In the eighth of the series of Sofa Chats, top interior designer Irene Gunter is in conversation with Anke Summerhill about how she started her own company, her favourite pieces, the workmanship and the quality of the design of the Minotti furniture.
Irene grew up surrounded by a family passionate about architecture and interior design. This inspired her to study Art History before training at the prestigious Inchbald School of Interior Design.
As Creative Director, Irene personally oversees the design for every project alongside her team of designers who manage the day-to-day implementation.
Hit the play button below to watch the full conversation, or read the full transcript below:
Anke Summerhill: Hi, I’m Anke Summerhill and this week for our Minotti Sofa Chat, we have the lovely Irene from Gunter and Co with us. Irene started her design studio, I think it was about six years ago. Am I correct, Irene?
Irene Gunter: Almost seven. Yeah.
Anke: And I think you’ve been buying from us nearly from the beginning or using our furniture, right from the start. You started your business with your husband, Ian. Was he there from the start or you-
Anke: … bought him in later?
Irene: I bought him in later, when it was a bit more settled. Yeah. About three years.
Anke: Okay. So it’s become a family business a bit like-
Irene: Very much.
Anke: … a bit like Minotti London. So Irene, have you always been passionate about design? I mean, do you come from a creative background?
Irene: Initially, I went to study something totally different.
Irene: And then had a bit of an epiphany when I started working in the European parliament, that this was not for me.
Irene: And my true love had been interior, but I just never really realised. So, that’s when I came to London and I studied interior architecture at the Inchbald School of Design.
Irene: And the plan was to go back to Belgium, but someone made me a really good job offer and I never left.
Anke: You stayed.
Anke: And you’re happy with that decision-
Anke: … obviously.
Anke: It’s taken off really, really well and absolutely love all the projects you do.
Irene: Thank you so much.
Anke: It’s really nice to see you grow. You’ve used Minotti in some of your projects.
Anke: So when do you know that Minotti is the right product for that particular project?
Irene: I think the main drive that we see with a lot of clients is that once the hard finishes and joinery and bathroom fittings are chosen, we figure out quite quickly, what are the key items to invest in. Even when there’s a big budget, people won’t always want to spend the most money on every single item.
Irene: You have to pick and mix and see what works best. And we always guide them very much that the items that you sit on and the items that you sleep on are more important than anything else.
So, it’s really useful that we have your beautiful showroom to access in central London. And we usually make it quite a fun day, whereby we visit several places and we try out sofas, dining chairs, mattresses.
And I think the ability to be able to show something and explain the craftsmanship behind it, and also-
Anke: Very important.
Irene: … the design development, because there’s one thing about building a sofa, but designing it to such a level of detail that you guys do, where you can really see that someone’s put thought into the shape of that leg and it tapers.
And it’s got a slightly ergonomic shape to it. That doesn’t happen in two minutes. And I think because by the point where we start looking at furniture, we’ve spent a lot of time with clients.
Irene: And the longer you have a relationship with someone, the more confident you can be in really being passionate about certain things.
And I think the quality of the workmanship and the quality of the design, to me, means that more often than not, we do find that clients really love your pieces. And it’s just a question of finding the right items for the right room.
Anke: So Irene, is there a piece in the Minotti collection you find yourself coming back to various times, that you use on a regular basis or you find… or your clients like, or-
Irene: Yes. There’s two piece, well, three. First of all, I would say the Hamilton sofa, because it’s such a classic. And I’ve been dying to use the big 1.6 by 1.6. And so, a Dubai project, luckily, has lots of space, so we’ve found a space for two of them.
Irene: So, that’s one. And I think it’s a very kind of timeless classic.
Irene: You can’t tell whether it was designed in 2001.
Irene: It is-
Anke: It’s absolute… It’s an all-time favourite. Or even now when people say, “What’s your favourite piece?” Mm. And I get really excited each year about all the new products and I think, “But I still love the Hamilton sofa.”
Anke: The Hamilton sofa still has that-
Irene: It’s just hard to beat, is the-
Irene: Yeah. Our project in the south of France was really special because of the location, obviously.
Irene: And it had the most insane view. It’s like 360 degree view across the sea and the land, and it’s just stunning.
Anke: Oh, amazing.
Irene: And we had a really large living room there and we really struggled to find the right piece. And when we brought the clients here, they stumbled onto your Hamilton sofa.
And they tried every single other one. But luckily, that was a fan favourite. And there was a little bit of bickering between husband and wife to make sure this was the right one.
But luckily, they settled on that one because we could show them how the very large components could make a very large room feel quite intimate.
Irene: So we had a whole U shape going around the whole room, whereas before, there were three separate sofas and it made it feel quite-
Irene: … distant and disjointed. Exactly. Whereas introducing the Hamilton sofa, just made it feel like this James Bond room with the seaside for you behind-
Anke: Oh, amazing.
Irene: … which was amazing. And they spend time there with their children and it’s a real hangout space.
Anke: It is. It’s really multi-use, isn’t it?
Anke: Because you can sit in one corner, reading your book, kids can sort of hang the other end, watching their Netflix or whatever.
Irene: And because the back is quite low, you can either be directed one way and watch the TV or the fireplace, or you can turn the other way and look at the seaside. So, it ticked so many boxes.
And seeing it being installed into that room, it just totally transformed that room. And without that piece, it would’ve been a big laptop.
Anke: Yes. Yeah.
Irene: And then I think your Fil Noir Dining Chair is so insanely comfortable.
Irene: So, that’s-
Anke: Such a classic-
Anke: … as well, as-
Irene: It’s stunning and the little brass details. So, it’s very different. It’s very identifiable. And the main thing is comfort. Right?
Irene: So lots of our clients love entertaining and having people over for dinner parties that go into the early hours. And if a dining table has the benefit of looking very elegant, but feeling like an armchair, that ticks so many boxes. So we’ve used that a few times.
Irene: And then the Tape Armchair.
Anke: Oh, yeah.
Irene: I just think it’s the cutest thing ever. And in little bedrooms or reception rooms where you’re tight for space, it’s just a small addition. But it has so many… It works so hard for its design credentials. It’s beautiful from every angle.
Anke: It is. I call it, my little Chanel Chair. I just-
Irene: Oh, yeah.
Anke: … feel I should have a boudoir one day and be able to have my little Chanel, well, Minotti chair, but it has such a timeless, elegant feel. I just love it very much.
Irene: So, those are definitely fan favourites.
Anke: Okay. Good. Okay. Well, Irene, it was absolutely lovely having you here today.
Irene: You’re very welcome. It was my pleasure.
Anke: It was a pleasure seeing you.
Anke: And thank you very much.
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