Katharine Pooley is the driving force behind the über-luxe design house Katharine Pooley Ltd. She’s taken on projects for the mega-rich across continents, in China and Doha, but is still bringing her unique finds back home to dress luxurious London properties – like this beautiful apartment on Cheyne Terrace in Chelsea…
Words: Madeleine Howell
‘It’s the finishes. The fabrics. You could go and get a fabric for £15 a metre, or you could get a fabric for £350 a metre. The luxury is in the materials – whether you’re having cashmere and silk or just wool, real leather or fake leather,’ says Katharine Pooley when I ask her how she goes about creating a sense of luxury.
‘It’s also in the joinery, incorporating bronze for example, or lots of detail,’ she adds. It’s subtle, then, I suggest, but makes all the difference. ‘Absolutely,’ she agrees. ‘It also needs to be practical. I have dogs and kids myself, which really helps me with design. It can often be about understanding real life and choosing things that are durable.’
Pooley strikes me as someone who revels in the finer things in life, and it shines through in her sumptuous choice of furnishings. At the same time, she’s utterly fearless and intrepid, and I’m amazed to discover she has visited more than 150 countries in her quest for unique pieces.
People always say to me, gosh, I love that, where’s it from? Ethiopia hass got amazing ceramics, similar to Iran. I’m always looking to bring back fascinating objects that people haven’t seen before. It’s just a habit that I’ve got, collecting belongings
‘People always say to me, gosh, I love that, where’s it from?’ she tells me. ‘I’ve been to Ethiopia, for example. Not many people have been to Ethiopia, but it’s got amazing ceramics, similar to Iran. I’m always looking to bring back fascinating objects that people haven’t seen before. It’s just a habit that I’ve got, collecting belongings.’ Her taste is eclectic, and she certainly has a sense of adventure, from crossing the Sahara on horseback to sledding in the North Pole.
Is this wanderlust combined with an appreciation for unusual pieces what led her into the design world? ‘Do you know, it’s quite weird,’ Pooley reflects. ‘I’ve always loved home. That’s “home” in brackets. I always have done. My stepmother was very good at designing a home and making it very beautiful. I’ve always appreciated beautiful things and on my travels I would spend my pocket money buying just one thing, so I could go home and talk about it.’
Pooley emphasises that she doesn’t have a particular style: it’s about each individual client as well as the property itself. ‘People these days will have French furniture in a very traditional house in London. It doesn’t have to be English for an English house. I love bringing in different tastes to tell a story. It’s not always all about me,’ she jokes. What are her favourite items at the moment? ‘There’s a tray brushed over in gold leaf with an antique mirror base from my boutique. I love cashmere throws, and Mario Cioni does beautiful glassware.’
These days, Katharine Pooley Ltd is taking on a number of projects overseas, in China and Doha, as well as London townhouses – not to mention sourcing and designing unique homeware for the boutique. ‘It’s exhausting!’ Pooley exclaims cheerfully. Even in her downtime, she can’t help but continue to be creative and think about design.
‘My husband despairs because I’m always tweaking things. This weekend was Mother’s Day. I had a cooked breakfast in bed with the kids and he was being brilliant. But, of course, I just wanted to spend the whole weekend laying the table, picking flowers from the garden, bringing out the nicest cutlery, deciding what napkins would go best. I’ve recently been to Mauritius and I picked up some amazing shells, which I made into one big clam shell. My day-to-day role now doesn’t give me the chance to be creative all the time. I’m just the engine making everything happen.’
Katharine Pooley Ltd certainly produces stunning results. I’m in awe of a particular residential apartment on Cheyne Terrace, a cocoon of soft textures and pretty little finishing touches. ‘It was for a client who had had a really busy house beforehand and wanted something more neutral, with less clutter. We used a lot of modern pieces with lots of celadon, duck egg blue and cream. One bedroom has a few splashes of orange to add a little colour, but it all has a very calming ambience.
One bedroom has a few splashes of orange to add a little colour, but it all has a very calming ambience
The stand-out features like the stone fireplace are also quite contemporary. Pooley’s fondness for sensuous materials is evident, from velvety chairs to plush throws and silk-smooth surfaces. The array of ornaments, including snake print boxes, glass perfume bottles and coffee table books, is carefully curated to be just so, elevating home dressing to a real art form.
Our interview has made me vow inwardly to channel Pooley’s hunter gatherer-like nose for treasure and tales to tell when it comes to my own buying habits. She’s made me want to think more carefully about the feel of my home, as well as the look, to achieve that elusive sense of luxury and comfort.