Many people can claim that Mohamed Al Fayed is their number one client. But interior design The traveler Catherine Pooley started as she intended to continue. “People would always come to my house and ask me where I bought certain things, and they wanted me to help them design their homes. Interior design just solved me, the opposite,” she was pondering over the phone, during quarantine in Kuwait at the time of this interview. “She started at the top, that’s for sure. But it just felt so normal.”
Born in Hertfordshire, educated in Oxfordshire and France, and then mostly raised in Bahrain (followed by 16 in Asia), Polly’s projects range in size and style from traditional country estates to contemporary homes to luxury hotels and spas to beach villas to mansions, castles, ski chalets and planes. and yachts. her name Knightsbridge Established over 15 years ago on Walton Street, the design studio sells adorable pieces from its extensive travels, including home décor that ranged from console tables and bedside lamps to sculptures, crystals, and art objects.
A scan through Polly’s online interior design portfolio and the heavy coffee table book I’ve just published with luxury French publishing house Assouline, a journey by design, She asserts that not only has she captured the family motto—”try and you will succeed”—but she has captured it from the centuries and ran with it. “As in any profession, every project is a learning curve,” says Polly. “You build, you learn, you build, you learn. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor or an interior designer, we all learn as we go forward.”
Polly and her team recently completed a country house show in Notting Hill, a two-fronted Victorian villa from the 1850s that has been extended to include three underground vaults. It only took five months to complete (“We signed the client on March 21, the day Boris put us all on ban”), largely coordinated via Zoom, followed by a very socially distant installation. Quite rightly, Paul is somewhat proud of what he has been able to achieve. “It just goes to show that a lot can be done from home. We just tried to stay positive and keep working no matter what.”
Pooley worked closely with the client – an international professional couple in their late twenties – to create an ultra-luxurious yet contemporary interior that highlights the property’s classic architecture. Filled with massive artwork, alabaster chandeliers, and carved furniture throughout, the client’s discerning love of color is palpable. From layers of cobalt and azure in the living room, to tones of burnt orange and deep burgundy in the dining and living room, canary yellow, lapis lazuli, lapis, teal, emerald, and deep purple span each of the seven bedrooms. Two motion-sculpted tumblers are suspended above the picturesque pool in the basement, while a “living” green garden wall provides a serene backdrop to the home spa.
Polly and her team have just completed a beautiful home in South Kensington, transforming the formerly dark property into a light-filled family home. Notable features include a wine cellar, enclosed garden terrace, and orangery-style living room. Beautiful fabrics, hand-painted wallpaper, and mementos from the family’s history and travels add layers of meaningful detail.
“For me, it’s all about personalization,” says Polly, from creating certain pieces to reflect the client’s personality and interests, to writing mono elements you never thought possible. We discuss a recent installation, inside a race car-style hotel in China (complete with a private racetrack), where I ordered a coffee table sculpted from a wrecked race car. “I don’t have a signature style much because my business is about the client and not me. Personalization is something we’re seeing more and more of, and I imagine it will continue.”
Having spent more time at home than ever in the past two years, you’d think Katherine would be all for a patriotic home decor update. But quite the opposite. “Directions are like torches — they come in and then come right back out. It’s all about timelessness and quality.” However, after a push, I settled on one surefire trend for 2022—and no, it’s not a houseplant—but sustainability. I’m amazed that the nature of her job is mostly to “gain more stuff”, but Polly assures me that it can still be done in a sustainable way, most of the time.
“I always try to convince my clients to stop destroying property right away. Even if it is something as small as a wooden wardrobe structure, many things can be reused.”
Other ways you strive to be as environmentally conscious as possible include using local artisans – whether they’re in Cape Town, Hong Kong or Dubai – and choosing chemical-free, sustainable paints, wallpapers and fabrics. “I definitely feel like the trend is to try and I just need less stuff in general. In 2021 we were all stuck at home, so people wanted to change things up. I think in 2022 people are going to hold on to pennies a lot more, even at the top. Should. We all have less than that.”
Ironically, Polly would prefer her home (her main property in Oxfordshire at least) not to be “too interiorly designed”. “That sounds horrible from an interior designer, doesn’t it?!” She laughs, as we discuss the impossible task of keeping the house looking pristine with young children and messy couples. People say she’s beautiful, but she’s definitely not perfect. My living room looks like a playroom, but I try not to get too nervous about it.” Her Devon and Lake District vacation homes are, as Polly admits, “perfectly decorated”—before anyone arrives to spoil them, I suppose.
“For me, the design of these estates depends very much on their use: one is a beach property, one is a walk. I love cooking, so my kitchens are made for me: I have a small drawer under the sink for all my fabrics because I hate taking them out. I have a toaster drawer for my children’s butter toast …we have all become more personal in our ideas about design.”
Shortly before we spoke, Kuwait had just reopened its borders, and Polly was one of the first to land, eager to finish a project she had started nearly two years ago. I asked her how to find her current mandatory quarantine? “I actually quite enjoy the peace and quiet,” she says. That may be true, but you suspect it won’t last for long once Polly is allowed out of her hotel room.
Read more: In conversation with interior designer Beata Heuman