Since emerging as the winner of the BBC’s Great Interior Design Challenge 2015, Martin Holland has seen his consultancy, MartinMark Design, which he runs with his partner Mark Walters, go from strength to strength. Furniture News catches up with Martin as he prepares to offer store owners his expertise at Autumn Fair …

Do you have much on at the moment, Martin?
A number of different projects, actually – there’s literally never a dull moment at MMD HQ. We’ve got residential briefs in the UK and Europe on the go, along with an exciting new commercial scheme (in the form of a new restaurant and bar), but that’s all top secret for now.

Creating written content for lifestyle magazines is keeping us busy, and the diary is booked to speak at a number of events to give expert advice. Not to mention filming shorts for a major energy supplier with top tips on styling new homes.

If that isn’t enough, we’re also deep in the process of getting our new online shop off the ground. It’ll be a curated selection of beautiful interior pieces, homewares and soft furnishings – which we’ve wanted to do for some time!

Outside of work is just as manic, as we’re undertaking a full renovation of our entire home, which is taking much longer than expected, but it’s really starting to take shape now. Exciting times!

Has your approach noticeably changed since winning the Great Interior Design Challenge?
It really pushed us into the limelight and meant we were in demand from lots of different people. The post-show rush doesn’t last forever, and we’ve settled into the industry and our business, with a steady stream of work and opportunities popping up across things we never dreamed we’d be getting involved in.

Our approach to design has evolved massively since the TV show. This is in part due to learning on the job, but also down to Mark’s background in theatre and set design, and how he approaches a show. His perspective on design is often what gets the best out of what we do.

What topics will you be covering in your seminar?
We’re really excited to be at Autumn Fair this year, and have some great advice to offer retailers who are either starting from scratch, looking to give their shop a complete refresh. or just wanting to up their game and stand out from the crowd.

We live in a world where ecommerce dominates the retail industry. With soaring rent and rates, retailers are fortunate if they’re able to afford a physical presence on the high street, and if they can, they have to make sure that they stand out and draw customers in or they won’t stand the test of time.

“With soaring rent and rates, retailers are fortunate if they’re able to afford a physical presence on the high street, and if they can, they have to make sure that they stand out and draw customers in or they won’t stand the test of time”

We want to help show people how to do that! It’s more than just products, it’s about lifestyles and buying into a whole environment and experience that keeps people coming back. We believe the root to this is the interior of your shop!

Your portfolio principally comprises domestic design work. What expertise can you bring to the retail world?
There are a lot of synergies between the residential and commercial worlds of design. In our opinion, one very much talks to the other. A long time before we started working in this industry, we took huge inspiration from the retail and commercial world, and still do today.

High-end retailers spend huge amounts of money on their shop interiors, and you can gain some brilliant insights and ideas. It often takes a while for these to filter down into the mass market (and into our homes), so we try and be savvy – staying abreast of the very latest in design and trends, and offering this to the independent retail market with our own unique twist.  

What rules of domestic design apply to retail?
The design process stands out as being one of the key rules you can apply to any type of interior design. Key to this is the absolute essential areas every space needs to get right such as layout, functionality, lighting, colour and furnishing.

Comfort is also something that resonates with both retail and residential. Our homes are our sanctuaries, and by their very nature they have to offer comfort and protection. The same can be said for retail, where the consumer looks to have sufficient personal space when browsing, and where possible offers seating and spaces to relax en route.

“Our homes are our sanctuaries, and by their very nature they have to offer comfort and protection. The same can be said for retail”

This is an absolute must if you’re a furniture retailer! There is nothing worse than going into a furniture shop, only to be faced with signs forbidding you to touch or sit on anything! These are the very items we want to touch, feel and test before we commit to buying.

How can a change to a store’s design increase business?
It sounds simple, but doing something unusual or borderline outlandish can get you recognised instantly and boost your business. You want people to talk about your shop and the experience it offers! Just remember that it has to be for the right reasons, and your products need to live up to the expectations, rather than the shop just being for spectators.

A prime example of where this has been a huge success is the clothing retailer Hollister. Their target market is young adults in their mid-to-late teens and early twenties. These people love to shop, but they also love to socialise in late-night bars and nightclubs.

The design team decided to combine the two with a dark and moody lighting scheme reminiscent of a nightclub. This had never been done in a retail environment before, but it went down a storm with the customers, who loved it, and it created a real buzz with lots of media attention. The parents weren’t so enamoured, but their target market bought into it 100%. That’s what we’d call a success!

What unique opportunities and limitations face independent furniture retailers in this respect?
These can vary massively depending on the size and scale of the retailer in question. If you’re a small-scale retailer, then it’s likely space in your shop is limited and comes at a premium, which can restrict what you can offer to the customer – especially when it comes to larger pieces of furniture.

Be creative and look at utilising space which would ordinarily sit empty as an opportunity to present a quirky display. We’ve seen chairs suspended from the ceiling of a shop before – the effect was pretty impressive and a real talking point.

Most retailers lease their premises, and so landlords can often push restrictions onto tenants, limiting their ability to achieve what they really want to within the space they have – especially if that’s grand plans to make significant changes.

“Be creative and look at utilising space which would ordinarily sit empty as an opportunity to present a quirky display”

However, all is not lost! See this as an opportunity to turn what can be a problematic space or feature into something exciting and unique. Problems like this often force you to push your boundaries and respond with fresh ideas. And if they’re money-saving too, then it’s a win-win. 

What role does trend-watching play in this process?
Trends are critical to the design world. They inform everything, from the products we buy, to the places we live and the restaurants we eat in. Love them or hate them, they’re an essential part of the industry. It’s all about how you interpret them that will help you to stand out from the crowd, and as a retailer that’s exactly what you’re out to do!

If there’s a particular material that you love that’s on trend, try to find unusual ways of using it in your shop interior instead of plumping for the norm. It may not be something it would usually lend itself to, but more often than not the outcome can be astounding. And who knows, you might even become a trendsetter yourself.

When will visitors to Autumn Fair be able to catch your talk?
We’re kicking off on Sunday 4th September with a talk to retailers on how to achieve interior design success in their shop (visit the Autumn Fair website for more details and to discover how to book a place).

We’re back again the following day, giving the same talk, but this time we’ll also be offering a series of one-to-one clinics (in the afternoon), helping to solve retailers’ interior design dilemmas. We can’t wait!

Martin will deliver his seminar, ‘How to achieve design success for your shop interior in 10 easy steps’, at Autumn Fair at 11.50am on Sunday 4th September in the Trends seminar theatre on the Fashion and Accessories Catwalk, and 10.45am on Monday 5th in the E-commerce Theatre, followed by 15-minute one-to-one clinics starting at noon. The exhibition runs from 4-7th September at the Birmingham NEC.