If I’m doing fashion I want to be in the bigger picture.
After thirty years in the British fashion industry Lionel Copley has made the move into interior design. With a brilliant eye for art and textiles, the designer has created two successful bed and breakfast guesthouses in Hastings Old Town - a place he originally visited while searching for a simple coastal bolthole..
LONDON IS …
eclectic, multi-cultural, exciting
LONDON IS NOT …
MY FAVOURITE MUSIK:
MY FAVOURITE MOVIE:
MY ROLE MODELS:
A GOOD DAY STARTS WITH …
a cup of tea in bed, looking at the sea
I´M HAPPY WHEN …
I'm walking the dogs on the beach
I WOULD NEVER …
pull the wings off flies
Garden room, Swan House
'I don't like parking something.' Fashion and interior designer Lionel Copley is talking about working with architects on the store design for British brand Reiss, for which he used to be Creative Director: he's someone who sees and participates in all aspects of each venture he works on, and likes to ensure a project's disparate threads are woven together for a holistic result. Lionel does things carefully and aims to realise the full potential of his many endeavours.
He's like that with people, too, engaging with local designers on his projects in London and Hastings, and supporting the creative ideas of those people - many of whom are artists and friends - who work with him at Swan House and The Old Rectory, the two bed and breakfasts he has designed and co-owns in Hastings Old Town on the East Sussex coast.
He immerses himself in the spaces in which he lives and works - walking through the streets of Hastings Old Town he seems to know everyone. He pops into clothing, antique and vintage shops to greet friends including Leida Nassir-Pour at the wonderful Warp & Weft, Mao Bramall at elegant Shimizu Flowers, and Lucian at eclectic Myerscough & Mairs. Made in Hastings, Alastair Hendy's AG Hendy & Co Home Store and Peter Grant Antiques are other favourite browsing and buying locations, and the wares of all stores fill both bed and breakfasts.
I don’t like parking something.
Lionel's first venture in Hastings was a boutique lifestyle shop on the seafront. Then the fifteenth-century Swan House became available; he looked at it for a friend but ended up becoming the buyer. And despite assurances that he'd 'never wanted to be in hospitality', he turned it into the perfect beachside guesthouse. Next up was The Old Rectory, a larger building constructed in the fifteenth century with additions made during Georgian and Victorian periods - evidence of which can be clearly seen from the large Victorian walled garden at the back of the house. The Old Rectory's gardener used to work at the Great Dixter Gardens in Rye, another of Lionel's favourite places.
He now splits his time between Hastings and London: 'I'm doing a bar and grill in the New Town so I spend a bit more time down here.' In London he lives in the south-west of the city, very close to Battersea Park. Favourite haunts in the capital cover all points of the compass. There's St. JOHN, Smithfield (City of London); in South West London, it's Santa Maria Del Sur, and in Central London, Maison Bertaux in Soho. The Tate Modern, Photographers' Gallery and Chelsea Physic Garden are also on his list.
Hastings is quite friendly though it is a small town... the flipside is it can be quite noisy!
After going to art school in Scarborough, Lionel studied fashion as an undergraduate at Newcastle University. He went on to do post-graduate work at London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. After graduation he began working for the great Katharine Hamnett, and continued this for about sixteen years. Next up was Reiss. These days he continues to consult for Katharine Hamnett, now owned by a Japanese company.
While at Reiss, Lionel decided he needed a seaside escape: 'I wanted a bolthole.' He drove all along the south coast searching for possible retreats, and picked Hastings. 'You either love it or you hate it. I just really like it.' He bought a little fisherman's cottage, which he still owns: 'I still have it - if everything goes horribly wrong...' Of that there seems no danger.
If I’m doing fashion I want to be in the bigger picture.
His work for Katharine Hamnett continues with a satisfying crossover between fashion and interiors. 'If I'm doing fashion I want to be in the bigger picture.' He designs not only watches and eyewear for the brand but also fabrics and ties, aligning with his strong interest in textiles. Film is a great interest and inspiration, with his latest collection for Katharine Hamnett being inspired by To Sir, with Love: 'when you look at that film, the clothes look so contemporary.' He acknowledges the Japanese desire for British design. 'I tend to anchor the collections for Katherine Hamnett on something UK-based.'
He still loves fashion design - 'clothing design, fashion, I enjoy it, it gets easier when you've been doing it for thirty years' - but is also enjoying the challenge of interiors. 'Fashion design is how I started out... interior design is what I am trying to do more of.'
Swan House and The Old Rectory have been a huge success; the latter is also a very popular wedding venue, and in both places the sense of being at 'home' is no accident. Lionel has created welcoming spaces rooted in Hasting's history, both old and modern (all rooms in The Old Rectory are named after streets in the town).
Fashion design is how I started out... interior design is what I am trying to do more of.
These have been conceived through collaboration with both local and London-based artists and friends. Swan House is managed by Brendan McDonagh. Shaun Brosnan, who manages The Old Rectory, is a sculptor and art school friend of Lionel's. His bold work can be seen in the guesthouses and is also sold in London. Paint artist Bill Barrett's trompe l'loeil work is also featured, and If you could carry away the walls at The Old Rectory, you would - some are clad in artist Deborah Bowness' bespoke wallpaper (unique chintz-inspired designs), sold by the wall - and some delicately hand-painted by interior artist Melissa White.
Lionel grew up in Selby, Yorkshire, and has always been drawn to the sea, starting with his days at art school in Scarborough. 'If I go for a holiday it tends to be ocean-side. Fairlight Beach is one of my favourites down here. It's quite a trek down to it so it means it's really quiet and peaceful. You have to schlep a bit but it's really a beautiful walk down, with waterfalls.'
If I go for a holiday it tends to be ocean-side.
And always present are the cries of the gulls, to which Lionel says you grow accustomed. As you walk through Hastings Old Town, the birds fall across the sky seeming to call stay, stay - though it could just be imagination.
Text: Clare Carlin
Fotos: Peter Clayman, Swan House
Hastings itself has a thriving community of artists, designers and writers. Not surprisingly the Jerwood Gallery is a favourite spot to visit. Designed by HAT Projects and named for John Jerwood, a philanthropist and businessman, the gallery exhibits the Jerwood Collection of twentieth and twenty-first century British art.
According to Lionel, Hastings is a friendly place, but he warns it also has the 'nosy' side common to all small towns. Another local favourite is Maggie's, which serves distinctly English fish and chips, complete with white bread and butter and, of course, smeary green mushy peas. Maggie's is open from 12-2pm and doesn't open in the evenings - not even, as legend has it, for Rick Stein.