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Katharine Pooley talks curating dream homes and how interior-design will change post-pandemic

From prestigious townhouses in London and luxury chalets in Italy to a large city-centre apartment in Singapore, and a hotel and clubhouse in China, Katharine Pooley has done it all.

Once a banking executive, the London-based interior designer is today an award-winning decorator of choice to the global elite, having grown her business across the world since founding it in 2004. The award-winning designer, who also once lived in Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore, shares her vision, beliefs and creative process.

The current pandemic has made the world stay home and put more focus on our living spaces. Has Covid-19 influenced interior trends of late?

Absolutely. Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of home as a place of sanctuary and comfort. I also see a greater interest in the environmental impact of design and making responsible design choices that have a positive effect on the surrounding environment.

What are some of the strongest trends to emerge this year that will continue well into the future?

Generally, the strongest trends are for more spacious and more luxurious interiors that are highly personal, multifaceted and include standout features like swimming pools, bars, gyms and large terraces that many used to enjoy in the very best hotels and private members’ clubs. Colour trends are for soothing, light and tonal interiors with the introduction of small quantities of richer accent tones like aubergine, burnt orange and deep inky blues.

Speaking about trends, I’m always curious about the lifespan of an interior design trend.

I don’t like to follow trends; our clients expect to set trends, not follow them. They are not interested in having what everyone else already has. They want what nobody even knows they want yet. I do often look to other industries for inspiration though, such as the fashion industry.

The stairs in a Mayfair townhouse completely redesigned by Katharine Pooley.

How often should we actually refurbish our home so that it doesn’t look dated?

I believe if designed well, an interior should not need updating. However, many of our clients would look at a partial refresh every decade as the family evolves and sensibilities change. Also it is only natural that clients may want small changes and additions over the year so we continue to work with them to ensure the interior evolves in line with their lifestyle. I am very proud of our aftercare service!

What should we look out for in ensuring we don’t jump atop a trend wagon blindly to find that a fad has passed in a flash?

I find it helpful to look at the fashion world. Some styles are so timelessly elegant, original and cleanly realised, they never date. Think classic Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Celine etc. Aim to create the same ambience in your interior, one that is effortlessly glamorous, chic and understated, but also unmistakably luxurious. Don’t be driven by what is fashionable but more by what is beautiful. These classic pieces will continue to be elegant even as trends rise and fall around them.

What are the key must-dos and the major no’s in decorating for our tropical climate?

There are obvious finishes to be avoided and embraced in tropical countries. I know from my many years living in Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong that harder finishes will prove more durable and sanitary in humid conditions. I love to use resins, high-gloss lacquers, poured metals and polished marble together with textured timber and stone to create layered, rich interiors that are durable as well as luxurious. The most important thing when using hard finishes is to balance them with soft textured fabrics so that the space remains inviting and atmospheric.

A Moroccan-styled room in the tropics.

What would you like to see Asia do more of?

I think that some of the architectural design in Asia (and elsewhere, we are equally at fault in Europe) can be so contemporary and cutting-edge that it has lost its soul and does not speak to the surrounding landscape nor the humanity of those who will live within it. I would love to see more natural texture and warmth in these designs, and a little more richness and layering perhaps.

What is your creative process like when designing a home?

I start by taking a detailed brief from the client, analysing all floor plans and, where possible, visiting the site. This will then lead to the conceptual design stage where through sketches, conceptual imagery, modeling, layout development and loose finish and fabric schemes, a design starts to take shape. Once the client is happy with the conceptual direction, the detailed design work commences.

This takes the form of three packages. Firstly, a very detailed architectural drawing package including all elevations, sections, plans, bathrooms, kitchens and joinery. Secondly, a specification package covering all door ironmongery, joinery detailing, lighting, floor and wall finishes, AV equipment and systems, and bathroom and kitchen fixtures and equipment. Thirdly, an FFE (furniture, fixtures, equipment) package which breaks down in a clear and comprehensive way every furniture piece, window treatment, fabric and accessory. These three packages are presented to the client along with CGI renderings and rendered elevations that show every piece in the interior in each room for client sign-off alongside associated costs.

I try to keep the process very simple and straightforward. Total transparency is key as well as really listening and responding to the client at every step. The client often requests revisions and changes at each stage and we then work to accommodate all their feedback and achieve total sign-off to move forward with their blessing and trust to the procurement stage, building works and finally, installation and handover.

The elegant living room of The Clarence at St James’ House, designed by Katharine Pooley.

How much of a project is you, and how much of it is your client?

I would say it is 50/50 – it is a partnership and a meeting of minds. All of my clients become very important to me as they are entrusting me with something very personal to them, along with intimate knowledge of their life and how they like to live. My vision is always inspired by my client and anchored in who they are as people. The fun part of my job is to draw this out of them in the early stages and then leave them alone for all the hard work of creating it, and then surprise them with it at completion. Many clients have become close personal friends so I must be doing something right!

What would be the basic guidelines for good design for a high-rise city apartment?

Flow is key, the spaces must lead into and open into each other. Natural light must be utilised and finishes should use the same narrative throughout. In a small space, every piece must have aesthetic value and flexibility, and the lighting must be exquisite.

What’s a completed recent project that you are most proud of, and why?

The property I completed in Mayfair, London for an international client has to be seen to be believed. It is a townhouse set across seven floors, including a spa, pool, gym, home cinema, seven bedrooms and multiple entertaining areas and terraces. It’s fresh, chic, luxurious and full of awe-inspiring art, chandeliers and joinery. It was for a young client and we turned around the interior in five months and during the Covid-19 shutdown. I am very proud of that in particular, as we worked tirelessly to ensure the client and his wife were thrilled with the final outcome!

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(All images courtesy of Katharine Pooley/London)

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