Kelly Hoppen: “As a designer, you need to be ahead, no matter what”

The British interior designer discusses her Eastern influence, funk music and the importance of the home after a year of staying in.

Kelly Hoppen’s relationship with Eastern design began in a shop on Portobello Road, west London. “There was this old Chinese trunk – it was a deep oxblood red and I fell in love with it,” Hoppen recalls. “So I spent every penny in my pocket and bought it.”

This sparked the designer’s interest in her signature East-meets-West style. Hoppen explains how she pored over books on China in her local library, keen to understand the country. From there, her intrigue spread to Japan, Thailand and Asian design in general. “The minimalist serenity and linear lines brought a harmony and peace that resonated with me,” Hoppen says. “In the years that followed, I travelled to Asia often and felt that tranquillity and calmness with every visit.”

Hoppen (left) and her paint range with Lick

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Hoppen’s family relocated to London while she was young. After a brief return to Cape Town, during which she was arrested for mixing with black musicians under apartheid laws, Hoppen returned to London to focus on design. The interior designer has since become a household name, designing interiors for the likes of the Beckhams, starting her own design company and collaborating with high street stores. Last year, she received a CBE.

Her new book, Kelly Hoppen’s Essential Style Solutions for Every Home, promises to educate everyone from first-time buyers to renters on recreating Hoppen’s “much-imitated look” – one which many would associate with the colour beige. There’s good reason why she sticks to neutrals. “They are versatile, timeless and never go out of fashion,” Hoppen says. “I love to mix them in many tones to create different looks and incorporate different textures.”

Hoppen’s “open-minded” inspiration

Hoppen’s interior for the Lux Grand Baie hotel in Mauritius

Other design tips in the book point to her Eastern influence, such as incorporating symmetry into interiors. “My aesthetic is very much a timeless marriage of the sleek and simple yet luxurious lines of the West, with the texture, depth and richness of the East,” she explains. It’s not a surprise that travel has always been a source of inspiration for Hoppen. Her runners and bands for soft furnishings, for example, are inspired by Obi belts traditionally worn by Japanese women. She has also used storage jars found at Vietnamese markets as side tables. Her advice to designers seeking inspiration would be to stay “open-minded and sensitive to what’s around you”.

Travel has been a difficult for most people in the last year, and Hoppen believes her new book is well-timed for people in various stages of lockdown. “More so than ever before, our home is our sanctuary,” she says. “We live in a world that is constantly changing and very different from what we have been used to.”

Designers have had to adapt to these demands at a fast rate, according to Hoppen. In particular, she points to incorporating a work and leisure balance and modular solutions within domestic spaces. This is a sentiment shared by designers of all disciplines who have talked to Design Week over the past year; Google’s product lead Mark Spates discussed how technology could help with this shift while design director Ruth Wassermann also predicted a rise in modular furniture to account for people’s changing work and living needs. Designers even shared their tips on creating the best at-home offices.

Hoppen’s new book

What are future trends for interior design?

Throughout her career, Hoppen has collaborated with many design-led brands. One recent project was with paint company Lick, where Hoppen created “the perfect six neutral shades”. The designer has also partnered with Samsung on a bespoke refrigerator range. The fridges feature customisable modules and colours panels to suit people’s styles, which Hoppen says ties into the key trends of modularity and multi-functionality. “They allow you to change and adapt your living space, which obviously make even more sense in these post Covid working from home times,” she adds.

Less predictable collaborations have included Disney. In 2019, Hoppen redesigned the figure of Mickey Mouse in her black and beige colourway with a pair of golden ears. In the future, Hoppen has her eyes set on sound, and how it interacts with domestic spaces. “I feel this is an area that has not been tapped into but needs to be,” she says. “The home has a real connection in relation to what you hear.” Over the past year, she’s been working with a sound expert and learning the its role in curating home spaces. Meanwhile, music has always been a “huge source of inspiration” for Hoppen. “I always listen to soul, jazz and funk when I’m designing.”

Hoppen’s customisable fridge design

Hoppen has also designed retail and hospitality spaces, from luxury resorts to aircraft interiors for British Airways. 2019’s cruise ship Celebrity Edge featured 1,500 suites designed by Hoppen, where a base orange colour had to work with her neutral colour way. Her vision for such spaces is to recreate the feelings of her domestic interiors. “I always make sure to create an ‘at home’ feeling,” she says. “I think people want to feel comfortable whenever they are away from home.”

As the pandemic took hold last year, the cruise and hotel industry stalled. Now, as the sector returns, how might interiors change post-pandemic? “As a design company, we had already pre-thought many changes and put these in place, as many of our team see beyond and think of future visions,” Hoppen says. “As a designer, you need to be ahead, no matter what.”

Kelly Hoppen’s Essential Style Solutions for Every Home is published by Frances Lincoln and is available to purchase now at book shops.  

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