Acclaimed British interior designer Katharine Pooley got a very early start with travel. Since both of her parents were avid pilots, they put her in their Cessna when she was two months old for her first international sojourn. Later, her mother steered her to attend university in France where she studied at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées de Lyon (INSA), thus setting the stage for a life of business and international travel. She was immersed in the French language while living with a family during her studies in France. Learning French proved to be an important asset for Katharine’s design work in France, and she fully appreciates the merits of learning foreign languages. In addition, though not yet fluent, she has made an effort to learn Mandarin and Arabic. Before embarking on her career as an interior designer, she worked in advertising, and banking. Katharine has lived extensively abroad in Hong Kong for sixteen years, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, and New York each for a year, and since 2006 she has been residing in the United Kingdom.
Katharine’s work is eclectic in scale, location and style - from a pocket-size painstakingly restored miner’s cabin in the Lake District in England, to the colossal Cachet Boutique Zhejiang Racetrack Hotel in Shaoxing, China - and - everything in between.
Traveling is essential to her business, and yet when she isn’t on a plane, her day is no less than action packed. She starts her day from her home in Oxfordshire with a grounding activity of tending to her plethora of animals, first by walking her three dogs, and then feeding twenty-two chickens and ducks, two guinea pigs, one cat, three dogs, and a couple of wild swans, all before dropping off her sons at school, and then driving to her office in London. She checks in with her design team of forty-seven architects, and interior designers both in London, and abroad. On a typical day, she may be working on a conceptual design of new projects, managing on-going ones, and meeting with clients, artists, and suppliers. Then it is back home to have dinner with her boys, followed by more work after dinner and perhaps enjoying a movie with her husband.
When Katharine isn’t working, she may be enjoying a countryside walk in the heavenly heather-clad hills around her home, Forter Castle in Scotland.
Katharine loves every minute of her life, and she has endless amounts of energy, and gratitude for the life she lives. This July I met up virtually with Katharine while she was at her coastal vacation home in Devon, England.
What are you working on now?
Several projects: I am working on a contemporary New York project overlooking Central Park; a quite incredible, historic Chateau beside Cannes in France: Château de la Croix des Gardes was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘To Catch a Thief’ with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, and we have been working flat out to completely reimagine the interior for our US-based client; several classic London townhouses; a timelessly elegant Connecticut family home; a beach villa in Sardinia; and we just finished a yacht; and an architecturally ‘wow’ ski Chalet in Zermatt.
What would you want to show me if I was with you in London or on the site of a current project?
I would take you to see my favourite statue in Hyde Park, the Peter Pan statue. There is also a chandelier we just installed in a project overlooking the park which was inspired in part by the dinosaur bones at the National History Museum. It’s extraordinary - twelve and a half meters long - and made up of 770 individual hand-crafted ribbed Bohemian crystal rods.
Is there a particular place in this world where the interior design is simply the best?
Paris and London, and Italy. They offer very different views of a similarly eclectic visual. I love the combination of mid-century antique furniture, old European antique furniture, large impactful art, and bespoke modern sculptural pieces that you find in Paris and London. They have the best galleries, furniture makers, and artists too, so everything is on your doorstep. That said, I love to look to more far-flung places like Japan for a fresh and interesting interior perspective.
What is your favorite flower?
Blue Delphiniums picked from my gardens.
Who is your favorite contemporary artist?
I like Ihwa Kim. She creates truly awe-inspiring sculptural, large-scale works. They add life and a beating heart to an interior, without completely dominating and overwhelming the space. Another favorite artist would be the British painter Brendan Burns. He is a bit of a little-known genius, paints the interior of English coastal rock pools in really textured impasto brush strokes, and his works are so serene and effortless. I adore them.
What is your greatest achievement?
Everyone says this but honestly, my children. I think they are amazing. I published a book with French publisher Assouline, which was a proud moment, as was being named British designer of the decade a couple of years ago. I am also very proud of my team; they are hand-picked and all brilliant.
Do you know how to fly planes like your parents?
I decided to get my helicopter license instead and add a different string to the family bow!
Do you have a favorite childhood memory?
That would have to be skiing on my father’s back at age three; no helmet, no poles, totally exhilarating and not really the done thing anymore!
Is there some place you haven’t been to that you would like to go to?
Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia. The marine life is said to be extraordinary and the scenery completely wild and unspoiled. The 1500 islands that make up the archipelago are sometimes called Indonesia’s ‘forgotten islands’.
Is there some place you’re longing to go back to?
Bhutan, it’s the most beautiful country.