THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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My Expat Life: Beth Erskine
Beth Erskine tells us why she has such a passion for architecture, history and design, and how she came to live in the UK. With 20 years in luxury residential and hotel design, as both Interior Designer and Architects she encompasses a wide set of skills: foundation details through to the furniture:
Originally from Wyoming, in a tiny town of 475 people, I studied architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington and worked in Dallas for many years. It’s a bit of a second home to me.
I was working in Dublin and it was that point in my career I wanted to put down some roots. I knew that I wanted to stop moving from country to country and I absolutely love the history of the UK, so I applied for a UK work permit and here we are.
Technically, I’m an interior architect. I practiced architecture for 15 years before turning my focus to interiors. I love construction, always have, so for me, the architecture degree had to come first.
Design has been an obsession as long as I can remember. My parents were constantly remodelling our house, so I knew that homes could always be changed. I spent my pocket money on house plan magazines, making changes to the plans and elevations and dreaming of how people would live in 'my houses'. If that’s not a calling, I don’t know what is.
Interior design is all about making a house a home. Hotels and rented apartments are great but when everything around you is unfamiliar, every moment of every day, it can be wearing. Having a place to call home is important - you need that base in your life filled with familiar things and photos of loved ones. It should be a place to recharge.
I’ve painted each of my homes for the past 20 years the same colour because that’s my version of home. I put out photos of my family and friends, I sit in my battered Barcelona chair that’s been to 3 countries with me, and I drink coffee from a mug I purchased in Seattle nearly 15 years ago. These are the things that calm me, ground me, give me a sense of home, of belonging. I believe the process of creating a home from home is what makes it possible to live abroad and away from your family.
I revere history. Most architects do, and British history is written in its buildings. When I design, I strive to stay true to the architecture, be it Georgian, Art Deco, or a Cotswold Cottage. I believe that great design respects and responds. It’s been exciting to explore the different styles within the UK and see how they were reinterpreted in the US.
We design differently for all our clients. Everyone has their own version of what makes a home and we always start there – I never like to have any preconceived designs. Largely, our clients tend to be global citizens; they’re ex-pats, they have homes in other countries and they travel a great deal. We respond to needs and styles, rather than to nationality.
My favorite room of the house to design for is wine rooms. It’s all about the detail. How to display? How to light? Do we use A/C or can we cool it another way? Timber or metal? Cases vs bottles? Is there seating? Wine’s another passion of mine so it’s a natural favorite.
I love challenges. An interesting project we’ve just completed is a room for a couple who wanted to be able to have a living and dining space that could live up to their love of music and dinner parties. Part of the brief was that the room had to allow for late night jamming sessions around the piano. It’s worked really well and makes a nice change from cinema rooms and home gyms.
Most people don’t need full design services; they just need a bit of help, a professional second opinion. We offer a ‘Design in a Day’ service where you can buy a day of our expertise for whatever you need. We’ve gone shopping with clients, rearranged furniture, reviewed drawings, chosen finishes. We meet you, we discuss your challenge and sort out a solution. Then we follow up with all the specifics you need to finish it to a professional standard.
More often than not, people just want to tap into our expertise. When it comes to making a home, be it new construction, remodelling, or just furnishing, it’s a lot of money to invest and people want to be sure they’re doing the right thing. The day is yours to get what you need, without a huge commitment.
My top tip for someone looking to re-design their home is to add 10%. That schedule you’ve been given? Those budget figures? Those are both based on perfect conditions. It’s construction, it’s never perfect. So, prepare yourself mentally and monetarily. Add 10% to both the budget and the schedule. Just don’t tell anyone.
I guess the thing I miss most about about America whilst being in the UK is being able to drive 100 miles in two hours instead of four. Or eight, depending on the traffic.
And the best thing about being an American in the UK? Knowing far more about British history than my British friends. They think they’re so much smarter than we are…
You can find out more information on Beth's design work via her website, www.ElizabethErskine.com, including information on her 'Design in a Day' concept. See below for a gallery of some of Beth's work.