South-African born Kelly, 61, has been taking the design world by storm for more than 40 years. One of her first books, East Meets West, was a runaway success when it was published in 1997 and she has since written eight others. Her signature style involves clean lines and neutral shades – so much so that she has been dubbed the “queen of taupe”.
The Queen awarded her an MBE in 2009 for services to design and a CBE in 2020 for her work in helping to promote British creativity, business and commerce.
Among the thousands of projects she has undertaken are commercial properties, private homes, superyachts, private jets and five-star hotels. She has appeared on television and was a Dragon in BBC’s Dragons’ Den for two years.
We caught up with her to ask how her many projects are going, where she would like to work next and how she copes with her busy working life.
How have you been spending lockdown? Has it been full-on?
KH: It’s been horrible for so many of us. In terms of business though, we’ve never been busier. In the past nine months I’ve been recruiting new staff, that’s how busy. We have a very global business, running anything from 30-48 projects at one time. I have worked solidly, but I was prepared because I watched the news the whole time. My office thought I was mad, but six weeks before lockdown I was ready to have everyone work remotely.
I’m a worker. I get up every morning at 5.45am, make hot-water and lemon, have my coffee, do foreign emails and then I go to the gym every morning. Even in lockdown I do that. I get dressed and go into my office at home and work from there as if it was a day’s work. It’s the only way I know to get through this.
Have you made adjustments to your home during covid?
KH: We moved into another home in the country just after covid struck, so we’re very fortunate to have this retreat. But really our home in London was already set up in a way. Because I’ve worked in Asia for so many years and due to my client’s requirements, we’re very aware of hygiene, so there was nothing that we had to do at home.
The only thing I would say is that I tidied every single cupboard – everything! Got rid of stuff and gave loads away to charity – it was a massive clear out.
You’ve been giving style tips to the public on Instagram. Are there any trends because of covid?
KH: I was also giving advice on the TV show This Morning [UK TV show] from home as well. On Instagram, my advice was mainly based on how people compartmentalise their homes when there are parents with kids and they’re home-schooling as well as working. That’s where the whole zoning thing comes in – practicality, how you do it stylishly: storage, creating areas, maybe changing lighting.
People are spending money on their homes. We’ve spent years being away from them – travelling and eating out, so if there’s a silver lining, we’re all looking at what we have and making it better.
And there’s the hygiene thing – when you come into your home in Asia and maybe in the Middle East, people take off their shoes. We don’t do that in the UK. You need to think of having areas next to your entrance where you can wash your hands and you have masks or gloves to take in packages. This is a way of life now. So I think it will inevitably become incorporated into design.
Is there anywhere or anything that you’d like to design that you haven’t designed yet?
KH: I would love to do a hotel of difference in Saudi. I would love to do something that I believe is my style for which I know there would be a market. I like to do things that are a challenge – perhaps a retreat or something in the desert. I’d love to design a train. I’ve done planes, ships, cruises, everything – I haven’t done a train. Those are probably the last things on my bucket list. I wanted to work in Australia and we signed that up in the lockdown, so I’m putting it out there – maybe.
What motivates you after more than 40 years of success? Do you still find fresh challenges?
KH: Yes. I’m a typical Leo – if I don’t have a challenge in a day, I’m bored. I have a visual mind, being very dyslexic, so everything is a pattern to me and I still write down notes and I manage it like a Rubik’s Cube. I’m a very positive person.
If you believe in yourself, stand with your head high, do all the right things, speak correctly to people and have that tone, you can pretty much succeed at everything. I don’t agree with people going into meetings already putting up a façade saying: I’m a woman in business, therefore it’s going to be tough – because I believe then it will be.
I’m still passionate about what I do. I love design, I love the fact that I have this incredibly useful, brilliant team beneath me who are my glue, they’re my soldiers. If I didn’t have the passion, I wouldn’t do it anymore. We’re about to sign something very big in the Middle East and it’s an amazing project. It’s because the synergy is right and it works for us.
What is the secret to your success?
KH: I don’t like to lose, I like to win. I’ve always believed in what I’ve done and I’ve created a style out of nothing but my imagination. When people say to me that I became famous so quickly – I say: “No, this has been a hard slog,” but I was determined and I enjoy the success. I don’t mean that financially. Of course that’s lovely, but it’s more about what you get from it.
What’s your starting point, when you have a blank slate for your own home?
KH: It’s the same as if I’m doing it for someone else, it’s just a feeling and there’s always something that you see there. For me it was the scale, so in my home it was just a big wall and staircase that I sketched first and from there it took off. I love to collect art and photography, so it was very gallery-like. I design to music – any kind of motown, soul or jazz – so once the music is on, it just kind of happens and the next thing I know it’s done.
If somebody were embarking on a project, how would you suggest they start?
KH: Get a designer – it’s a nightmare! You sometimes need professionals. If it’s somebody doing something themselves, then we constantly put up tips on our Instagram feed. And planning; lots of planning!
I just released a book, Kelly Hoppen’s Essential Style Solutions for Every Home, which gives Clear and easy-to-follow advice on the first principles of style, including tones and colour, texture, light and finishing touches. Whether you’re a young professional renting an apartment, a first-time homebuyer or an experienced homeowner who wants to restyle your home, this book is a go-to bible to help you create a beautiful, functional and relaxing home that suits your individual needs and reflects your personality.
Everyone is thinking about being eco-friendly – is that becoming more important in design?
KH: Absolutely! I saw Sir David Attenborough talking on the news and he said if we don’t do something then we’ll be in big trouble – we are in trouble. We have to protect the Earth. People are not going to stop building, but we have to be more aware of being sustainable and how we electrify our homes and what materials we use. I learn every day. We have to.
- Kelly Hoppen’s Essential Style Solutions for Every Home is out now from Amazon