INTERVIEWER: I'm sitting here, rather uncomfortably, with
designer Lucy Collett. Lucy, you're an architect really, but an
architect with a difference.
MS COLLETT: Yes, I specialise in
INTERVIEWER: And we're in one of your buildings now. It's a
tree-house, and we're perched on child-size seats, two or three
metres above the ground.
MS COLLETT: In fact, I was commissioned to design this house by
my neighbours for their children. I don't like heights,
loved the challenge of weaving the house in amongst the
branches. You can see there are several storeys with stairways
INTERVIEWER: I'd have given anything for a house like this when
I was a child. What started you off on this type of design?
MS COLLETT: I've always had a passion for small buildings. Play
houses, of course, when I was a little girl. Then I found a book
about historical telephone boxes, which fascinated me.
telephone was an amazing new invention, money was poured into
the designs of public phone boxes. They were all sizes and
styles. There were some that looked like rustic cottages, with
thatched roofs; others like Chinese pagodas; one like a sort of
Greek temple. Some were quite luxurious, with chairs, and people
used to go in there to play cards. But it didn't last long; they
had to be standardised and made more practical.
INTERVIEWER: You went to architecture school. Did you know you
were going to work on this small scale?
MS COLLETT: Yes, my final year project was on small buildings in
an industrial context. If you look at major building sites,
they're dotted around with huts and temporary buildings. You
think, "They put up these tin boxes for the workers to drink
their tea and read their newspapers in. What is there to that?".
Well, they've all got to conform to safety standards, and why
shouldn't they have some style as well? I designed them to look
better, and also to be put up and dismantled more quickly. I
worked on durability of materials, comfort and so on.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you get your inventiveness from?
MS COLLETT: I don't know. I think I'm more practical than
inventive. My parents were market stall holders. They had a
really cumbersome stall which took them forever to put up. All
the market people started setting up about four o'clock in the
morning. It was freezing, back-breaking work, and it drove me
mad when I had to help them. I was visiting some clients abroad
a few years ago, and saw some brilliant stalls in their local
market. They were little metal folding houses, completely
waterproof and enclosed, with plenty of display room. At the end
of the day you could lock them up with the goods safe inside, or
you could fold them flat and cart them off to the next town. I
did drawings of them and made one when I got home. But I haven't
INTERVIEWER: What have you done that you're most proud of?
MS COLLETT: I suppose everything I've done is a variation on a
theme, so it's hard to pick anything out. But I did get an
award. The Newspaper Sellers' Association gave me a prize for a
design I did for street corner kiosks – you know, those cute
little buildings with display windows on three sides.
in strong steel, painted, with domed roofs and lots of
decorative detail. I must admit, I was particularly pleased with
the fancy work, and the newspaper people loved it.
INTERVIEWER: Have you ever done any phone box designs, since
that was what started you off?
MS COLLETT: Funnily enough, that's what I've just been doing.
For an international hotel chain. They'd stopped putting public
phone booths in their hotel lobbies because of mobile phones,
but there were complaints from a few countries where mobiles
hadn't really caught on yet. So the hotel decided to make a big
feature of lobby phone boxes. I did these sort of glass
bird-cage designs, with brass work and over-the-top telephones.
Now the company's putting them in all their hotels, and people
are going into them to make calls on their mobiles. It's sort of
retro-style lobby furniture.
INTERVIEWER: And tree-houses?
MS COLLETT: No, this is a one-off. I've told you, I'm scared of
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Shall we let down the ladder and go home?
Thank you, Lucy.