The Expert - Brandon Schubert Always Shops for Vintage Pieces First—Here’s Why
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Brandon Schubert Always Shops for Vintage Pieces First—Here’s Why

Words by Gabrielle Savoie
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Photo by Paul Massey

Not every interior designer starts their career as a capital markets lawyer.

But that’s exactly what gives Brandon Schubert a sharp edge and strong business sense. “I loved the academic part of the legal field, but I didn’t feel excited by it, and I found it difficult to imagine myself spending the rest of my career doing something I didn’t love,” says the London-based Expert—who relocated from his native Texas in 2015. 

After making the decision to quit law, Brandon spent five years working underneath veteran designer Ben Pentreath before venturing out on his own. Since then, he’s been included in House & Garden magazine’s Top 100 designers list and even received their Rising Star award last year—all thanks to his keen eye for antiques and color and an appreciation for architectural history. Here, he shares the three things to budget for in every room, how he starts every project with vintage pieces, and why he chooses to avoid trends.

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Photo by Paul Massey

Photo by Paul Massey

What architectural era is inspiring you right now?

I love architectural history and in the UK, there is often a lot to work with. I’m feeling very inspired by the arts & crafts and aesthetic movements right now. We tend to write off a lot of what was popular with the Victorians but there are some fantastic concepts there. It’s a reminder that design can be honest but still decorative.

Name an architectural pet peeve that always needs fixing in any project—big or small?

Lighting! Very few projects start out with a good lighting scheme, so that’s always on the table regardless of whether the project is large or small. I’m not a fan of overly-designed lighting, but it needs to be thoughtful and minimal to make a space feel alive even after dark.

If your design style was a fashion icon, who would it be?

Someone like Ralph Lauren. He is exceptional at imbuing fashion and interior spaces with the essence of a mood, emotion, or time period, which is such an amazing skill.

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Photo by Paul Massey

You’re designing a room—where do you start?

I start with the floors because they’re often the least flexible part of a project. In historic homes, you’re working with what’s there. In newer buildings, you often have to choose flooring that will work for multiple rooms. After that, I think about the walls and what their character is: are the floors lighter than the walls or vice versa? Or are they similar in tone? It can really set the mood even before you’ve thought about color, pattern, and texture.

What are you dying for a client to request?

I’m desperate to do a dark brown room with lighter wooden details. Unfortunately, every time I try to convince a client, they get cold feet about the color. Someday soon, I hope!

Which design trend needs to be retired and which should make a comeback?

As a designer, I try to avoid trends—I owe my clients as much originality as I can muster. But most people who really struggle to make choices in their own houses should embrace them as much as they want. Trends allow you to follow a path that others have set out. Is it original? No, but it is super useful to people who want something that feels “designed” but can’t quite make up their own minds about how to go about it. 

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Photo by Paul Massey

Photo courtesy of Brandon Schubert

Where to save / where to splurge?

I’m all about mixing high and low, and there’s no hard and fast rule to how to do it because it depends on the character and energy of the room. Sometimes, the biggest piece in the room is a flea market find. Other times, you need to spend on that special focal point.

For any room, though, there are a few things that must be included in the budget: you should have enough set aside to put blinds or curtains on the windows; a rug or carpet on the floor; and art on the walls because your room won’t ever be finished without it. There are economical ways of dealing with all of those items, but they really have to be in the mix or the budget isn’t adequate for the room.

What should you always buy vintage?

It depends on the personality of the house, but my general rule is I like to start with vintage or antique pieces first because they’re more unique and original, and then buy anything I couldn’t find off the shelf or have it custom-made. The only exceptions are sofas and larger upholstery items, which I like to have made new, but I also like to mix in vintage or antique armchairs.

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Photo courtesy of Brandon Schubert

Describe your dream sofa: what does it look like, how is it built, and how does it feel?

I’ve got my eye on a new sofa from Howard Chairs. They’re handmade in their London workshop, which is right around the corner from me in Camden. They’ve been making upholstered furniture since the 19th century, so it’s nice to contribute to keeping that tradition alive. The one in my head is a slightly cleaner more 20th-century style than their traditional Victorian ones.

Coffee table or ottoman?

Both! I love ottomans for a more traditional feel, but in a space you really want to regularly, I think it has to be a coffee table. The great thing about ottomans though is that they’re an opportunity to bring color and pattern down into the middle of the room, which is harder to do with coffee tables.

Formal dining room or eat-in kitchen?

Formal dining room. If you have the space, definitely consider it. I’m also a fan of convertible rooms, which is how people used to live before we had so much domestic furniture. Instead of a single-purpose dining room, you might create a library with an extendable table that you can set for 10 people when you want that more formal dinner.

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Photo courtesy of Brandon Schubert

What are your go-to touches that always elevate a room?

Lampshades are fantastic to finish off a room. It’s a great way to add color and pattern.

What hotel anywhere in the world represents ultimate luxury to you?

The Aman hotels are incredible for the beauty of their properties and the way they treat guests. We’ve stayed at several, but the one that jumps out was in Laos several years ago. I thought it was a perfect experience. What I think Aman does better than other hotels is to include airport transfer, food, and excursions in the price of the room (depending on the property). It’s so nice not to feel bothered by extras or to have to think about how much everything costs while you’re there and just relax.

What’s inspiring you right now?

Right now I’m feeling inspired by the English interpretation of art deco design. It’s similar to the French and American versions, but once you put it into an older English building, it becomes something else entirely.

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Photo by Astrid Templier

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