On Tuesday 29th November, the V&A’s Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre was jam-packed. An audience of 95% women in their middle thirties, with occasional male heads popping up in an ocean of blondness. Everyone was there to see, listen to, and be inspired by interior designer Kelly Hoppen. ‘Interior designer’ is reductive. Kelly is an entrepreneur, author, tv celebrity and educator. And indeed, a creative and optimism-infusing personality.
In the interview with Michelle Ogundehin (Editor-in-Chief, ELLE Decoration UK), Kelly came across as self-confident, enthusiastic, passionate. Her love for what she does was palpable, as she told the story of her 16-year-old self being asked to design a family friend’s kitchen. She embraced the first commission of her career with her characteristic enthusiasm, and never looked back since. She combines her inexhaustible energy to what appears from the outside as a truly design-focused mind. She described her innate ability to design a room when she sees it – ability which she finds difficult to ‘switch off’ when she goes to friends’ houses! This she couples with a capability to understand people’s tastes and thoughts, which makes her a sort of ‘interior psychologist’. She claimed that her ultimate goal is to create a sense of home in people’s houses, which is different for everyone and yet something we all yearn for in the place we live in.
Barkl Virgin House, interior design by Kelly Hoppen
However, she is the sort of person who never compromises. Self-assured and assertive, Kelly is always happy to meet the client’s requests, but without ever losing her signature style. Author of the book ‘East Meets West: Global Design for Contemporary Interiors’ (1997), Kelly has a remarkable and unique way of bringing her personality into what she does. Adjectives like warm, opulent, grandiose, visionary, comfortable, fluid, relaxing, neutral, quirky all appear to the spaces she has been designing in the past 40 years. During the interview, pictures of her projects kept sliding in the background, some of which where absolutely jaw-dropping. What I particularly loved was the incredible mixture of textures, from wood to marble, to wood, to glass, and the way they seemed to blend in harmonious shapes in the easiest of ways.
Kelly Hoppen in conversation by Michelle Ogundehin
In addition, although she maintains that taupe is her favourite colour, she does sometimes ‘do colour’. She explained that she likes colour ‘as an accent’. Colour is an option, an addition, an extra spark, something that may or may not be there. Colour is like make up, it is not vital, but still appreciable, and should be reserved for special occasions (well, special commissions). What matters more for Kelly are textures, lines, lights, feelings. She opened my eyes on the endless possibilities design offers, as well as on the multiplicity of dimensions there are to it: a space can be ‘filled’ in a thousand different ways.
Finally, it was fascinating to hear about the way she runs her business. She channels her drive and positivity into her (very successful) business, but running it would not be possible without her employees. The most important thing in any business, she claimed, is communication, and making sure everyone is taking care of their tasks, leaving at the same time them the space to grow and flourish. Telling people that they are good is also crucial, and sadly too easily forgotten. Moreover, she likes to manage things in a fluid, rather than compartmental way. Following inspiration wherever it takes her, she goes from sofas to candles, to perfumes, to plants, to gardens, to terraces, to armchairs. Everything for her is a source of inspiration, so the challenge is to fuel this flow of creativity into concrete objects and (literally) measurable projects. But this, the interview made clear, is what constitutes her pure passion, allowing her create amazing interiors in her unmistakable style.