“It’s something I was born with. I just see the world differently to other people. I have a highly visual memory and have always been drawn to creating beautiful interiors.” Katharine Pooley tells Ajeng G. Anindita what she believes it takes to be a successful interior designer and looks back on her well-travelled career of the past 15 years.
From an elegant residence at one of the most important addresses in London, a castle in remote Perthshire to a large villa in Kuwait, we think it’s safe to say that Katharine Pooley is a well-travelled interior designer. She brings all her travel experience to her design work. So, it came as a bit of a surprise when Prestige found out she really isn’t fond of flying.
“It’s quite hard for me to sleep on a plane,” the British designer and entrepreneur says at Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta during a recent visit to Indonesia. “I need a really, really comfortable and relaxed environment to sleep, and a plane is certainly not one of them.”
Katharine Pooley Ltd has grown enormously each year from a UK firm undertaking predominantly domestic projects to an internationally well-respected brand and design studio encompassing architectural design, interior design, product design and property development. The designer is due to fly again in a mere four hours and will soon be having a holiday with her family. “Maybe I should hire a private jet just for me to fly,” she grins.
It’s not a surprise to see how busy Katharine is. She is one of the most sought-after interior designers in the UK. She’s been commissioned for landmark commercial and residential properties around the world and boasts a flagship showroom in Doha, with a growing roster of clients based in North America and the Middle East.
Her standalone boutique studio in South Kensington showcases a range of curated accessories sourced from all over the globe. The selection is constantly changing and evolving. “When you step into my Knightsbridge boutique, I really hope that you will have a wow moment,” Katharine says. “I pride myself on having incredible craftsmanship and amazing finishes that you can’t find anywhere else.”
The boutique offers a Home Dressing service, where her team will refresh, restyle and transform a whole room or interior with new accessories, flowers, cushions, table settings, bed linens and glassware in the blink of an eye. It’s an increasingly popular service, Katharine says, as “it’s perfect for a seasonal refresh or for when a client wants a change within a small time frame”.
But let’s get back to the beginning, Katharine used to work in a finance but has always had a passion for design. She began her design career by creating them for herself, then for her friends, then their friends, and over the last 15 years, her design studio has grown into one of the biggest in Europe and has undertaken some incredible commissions, “It is something I must have been born with. I just see the world differently to other people. I have a highly visual memory and have always been drawn to, and interested in, creating beautiful interiors. I now oversee and design amazing projects across the world for international clients – sometimes I have to pinch myself, it is such a dream.” Says her.
Katharine describes her style and aesthetics as “timeless, luxurious and elegant, with every detail considered and every item beautifully crafted”. Her design is very much driven by the individual project and client as she is a big believer in listening to the client. “What do they hope to achieve? What do they love? How do they live? Really listening to the client and then studying the architecture, the location and the purpose of the project ensures that the design followed will meet and surpass all expectations,” she explains Katharine while sipping her tea.
“I am happy to travel to wherever the client is most comfortable. We bring the full design boards and visuals with us so the client can see everything in a really clearly organised presentation, then request changes where they want them,” she says of her creative process with clients.
She then adds, “However if possible, I love to have the clients visit my London studio. The huge double height finishes library is always so exciting for them, they can see an array of beautiful items and it really bring the design process alive.”
Talking about ideas and inspiration, she claims that she is a design chameleon, “Inspiration can strike anywhere and anytime. I think about my projects continuously and visualise them from all angles – the best design is immersive and to be one of the best designers you have to have a really detailed eye. My most vivid ideas are often drawn from my extensive travels. I believe you can find beauty and inspiration anywhere. You just have to open your eyes and see the world properly.”
Katharine published a book with Assouline last year: Journey by Design. Inside the book, there’s a complete cross-reference of genres and experiences: the natural world, architecture, fashion, jewellery, among others. “Publishing my book really stands out as a moment to be proud of – it’s such a beautiful book. I had tears in my eyes when I was given the first copy.”
“I think the most important thing when interior-decorating is balance. An interior must flow, colours must work in harmony and every detail must be considered. Most importantly it must sit well within and enhance the building it is part of. So often I see interior design that fights with, rather than embraces, the architecture it sits within. This is so sad as it creates negative uncomfortable spaces and is a complete waste of time.” She also admits that she has always looked up to David Hicks’ quintessentially English, eclectic and unique style and enjoys the work of the American designer Kelly Wearstler.
So, has Katharine seen any particular trends growing in the interior design world? “I see one for more informal living that combines luxury with comfort,” she answers. For my clients, comfort is as important now as beauty, and they want the perfect balance of both in every facet of their lives.”
Katharine has just finished a chic private villa in Kuala Lumpur, and is currently doing some remarkable projects, including a large contemporary development in Hong Kong, a coastal retreat in the South of France, which will finish (hopefully, she says) later this year and a very grand private residence in Kuwait in autumn. Various projects in the British countryside and London is also currently underway, “I’m very blessed with the team I have now. They are the best in Europe, very international and used to travelling a great deal with me. We spend much time abroad overseeing projects for clients who expect a seamless and flawless service and do not have the time to be involved on a day to day basis with the build or installation, they just want a perfect end result.”
How, then, do you resolve conflicts with clients, if any? “Truly we take all of the stress out of our projects for our clients, which is why the same families use us again and again. Many have become like family to me and we are now working on their fourth and fifth homes. A project is only a success in my mind if the client is happy and I work incredibly hard to ensure that the team is as responsive, thorough and flexible as possible to meet their every wish.”
She continues, “I think my clients also respect my honesty and strength of design vision – I will fight hard for them to ensure every detail is the highest quality. Very importantly, I remain the point of contact for most if not every client. If there’s a problem or a detail they need reassurance on, they can call me at any time. This is something clients really value.”
Katharine used to live in Singapore and Hong Kong. She travelled extensively in Asia when she worked for Morgan Stanley and Barclays, before following her passion for design. Her Asia-based projects and clients are growing in number, and Katharine observes that these clients have a completely different outlook to other regions. “They have a real passion for new and unique design and they like to work quickly, which I love!”
With busy schedules around the world, Katharine likes to take time off just for her and her family. She enjoys mountain climbing, hill walking and spending time by the sea. She has trekked in Antarctica, crossed the Sahara by horseback, canoed down the Amazon, walked across Tasmania and climbed Kilimanjaro five times. “I am happiest outdoors with my two sons and husband,” she says. “I have both stayed in and designed some fabulous five-star hotels, but I’m truly happiest sleeping in a tent under an expansive starlit African sky. I still don’t like to sit still for too long, and I’m always planning my next big adventure.”
So where are Katharine’s favourite places? “In the UK, the Highlands of Scotland, where my family home of Forter Castle is, holds a special place in my heart. I also love Telluride in the USA and Mauritius and Mustique are favourites too.” She also reveals her bucket list to date, “Raja Ampat is on my go to list – it meant to be the most beautiful place on earth and I haven’t quite found the time to visit yet!”
Finally, Katharine shares some of her advice for new interior designers. “I would love to share some of my favourite mantras learned over many years of experience: aim high, work hard and never take no for an answer. Everything is possible, so follow your dreams. Courage is your currency. Drive, determination and vision are everything.”