"Seeing the Light" feature about Alicia's Zimnickas home and her creative journey at Real Home, velvet Magazine, October 2019
When artist-turned-interior designer Alicia Zimnickas bought her Cambridge home, a 1970s end of terrace, it was gloomy and unloved. Six years on and the house is a light-filled masterclass in contemporary design. Alice Ryan pays a visit
From the curb, it looks much like any other terrace in the row: tiled frontage, flat roof, square bay, gravel drive. But, home to artist-turned-interior designer Alicia Zimnickas, the similarities end the minute you open the door.
Eye drawn by the light, the first thing you see is a far wall of windows onto the garden. Filling the open-plan living space with shades of soft sky-grey and lush tree-green, even on a dull autumn day the effect is delightful.
You barely notice the long, narrow hallway, distracted both by the guiding light from the windows and a stretch of ingenious optical-illusion wallpaper. “That’s what good interior design is all about,” says Alicia. “It’s about taking a space and making the very most of it. . .
“I think that’s the biggest reward of design for me: seeing how you can change a space and, consequently, change the way people live and work within it. Improving a space can honestly improve people’s lives.”
Her Trumpington end of terrace, which dates from 1975, is a case in point. When she and her family moved in – she has two children, 14 and 12 – there was definite room for improvement. Despite the windowed back wall, the ground floor living space was blighted with black spots, namely in the entrance hall and stairwell. Widening a doorway, replacing balustrading with reinforced glass, adding a strategic skylight, and turning walls and woodwork white, worked wonders.
“Light is a big thing for me,” explains Alicia. “I have to have it. Some people crave the sea, some crave the mountains – I crave light.”
A professional artist, as well as an interior designer, Alicia’s studio is on the first floor and her paintings hang on many walls. Large abstract tree and leaf-scapes, they fairly glow with filtered sunlight. “It was an art critic, commenting on one of my exhibitions, that first made the connection with light; he said I painted with it. I’d never realised that before, but he was right.”
Raised on the Polish border with Lithuania, her parents farmers, Alicia grew up “in a very rural place, surrounded by nature. That’s probably why nature is such a big influence in my art; everything we experience in life is an influence.”
Her artistic talent recognised at school, Alicia left home at 15 to take up a place at art college in Lithuania. “My parents weren’t at all happy. I was a bright girl; for them, success meant being a doctor or a lawyer. But I was stubborn.”
The transition was a daunting one, nevertheless: “It was a big border to cross; this was a time when there were tanks on the streets of Lithuania. And I was only 15. Looking back, that seems so young. Yet I was determined never to complain.”
A place at Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts followed. Despite doing a post-grad in industrial product design, Alicia continued to paint prolifically and, over a 17-year career in Eastern Europe, found both critical acclaim and a fan following for her work. Among her proudest achievements was a solo show at Arka, the famed gallery in Vilnius.
Then, having married a Brit and had her two children, life brought Alicia to the UK and her second career, in interior design. After doing a course at Chelsea School of Art, she launched her own business, A Z Interiors, four years ago, and has been in demand ever since.
Offering everything from two-hour at-home consultations to whole-house refurbishments – she’s currently working on a £2.5 million renovation project in Oxford – Alicia says she draws inspiration from both the personality of the property (“Is it Victorian, from the Seventies, a new-build?”) and the personality of its owners (“How do they use the space? Do they like colour? And pattern?”).
Again, her own home is a calling card. The interiors scheme doffs its cap to the property’s Sixties/Seventies heritage – take the ochre, grey and green in the palette, the orange glass pendant shade above the master bed, the splay-legged retro dining chairs. But it’s full of Alicia too, from her artwork on the walls to oriental accessories; Japan is her “absolute favourite place”.
Working on corporate as well as domestic schemes, Alicia has just completed a communal office space for Cambridge Intelligence. The walls alone are a triumph, sectioned into tufty living moss tiles, 3D plywood art, and stacks of cute cubbyholes for stools. The office is housed in a windowless basement. From the photos, you’d never know.
Storage is key to a successful interior, adds Alicia, opening a hidden door, camouflaged with wallpaper, to reveal her utility and coat room, and pulling open a plain-fronted kitchen cabinet, concealing the microwave and other sundries, which would otherwise be cluttering the counters.
