This Hotel Designer Turned Her Love For Travel Into A Career
In 2004, Katharine Pooley bought a little shop on Walton Street in London’s South Kensington, never dreaming that it would lead to her becoming one of the most revered British interior designers. Her unique ability to blend luxurious details with one-of-kind travel trinkets, has made her a firm favourite among well-heeled nomads seeking a sense of home.
Highlighting her extraordinary range, Pooley and her team recently completed a five-year renovation of The Clarence at St James House, one of London’s most distinguished addresses as well as the glamorous Cachet Boutique Zhejiang Circuit hotel in Shaoxing, China; all while adding the final touches to her own country cottage in Devon. Unfazed by scale, budget or geography, she travels all over the world working on up to 30 projects at a time, lending each one its own identity and character; a trait that she believes she developed during her 20 years as an expatriate.
To celebrate her voyage so far, Pooley has recently launched her first book with French publishing house Assouline, Journey By Design, which showcases just some of her work over the past 14 years.
You’ve lived in Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore—what keeps bringing you back to this part of the world?
Katharine Pooley Living in Singapore was one of the happiest times of my life—I was young, newly married with no children and I had so few responsibilities. It was also so green and safe and we had such a beautiful home that I can’t really resist coming back.
On a professional note, we’ve worked on a couple of projects here already but we fully intend to take Singapore by storm; so watch this space.
You began your career in finance. How did you make the transition to interior design?
KP I worked for Morgan Stanley for eight years, and my boss always used to say to me, “You should be an interior designer”. I think that was because I used to travel quite a lot and would always bring home trinkets that people would admire whenever they came over.
My husband and I then bought four houses around the world which I did up and when we moved back to London, I just thought I might have a little boutique on Walton Street to sell some home accessories; the rest is history.
You’re often working on dozens of concurrent projects around the world. How do you stay on top of everything?
KP Firstly, I’m very hands-on. I was also born with an amazing ability to remember the absolute tiniest detail. It’s a fantastic attribute to have and it means my staff know that they can’t get away with murder because I’ll never forget anything. I do a lot of to-do lists, even in the middle of the night.
I’m also very good at delegating, which is crucial in any business, and I have a very good team that have been with me for a very long time. My team of 47 staff members have all been trained by me and they are like clones of me. They’re very, very good.
What drives you?
KP Courage is your currency; vision, drive and determination are the three things that you need to keep moving forward. My father is very driven—he’s 84, has just been to New Zealand and he’s going back out to Australia for work next week.
I think some people are just born driven and I was definitely born with this hunger. It’s not a hunger for financial gain but for recognition. That said, I don’t want to be that person that just works and works and works to make more and more money—I think I just need to get to 60 or 65 and then I’ll stop.
(Related: Why You Need A Yoga And Mindfulness Retreat At The Real Shangri-La, China In 2019)
Courage is your currency; vision, drive and determination are the three things that you need to keep moving forward.
— Katharine Pooley
With everything that you’ve got going on, when do you find time for yourself and your family?
KP I’m a great believer in “work hard, play hard” and as a family we believe in great holidays. We plan well ahead and have a bit of a structure going now. In February, when it’s cold and miserable in the UK, we go abroad to seek out the sun, and in the summer we stay at home and make the most of sunny weekends.
My kids are very well-travelled now because every year we try and go somewhere that we’ve never been to before. I’m going to Denpasar, Bali, and they’re coming out to join me in Nihiwatu, which will be heaven.
(Related: First Look: The Louise Restaurant And Other New Projects Designed By André Fu In Hong Kong)