Cars are like your babies,” says Aston Martin designer Leighanne Earley. “They reflect your passion and your life.” She should know, having designed the interior of the DB11 and also “co-created” her eight-year-old son Zeph, with partner Miles Nurnberger, who also happened to have designed the exterior of the DB11.
They could sound like the ultimate “designer couple”, and indeed live in a tastefully appointed late-60s architect-designed house in a tiny village in Warwickshire, a few minutes away from Aston Martin’s Gaydon HQ and Design Studio. Their parallel design careers have enabled them to live and work together around the world — globetrotting from Paris to California and back again, for Citroën, Ford and Lincoln — before both settling at Aston Martin. But, in person, they’re as down-to-earth as can be, each one seemingly grounding the other perfectly.
“We understand each other’s passion,” Nurnberger says by way of possible explanation. “I have friends whose other halves aren’t in the industry and all they see is that he’s at work all the time. We’re lucky — and unlucky — that our hobby is also our job. It’s difficult sometimes because you can’t detach from it; we’re always thinking about design. But we’re also really privileged. I’m doing what I realised I wanted to do when I was 12 years old, when I visited the Royal College of Art.”
For Nurnberger, a design career was always on the cards. His German grandparents used to dine with Walter Gropius, the founder and first master of the famous Bauhaus school of design. His father was a professional photographer who ran an advertising agency, his mother was a photo retoucher and both his sisters have art degrees. “One of my sisters described me as ‘doomed’ to do the job I do now,” he chuckles. “What with all the artistic influence in the family, my dad loving cars — he owned a Lancia Montecarlo and a Porsche 914 — and as I was called Miles. Between all those things, I’ve ended up doing the job I was supposed to.”
Earley’s upbringing couldn’t have been more different. “My dad was a cobbler and my mum worked in a shop. They were both Glaswegian and hilarious, brilliant. They didn’t have any money, but they were creative, really into music and always took us to London. They encouraged us to have a passion.” The design connections grew after the family moved to Milton Keynes when Earley was five. “We lived in a small cul-de-sac and our next-door neighbours were architects and graphic designers. I’ll never forget it. They had these Habitat metal chairs, apple-green ones with dots, and they always had an Apple Mac sticker on the fridge. And I remember thinking, ‘I want a house like that’. I always loved drawing so they invited me to their architects’ studio. Milton Keynes’ planners had asked a whole lot of architects to help build the new city. They created these areas called ‘Future Land’ and ‘Energy World’ featuring houses built into the ground, or ones that rotated. I remember being inspired by that visit. So, from about the age of eight, I decided I wanted to be a designer.”
By the time she was 16 she still wanted to study art, but also work towards a career that might be more sustainable, so a friend suggested car design. She ended up studying at Coventry University’s acclaimed course, where she met Nurnberger, who was in the year above doing the same course. Incredibly, they’ve managed to work for the same firms at the same times — give or take a few months — pretty much ever since.
We understand each other’s passion: we’re lucky — and unlucky — that our hobby is also our job
However, while at work, they tend not to share exactly the same space. “At Aston I did the DB11 interior and Miles did the DB11 exterior,” Earley confirms, “but we didn’t work directly together. It’s really strange.”
Nurnberger adds: “We have lunch together sometimes, but we don’t always manage that.”
Their son is showing signs of creativity too and sometimes “assists” at their workplace. “He’s a lucky boy,” Nurnberger says with a smile. “He comes into the studio where we’re doing the DBX at the moment and helps with the design reviews where all of the directors are present. He was six or seven at the time, sitting in the packaging model, when he said to them, ‘You do realise you need to pay me for this. I’m helping you out here’.” He’s also had the opportunity to play football with F1 star Daniel Ricciardo in the pits at Silverstone and taken a car panel from a James Bond movie into his school’s “show-and-tell” day, but Earley is determined to keep him down-to-earth despite his privileges. “One time he was being driven to school in the Aston,” says Earley, “and he was moaning that it wasn’t the Ferrari F12 I’d just had to test for the weekend,” laughs Nurnberger. “He even cried,” continues Earley, “so I reminded him of my childhood.” Fine parenting from this designer couple, who may, in time, become a designer trio.