Ong Chin Huat speaks with London-based interior designer extraordinaire Katharine Pooley on her whistle-stop visit to Asia and discovers her four career incarnations and what the three elements are which constitute her definition of good taste.
Considered one of the leading luminaries in the world of interior design, Katherine Pooley lives and breathes the lifestyle she preaches. With a refined and glamorous aesthetic, Pooley has designed and created some of the most breath-taking homes and hotels around the world.
From castles in Scotland to villas in Tuscany, penthouses in Singapore and townhouses in London, Pooley has stamped her inimitable style and made her mark in the realm of stylish living. Her clients include some of the wealthiest and most socially prominent people on the planet.
As the director and founder of Katharine Pooley Ltd, her eponymously named company comprising a design studio which engages in architectural and interior design, product design and property development, Pooley oversees a team of 47 architects and interior designers. She also operates a boutique located in South Kensington in London which sells home décor accessories and objects d’art handpicked by Pooley from her travels abroad as well as those which she personally designs. A flagship showroom in Doha completes her portfolio of ultimate designer living.
LM. How did you start your business in interior design?
KP: My stepmother, Lyn Pooley was an interior designer and we lived in a big house in English when I was growing up and I remember it always looked beautiful. She was very good at being a homebody and was an excellent mother. She was a consummate hostess and entertained lavishly. She taught me a lot. When I took a year off from work when I was living in Singapore, I started designing my friends’ homes and I also started designing home accessories and from there I decided to open a home accessories shop in London. One day the former owner of Harrods Mohamed Al-Fayed came into my shop and asked me to design his home and that’s how I got started.
LM: You have had a varied and illustrious career before becoming an interior designer, tell us about it.
KP: I began my career working in advertising with J. Walter Thompson in London. Then I went to work in a company called Drake as a head hunter after which I left for Hong Kong to work as a banker in Morgan Stanley before founding Katharine Pooley Ltd and becoming an interior designer.
LM: What was your first recollection of noticing something beautiful in a home?
KP: I remember my mother taking me to Blenheim Palace and I thought that was the most beautiful thing I ever laid my eyes on! I was obsessed with the fabrics on the walls and the four-poster beds. But I think I was born with expensive tastes. I don’t think you can be taught to have good taste. It’s something inborn and in your soul.
LM: What’s the first thing you think of when you set out to design a home?
KP: First of all, it about the location of the home followed by the person and their lifestyle. Also, I need to get to know them personally – whether they are married or single, do they have kids, do they like entertaining at home and partying etc.
My job is to interview them and listen to them carefully. That’s where the skills I picked up as a head-hunter comes in useful. I really have to get to know my clients very well before I design a home for them. This also applies to my corporate clients like hotels. I recently designed a hotel in China (The Cachet Boutique Zhejiang Circuit located in Shaoxing) for a client of mine who is in his thirties. He loves racing and so we decided to incorporate racing elements in the furniture and pool and he loved it so much, he didn’t change a thing.
LM: Is it always what the client wants which take precedence or is it a compromise between you and the client?
KP: That’s a very good question. Generally speaking, what the client wants, we deliver. But in the case where they want something which we think might not work, I say to them that I hear what they say and want but as a professional, it’s my job to tell them how it will look or some eventuality how it may not work.
A good example is quite recently one of my clients wanted to put his kids’ room on the first floor and his own bedroom on the second floor. I subtly said to him that it wasn’t a very good idea as the children could access the terrace (not the safest place for children to play) and secondly he was very tall and the height of the second-floor bedroom wasn’t as high as the first floor. I made these suggestions and he loved the idea.