The Inside story: at home with interior designer Ruth Wilson

As a pioneer of interior design she had to go knocking on the doors of the main style houses in London to persuade them to allow her to bring their latest designs to Northern Ireland .

Today – more than 30 years later – Ruth’s company Beaufort is a by-word for classy interiors in Northern Ireland and the largest showroom of its kind in the UK.

The gorgeous restored former Georgian terraces in Moira, Co Down, are an Aladdin’s cave for anyone who is passionate about interiors.

Fifteen beautifully styled «rooms» showcase the many different looks which can be achieved in the home through careful design and considered choice of colour and fabrics.

But it’s not just in Northern Ireland that Ruth has become a legend in home styling.

The multi award-winning businesswoman and designer works across the world styling homes for the rich and famous and can boast having Saudi royalty among her clients.

The launch of Beaufort online this month has seen her business take on a whole new dimension, with furnishings now being shipped worldwide.

When Ruth started out in 1982 working from home, interior design was virtually unheard of and formal courses for studying the art didn’t exist.

She says: «I always loved working with fabrics and making my own clothes. I went to London and when I saw all of the wallpapers and fabrics there, which you couldn’t get at the time in Northern Ireland, I had to go back and open accounts and bring them here.

«It wasn’t easy as none of these companies had shipped to Northern Ireland before and I had to work on them to get them to give me their sample books and agree to take orders.

«I just realised how very little we had here in Northern Ireland and it inspired me to want to bring the choice here and turn my hobby into a career.»

Through word of mouth, she gradually built up a reputation for transforming bland interiors into rooms with grace and panache but again she faced challenges as at the time people were reluctant to admit that they had got help in designing their homes.

Ruth says: «When I did a room for someone they didn’t want to tell their friends they had got a designer in as it was pretty much unheard of.

«It made it more difficult as you are always only as good as your last job and that’s what keeps me on my toes.

«When I do a room and someone rings me to say they walked in and out of it a dozen times and just loved it – well, that to me is success.»

Ruth, who is in her 50s, is married to Robert Wilson (59), who owns the Robert Wilson Estate Agency chain. They live in Hillsborough.

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The two businesses have complemented each other over the years and many of Robert’s clients have been mutual friends who have come to Ruth for help with styling their new homes.

They have two sons, Jonathan (31), who followed his dad into the estate agency business, and Trevor (34), who trained as a designer in Beaufort alongside his mum.

Ruth was just building her business when her sons were born and often had no choice but to head out to see clients with her young children in tow.

She recalls: «Many a time I was on the road going to see clients with two babies in the back of the car and the boot full of sample books, juggling their feeding and sleeping times around appointments.

«I’d also have gone out at night to see people when Robert was home and he looked after the two boys for me. It was at the time when I worked from home, which was easier.»

In 1989, she opened her stunning design house in Moira which draws clients from all over Ireland.

Beaufort expanded to the Lisburn Road in Belfast in 2003 but the showroom closed a year ago due to high rents and rates.

Instead, Ruth extended her Moira showroom to include contemporary and classical styles, among many others.

Her impressive portfolio includes designing a London home for the Minister of State for Bahrain – an exclusive commission which led to others in Dubai . Last year, she styled four palaces for a royal family in Saudi Arabia .

Ruth says: «That was very exciting. They wanted a female designer to talk to the princesses.

«Saudi Arabia is completely different to anywhere I have ever worked and I had to bring my son with me as a woman can’t walk down the street on their own or talk to men, so Trevor came to liaise with the male royals while I dealt with the princesses.

«I worked on four palaces and did quite a few designs. Everything was top drawer and two of the palaces were quite traditional and opulent while the other two were really contemporary.

«It was very interesting and it was lovely to get to know the culture and meet the people there and talk to them.

«We made up mood boards and sent a lot of ideas by email before we flew out. The palaces are so vast it is unbelievable.

«They each have a male and a female lounge and men don’t ever go into the female lounge or women into the male lounge.

«They do a lot of entertaining at home and for the male lounge I had to design a table that would sit up to 50 people.

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«I was so excited doing it that I could hardly sleep at night.»

Her international clientele means travelling worldwide for commissions and currently Ruth is styling homes in Wales , the south of France, the Alps, Dublin and Wicklow.

Her exceptional eye for detail and ability to translate what clients want into rooms they love has kept her to the very forefront of her profession and seen her pick up many awards.

She won the Ulster Tatler Designer of the Year in 2008 and again last year, and has picked up Best Showroom at the Belfast Lifestyle Awards.

She insists it is not all high end interiors and Beaufort designs to any budget: «If someone doesn’t want to spend an awful lot of money on a room, we can design it to keep it within budget by using cheaper fabrics and materials.

«People don’t have to spend a fortune to make a room look well.»

Her enthusiasm is undiminished after more than three decades in the business and even though she has a team of 14 working for her, Ruth is still at her happiest being hands-on dealing directly with clients and creating wonderful rooms.

She says: «What keeps it fresh for me are the many different stylings that are available and the fact that everyone’s taste is so different.

«I have never ever done the same room twice which is what I love about it.

«I find it a great privilege to be invited into someone’s home to design a room for them.

«It’s lovely to meet people and their families and get to know what they are looking for.

«Someone with four children in the house will want something completely different to a young couple.

«Every design brief is so different, and the challenge for me is in sussing out what a person really wants and what their taste is, then creating a design to their taste and giving them something even better than they expected.

«I have to listen to their brief and what colour and style they want in a room and then give them something which exceeds their expectations.

«The brief could be classical or contemporary and that is challenge for me which I love.

«Every person is so different and I could be working on an old worlde style cottage today, a magnificent stately home tomorrow and a cutting edge contemporary home the next day.

«To me that’s just fabulous.

«It’s just the most exciting job and I love it. I’ve never had a day when I have felt I didn’t want to go to work.»

With style and homewares now such big business and also very affordable through the high street, many of us are tackling our own interiors.

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Ruth, however, comes across many common mistakes we as non-professionals don’t see and she puts into perspective the benefits of having a consultation with a designer before embarking on a project.

«It is worth spending the money on a consultation with a designer and it doesn’t cost an awful lot,» she insists.

«If you are spending £5,000 on a room, that is an awful lot of money to not get it right.

«If you have a small budget it is money you don’t want to waste.»

So how do we get it wrong?

«The biggest mistake people make is buying the wrong size of sofa,» says Ruth.

«Usually if it is too big, it can overpower the room.

«The use of space and the layout of the room are so important. Mixing patterns and colours is another crucial element that people can get wrong.

«The pattern in the room – if it’s in your curtains or sofa – should be the springboard for colours for the rest of the room.»

Now, with Beaufort online just launched, Ruth continues to expand and develop her business with as much passion now as she had starting out as a young woman in the 1980s.

She adds: «We’ve had a lot of feedback and a lot of interest in our online shop.

«We have a lot of bigger items such as sofas and furniture which we are exporting to Canada, Italy and America – all over the place.

«Initially it was just our cushions which we designed ourselves. It’s really quite phenomenal how it has taken off.»

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