Nicola is not only a skilled and highly-respected architect – master planning and ecological interiors form a major part of the wide range of commissions she undertakes.
Sustainable design is at the heart of everything she does, encapsulating her determination to draw up plans for buildings and interiors that delight the eye but where wellbeing is paramount for those who live and work there.
This holistic approach to her profession means taking into account all the factors her clients need to feel relaxed and comfortable, safe and contented in what effectively becomes their ‘nest’.
Nicola puts her heart and soul into her work as becoming an architect was her life plan from a very early age.
“My father is a civil structural engineer and I grew up drawing on the back of his old blueprints and playing with Meccano sets,” she explains. “From the age of six I was obsessed with the Wombles and my mum, who is Canadian, was well ahead of her time in terms of how the environment affects you.
“Having parents who were environmentally ethical meant I was always aware of this and it led me naturally to embarking on my career as a sustainable architect, long before it was fashionable.”
Nicola’s father’s involvement with building works for the Canadian government took the family all over the world and she has also been inspired by the cultures and architectural styles of other places they lived.
“We lived in the Middle East for a while when I was tiny, then we moved to Canada, living in Vancouver, and also spent three years in Czechoslovakia.
“In Vancouver we had a lot of Japanese and Chinese friends and I absorbed a lot of ideas from them. The Chinese focus on your body being in harmony with the build environment, whereas the Japanese are very aware of the way in which spaces are organised and the importance of light and natural colours.”
Light and colour play an extremely important part in Nicola’s designs.
“Colour affects your mood and in fact can affect your metabolism,” she says. “In restaurants it can even have an influence on your appetite. Your energy levels can be affected both by different colours and light levels.
“Noise is another important element. You can become anxious in a noisy environment, for instance if you are at work and trying to concentrate. If I’m planning an open plan office I need to find ways to absorb noise. At work or at home, people need to feel comfortable.
“Your environment can have an effect on both your physical and mental wellbeing. For an interior design I use only paints that don’t give off chemicals.
“I’m a great believer in natural materials that don’t release chemicals and actually help buildings breathe. I like to make buildings breathe naturally and heat levels are important for this.
“It’s also important for people to be able to feel in control of their environment. Everyone has a sense of wellbeing when they feel warm and I use a lot of underfloor heating which is very efficient. It means you can take the heat level down by two degrees, using less energy, cutting down on dust, mites and mould, but still feel very comfortable.
“The whole atmosphere is better when natural materials are used. People react better to things that are tactile, such as beautiful wood which makes you relate to nature. A beautiful stone wall makes you think of handmade crafts. It’s quite subtle but very effective.
“All these things add up to a sense of place and I am always thinking about the psychology of the surroundings my clients work or live in and the wider external environment. I recently did designs for a trust that cares for disabled children and I designed decent-sized bedrooms with a boutique hotel theme, using natural colours and incorporating window seats so the children could sit and look at the world outside.
“Isolation has to be taken into account. You don’t want to be socially isolated and it’s good to have a home where you can interact in some ways with your neighbours. That applies in work spaces as well. Open plan offices are good in some ways, not so good in others. When I am planning an office design I prefer a mix of open-plan and individual spaces.”
Nicola always aims to achieve the perfect innovative design for every client, whatever their requirements, aspirations and budgets. She is also a great supporter of local craftsmen and suppliers as well as gaining constant inspiration from living and working in Lewes.
“I’ve been back in the UK now for 19 years and came to Lewes 15 years ago,” she says. “My husband, Fred, is a local boy, from Hastings and Eastbourne, and the first time I met his parents was in Lewes. I thought straight away ‘I could live here’.
“Sometimes you instinctively love a place and I fell in love with Lewes. It has all the best bits of England, it looks olde-worlde but not twee, and so many artists and creative people live here, a mix of different backgrounds and cultures.
“I said to my husband, if you want me to live anywhere other than Canada, it has to be in Lewes, and I felt completely at home here right away.
“I’m evangelical about supporting local businesses – local artists, local traders, local photographers, local plumbers, and I use British companies as suppliers.
“I believe you should always have a sense of belonging, grounding and place and I try to guide my clients to achieve the home of their dreams, creating a sense of safety and contentment for them. It’s a big responsibility but it’s a job I love and feel very fortunate to have.
“I get a lot of feedback from clients and that’s very rewarding. Just recently a lady told me that she gets a sense of delight every time she walks into the home I designed for her, that she can’t believe she is lucky enough to live in such a lovely house.” •