“I absolutely love what I do,” she adds. “I have a great creative balance between designing interiors for other people and making art with complete freedom. The two go hand in hand, I think: there’s art in interior design, and art is often the finishing touch for a design, too.”
Though leaving Warsaw was an initial wrench, Alicia says Cambridge is now “very much home”. With the city centre mere minutes away, and lovely, leafy Trumpington Meadows behind her house, she’s in the perfect town-meets-country spot. “I live in a beautiful place and I’m able to make my living doing what I love: I think I’m very lucky.”
Senior Editor, Velvet Magazine
Enter Alicia Zimnickas, founder and experienced lead interior designer at AZ Interiors.
“Working with Cambridge Intelligence was excellent – super professional and great decision makers. It was nice to work with people who have good taste and appreciate good design.”
Alicia offered something fresh and new compared with other office design experts. She was excited by the design brief: to create somewhere cool for the team to work and relax, not just to impress visitors (although that too).
“This was my biggest office interior design project yet, and definitely the most exciting.”
Her greatest challenge was transforming the dark, L-shaped basement. The team use this space for lots of things – a place to prepare food and eat lunch together, but also hold meetings, run company social events (think movie nights and computer gaming competitions), and host local meetups for up 40 people.
We went for a natural, organic theme, with smooth wood, clean lines and Scandinavian furniture. With a statement light fitting and spotlights to brighten up dark corners, the space now feels light and airy. There’s room for a large group to chat over lunch around a big table (something of a Cambridge Intelligence tradition), but also smaller tables for quiet times.
Extra seating is cleverly stowed away in a storage wall, but the biggest focal point is our moss wall. Inspired by vertical gardens, we’ve brought the outside in with a maintenance-free living green panel.
The office facelift didn’t stop there. Separating reception from the team working areas with large glass panels helps waiting visitors feel welcome but not isolated. It also gives the team a little privacy without losing light.
The other floors benefited from the design treatment too. There are more natural tones in desk areas, and clever pops of colour in comfy, relaxing breakout spaces. We can take time out on a sofa when we feel the need.
Alicia is also a talented artist, so we commissioned her artwork too. We have unique pieces throughout the building, cleverly inspired by the data visualizations our award-winning KeyLines SDK is famous for.
“The large canvasses were a colorful and creative way to say something about what Cambridge Intelligence do.”
Blog written by Cambridge Intelligence
Meet the Artist; an interview with Alicia Zimnickas, by Claire McMahon-Lee
Cambridge Open Studios brings members of the public into artists studios. It is a great opportunity to for them to pop into the workshops of some of the artists, craftspeople and designer-makers working throughout Cambridgeshire and to see their exhibitions. The artists open their studios to people so that they can see something they don’t see every day. It gives the chance for artists to show their work to the community, whether it be sculpture, jewellery making, glass making or painting. The Open Studios, which run each July every year, provide a wonderful opportunity to for people looking to buy art. You can find you perfect piece without the gallery fees and you can meet the artists that produce the work, it adds meaning to the art that you are buying because you find out what inspires them, you learn about what techniques they use and the process behind creating the work.
There are a whole range of artists of all ages, some are more experienced, some are new. They open up their workshops for the weekends during the month of July. They are based all over Cambridge, just look for the Cambridge Open Studios yellow sign and you will find one close by to you when you are travelling around Cambridge.
One of the artists taking part is Alicia Zimnickas. She began exhibiting her paintings in her own exhibitions the early 1990’s and has shown her work on numerous countries including Canada, UK, France, Sweden, Poland and Lithuania. Her paintings can be found throughout the world in private collections, prestigious hotels (including the Marriott and the Hilton), and on the walls of various companies, such as Novartis, Mastercard, Allianz, the Lithuanian Embassy in Poland and the Presidential Palace in Lithuania. She is also an Interior Designer and runs her own business in Cambridge, she has been running this for 4 years. If you would like to look at her website it is www.az-interiors.co.uk.
I interviewed Alicia to find out what makes her tick when creating her work and she answered me these questions.
Your paintings involve nature, the seasons and how they inspire you. When did you first experience this inspiration and what influenced you to paint topics of nature?
