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Kelly Hoppen

What is it like to design for David and Victoria Beckham? Today’s guest will tell you all about it.

Interior Designer, True Entrepreneur, Queen of Taupe
Interior Designer, True Entrepreneur, Queen of Taupe

Interior Designer, True Entrepreneur, Queen of Taupe

Kelly Hoppen
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Meet the queen of taupe.

Ever wondered what it’s like to design for David and Victoria Beckham? And how do you go about designing a private jet or personal yacht? Well, today’s guest has done all those things and then some.

In this episode, Chris talks with acclaimed interior designer, Kelly Hoppen. Kelly is a world-renowned designer and prolific author of nine design books. She and Chris discuss her creative path, the blessing of growing up without the internet, and what it takes to be a true entrepreneur.

At a young age, Kelly had come to terms that school just wasn’t for her. She was, however, in love with homes. Coming from an artistic family, with her mother in the arts and her father working in fashion, Kelly was always surrounded by creativity.

It was only fitting, then, for Kelly to harness her love of homes and become an interior designer.

Using only her imagination—this was during a time when there was no Pinterest or any social media—Kelly turned to the world around her to seek out the inspiration for her designs. Paying close attention to cafes, shops, hotels, and building structures, Kelly was able to look at what was in front of her while imagining it in a new way.

Kelly is self-taught in every single way. Having left school at the age of 16, Kelly kicked off her career by designing her friends’ parents’ kitchen.

From that point on, it was full speed ahead for Kelly. Her next job would be to design the interiors of a racing driver’s home: Damien Hunt. Word of mouth became Kelly’s primary source of clients, leading her to work with plenty more racing drivers and actors. Talk about an incredible start to her business!

There’s so much we can take notes on from Kelly, from her approach to a healthy lifestyle, to the way she practices mindfulness to sharpen her design skills. Listen to the full episode for more.

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Episode Transcript

Kelly Hoppen: My name is Kelly Hoppen. I am an author, an interior designer, a product designer and a mother and a grandmother.

Chris Do: It was one of my dreams as a child to be an interior designer. I never pursued that. So, I'm a big fan of yours. I have some of your books here. I'm a graphic designer. I make commercials for a living and now I do content. So, I'm really fascinated by how you got into interior design and if there were earlier signs in 16 years old, if you can call back a memory or a vignette, something that was very impressionable in your life that sparked this interest in interior design.

Kelly Hoppen: Yeah, 100%. I came from an incredibly artistic background in other words, my mother was in the arts, my father was in fashion, my parents used to drag us around museums all over the world, dragged our feet. But I look back on it now and it was such an amazing thing. But I was absolutely obsessed from a very, very young age. My mother says in terms of homes. And when I was growing up, instead of wanting to go and play with friends at school, on weekends I'd ask my mother to go and look at show houses. I was always intrigued to read magazines and look at before and after and at the age of 13, I asked my mother if I could redo my bedroom, which was all pink and flowery. And I ended up [inaudible 00:04:54], I can still see it in my head now. I had brown felt walls trimmed in chrome trim, white shag pile carpet, chrome sort of really kind of eclectic chair, louvered windows. At the age of 13 I kind of conjured. I'm not saying it was nicely done.

Chris Do: It sounds wonderful.

Kelly Hoppen: From a flowery kind of girls bedroom. And my mom said every time she would go out for dinner she'd come back and I would have moved furniture around and I was all always organizing surfaces and my great aunt had a beautiful home in the next street from where we lived. And I used to go around pretty much every afternoon and just admire things. I could still literally paint every detail of that house. So I had a photographic memory. I was very dyslexic, very badly bullied at school. So, I was in my own kind of world and I was also obsessed with pop-up books and all the perspective. So, I think in answer to your question, from an early age, I knew exactly what I was doing. I didn't know What the name was until I was a lot older, that I wanted to become a designer. And I was never frightened of becoming that. And I was never frightened of starting a business like, "I'm going to do it."

Kelly Hoppen: And I think because I'm a lot older than a lot of young designers today, we didn't have social media, we didn't have Instagram, Google. So, everything was in your imagination. So, travel, theater, music, shopping, cafes, things that you experienced is how I created my design and my imagery. And if I could switch off everyone's phones for a day and just tell people to be creative, it would be so interesting to see how much more creative people could be and how much more positive people could be. So, I think in a way, I'm so glad that I came from that era because I can still look at something and imagine something from it rather than looking at someone else's imagery and trying to copy it or change it.

