The celebrated South African-born British interior designer takes us through her London home and talks about her preferred style of decorating, which incorporates a blend of East-meets-West accents, a neutral palette and an overarching sleekness that has since become her signature
(Sept 9): Tell us how you discovered the space for your London home.
My London home is an old converted auction house. I’d lived in a townhouse before — narrow and spread across many floors. It was not ideal for our type of living. As soon as we walked in, we knew the space had something special about it. It was entirely derelict at the time, but we immediately knew it was what we were looking for. It seems crazy but that is why I do what I do! It had everything I wanted and more, and I was stunned that this kind of space existed in London at all. Firstly I planned, as I do with all of my projects. I looked at the grid, the zones and the flow of the space.
In total, the project took a year and three months to complete, and the property size is 7,000 sq ft. As with every project, there are challenges and this is something to embrace and take on positively. One aspect we noticed quite early on that required careful consideration was the huge columns that are the core of the structure. These keep the whole building up, so it was paramount to keep them where they were.
What was your initial brief to the architect?
It was a team effort as we have architects here at Kelly Hoppen Interiors. As mentioned, the space was derelict and looked like a run-down warehouse when we first walked in. It was literally rubble, but we knew it was something very special. The volume of light and the sheer amount of space are very difficult to find, especially in London. I really loved it.
It looks seamless and expansive.
I must admit I really adore the open-plan living area. It has always been my absolute dream to find a space like this, which, let me tell you, is not easy in London! I have always been a big fan of open-plan areas as they create such scope for flowing design and the light is usually fantastic. And I absolutely love our bedroom — it just has the perfect comfortable feel to it, with massive glass windows that give a great view over the main space of the house.
I am known for my neutral palette and signature style of clean lines and layering different finishes — for over 40 years now. So it is only natural that our own home is designed this way. The sleek geometric floor at the entrance is made of marble and reinforces the grid design. Overall, the idea was to make a statement entrance that aligned with the black-and-white photograph that hangs in the entryway.
Your home spans two levels and has six bedrooms. Where are your preferred spots for relaxing?
The entire space is special to me, but specifically I would have to highlight the living area. It is a true haven — made for entertaining! We have these gorgeous sofas that are piled high with luxurious linens and pillows, providing ultimate comfort after a long day. The TV room is wonderful, it’s just so cosy and we do love a TV boxset. I also adore my walk-in wardrobe; fashion is a big love of mine.
The dining area looks particularly marvellous.
I designed most of the furniture in our home. The pendant light above the dining table, for instance, took six months to produce, and is perfectly aligned with the 6m stone table. I wanted something showing some movement without fighting with the lights above the dining table. The glass bubbles are almost floating and create a balance in the main space. They were designed to be see-through, so as not to disrupt the impressive view.
By having more height under the ceiling, we emphasised the vertical lines of the concrete columns. We created some wooden arches to light them up and added some monumentality to the main space. We balanced this huge volume by lowering the lights above the seating area and the dining table. The long marble ledge is the continuity of the entrance step that folds back against the facing wall and runs all along it. It even continues into the study, which is on the other side of the open space. This is a great architectural feature that creates display, depending on my mood of the season. My dining table is certainly a key piece in my home. It fits 28 people comfortably and allows me to throw the most wonderful dinner parties. We try to do this once a month as there is no better feeling than having all of your family and friends over.
How do you balance the aesthetic and practicality?
My aesthetic is all about clean lines, harmony and classic, timeless design. My colour scheme is always neutral. I use a lot of whites, greys, beiges... and taupe is my absolute favourite! I find these colours incredibly soothing and harmonious and they are the perfect base for any design. I never compromise practicality when designing — the two qualities, aesthetic and practicality, go hand in hand. For instance, I always add a chair to the bathrooms I design, as I know that people spend precious time in that room, and there should be a practical, comfortable option.
Wallpaper versus paint. Your thoughts?
Wallpaper is very in. There are incredible textures and it is a very economical thing to do. Wallpaper is and should be a wonderful luxurious piece of texture that draws you in but, at the same time, serves as a backdrop to whatever style you want in any space.
However, I also love paint! It is a classic option and can be very subtle and sophisticated. I always start with my neutral base, and I build on that. At present, white is a favourite of mine. I do love to complement my calming and neutral shade palette with great accents of colour, which can also transform a room.
Flowers versus cacti and succulents. What are your all-time favourites and what will feature in your home this summer? And what are your thoughts on faux flowers/plants for the home?
Flowers are a terrific way of bringing life and colour into your home. Bringing nature into the home is absolutely key. I love organic trees that grow indoors to bring a little oxygen into the home and also some life! Retro plants, palm trees and rubber plants are huge, very 1960s. My
new favourites at the moment are bonsai trees — I can’t get enough of them.
How often do you move things around or make changes to the décor?
I like to experiment with my style within our own home and usually change everything every few years. It would need to evolve as I do. But with my schedule as busy as it is, it does not change that often.
What has been your latest acquisition for the home?
My very own limited edition “Mickey by Kelly” lifestyle Mickey sculpture has arrived! It’s a 140cm sculpture that is in my neutral colour palette — taupe and black with a touch of gold on Mickey’s ears. I was so delighted when it arrived!
Tell me a little about your collection of artworks and photography.
In our entrance hall, I have these two fantastic photographs. One is of Marilyn Monroe that was taken by Gene Korman and the other is this stunningly imposing photo of Mohamed Ali by Flip Schulke. I’ve been collecting art and photographic pieces for years now, so it’s great to be able to bring them into this fabulous new space. One of my favourite pieces is a huge Peter Beard picture of a black-maned lion, which the photographer did specially for me. It boasts all of his usual trademarks; it’s primarily black and white but has flashes of colour. It hangs in our dining room and looks fantastic.
The life-size Welcome Mickey sculpture is by Leblon Delienne. I have been an admirer of Juliette de Blegiers, the CEO of Lebon Delienne, for years and bought one of her pieces a few years ago. More recently, I collaborated with Leblon Delienne and customised the iconic Disney character for its 90th anniversary! I have done a select few collaborations with Disney this past year for this special occasion.
Why do you think it is important to have a beautiful home to return to at the end of each day?
Our home is elegant and luxurious, but it also very relaxed and meant to be lived in, which is so important for me. I adore the enormous love seats in the television room and could spend hours there watching old movies. A home is a place to rebalance your body and soul. You must feel at ease and at one, and I most certainly do here.
For people looking to instantly uplift their living spaces, what advice would you give?
Be passionate and be fearless but, as I always say, do not overdo trends. Keep things individual and classic because it is not about how much you have, but about how happy and comfortable you are. As a basic guide, three things to keep in mind when designing any space are: texture, colour and proportion. These keep harmony in a space.
Also, take your time. People often rush into styles or designs because they see a trend, or flick through pages of magazines and see the same styles over and over again. Do not be fooled. A style is individual and should be crafted to suit you. Use mood boards and Pinterest and whatever you can to layer colours, textures and designs and then sit with them for a while.
You also mentioned once that your dream house would be by the sea. Can you describe your vision of it?
It has to be by the sea; I have to hear the sea, see it, walk along it, smell it, everything! My dream house abroad is one that I’m currently designing — in my head. The whole house would be, literally, creased loose covers, with massive, comfortable seating. It is incredibly basic and that’s probably because the way I live is so organised. The outside has to have an amazing infinity pool with big cabanas, lots of shade and palm trees everywhere, and massive plantation shutters. I want to walk through the house and for it to feel like you’re inside a breeze. Alas, I am still dreaming!
Diana Khoo is editor of the Options desk at The EdgeMalaysia.