Lester Bennett is an independent design consultant with 40 years of design experience and a member of the International Design Awards jury panel. His career has included founding his own practice, working as a design director for a leading residential developer and as a founding partner of Folio Design LLP.
Lester specialises in residential interior architecture and design, whilst also having a wide range of experience in commercial and retail design, industrial, exhibition and product design, with a client list including Mobil, Alliance and Leicester, Celador Productions, Morgan du toi, Elstree Studios, Taylor Walker Breweries and Handles and Fittings Ltd (HAF), with products still in production after nearly 30 years.
Prior to setting up Folio Design LLP, Lester was Design Director at Westcity Wates/Westcity Developers, delivering prestigious and iconic London residential schemes such as West End Quay, The Phillimores (now Academy Gardens), Pavilion Apartments and Phillimore Square (now Thornwood Gardens). His concept work and his understanding of high-end, and often cutting-edge, residential design earned these schemes national and international awards.
What did you most enjoy about the IDA judging process?
I enjoy seeing and discovering how design concepts and solutions around the globe have a certain regional feel to them. The Far East work is definitely so different from the Western countries. Scandinavia ditto. Despite our global community, there is still a differential which I think is a good thing.
Was there one particular design which really stood out for you?
I did think the renovation and sustainability categories were very good, with the renovations section being particularly exciting. Felix in the renovation category was a stand out for me and out of the five entries in the sustainable category three were excellent. In particular, Malengan and SFO, both demonstrate how sustainable solutions can be both elegant and contemporary.
What did you think about the quality of the entries in the IDA?
I was disappointed in the residential section, the retail section, the commercial section and the hotels and resorts sections. The conceptual and office sections were mixed bags. These tended to be a little formulaic and didn’t demonstrate to me much fresh thinking. However, the other categories exhibited some outstanding designs.
How much influence does your own personal taste influence your decisions in judging a design award?
I try very hard to be objective and endeavour to understand the reasons for choices and decisions that were made in the varying solutions. There will obviously be elements of subjectivity in my judgements but overall I try to remain objective.
What are you working on, what is in the pipeline for you for 2021?
I am semi-retired and trying hard to wind down. I now work on my own from home and have only a few projects mainly with long-standing clients. These are much smaller than the major projects I used to be involved with but are nevertheless still interesting.
Amongst others, I have a refurbishment of common areas for a residential apartment block in Belgravia, London; a remodelling of a coastal house in Essex; and a redesign of the hall, dining area and staircase of a large, early Victorian house in St John’s Wood, London. However, the progress of these has been curtailed somewhat by the Covid 19 pandemic.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career/industry now?
The biggest challenge is certainly working around and surviving, the pandemic. Businesses need to be flexible, adopt new working methods and somehow maintain and develop their pipeline. I believe good, transparent and honest working practices are the key to retaining clients and creating pipelines. Developing trustworthy relationships often leads to further work with that client or referrals by them, this is important at any time but so much more so in times of economic downturns. The opportunities are in understanding the changing needs of clients and businesses created by the pandemic and adapting to them rapidly, creating new services that fit the new models.