Interview: JILL STEIN

Interview: JILL STEIN

The interior designer tells us about what inspires her…

As founder, co-owner and interior designer at Rick Stein, Jill Stein has had an incredibly varied and impressive career. She set up The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow back in 1975 with her then husband Rick Stein and the Stein brand has gone on to become a phenomenal success story with a range of restaurants across the UK as well as a selection of hotels, and Porthdune, a skincare and lifestyle range.

What makes good hotel and restaurant design?

It needs to be comfortable and homely and definitely not sterile; I like to put nice little touches in the room that customers would have at home. For restaurants, yes, the food is important, but you need to have captivating interiors – you can’t have one without the other. It’s the yin and yang coming together – you can have the most amazing food but if the restaurant interior is cold then it just doesn’t gel. The interior has to be as good as the food coming out of the kitchen.

How would you describe your design ethos?

Timeless. I love classical pieces that aren’t too traditional, but I also love mixing contemporary style with older pieces. I’m not really into trends as they do date, but I enjoy working with rustic and coastal styles with a cool twist.

Barnes interior - Credit Killian O'Sullivan

Where do you get your inspiration?

The first thing I do is look at the location. That being said, I do think if you visit any of our restaurants, you will find certain similarities between them. For Barnes, it’s a neighbourhood restaurant, not a city centre location, so my first thought was about the river and the light that shines through. It’s what inspired the whole colour scheme, as well as the plants dotted around the restaurant and hanging from the ceiling. David Inshaw, a dear friend, is a great artist and we’ve got one of his pieces at Barnes – it’s the reflection of a tree in the river and I think it encapsulates the restaurant perfectly. For Sandbanks, the light is slightly different so we went for a more contemporary theme, more Scandiinspired. Since Marlborough is a town in Wiltshire, we decided to use a much warmer pallet, with traditional furniture and wall panelling. It all comes down to the light and natural surroundings, so we use this as inspiration and build around this.

Which countries have inspired you the most?

I’ve been to a lot of countries in my time – Spain is gorgeous but I’ve fallen in love with Australian interiors – they’re all over my Pinterest! I am fascinated by the architecture and what the interior designers in Australia are doing and I love the light touches they use. I think Pinterest is great; I pin all my inspiration on one board and then pinpoint the bits I adore. Anything with coastal and beachy vibes like Australian or Californian decor attracts me.

You’ve taken on many roles since you first started out, what have been the hardest and the most rewarding?

It was hard running a restaurant with very small children – a lot of late nights and even more stress – especially with three boys! When Rick and I split, we had to maintain our business and work amicably together, which at times was difficult but we managed it. The most rewarding thing has been receiving an OBE.

The Seafood Restaurant rooms - Credit James Ram

How did it feel to be named in the Top 100 Most Influential Women in Hospitality 2021 list?

I was so pleased! It came as quite a surprise, especially as I don’t know who put me forward for it. I have worked in the hospitality sector for 49 years, and with Rick often recognised as the ‘TV name’, it was an absolute honour to be acknowledged for my work in the business and wider industry.

What do you feel has changed in hospitality since you set up the first restaurant?

I think it’s a different era compared to 49 years ago and the food scene in the country has completely changed. When we started in Cornwall in the 1970’s, we were learning how to run a business: Rick wasn’t a chef and I wasn’t a business person. We were learning as we went along and made mistakes. Cornwall wasn’t a foodie place, all the big chefs were in London or Bristol, so we were trying to figure out what direction we were going in and luckily, we found it! I think we did it in a more organic way back then, which was a bit slower, but we just kept reinvesting our profits year after year and made it what it is today.

jill stein
St Edmund's House - Credit James Ram

As a family business, how do you ensure you all work well together?

In a family business you have to manage every person. We’re also all creatives who all need to sing from the same hymn sheet – which can be challenging at times! Rick and I started the business and it had to work out financially, but we’re now concentrating on getting our children – Jack, Charlie & Ed – in to succeed us and I think they’re doing brilliantly. I work quite closely with Ed and his wife (Kate Stein) who have joined me on the interiors – it’s such an enjoyable experience since we share a lot of similar ideas! Running a family business has many challenges, but when the going gets tough we all pull together, and I think that’s the most important thing

What are you most proud of in terms of your work?

I’m proud of still being in my business after so many years, growing it to where it is and taking a step back and looking at what we’ve achieved on the interior side of things. When I walk into The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, I think, wow, this really isn’t too bad! It’s the same for Sandbanks and Marlborough, I’m really proud of the work. When I look back, I really doubted myself (as all creatives do) but it’s worked out great and I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved, starting from nothing and making a successful business our children can carry on.
Top image: by Anna McCarthy