Wanted: Interior design students with X Factor

A new competition to hunt down tomorrow's creative talent is stirring up studio design

Budge over Simon Cowell, it is Ben de Lisi's moment and instead of budding singers, the talent on trial are aspiring interior designers. Launched this week, the UK's first major talent competition to find the country's next top interior designer has begun. De Lisi, a former mentor on Sky One's Project Catwalk and a celebrity favourite, is leading the panel of judges including Alex Proby, in-house interiors expert at property giant Grosvenor and Kate Kingston, from interior design firm Kingston Shaw.

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To prove their design credentials, undergraduates from the world famous KLC School of Interior Design in London and students from John Moore's University in Liverpool (JMU) have been tasked with designing studio apartments in Grosvenor's flagship One Park West. The two winners will get their designs executed in the iconic 17-storey building and each will be invited to partake in an internship at interior design practice Kingston Shaw. Other prizes include a shopping spree in Liverpool One and a "live the city" weekend in One Park West. Commenting on the competition, UK-based De Lisi said, "This is an unrivalled opportunity to design an apartment in a much talked about building designed by Cesar Pelli, the man responsible for the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur."

Instead of belting out tunes on a Saturday night to impress critical judges, the students have been invited to re-design a studio apartment. They will be making moodboards of furniture, sample boards of fabrics, sketches (by hand or computer generated) and a design brief rationale.

"The KLC students are to design a studio for a retired couple who intend to use the space as a second home," Grosvenor's in-house expert Proby, who trained at the Inchbald School of Design, told me earlier this week. "Meanwhile, the students up North at JMU are designing a different studio aimed at an urban professional in his or her late twenties. We've set a budget of £5,000 to supply all furniture and to fit out the studio. It's really tight. On top of that, the students have to choose furniture that is available on a four-week lead-time."

Such financial and time constraints will force students to think creatively.

What are the judges looking for? According to Proby, they are looking for new, exciting design ideas with a commercial awareness. "When judging the entries, we'll be thinking 'does the design maximize potential of space, is it under budget and does the furniture function in its use?' We want to find someone with real 'wow factor' - the design needs to appeal to the target market but be differentiated from the norm."

Soon after the winner is announced in February, the designs will be executed allowing Grosvenor to rent or sell (on long lease) the student-designed apartments. This student competition is another Grosvenor collaboration to raise awareness of its brand and to bring designer properties to all levels of the property market. Earlier this autumn, the property giant collaborated with Ben de Lisi and David Linley who each refurnished a Grosvenor property.

"As an interior designer, you will be faced with many briefs throughout your career from transforming a private jet to refurbishing a multi-million pound restaurant but actually one of the most challenging briefs is to design a studio apartment." Judge Kate Kingston says, "It must have a creative flair, be livable in and yet also make good use of space. This is a true test of talent and ability and we are hoping we might just find a new star among our competitors."

Like X Factor, the interior design talent contest is attracting young hopefuls eager to flaunt their potential, especially relevant in a time when jobs in the Arts are hard to come by.

Annie Deakin is Editor of mydeco.com

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