Chris Do: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think you're talking about something that's very... Of the moment right now, how we're overstimulated and how we're constantly comparing ourselves and that starts to erode our own self-confidence. And you sound like a person who's supremely confident and I'm just wondering where does that internal strength come from? Is it just who you are made to be? Your parents? Where does that come from?

Kelly Hoppen: Well, there was a long road to get to that confidence. So, I do a lot of mentoring with people today on my Instagram because I wasn't confident at school. I was very, very miserable because I was bullied. I'm older and wise enough. So, with age coming it was the greatest things in the world. I'm not fearful anymore. So, I think through some heartache with my father dying at a very early age and kind of creating a wall around myself, I threw myself into creativity. So, that was my haven. And through experience I have become more confident. And when I decided to share my knowledge with the world, i.e writing books. That's kind of how I got my confidence, because it gave me a lot of joy to be able to share. And I guess the more social media sort of came into my life, I realized that by giving back, that's by talking to people. I don't know, I've just kind of grown to become more confident, but it took a long time.

Chris Do: If you look back now, could you pinpoint an age or a moment in your life when you felt like you have arrived and you found that internal strength?

Kelly Hoppen: When I wrote my first book, East Meets West and it did so well and then I won the Andrew Martin Designer of the Year Award. I think that was the moment that I realized that... I guess I needed somebody to sort of go, "You're okay in what you're doing." And I think from that moment on, I didn't look for confirmation that it was okay for what I was doing. There was a kind of a light switch that just went, "Okay, I'm going to do this because I love it, rather than waiting for someone to Pat me on the back." And so when Conran asked to do this book and it was very much my passion, the whole East Meets West and everything else. And it became the best seller, I think that gave me the confidence to really kind of excel.

Chris Do: It must have been that you were really quite successful for Conran to do the book deal with you at that point. Right?

Kelly Hoppen: I guess so. The thing is I've never gauged my success in that way. I've never won money, although I've earned money. I've worked because I'm passionate and it's something that I try and teach people. But yeah. I think a lot of the press like newspapers and magazines had seen my work and from word of mouth from clients. And so I had had a lot of press at that point and it was different what I was doing. East Meets West was not really brought to the table in that way. And so it was a new design sensibility and I think when something new comes to the table, and I was very adamant about the colors and the sort of harmony and the neutral palette and how I wanted to work on sort of balance and my term of luxury. It was something people wanted to write about. And so yes, when they asked to do the book, I was over the moon, I was like, "Wow! This is fabulous."

Chris Do: When you found your calling, your love and passion for interior design, you listened to that voice and so many of us ignore that.

Kelly Hoppen: Yeah.

Chris Do: We kind of like, "No, that can't be, I'm not good enough." We're filled with self-doubt. Could you give us some insight or advice into how you process that? How you know this is right for you?

Kelly Hoppen: Well, let me fast forward it for every listener that's going to hear this, okay? This is the same way as when you see someone like your child going into a relationship and you can see what the outcome is. You want to say to them, "Let me fast forward, break up now because in six months this is what's going to happen." Unfortunately, we all have to go through the experience and you're never going to listen. So here's the thing, I think instinct and the gut in your stomach is a reality. Deepak chart per says, it's an actual physical thing that happens to you. When you feel that you have something that you're so passionate about, you have to go with it. It might not always work, but you have to give it a go.

Kelly Hoppen: And today more than ever before, startup and new businesses are popping up every second in the world because it's possible. Because starting a business doesn't need money, it needs passion, it needs tenacity, it needs authenticity, it needs communication. You have to follow your dreams because if you're happy and you're passionate about what you do, I believe it's possible. So, don't ignore those feelings. And by the way, they don't always work. So if they don't, you move onto the next, don't harp on the fact that it didn't work. A true entrepreneur moves on already to something else. It's not an issue.

Chris Do: I love that. Thank you. The second question is about going to school and how you learn to do what you did. I understand that you designed a friend's parents kitchen at 16 and it was at the launch of your career. Did you go to school? Did you study this professional or you're self-taught?

Kelly Hoppen: I went to school and I hated it. And I was used to [inaudible 00:13:09] it because I was dyslexic, but I didn't know I was dyslexic until my daughter was diagnosed. But I was 16 and a half, my stepfather had a friend who wanted a kitchen done. It was a disaster but I still did it. And then I left school because my father died and I was then asked through another friend to help with a very big house for a racing driver. And in the end I was given the job because in fact she just wanted to be with the racing driver and it was sort of a bit of a smoke and mirrors to kind of be with... So, I ended up doing the project and I literally somehow, don't know how, I found Bob the Builder and it's true.

