In Memory of Lorraine Symms 1959 -2018

I lost a very dear friend and colleague recently and feel her absence every day. We can go about our busy daily lives oblivious to our finite lifespan but the untimely death of someone close to you brings mortality in to sharp focus.  As a tribute to her I thought I’d share my thoughts on what made her a truly lovely human being and why she made such a positive impact on everyone she connected with. 

Lorraine and I first met in late 1979 on the first year of our degree course at what was then Birmingham Polytechnic: I, the country girl and she the lass from the potteries, both of us discovering how to mould our skills and develop a serious understanding of designing interior space.

Over the course of 3 years we formed a close friendship and even though our paths diverged after graduation we kept track of each other’s developing careers and personal lives. 

Our work together

A few years ago we reconnected when we were both undergoing a lot of change. I had returned home after many years overseas and Lorraine’s thriving practice needed another pair of hands. We started to work together and in the process reminded each other of all the things we loved about design. Running a business, with all its attendant pressures, can make you lose site of the very thing that motivated you to start it in the first place. Our collaboration was the antidote.

Like me Lorraine loved the magical process of starting with a blank space and a design brief, brainstorming ideas and developing them in to a cohesive design and buildable interior; she saw it as a progressive design path from the general to the particular and eventually to the tactile and tangible environment brought to life by the whole construction team. Those first space planning sketches exploring where people should walk, sit, eat, work, relax etc. came out like water from a tap, fluid lines gradually taking shape. Arriving at solutions always involved masses of thumbnail sketches punctuated with critical discussion on which way to go with detail, colour and texture. So much fun.

Oozing creativity 

Lorraine was brilliant at expressing her flow of ideas with a pencil or pen, filling many sheets of layout paper with sketches exuding emotion and life. She felt that the skill of sketching would always be an essential step towards creating meaningful CAD (computer aided design) drawings and would never be obsolete; a point we totally agreed on.

Design is not a solitary activity and designers need each other to achieve the very best results.  Designing with my like-minded colleague and friend was invigorating and empowering in the most positive sense. It made me feel anything was possible… and of course it is!

Interior design although central to Lorraine’s professional life was only one of her creative outlets. More than anything she loved to paint and took every opportunity to experiment and develop her talent, the beautiful and soulful results lining the walls of her home. She sold some, gave many away but what mattered to her was immersing herself in the simple act of doing it: the emotional experience of translating an image to paper or canvas in her own unique way. And her innate talent didn’t stop at painting: print making, sewing, joinery, gardening, cooking… she could turn her hand to almost anything and come up with impressive results very quickly. Typically, after finding herself with some surplus stool seats she fitted them with funky hairpin legs and created some very stylish side tables.

Her unique personality and talent came over in her love of food as well. As a lifelong vegetarian she could turn a few vegetables, herbs, spices and pulses in to a dish that made meat seem unnecessary. One of my favourites was her roasted butternut squash with Stilton cheese. The thought of it makes my taste buds tingle.

Here’s to you Lorraine…

She wore none of this creativity on her sleeve… she simply got on with it quietly for the sheer pleasure. I loved that quality in her. She made life seem so rich. You couldn’t help but feel the same.

We laughed a lot together and quite often after a rant about a particularly difficult project situation or individual. However much frustration there was though Lorraine could always see the funny side of human nature, warts and all, and we often doubled up with laughter after realising the absurdity of a moment. She was the eternal optimist and being around her was infectious. I always parted company from her feeling better about myself and my place in the world. She inspired me to roll my sleeves up and tackle my own challenges without taking life too seriously… and I know I’ve changed as a result. Such friendships are rare.

So here’s to you Lorraine… here’s to your life so well lived even when faced with the most difficult of challenges. You chose to make the most of every day doing what was important to you with a generosity of spirit that will always be with me.

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