Katharine Pooley is an award-winning luxury interior designer. She established her business over 18 years ago and is one of the most respected, creative and original British luxury interior designers. Her studio crafts luxury interiors for private, residential and commercial clients internationally.
In this Q&A Katharine tells us more about her business journey, industry insights and life motto. Read on to discover more.
You have a successful career spanning over 18 years. When did you know that design, and specifically in the luxury sector, was for you and how did you carve out your career?
I’ve always been passionate about architecture and design but as a child, I never imagined I would run a world-leading design studio. I come from a family of pilots and adventurers so I probably imagined something along those lines! They say you are meant to have four careers – this is my fourth – and I know my previous three careers have helped me get where I am today. Working in finance encourages you to work long hours, understand figures and be super-efficient – the perfect synergy for building a successful business of any kind. When I returned to London after 16 years in HK and Singapore I was inspired to start a luxury home accessories boutique featuring art and unusual objects found on my travels in Asia. In no time at all that evolved into a flourishing design studio and, with drive and determination, and wonderful loyal clients, I now find myself designing beautiful, ground-breaking, flag-ship projects in every corner of the world. It’s definitely been an adventure, with wonderful surprises around every corner!
Describe a typical day for you – if such a thing exists.
My days start early and end late. In short, I believe in fitting in as much as you can! Every day we have is a gift.
Most days I commute into London from our home in the countryside, on those days I get up at 5.45 am to feed the chickens, walk the dog and spend time with my boys before driving into the city. If I am staying at our home in London then I have a more peaceful morning, I might walk in Hyde Park and have a grapefruit with burnt sugar on top at Ottolenghi and then hit the design studio.
From the moment I arrive there is lots to do, with 48 designers and architects managing multiple projects across the world. I need to check in on the progress of all projects, give design directions, sign off finishes and details and, of course, meet with clients and suppliers. The range of projects is something I adore, from castles to beach villas, hotels and city homes, every project is different and every day poses fresh challenges and inspirations. At some point I usually spend time with my EA planning working trips for the year ahead, in 2023 we have projects in Sardinia, New York, Cannes, Kuwait, Dubai, Monaco and London, (to name a few!), so there are many site visits to organise and new clients and old clients (now friends) to meet. Finally I will race back home for supper with the boys and my husband Dan. Family time is incredibly important to me, and then it’s bedtime for them and I sit at my blue chinoiserie desk working through emails and strategic planning for the year ahead– which takes me to around 1 am. I believe in leaving no task incomplete, and I sleep incredibly well when I finally turn in. Truly for me a busy life is a happy life!
Your business has grown exponentially from an independent designer to now heading a team of what has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced during this transition and how did you overcome it?
Logistically 2021 presented a daunting challenge with the Covid restrictions. We took on several exciting new projects, both abroad and in London, and then had to find a way to uphold the delivery programs. Because we never, ever, compromise on quality, we usually import absolutely everything from the UK to ensure the craftsmanship is the absolute highest it can be. Covid restrictions played havoc and at one point, about to install a beautiful chalet for a client in Zermatt, we had four lorries held at the border, when Switzerland locked down and imposed a ten-day quarantine. We managed to find ways of being tested fast, swapping drivers and completing the job. It was a stressful moment, to say the least, but I will always find a way and I train my team never to give up. Our clients come to us because we can cope on a global level. We get things done.
What key piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in this field of work?
Be kind and considerate. Manners are everything. It’s also important to push yourself always – you go to life, it doesn’t come to you! Finally, don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way up – it’s the only way to learn everything in a business.
British Interior Designer of the Decade, International Designer of the Year, Asia and Entrepreneur of the Year, are just some of the industry accolades you’ve been given. Congratulations. How do you continue to innovate and present fresh exciting ideas to remain a strong contender for such awards?
Success and experience only count for so much if you don’t continue to evolve, I feel really strongly that every design should be different. True luxury for me is unique, precious and individual, I really dislike when designers start to repeat their work, I know our clients value individuality and a totally personal viewpoint. To keep a fresh perspective I am always on the lookout for new inspiration, often on my travels, and find that immersing oneself in the natural world is key. Travel is probably the defining feature and passion of my life. It’s both exhilarating and a privilege to travel so widely, and one that inspires every aspect of my designs.
The projects you work on range in scale and style, from traditional country residences to futuristic hotels, castles, ski chalets and everything in between. How do you decide if a project is for you and if / how does your approach differ for each?
I rarely come across a project that I am not curious to take on, maybe I’m lucky but the clients who come to me have projects I really want to undertake. Some of them are challenging and large-scale, and have difficulties to overcome, but luckily I love a challenge!
Which has been your favourite project to date and why?
Last year I completed the redesign of the Château de la Croix des Gardes. It is the largest remaining estate on the Cote D’Azur in France. Unparalleled in the beauty of its architecture, its sublime Mediterranean views, and the scale of its surrounding gardens, this was a once-in-a-lifetime project for me. It has a magical history and in 1955 it was the set of Hitchcock’s film “To Catch a Thief”, starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, two actors whose work I simply adore. Surrounded by 25 acres gardens, the Chateau’s 25,000 square footage made it one of our largest European projects to date and a challenge to get exactly right as it required extensive architectural and interior alterations. The final design is incredibly detailed, a real celebration of European craftsmanship, and I am so proud of the home we have created for this wonderful client and his young family.
The luxury market is a dynamic one – what key trends do you foresee for the coming years?
Wellness and health are key touchpoints for our clients. In 2023 the top-end of the luxury interiors market will concentrate on creating ‘wellness’ spaces that are beautiful, comfortable, and that seeks to subtly inspire personal happiness and well-being. A healthy lifestyle, and the pursuit of a happy, healthy life is a central concern for all our clients when they are planning their working and living spaces. This could mean home spas, games rooms, gyms and pools, gardens and terraces, or simply open, well-lit, spaces for contemplation and ease of movement. Natural finishes, with luxurious touches and raw organic forms, will be key.
Please tell us what exciting plans are in the pipeline for you and your team?
I am really eager to complete our New York project overlooking Central Park, it of course has extraordinary views and some striking, contemporary, detailing. Similarly, the setting of our Sardinia project is remarkably beautiful, right on the water, and both of these projects will add a new dimension to the KP portfolio which I am excited to see. In the spring, a large and colourful project in Kuwait also completes and I can’t wait to return to one of my favourite regions to visit our projects and clients there. Aside from projects and clients, my work with The Childhood Trust on their ‘Decorate a Child’s life’ program will be an important part of 2023. It is a privilege to use the contacts and design expertise that we have to transform the bedrooms of children living in appalling conditions in London. We have been working with this charity for a number of years and the work is so important, especially with the cost of living crisis in the UK. This aspect of my life is definitely the most meaningful and humbling and I am excited to see some more children’s living environments transformed this year.
Luxury is a highly subjective term – what does it mean to you?
Evocative, unforgettable, beautifully balanced with effortless comfort.
Finally, what is your life motto?
As Sir David Attenborough said, “The world is finite and we need to look after it”. We stand at a crossroads and have many environmental challenges to face. However, I believe we as designers and architects are well-placed to build a better, more sustainable way of living. As my father puts it, “There is always a way forward.” I love my father, he is a constant inspiration with his unstoppable determination, his joie de vivre and his ever-curious mind, even at the age of 88. I love his motto, it is full of hope, and I use it often.
Address: 37 Ixworth Pl, London SW3 3QH