“I am inspired by nature,” says New Zealand–born designer Rebecca Richwhite. “Much of my childhood was spent engaging with the land.” That earthiness is reflected in her revamp of London’s The Old Vic Theatre, unveiled late last year. In 2018, the theatre’s executive director, Kate Varah, commissioned the relatively unknown interior designer to reimagine the iconic space. Drawn to Richwhite’s work for Caravan, a popular chain of restaurants defined by their natural palettes, Varah desired something similar: “inclusive and unintimidating.”
During the Old Vic project’s early phases, a host of famous performers had been lined up for the venue’s “More Loos” funding campaign to create gender-inclusive bathrooms (incredibly, there were only 12 cubicles catering to women in the entire 1,000-seat theatre, leading to famously long queues).
In the newly configured lavatories, which double the former capacity, Richwhite devised a “textural feast” of gritty, wine-coloured clay walls set against a band of glossy “Old Vic Red” paint, a tone made especially for the project. These rich crimson hues recur throughout the renovation, from the red carpet framing the dramatic recessed lobby bar to the velvet drape hanging behind the new box office. To create the curtain, the designer used materials inspired by old fabrics and number plates from redundant theatre seats.
Prior to establishing her own architecture and interior design studio 10 years ago to explore the “tactile and atmospheric,” Richwhite studied architecture in London, working in the offices of such renowned practitioners as Enric Miralles and Future Systems before taking her self-described “detour.” It was while designing temporary pop-up structures for Frieze Art Fair that the designer, who is currently based in Sydney, Australia, was drawn to the expediency and directness often lacking in architecture.
Her current project — the Green House residence in Queenstown, New Zealand, where she spent much of her childhood — is a fitting next step for a designer who takes a great deal of her inspiration from land and landscapes. “I love the idea that a project can continue to grow and improve with age,” she says, “with a certain unpredictability and looseness that one cannot achieve from building alone.”
Known for her refined yet earthy palettes, Rebecca Richwhite is crafting distinctly inclusive interiors.