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Designer Q&A: Katharine Pooley

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Katharine Pooley is an internationally renowned interior designer. She talks to us about her career and her design mantra, and shows us around a recent project.

Katharine Pooley is an interior designer who is sought after internationally. She has been recently named as British Interior Designer of the Decade by The IDAA.

She established her London studio over 16 years ago during which time the practice has grown from a UK firm predominantly working on domestic projects to an internationally well-respected brand and studio undertaking architectural design, interior design, project management, product design and property development.

Katharine has visited more than 150 countries, summited many of the world’s highest mountains, driven a dog sled to the north pole, and crossed the Sahara on horseback. She’s also a philanthropist, whose work has included partnering with the Childhood Trust to aid London’s disadvantaged children in its decorate a child’s life programme.

We asked her to tell us about how she came to be an interior designer, share future plans for her practice, and give us an insight into a project in Notting Hill.

What inspired you to become an interior designer?

I previously lived in Hong Kong and Singapore working in investment banking and was inspired to become an interior designer when I returned to London after 14 years. I have always had a keen eye for design and a passion for collecting and creating beautiful objects and interiors so I suppose it was a natural progression. First I opened my boutique on Walton Street in Knightsbridge and this has now grown over 16 years to be one of the largest design studios in Europe. I have 47 interior designers and architects working with me today and pride myself on the calibre of our team and the intricacy of the designs we create.

Can you tell us a little about your design ethos/mantra?

No dream is too big. Clients often come to me with an incredible, completely unique and ground-breaking idea. I believe nothing is impossible and immediately set to work with my supremely talented team to realise their dreams. From cliff-top futuristic villas, cutting-edge yacht interiors, castles, palaces, country estates and one of a kind hotel retreats in far flung locations, my portfolio is so incredibly diverse and international because I absolutely adore a challenge, the more unusual the better! We are currently working on one of the largest chateaux in Cannes. It was the backdrop to Hitchcock’s ‘To Catch a Thief’ and is quite simply mesmerising.

You’ve travelled widely and completed some amazing journeys. How does your sense of adventure inform your professional life?

Each interior comes from a kaleidoscope of inspirations: from the natural world, fashion, architecture, art, but most of all from my travels. The impact of my global travels on my design ethos cannot be overstated. The love of travel and adventure that I inherited from my parents took me to study in Paris and I then lived in Hong Kong for 16 years, then Singapore, India and Vietnam. There are very few corners of the world I have not worked or travelled in now and it is an absolute joy to travel so much. I have always been inspired by my surroundings and my extensive travels are the seed of every design idea.

What does membership of the BIID bring you?

It gives me that wonderful feeling of belonging to a larger ‘whole’. I see BIID as embodying and encouraging of all the qualities that make British interior design so well respected and influential worldwide. Quality, passion, craftsmanship, rigorous detail and professionalism, the highest of working standards are instilled in us by BIID and I am proud to be an active member.

Are you able to share any future plans for your practice?

The next year is probably one of our busiest yet, as well as the chateau in Cannes, we are also working on a truly extraordinary property in Monaco, a collection of villas overlooking Hong Kong’s Discovery Bay, a really exciting yacht, a contemporary redesign of a chalet in Zermatt, Switzerland, and various other projects in London, the English countryside, as well as ongoing work in Kuwait, Qatar and further afield.

Can you tell us a little about the Notting Hill project: what is the property and what was the brief?

It is an imposing double-fronted Victorian villa dating back to the 1850s on one of Notting Hill’s prettiest streets. We transformed 20,000 square feet of living space set across seven floors in five months for an international couple in their 20s. The brief was to create a luxurious and impactful interior that showcased the symmetry of the classical architecture, while also introducing unexpected contemporary design flourishes and detailing.

This living space is supremely welcoming. Could you talk to us a little about the colours and materials you chose?

The timelessly elegant proportions of the large drawing room created a beautiful backdrop for statement furniture, lighting and art. The elliptical rock crystal and bronze chandelier was created bespoke to my design, as was the hand-painted Fromental Japanese landscape silk wallpaper which was inspired by a panel from Fameed Khalique’s incredible collection. A classic black Steinway grand piano is a strong statement in one corner – the client loves to play – and is balanced with softer organic sculptures in coral, marble and lapis. I kept the scheme light and tonal in a handful of shades of blue. A particular favourite detail is the watercolour-like washes of colour across the metallic eglomise mirror coffee table that sits in front of the fireplace.

Can you talk a little about your approach to choosing artwork and sculpture for a project?

Art and sculptures are at the heart of this design; they add life and personality to every room. In the master bedroom I chose carved timber Ben Chagga sculptures from my boutique collection, and they sit silhouetted against the light walls and elegant Victoria Bain embroidery of the curtain leading edges behind.

How did you create the balance of comfort and luxury seen in this bedroom?

Yellow is one of my absolute favourite colours, and I termed this hue ‘canary’; it’s so vibrant and joyful, and the perfect choice for a statement guest bedroom.Comfort is always my priority, and that is achieved with the highest quality of natural fabrics and finishes. Carefully balanced detailing is what gives the feeling of luxury. The bed, bedside tables and sculptural end-of-bed ottoman were all made in English workshops. The quality of craftsmanship in this country is unmatchable.

Can you talk to us about his amazing swimming space?

This pool is quite an incredible space now but it was actually quite underwhelming and neutral when we took on the project. We added a fabulous full ‘living wall’ of moss (which creates a rich verdant green backdrop) and suspended two graceful diving figure mesh sculptures overhead. They reflect beautifully in the water below. I also added really beautiful furniture from American company McKinnon and Harris to complete the space.

Could you tell us something about the lighting scheme for this room?

This subterranean games room is one of the more incredible spaces we have created in this property. The client wished to have a dedicated floor for billiards, ping-pong, card games and a fully stocked bar. The lighting needed to ensure each of these separate areas was lit effectively but also create an overall effect that was soft, welcoming and atmospheric. Most important to me was to ensure that the lighting (most of it made bespoke) was memorably unique. I also as a priority wanted to ensure the incredible circular art installation by London collective Based Upon was lit to maximum effect. Its dark emerald resin has a luminous quality that is quite beautiful.

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