An interview with Vanessa Branson, hotelier, arts entrepreneur and environmentalist

Favourite buildings and design heroes were all on the table, and more 

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Vanessa Branson

How has your style evolved over the years?

It has become more confident. I ran a gallery in London in the 1980s showing emerging international artists, then focused on raising my family. After that, I embarked on transforming a ruined Moroccan palace into a hotel, El Fenn, and founded the Marrakech Biennale. More recently, I developed a destination holiday retreat at Eilean Shona, a little island off the west coast of Scotland.

Who is your design hero?

My business partners Howell James, Frederic Scholl and Willem Smit, and Marie Lewis who set the culture of design on Eilean Shona back in 1995.

What is your favourite building?

Eilean Shona House is probably my favourite place in the world to stay. The scale for a family gathering is spot on: not too lofty but plenty of bedrooms and generous communal spaces. Spending time in nature resets your mind and body, and the island itself is heaven on earth. The experience of retreating to it is addictive – once is never enough.

Describe your dream home

It would be a stone barn with areas of lofty open-beamed ceilings, an open fire at one end, a handmade kitchen at the other, and a generous table in the middle. It would have huge picture windows opening on to water and mature trees.

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One of the enticing rooms at El Fenn, her hotel in Marrakech

What is your own home like?

It’s full of bold colours and strong artwork. The lighting is flexible: bright for day, dimmed at night. The floors are strewn with Moroccan rugs. Nothing needs to match. What makes a home, to me, is layers and layers of memories… the handmade, the warm smells and the constant evolution of colour and ideas.

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Luxury is

Reading in the morning without having to get children off to school. Doing a morning crossword is my way of investing in myself.

How do you relax?

Yoga and Chablis.

Which iconic interior product do you wish you’d designed?

The boiling water tap.

What are you sitting on right now?

A Moroccan bar stool.

What would you say is Scotland’s greatest attribute?

Its magnificent landscape and its magnificent people, of course.

Vanessa’s memoir, One Hundred Summers, is out now (£20, Mensch)

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