At home with Katharine Pooley: interior designer to the super-rich

Katharine Pooley has a 40-strong design company and is the owner of a high-end homewares boutique in Walton Street, SW3. We visit her immaculate Chelsea home to talk luxe interior design.

When she was at school, says hugely successful interior designer Katharine Pooley, she wanted to be a vet. Now 49, she has designed everything from cottages to castles — one of which, Forter Castle in Scotland, she owns. Currently giving another castle a makeover for a client in Buckinghamshire, Pooley is also in the throes of designing a 1,000,000sq ft hotel in China.

She comes from a family that relishes a challenge. Her father, Robert, has just received the MBE for services to aviation. He created a flight equipment company in 1957 after serving in the RAF, and it was he who bought then-derelict Forter Castle in Perthshire in 1990. The 1560s wreck is now a glamorous holiday let, having been passed on to his daughter who has filled it with Scottish charm.

Today, Pooley, owner of a high-end homewares boutique in Walton Street, SW3, and with a 40-strong design company, is at her Chelsea home to chat. However, she pounces on the phone and starts quick-fire bidding on lots in  Sotheby’s Duchess of Devonshire antiques sale to use in forthcoming projects for wealthy owners who want something with grand connections.

 

This designer to the rich and super-rich is a specialist in luxe. She designs cutlery for Fortnum & Mason, while her own boutique website features boxes in  shagreen — sharkskin — and other delights for those who can’t live without luxury items.

When she set up a London accessories shop 12 years ago after a career in human resources with Morgan Stanley bank, her first client was Mohamed Fayed, who then owned Harrods. 

Raised in Scotland, after school in Oxford and university in France, Pooley worked for Morgan Stanley for 16 years in Hong Kong and then in Singapore, where she married Dan, a professional tennis player and property developer. In Singapore she designed four homes, which launched her new career: “People kept saying, ‘Please, please do my house’.”

Her own home is a five-storey, modern house off King’s Road in Chelsea, built in brick in a sympathetic style to its neighbours, which range from classic stucco to cute Georgian terraces with a hint of cottage about them. Chelsea’s charms include its mix of architectural styles, currently all set off by magnolia and early ornamental cherry trees, blooming in perfectly clipped gardens.

Pooley and Dan moved in two years ago with sons Jack, now six, and Peanut, who is almost four, plus Piglet, a 16-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, and Baggy, an elderly black labrador. “We did no structural work at all,” says Pooley. “What sold it to me is the kitchen-diner. Look at the size of it — it’s almost American. My idea of heaven is being here, cooking, with my family.” 

This enormous, light, bright room with its generous kitchen island and big, round dining table looks out on to a high-walled courtyard. Pooley gestures through the huge glass sliding doors: “The one change I made outside is the living wall at the back. Totally artificial. It needs no watering and looks great all year.” She also imported a couple of mature olive trees and bay trees. Happy in huge pots, they’re low maintenance and evergreen.

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Modern family: the house is unified by the minky grey carpet throughout ad shimmering grey paint


At home, Pooley turns down the design volume a notch. The drawing/dining room on the first floor is a showstopper with its circular dining table glittering with crystal; gilded mirrors, huge painting and modern chandelier. But the family kitchen and large basement snug are comfy, with huge sofas covered in plump, snuggly cushions — and even a mark or two on the cream upholstery “where the dogs love to rub along it”.

This big house is unified by the minky grey carpet throughout, and grey paint that shimmers into the background on all the walls. These relaxing, neutral tones hold the rest of the design together. “Design is all about colour,” she says. “For example, trying to do a bedroom for a man and woman is hard. Women don’t like sleeping in a brown room, men don’t like to sleep in a cream one.” 
 

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Hub of the home: The, light, bright room with its generous kitchen island and big, round dining table looks out on to a high-walled courtyard


She has done her own in calm shades of celadon, or duck egg. Everything is beautifully counterpointed, from the bed she designed, to the silk cushions and throws, to a pale green shagreen dressing table she designed. Dark brown marble-topped bedside consoles by Nicky Haslam add a masculine note. The en suite bathroom is large and practical, with a generous double basin. “Always have two basins,” Pooley advises. “He’s in here for hours, I’m here for seconds.” 

In all the bathrooms, candles and scents from Floris, Diptyque, Roya and Malone provide extra luxury. But the most distinctive thing is a small kitchen blackboard, handwritten in chalk for her children. It reads: “Kindness is our being. So let’s enjoy our day by being kind.”


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