Kelly Hoppen: My driver in Bob the Builder's business was Damien the racing driver. Damien Hunt, who I still today laugh about it. And I started a business and that was the first job that I did. The second job was a proper job and from there it was word of mouth and I did a lot of racing drivers and actors homes. And that's kind of how the business started.

Chris Do: Wow! What an incredible start. So, you dropped out of school in your 20s and then you started your business?

Kelly Hoppen: No, I was 16 and a half when I left school.

Chris Do: Oh, that kind of school. Okay, I'm sorry. I thought you were going to college. Okay. Wow!

Kelly Hoppen: No, I was self-taught in every single way.

Chris Do: Incredible. Where do you call home right now?

Kelly Hoppen: London.

Chris Do: And you are South African, right?

Kelly Hoppen: I was born in South Africa, left when I was two, but my father was British and I've lived in London all my life. I'm British. So, I'm very much British. Yeah.

Chris Do: The reason why I asked this, is trying to tie a theme into this thing about interior design like where you live is your home and you can live anywhere. You're a super successful, celebrated designer. Why do you choose to live in London? Because you can live anywhere. I'm always curious about why people choose where they live.

Kelly Hoppen: My daughter, my grandson, my stepchildren, my business is here and I love London. I love to travel and we travel a lot. I love leaving, but I love coming home more, if that makes sense.

Chris Do: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It does make sense. And I've seen two of your home, there's a good reason why you love coming home. And do you get into this thing where you go and you experience different places and hotels and where you stay. Do you often feel like home is the best place to be?

Kelly Hoppen: Yeah, home is the best place to be. And I think that's why I'm successful because I create homes for people. But I love going to hotels and I love traveling. I choose the hotels that I want to stay in. Sometimes I don't have a choice and then when I get to the hotel I probably move rooms about four times and then-

Chris Do: Do you really?

Kelly Hoppen: ... I move around in [inaudible 00:16:05] and I think how lucky are they because they're not having to pay me to do it. But I [inaudible 00:16:10] to the spaces that I'm in and my partner always laughs. He says, "I'll wait in the lobby until you've decided where we're going to sleep tonight."

Chris Do: Okay. So, what do hotels get wrong? Why are you moving things around? What are you sensing in that room?

Kelly Hoppen: Well, first of all, if you think about the sheer basics of a hotel room, people's energy is changing the whole time in these rooms. And so for me, you get a sense of a hotel room. But I think because today you can choose the type of hotel you want to stay in because you can use social media to look it up. But we do a lot of hotel design now and we try and think of every single possible nook and cranny in the hotel to give people the experience that they want. And there are some amazing hotels out there today. Travel is just one of the greatest luxuries on this earth. And it's all about experiencing something new. And I think that's why people travel and go to different types of hotels because they experience something different, but then when they get at home they know this is where their heart is.

Chris Do: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And when you travel, are you constantly documenting, taking pictures and taking notes? Like little things that you like or do you do it different?

Kelly Hoppen: I never take [inaudible 00:17:26], but I have a real photographic [inaudible 00:17:29]. So, everything is logged, but I use my phone to take images. Whether it's anything from a belt buckle to a light switch to a detail. It's more about details that I'm into, but it's everything. For me, travel is more about the experience, the smell, the culture, the people, the music, the difference. I don't know. Everything about travel is exciting and I almost [inaudible 00:18:00] that and then put it in my heart and then when I come back I think, "Oh, I remember that feeling I had. Now, how can I recreate that in a chair or an interior or something?" I design to meet with music, I have to be in a sort of trance with music to design. So, if I ever go to the theater or the opera, I'm not actually looking at it, I'm lost in the music and I can design a whole house while listening to a concert. It's very weird.

Chris Do: Wow! You have an incredible brain. Wow!

Chris Do: Okay. So, I imagine you being very well traveled, you've seen it all. Not all, but you've been to many places. Where is your favorite place to be and can you transport us there and describe, because you have such a vivid recollection. Transport us there. Where do you love to be other than being at home?

Kelly Hoppen: Well, every place is different. Every year I go to the Caribbean to a friend's home and do a very intensive boot camp for a week on my own with her, where I switch off all computers, telephones, train five hours a day, I'm in nature. That is an experience that I love because it kind of reconnects me. But equally, if I'm climbing a mountain in Bhutan, which I did once. That was one of the greatest experiences of my life because it was a culture I'd never experienced. It was feelings, my breath was shorter because of the altitude. I met amazing Buddhist monks. So, it doesn't matter. Even flying on a new airline and the experience of that can be exceptional. You know what I mean?

