeist; she is incredibly well read and well travelled. Occasionally, I disagree with something, but I hardly ever win an argument.

Her designs do very well in the States. They love her and I would say that about 30 per cent of our sales of Nina’s designs are there. We’ve just upped our game with her: we’re going to be doing two launches per year, not one.

Colin Orchard, Interior designer

Nina and I have known each other for nearly 30 years. Willie [William Yeoward, Colin’s late partner] and I met her at a party and we just clicked. How could you not? Early on in our friendship, we arranged to take Nina out to dinner. We called to pick her up and she was still applying her war paint, so we went to the nursery and sat with Alice, her youngest, who was about 10 at the time. We chatted, trying to dodge some of her more direct questions and, as we were leaving, Alice turns round and says, ‘Have a lovely evening with the gays.’ The apple does not fall far from the tree.

Nina grew up in a lovely house and always appreciated her surroundings. But this does not make you a great decorator. It comes from within – no doubt with the help of good training. We both went through the school of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, although I do like to remind Nina that I was there some time after her. Great design, a keen eye and good taste are things that grow with you. Nina has all three in a plentiful supply. She can make a grand house comfortable and a comfortable house grand. She knows a house is something to be proud of and to be hugely enjoyed, and her clients always come back for more. These days she works for many of the children of her more longstanding clients.

She certainly knows how to entertain and very generously, too. Like me, she often leaves the actual cooking to someone else – for health and safety reasons. But due to her sense of style and taste, she creates a wonderful party. This is important for her when designing for a client, as this is how she sees her wonderful designs being appreciated. Her humour and generosity of spirit have earned her so many dear friends; she has the biggest following I have ever seen.

Rita Konig, Interior designer and Nina’s daughter

The other day, my daughter told me the pizza at her friend’s house was nicer than the fancy one I get. I was immediately thrown back to my own childhood, because nothing our mother did was like others. Everything – whether making pancakes at the school Christmas fête, her fur coat covered in syrup, or her June 4 picnic at Eton consisting of lobster because they seemed, to her, the easiest thing to eat on a rug (I don’t think she knows how to make a sandwich) – was not how other mothers did things. And therein lies her secret: it is by not knowing how to do life’s ordinary things that she has come to a life of doing everything exceptionally well.

Her attention to detail, absolutely rock-solid reliability and sense of humour, adventure and the absurd have made her a unique mother and role model. I can’t deny that my own approach to decorating is lifted entirely from her book of practicality, luxury, beauty and necessity. She has an eye-watering ability to spend money but, when needs must, she knows how to rein it in and get busy with a hammer.

When I was about 20 years old, a close family friend died suddenly and the family found themselves downsizing in straitened times. We were helping them settle into their new house and one of the rooms had a hideous Forties ceramic-brick fireplace. Well, all I can tell you is that, according to NC, things weren’t bad enough to have to live with this fireplace, and the next thing we knew, she was pulling it off the wall with said hammer. She is forthright, fierce and brave – just watch out if you are a friend in any sort of need.