Meeting International Interior Designer, Kelly Hoppen

04.10.15

She’s the interior designer to the stars and making her mark as the new Dragon in the Den. So what’s next for the UK’s favourite style-guru, Kelly  Hoppen? Laura Henderson catches up with her in London to find out.

For many top-name designers, the climb-back to economic solvency has brought its share of unedifying commissions. For South-African born interior designer Kelly Hoppen, however, it’s a “gift opportunity” she’s relishing with gusto. One of the UK’s best-loved style gurus, with a who’s who client list including the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and the Beckhams, adapting to changing client needs and trends is just another “twist in the career tale” of creating inspirational relevant design, one that Kelly has grafted hard for since she was 16. “The current recession has been a wake-up call in so many ways,” she says. “The overriding difference this time round however, has been its global impact. Before, we could rely on other countries to chip in and help out, but now everyone is affected. But it has flushed out a lot of the bad – and it’s certainly making people more aware of what and how they spend. I geared up for the worst, months before the downturn hit – doing so has put me in a stronger position whereby I can now evaluate every project I take on, and secure competitive prices from builders and other suppliers.”

It’s this focused, pragmatic approach that has seen Hoppen sail through a stellar career spanning over 30 years. While her designs are known for their simplicity and quality, her entrepreneurial spirit and self-starting ambition she attributes largely to her mother. “She came from a wealthy background, but her dynamic, creative personality was such that she launched herself into business from an early age – first by selling maps of Africa and then on building a hugely successful business specialising in books. Later on she branched out into running an art gallery. Throughout my career, I’ve sought her advice – she’s very focused and determined. I’ve learnt from her that problems always have a solution if you give yourself time to reflect on them. It’s a philosophy I always try and adopt in the work place.”

Hoppen’s trademark style using light, space and texture she puts down to the need to “engender good feelings about one’s living environment”, while her aesthetic sense revealed through her signature use of neutral shades of taupe, stone, and wood, is key to “creating harmony.” “My signature colour theme has always been muted,” she explains. “I find white walls and neutrals are more restful, but they’re also a great base from which to accent a home with furniture and accessories.” Trends, she adds, come and go. “To a large extent they’re a way of making people part with their hard earned money when they don’t need to, which in the current climate makes no sense. Instead, it’s far better to save for one or two quality pieces that will stand the test of time and experiment with colour with interchangeable accessories.”

But while modern day designs feature heavily in her style bible, embracing elements from the past carry equal weight: “Go back a few decades and homes were created over years and years, layered with patience and love. Today we expect to make one instantly. One of the best things ‘a client can ever say to me is, “you have created something for me that feels as though I have been here all my life,” and I think perhaps that ability goes directly back to my grandmother’s home Stone House outside Cape Town.

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It was a very traditional home with log fires, antique heirlooms and lots of rich fabric and upholstery coverings – leather and suede and chenille – all of which have influenced my own style journey. But what really added volume to my creative leanings were the aromas - the smell of coffee for one, which my grandma stored in a cedar chest in the hall. I can still visualise the bay seat in the drawing room where she would patiently teach me to crochet, sweets kept in big jars and Ella, the cook, baking delicious chocolate cakes.”

Moving from Cape Town to Chelsea at the age of two with her parents and older brother, Michael, Kelly’s insight into home styling has always been frontline: “One of my favourite pastimes was viewing show homes with my mother.” By 17 she was designing bachelor pads for the actor Martin Shaw and other celebrities. “I was lucky and after that first celebrity client, word of mouth grew.”

Now over three decades in the business, travelling and experiencing new cultures infusing her Western interiors with objects chosen with an Eastern philosophy, makes her a master of visual yin-yang. Pinning down the defining elements of design isn’t a hard task she explains: “Luxury, balance and a sense of being at one with the natural and organic world, is a good start,” she reflects. “I love taking antique and vintage finds and placing them against the clean lines of stark contemporary pieces. You take what is safe and then add a twist to it. It rejuvenates both your home and you as a person.”

Project wise, diversity has defined the last decade. The Kelly Hoppen Emporium in Chelsea opened in 2002 and is a lifestyle boutique brimming with her own products, decorative objects of modern and bohemian styles. In spring 2009, she brought together her design studio, shop and design school in a beautiful mews building in Notting Hill known as ‘The Yard’, creating a one-stop shop for her customers’ needs. Her ranges for outlets such as QVC, Earth Couture and Graham and Brown span rugs, fabrics, bed linen and furniture, while her ever-expanding list of commercial commissions runs the gamut from the luxury Murmuri boutique hotel in Barcelona and Gary Rhodes exclusive restaurant Rhodes W1 in London, to the First Class cabins of British Airways. 2008 remains her “pinnacle year”. Her design empire saw huge revenues and she received an MBE for services to the industry.

As to keeping momentum going, she laughs: “I’m spontaneous by nature and always on the lookout for new challenges – Dragons’ Den being one. The moral of that is to trust your first instincts; they often remain true, though it’s difficult to remember that when you’re up to your eyes in a project. Above all else, what I’ve learned over the years is how to manage choice. There are so many great products and ranges out there that it’s easy to lose one’s way – people think they can have it all. My job as a designer is to coax my clients this way and that. You can love a million different styles, but the only way to get a look right is to edit it down and down. With discipline and forethought you can create your own dream too.”

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