Chris Do: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kelly Hoppen: I think you have to open your eyes and experience things and just be grateful that you're healthy and your family's healthy. And pretty much anything after that is extra.

Chris Do: On this theme of health, I noticed on your Instagram feed, you are incredibly fit. Oh, my goodness! I'm looking at your shoulders, you delts and wow! Okay. So, talk to me about what health and fitness, you talked about a five hour workout. I'm younger than you, I've never worked out for five hours. This is incredible.

Kelly Hoppen: I do that on this bootcamp thing, but every day I do an hour, an hour and a half. It's my meditation. I feel better for it. I like to be fit. I've been doing exercise since I was 17. It's part of my life and it works for me, but it's such a mental thing. It gets me totally prepared for the day. The days that I don't do it, when I have a lazy day, I never feel as good. So that is my routine. I'm up at six, I train at seven. I'm very much a person that likes a routine, it suits me. Even when I'm on holiday, I still wake up early. I like to be the first up. I like to see the sun early, I like to... My grandfather was used to say you get more done before anybody wakes up in the day than any other time of the day. And he's it's true.

Chris Do: So, are you also early to bed or do you burn out on both ends, where you're up early and late too?

Kelly Hoppen: No, [inaudible 00:22:46] burn at both ends when I was younger, but now I feel so kind of settled with my life. We have very boring so many nights in the week. With a good box set I can't wait to get home tonight, I'm going to watch the Studio 54 movie and have supper on my lap and snuggle in bed and go to sleep. But I do still party, don't get me wrong, but not on a school night.

Chris Do: Okay. I imagine young people having a hard time keeping up with you regardless. You talk about this photographic memory and how you could see rooms before anything happens. I think on that tour I watched on YouTube, where you described the place before anything was there and it was bare and it was busted. I'm curious, when you do it for yourself, that seems like a gift and when you work with clients, an high profile client at that, do you ever have issues or challenges around sharing what's here with them or do you just have carte blanche where Kelly Hoppen gets to do whatever she wants?

Kelly Hoppen: Well, no. Because today you can do CGIs and we draw it up. We present it so they can see it. Because the very first time I went to New York and I did a presentation and I was saying, "Oh yeah, and then it's going to be like this and then you're going to have this tall leather wall and you're going to..." And I remember the client looking at me and going, "I haven't got a clue what you're talking about." And it was that moment that I realized what I see in my head, other people can't. So, now obviously I've got a team of people that can put on paper what I'm seeing in my head and we can draw it up. So, today luckily through technology you can present exactly what you see in your head. But in a funny sort of way, the bit I love the best is when it's secret and it's still in my head and I'm putting it all down, because that's a really quiet time.

Kelly Hoppen: That's a moment that you can really be creative and I'll come back to it the next day and move it and change it and see it and then I'll be imagining it when I'm at home and I can move things around in my head, in my imagination. So, by the time I actually see it on paper, it's reality in a way. And I like the process. I like the process of design, but it's a quiet time. You just have music and you just create. It's like a journalist writing or a musician creating music. It's the same part of the brain that works.

Chris Do: So for you, I'm just trying to get into your creative process. Is it super crystal clear here and the challenge is just to articulate it in a form that other people can see or does one influence the other?

Kelly Hoppen: No, it's exactly like you say.

Chris Do: Okay. And I'm curious about your team. Can you give us a high level overview of how you work with them? How does Kelly Hoppen go from here, what's in your head to finished paint on the wall?

Kelly Hoppen: So, up on design student and there was a project I've been working on this week. So I start laying stuff out, I start working with the architects sketching things, putting it all down, putting all the fabrics, everything. And then we do these concept boards. And even when the concept boards are put together, I change them because I want to have them differently. Because I try and imagine how a client's going to look at it. It has to read, right? So, I'm already walking through the space. So, the way it's put down on paper is very important. Otherwise, it becomes confusing to the client. And so then all my different teams will start putting it all together. So, we put it on floor plan, we do cards, we do all the fabric boards, we do all the imagery boards, the concept boards before we even go to the next stage. So, it's an extensive presentation that we do.

Chris Do: Yeah, it sounds like it. And it sounds to me like there's the design part of it and then there's the storytelling aspect?

Kelly Hoppen: Yeah.

Chris Do: And you're talking about creating something for the client?

Kelly Hoppen: Yeah. So basically, it's not about selling it, it's about talking to them about this is the backdrop to your life or if it's a hotel, this is the backdrop to thousands of people's lives. And then there's all the practicalities and all the other things that are obviously given, but everything in life is about experience from start to finish. That's all people want to spend their money on. And what we do his magic it. We create it.

