Designer Amanda Nisbet is the ultimate chameleon, an unabashed lover of color whose approach to spaces belies an instinct for aesthetic adaptations that feel both familiar and utterly unique. Her rooms convey a sense of joyful abandon, yet it’s clear nothing that vibrant and alluring happens without intense focus. In this interview, she reflects on her life-long love affair with color, the need for a bit of black and white to keep things grounded, and where she falls on the horizontal vs. vertical stripe spectrum.
How old were you when you remember a color, or a set of colors, really speaking to you?
I would have to say probably kindergarten. That makes me 5 or 6 years old. My first bedroom was all purple-and-white toile de jouy—the bedspread, the curtains, the walls—and I didn't think it was shocking by any means. It was just how I grew up. My house was colorful and happy thanks to my mum (we also had a lime green stair runner!), which was fabulous; I grew up in Montreal so you can imagine it's cold and dark a lot of the year.
Also, my friends remind me now that when I had my playdates, I wouldn't let anyone sit on my bed because I didn't want anything to get messed up. I mean, I could sit on my bed, but all my friends had to sit on the floor. Early princess tendencies.
And how do you feel like your love of color, or your use of color, has evolved over the years?
When I was starting out in New York with a limited design budget, it was just sort of the easiest way to transform a room that lacked architectural details or anything of note, so it wasn't a conscious decision. It was an economic decision. And my peers were so sort of pleasantly shocked by what I did, like, "That was so novel!" (And I didn't think it was that novel!) When you get known for something, that's what you get called for, and that sort of became my calling card without trying.
What is your process when you are creating a new space? Are you thinking about what the end result is going to be? Do you start with a neutral tone and layer color in? Do you start with a color and work the room around that? Tell us.
I wasn't aware of any process until I wrote my book; I just thought it was all intuitive, and really it is. But when I have to break it down and analyze how I got to that, it's very much color, fabric, texture. The first thing is fabrics. I love fabrics and textile. And it's not even the carpet or the wall color. It's absolutely the fabric. Those textiles are how I start. Granted, I always talk to the client and know what the client wants, so it's not like it's just willy-nilly and I just pull a color out of the air. But then, with that client in mind, I just kind of channel it all day and just pull what calls me: I literally throw everything on the floor and see how it all works, and it’s like everything speaks to me. I know that sounds a little “woo-woo,” but it's true.
You mentioned fabrics. Do you have a favorite?
I can't do that. That's like picking a favorite child.
Is there an element beyond the major furnishings and the fabric, then, that you keep coming back to as a way to introduce color into a space?
You know, I don't approach it that way. I like to have the contradiction of things, the juxtaposition; it’s really important that I create tension and so I play with texture a lot. I wanted to be an actress at one point, so it's like the interplay of all the actors. And there can only be one or two leading parts, so everything has to then support those roles. Even that little trim, of which you only see that one little bit, helps create the special alchemy of the space.
You’ve said you don’t have a favorite color, that there is simply not one that you don't like. On the flip side, is there a color that you wished you used more of? Or that you’re crushing on right now?
I am. So, interestingly, when I started out, I was really going for the crisp, clean, almost tropical colors because, I guess, being in Montreal I was just channeling living in some place like the Bahamas. And I guess right now—maybe it’s down to age or whatever—it's not necessarily a color but a tonality that I respond to, and I am leaning toward much softer colors, as well as slightly dirty hues. I kind of love the off colors—the "so bad it's good" ones, you know? So ugly they’re gorgeous in their own way.
Do you have a secret weapon color?
This is a hard one, but yes: Blackened by Farrow and Ball. It's this off-white shade that can read light blue beautifully. It's a very sophisticated color that can work in a lot of different spaces. And it's not a color that one would think of Amanda Nisbet using—maybe that's why it's my secret weapon.
Do you have a favorite color combo?
Ah, no! Again, everyday, it's like, "How wrong can I make this color scheme so that it's so good?" Not wrong, but off, how off can I go? How much can I push the limits? Right now I'm doing a lot of mustards—not a dijon, sort of an ugly mustard with lots of purples. Like ew, but so good.
What about black and white?
I always use a bit of black and always use a bit of white.
Black grounds a space. It's timeless, sort of backdrop supporting, and white is the elevating color. I don't really like them alone. I think it's too stark for me, for my taste; I like to soften them. If I use a black and white, it's an off-black and an off-white. But, yes, I always use them.
Do you have a favorite pattern?
Of course! Mine. It's called "Positano."
Are you a stripes person at all?
Oh my god, I love them. I'm having such a stripes moment.
Horizontal or vertical?
For any specific reason? Or is that just what speaks to you?
It's because I like to go against the grain. I like to go the opposite way.
Beyond designing spaces, Nisbet also has a keen eye for product design. In fact, UECo. has collaborated with her on a number of lighting pieces over the years, from sconces and flushmounts to pendants and floor lamps. Explore all of our Amanda Nisbet x UECo. fixtures here.