Ahead of her return to Hong Kong to judge the A&D Trophy Awards in November, much sought-after interior designer Katharine Pooley caught up with Perspective to talk about her globetrotting career and inspiration
British designer Katharine Pooley is at the peak of her career, drawing on a lifetime love of travel to add depth to her projects around the world. Cementing the huge contribution that travel has made to her design aesthetic, her eponymous company has launched its first book, Journey By Design, penned by interior design specialist Jennifer Goulding.
The volume, produced by upmarket publisher Assouline, showcases 19 diverse projects in Europe, the Middle East and South Africa. From a lavish pied-à-terre in London's Mayfair to a modern beach villa on Dubai's Palm Islands and the rustic charms of Forter Castle in Scotland, the projects are united by her love of colour, attention to detail and zest for travel. "My passion for travel stems from my parents; both my parents fly and my father has an aviation company. From the age of 14 days I was in the back of a Cessna," says Pooley, who has visited more than 150 countries.
She's always on the lookout for intriguing design elements. Travelling in Iran and Oman she was taken by the beautiful turquoise stones and drew on that for a private residence in Kuwait, incorporating antique turquoise cabinets into the home. And the central pillar in the same project drew on gemstones from Afghanistan. "When we walk around we tend to look down, but I'm always looking up and looking for inspiration," says Pooley, adding that she's been to fashion shows and left inspired with an idea for a cushion cover.
Trying to blend different cultures is fantastic. It's cross-pollinating; you are bringing in different elements – says Pooley
Raised in Scotland, she went to university in France and after graduation got a job as a headhunter in Hong Kong where she lived for 16 years. She has also lived in Singapore, Vietnam, New York and Australia, and credits her globetrotting life with giving her work a cross-cultural depth. "I'm very global. I moved to Singapore with my husband and we decided to buy four properties on four continents – I did them all up in a year. I realised I loved it and when we moved to England I opened a shop selling beautiful accessories from around the world," says Pooley.
That was 14 years ago. One of her first clients was Mohamed Al-Fayed, then owner of luxury department store Harrods. Her friends loved her design aesthetic and begged her to work her magic on their own homes. Her company handles some 40 projects a year, about 30 per cent of which are in Europe and the rest many in the Middle East. Increasingly, she says, in addition to designing the interiors her firm will also 'dress' the home. "Most clients have multiple homes and we will go in and do everything from bed linen to kitchenware. It's a big job. Most clients spend about £1 million to £1.5 million just on home dressing," says Pooley.
Having lived and worked around the globe, she has a good sense of what people want and their cultural sensitivities. "In India and the Middle East, they don't like carpets, they prefer marble floors because it's nice and cool. In the Middle East, they like brushed gold and in India they prefer brighter gold. The British prefer baths to showers," says Pooley.
But it's her appreciation of how to blend cultures which makes her especially in demand as a designer. The Americans, she says love British interiors and she is currently working on a private home in New York, incorporating antiques and British design elements into a contemporary apartment. "Chatsworth is a beautiful building in Upper West Side New York with high ceilings and beautiful cornices. We've got velvet on the walls and are designing door handles," says Pooley.
If her client has the time, she will also take them on a shopping spree to search for design inspiration and pieces that will make their home special. "Trying to blend different cultures is fantastic. It's cross-pollinating; you are bringing in different elements," says Pooley. When Sotheby's auctioned the personal collection of Deborah Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, who died in 2014, Pooley was there among the hundreds of collectors looking for a knockout piece for one of her clients.
For me it's also about the materials, the selection and the integration process, the design details
"I'm always looking at the Sotheby's and Christie's catalogues; it's fun," she says. In Hong Kong, she's currently working on a project for HKR International in Discovery Bay, designing the interior for one of four houses due for competition in 2019. "It has great views over to Hong Kong and will be modern contemporary – cool, eclectic," says Pooley. She is impressed with the design work coming out of Hong Kong, mainland China and Asia more broadly, and says she's long been an admirer of Hong Kong designer André Fu, particularly for his articulate sense of colour. She made her debut as a judge for Perspective's A&D Trophy Awards and is looking forward to being on the judging panel again in November.
"What I look for is a body of consistently good work, not just one project. I look at the size and consistency of the company, how they survived the recession. It's lovely when you can see how a company has evolved over the years. For me it's also about the materials, the selection and the integration process, the design details," says Pooley.
These are all elements you can see in her own work. The Forter Castle project, one of her most personal ventures – her father bought the castle in 1988 and passed it to her in 2003 – is all about attention to detail, a richly layered scheme blending antiques, oil paintings and fine wool fabrics.
From working on her own personal projects, Pooley has grown to be an international brand with clients around the world taking on domestic projects as well as commercial ones, including hotels (the Waldorf Astoria is in progress). It's a body of work that is only briefly glimpsed in Journey By Design. Perspective is delighted to have her back again as a judge. "It's lovely to see Asia taking on these awards," says Pooley. "I'm so looking forward to coming out to Hong Kong in November."