Let’s meet: Lisa Bridgeford, Head of dhk Interior Design
From soap dishes to superpowers
Lisa Bridgeford’s journey to today, as Head of dhk Interior Design, takes a winding road from the campus of the University of Port Elizabeth in Gqberha, via Johannesburg, to the dhk office in Cape Town.
Her first introduction to architecture was, in her words, not what she expected: “I was more idealistic, not expecting how much waterproofing detailing was needed,” she says, with a wry smile. At the time, she was undertaking her practical year while pursuing her Bachelor of Architecture Studies (BAS). Faced with the underwhelming reality, she turned her attention to the discipline of interior design, starting out with a small studio that specialised in designing interiors for high-end residential clients.
The experience there sparked a love for designing interiors to, as Lisa says: “see the results of our labour emerging more quickly. The product comes to life and can have a direct influence on how the users experience their environments.” Lisa also appreciates the opportunity to connect directly with the end users, understanding who they are and making decisions based on deeper insights that can shape their daily experience.
However, delving deeply into the minutiae of designing interiors for individual residences can have its drawbacks, as Lisa describes. “I found myself having arguments about the soap dishes in the guest loo. It was another revelation that made me rethink my path. I thought ‘this cannot be the reason why I wake up every morning.’”
She needed to recalibrate her journey once again, and jumped at an invitation to work with a team who were starting a furniture retail venture that incorporated an interior design service. The progression from luxury residential into hospitality and hotels opened another world for Lisa. She found her niche there, and over the next few years delivered interiors for nearly 30 hotels across Africa.
The experience gave Lisa a chance to get her hands dirty, understanding the technical form and function of furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E). “There is a level of detail that I really appreciate,” she says. “You need to understand not only the aesthetics, but how products are made, to ensure you’re specifying what the clients need for their unique locations.” This detailing gave Lisa an intimate knowledge that has supported her throughout her career to date, whether designing fabrics, rugs or specifying fixtures and fittings. “Knowing the difference between a turned brass or a cast brass tap in a tropical climate could be the difference between those taps lasting for years, or the client having to replace them within a short space of time. That knowledge is crucial to designs that are durable and sustainable.”
She moved to Cape Town and joined dhk Thinkspace in 2007, continuing to service clients in the hospitality sector, before stepping out into Peg Designs, her own venture, which soon grew into a team of 12. dhk engaged Peg as a consultant on interior design projects for their clients and in October 2022, as Lisa says, “we decided to put a ring on it,” and dhk and Peg merged to form dhk Interior Design.
“I saw, and still see, immense potential for growth,” says Lisa, on her decision to join forces with the practice. Since launching, dhki has completed projects for the Myspace student accommodation at Stellenbosch University, and for the newly refurbished Grand Hotel at Grandwest in Cape Town, as well as an office suite for the Cape Grace hotel management. Other projects currently underway include the new Learning Centre at Bishops School, the interiors of the Cape Grace refurbishment, and other projects for retail, corporate, multi-residential and call centre clients.
Having such a diverse portfolio is a deliberate choice, says Lisa: “The sectors balance each other, and the diversity means we can build a versatile team who are specialists in each area, without relying on a pipeline from one source only.” The knowledge gained within each sector is implemented in others, augmenting the team’s knowledge and supporting their offering across the board.
Lisa and her team of eight are driven not by a single signature, but by the need to translate client needs into great designs, challenging the designers to exceed expectations and to stand proudly by the designs they create.
When asked what her superpower is, Lisa answers quickly and unequivocally: “My leadership style is to recognise that my team members are all human, I try to give them the tools to help them give their best. But I can only do that when they are seen and heard.”
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