Its nothing really new because I have always been inspired by nature, and this is not something that has appeared recently in my paintings. I look at nature more as a fragmented bit and then put it on a canvas through my filter, just a fragmented part of nature, maybe reeds or leaves or trees. I was thinking by myself once why does nature always hold me or grab me? It ignites something in me. I was trying to find an answer to this very question and then I thought; “its probably because of the place where I used to spend my childhood” which is quite a rural area full of greenery, forests, lakes. It’s in Poland, near the Lithuanian border, where I spent my childhood. It’s one of the first things I experienced in my life. Nature is important to me, but also in a way; light. Because the same tree in a different light is completely transformed, I want to catch that light form. I am an artist who likes to paint light. Nature is the starting point, but light is also my subject. I can put on the canvas the atmosphere that the light provides, its not just putting a tree on a canvas but showing that the sun is shining, or that it’s the evening, you can see what time of day it is, it sets the atmosphere.
How do you use colour, is it to evoke particular atmospheres when looking at nature?
I do it automatically, I know when to use a colour to make it look calming but I don’t have to think about it too much. I don’t look, see something then paint it, I collect those memories of the scene I have looked at as visual images, or I take photos, or I travel somewhere different and collect more colours to paint. The paintings are all about atmosphere, they are very impressionist.
How did you feel letting people into your house to see your work during the open studios? Is it difficult to show your work at that level because sometimes it can be such a personal thing when you put your all into your work?
For me this is very natural and I think, in a way, I need to show my work. This makes sense. I like to hear peoples opinions, it motivates me. Letting people into my house I don’t have a problem with. As also I use my house as my work studio, so I do sometimes have clients and coming to see my work so my mentality is that it’s an open house. I think in general I am a hospitable studio, for instance I run a little café so when people and friends turn up I can make them a coffee. I almost think sometimes it’s the other way round, it’s not difficult for me nut it’s more difficult for members of the public. They can find it difficult going into other peoples houses.
What opportunities do you think Cambridge Open Studios gives to people?
First of all, access to the artists studios and home, and I think artists always have very interesting homes. Meeting the artists so you can understand the work much better. But also, from the artists point of view, you have amazing visitors come and you have some amazing conversations and you bond with the people. Some people come every year and they see new things I have done since their last visit. If those regular people didn’t come I would be thinking to myself “Hmm I wonder where they are? I wonder why they didn’t come?”
When you crate art does the subject dictate what you paint or is there a concept you think of first and before you paint?
There is always a concept first, it would be even some sketches beforehand, or something like a photo. Maybe some colour samples to see what colour to paint, but then I have a vision and an idea before I touch the canvas, but then it’s a question of whether I will get that effect that I want once I start. Maybe not? I may not be very happy about that but, anyway, there is always a concept, yes. It gives a structure to what you want to achieve. It also depends on the day I am having and on the mood I am in as to how the final result turns out. Although I can only paint in a good mood!
How do you feel when you paint?
I love it. I find that everything around me disappears, I get so involved, I have to set an alarm when I paint, if I have to go and pick up the kids, because I get completely involved. My ordinary day has so many constraints, in art I am free.
What would you call your style?
I always really struggle with that, I think it’s some kind of impressionist style, but I can’t say. It’s any kind of landscape that I paint. They are not realistic but not abstract. I don’t have the answer to that I’m afraid.
What is your best work?
There are some paintings I feel that there are some best pieces chosen by the members of the public during open studio, there are two pieces, they got the most votes. They are; ‘The Pine Forest’ this was sold and now has a lovely new home in Cambridge. ‘Up to the Sky’ that was the second favourite.
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Its great to see people are enjoying reading all about our blog.feedspot.com/uk_interior_design_blogs/ interior design projects, art and style. There are some interesting new projects in the pipeline for this year so check in soon for more updates
A big thank you to HOUZZ who have awarded me the best of House Design and Client Satisfaction. AZ interiors portfolio was voted most popular by the HOUZZ community AZ interiors was rated the highest level of client satisfaction.
I’m Alicia Zimnickas founder of AZ INTERIORS. I'm interior designer and artist. On AZ INTERIORS blog, I share decorating ideas, interesting and inspiring interiors, interior design trends, beautiful objects and places - those worth mentioning. Welcome to my creative world.