The Queen of Taupe
By Shelley M. Black
With more than 40 years at the forefront of the design industry, London-based Kelly Hoppen MBE is one of the most celebrated and sought-after interior designers in the world. As a teenager, it was her relentless passion for design that kick-started her iconic career. Her first commission, to design a family friend’s kitchen, was the start of an incredible career that has included an award from the Queen, numerous home furnishing and accessories lines, books and even an appearance on Dragon’s Den. Architectural Digest has called her the “Queen of Taupe.” We asked Kelly if she still sees the world in neutral palettes.
Q) You’re known for having started designing at the age of 16. Are you still easily inspired?
Kelly: Having been in the design industry for more than four decades now, I’m still as excited about design as I was when I first started. My design ethos has always remained the same because trends aren’t something I have ever relied on. Clean lines, neutral colour palettes and harmonious design create that timeless, luxury feel of my projects.
Over the years, I have travelled the world and been fortunate enough to be inspired by the wonderful people, cultures and designs I’ve discovered. These experiences have contributed to my projects. Travel is, by far, still my most inspiring tool.
Q) Do you approach each new design project in the same way?
Kelly: Every assignment is different, and every single day is non-stop from the moment I wake up. I love and am proud of what I do, so it’s easy to put all my effort into it. I work equally hard on everything. From my interior projects to my products and collaborations, they’re all so different and unique.
Q) How can I make my home my own?
Kelly: Be passionate and fearless—but, as I always say, don’t overdo trends. Keep things individual and classic. It’s not about how much you have, but about how happy and comfortable you are with the space you live in.
Q) What sort of design projects interest you the most right now?
Kelly: We have many brilliant commercial and private projects on the go. My portfolio varies from private homes to yachts, jets and luxury resorts all over the world. I am now enjoying focusing on some unique commercial projects, including hotels (my most recent being LUX* Grand Gaube), bars, restaurants, offices and tower blocks.
Q) Of all the incredible things you have done and achieved in your career, your appearance in the Ab Fab movie caught my eye. What are your own personal highlights?
Kelly: I have had some incredible moments in my career, but my proudest so far was receiving an MBE from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 2009 for services to the interior design industry.
Otherwise, as a designer, it’s always amazing when you’re working on something that’s conceptually unusual. For instance, working with Celebrity Cruises was revolutionary for me because I was invited to redesign the entire ethos of ocean luxury. We wanted to capture the escapism of a sea voyage and the sense of being on a cruise, whilst also providing the kind of urban luxury you can find in Miami or Hong Kong.
Another completely unique project was redesigning the first-class cabins for British Airways. Again, it was about working with a quite different, constrained space and transforming it into something beautiful, comfortable and luxurious. I had to consider weight, space and safety in completely new and unexpected ways. It challenged some preconceived notions of luxury and design, and forced a delightfully unexpected outcome.
Q) How has new media changed the design world?
Kelly: Technology is a huge part of modern life and has made it much easier to reach millions of people in a very affordable way. My Design Masterclass, for example, is a unique platform that is available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku, as well as online. It comes with a branded app so you’re able to switch between devices and carry on from where you left off—which is extremely handy when you’re on the go or travelling!
Having access to the internet means that anyone interested in design—no matter what their level of experience—can gain immediate insight into the design world, what it has to offer and how it can change their lives. Online platforms such as Pinterest allows homeowners to really explore and form their own unique style; they can see how to layer colours, experiment with textures and explore a variety of furnishing options. I think this helps people to build confidence in their ability and designs, while keeping things personal.
Being present across a variety of media platforms allows me to feel closer to my customers and fans; I’m fortunate to have a very loyal online community. With access 24/7, it also means that I can have direct dialogue and feedback from people from around the world, which is really encouraging for me and my work!
Q) Tell us about a project that you’re in the midst of working on.
Kelly: Over the last couple of years, I have really had a lot of fun creating my furniture ranges and finding ways to layer textures and colours, which has become a big part of my lines. My instinct told me to do it and now, in 2018, it’s worked out well. It’s a trend!
Q) You’ve got many product lines, your design business, your Master-classes, your books. Is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t yet? Are there clients that you would like to work for?
Kelly: I would love to design a luxury train. It would be an exciting challenge to create that degree of comfort in a small space. There are of course challenges with every project and this is something to embrace and take on positively. This sort of project would provide a great sense of achievement and such a challenge is vital for any designer to grow and learn.
Q) What current design trends do you love?
Kelly: Trends will always fade. Quite frankly, what’s in vogue has really been replaced by an absolute freedom to do what you like. My style is timeless, and that is the sense that I want to create within every single project I take on. I find it rather invigorating and refreshing to see such a huge variety of colours, textures, shapes and sizes in today’s fashion and design. Using different shades of woods, especially darker wood tones to create retro glamour through furniture and finishings, seems to be growing more popular, as well as a focus on a variety of textures and finishes. Raw materials such as rattan and wicker create a handmade feel that is also irresistible.
Q) Are you still the “Queen of Taupe” or does colour interest you more now?
Kelly: Since the beginning of my career, I’ve been known for my love of neutral colour palettes. They’re central to my design philosophy, which always results in fantastically elegant and timeless spaces. Now, however, I do love to complement neutrals with great accents of colour, which can transform a room and change the mood.
Q) What’s your favourite room in your own home?
Kelly: I love my whole house, but I really adore the open-plan living area. It was always my absolute dream to find a space like this and, let me tell you—it’s not easy in London! My home is designed around four enormous arches, which really give structure to the space, and the light is fantastic. My bedroom also has the most perfect comfortable feel to it, and a great view out over the main area of the house.
Kelly recently collaborated with Tess Daly to launch their limited edition TRUST candle, in aid of The Prince’s Trust. She is also an ambassador for Cool Earth, working alongside charity patron Dame Vivienne Westwood to help stop rainforest destruction and halt climate change.
Shelley Black’s career has spanned a unique range of editorial and corporate roles with Flare and Maclean’s. She enjoys writing about all forms of design.