Chris Do: Is there a moment where the client sees the design falls in love and then somewhere along the way as clients sometimes do, where they change their mind and it just kind of wrecks the process and how do you deal with that?

Kelly Hoppen: Oh, people change their minds all the time. But fortunately the older I get, I have no apprehension about saying you're wrong, you have to trust me with this. This has got to be the way. Because if you do it this way, I'll show you what it'd look like. And you've just got to talk to people and they have to trust you. It's a bit like going to the dentist or the doctor, at some point you have to give your trust to them. But I think as long as you can be clear and explain to people why and give them good reason, nine times out of 10 people will trust you. In the early days, 40 years ago, it was much more difficult. Sometimes you had to suck X to do what they wanted.

Chris Do: Right.

Kelly Hoppen: Like now, my reputation is that I can have people trust me. And that's a great thing that I've managed to achieve over the years. And we're very authentic and we would never do something that wouldn't work. But when you're doing private homes, you're dealing with people's lives. It's very sensitive. So, a lot of thought has to go into it. And if a client says, "Honestly, I really don't want that, I would rather have this." At the end of the day, we'll do it. Nine times out of 10 they'll come back and go, "Oops, you were right. Could you change it?" And we go, "Absolutely."

Chris Do: Mm-hmm (affirmative). This is fascinating. Can you share... Because this is what a lot of young people suffer with in terms of dealing with clients because they have no power, they have no authority. And you went through the same process, I went through the same process, where you kind of cave more. And then as your confidence, your reputation, your expertise builds over time you learn how to deal with that.

Kelly Hoppen: But you do have power. You do. If you have the confidence you have to believe what you're doing is right. But it's all about conversation. You can't have people accept something unless you explain it to them. You have to be able to show them. And the more you can show them and the more you can get them to experience what you're trying to do. Because if you don't do that, they'll never understand what you're trying to achieve. Because most people think they want to live a certain way. My magic is that I'm able to get into people's head and create what I know they want. And half the time they don't know they want it until they see it.

Chris Do: Can you share with us an example, a story where that happened? Something a little specific where the client insisted on something and how you actually talked them through it, got in their head, shared a vision and-

Kelly Hoppen: [inaudible 00:30:10] this time of the day. I mean a million things. I just remember when I did Jo Malone's home, when she walked in she said, "I didn't know I wanted this, but I wanted it and you found it."

Chris Do: Wow!

Kelly Hoppen: It's like [inaudible 00:30:24] out of people. I just have this ability to know what people want. Because they don't know they want it, but they do want it, you've got to then explain why they wanted it. And that's very confusing way of saying it, but it makes sense in my head. It's like a stylist can look and see that you would look better in a different type of pair of jeans, than you would always wear. The minute they put you in it and they explain why and they look at your body, you suddenly go, "Wow! Why didn't I think of that?" Because they have the experience. They know how to look at your shape and tell you what you should be wearing. We look at someone's home, we ask all the questions about how they live in it or what the client wants in a hotel and we take all of that in consideration and then we design with that information.

Chris Do: It sounds to me like you know the client better than they know themselves. Like a therapist or like you said... Like in this case, you showed them something that they didn't know they wanted, so that I think speaks a lot about how you-

Kelly Hoppen: [inaudible 00:31:31].

Chris Do: Yeah. You're using intuition-

Kelly Hoppen: I need a therapist.

Chris Do: Yes. And it's therapeutic what you're doing, right?

Kelly Hoppen: Yeah. To a point. But I've been a therapist for many years and I've also been somebody that works with clients who don't want the same things so that you finally give them a way that they can communicate between each other because it's a very difficult thing to create someone's home for two people.

Chris Do: You mentioned before that you found your confidence in publishing the book East Meets West. Was there another marker or another signal in your brain where you felt in your quiet moments when you're meditating? Like, "Kelly Hoppen you've made it, you've made it girl. This is what we've worked for."

Kelly Hoppen: No, because you just keep going. There were markers in my career that stood out when I got my MBE from the queen. That was a real huge pat on my back, where I was like, "Okay, maybe I am okay." But no every day do I wake up and think, "Oh yeah, I've done it." I think we've got some amazing collaborations and collections coming out later this year in Shanghai and when people see them, I could say those were big markers in my life. I'm constantly filled with joy at creations that I do, but not in a kind of self-patting on the back way. Just like it still fills me with a lot of joy to be creative. And I've always said as long as that still happens, I'll continue doing what I'm doing. But I also love the business side of it, I love the writing of books, I like doing the TV shows. I like to do lots of different things so that I'm constantly on my toes. So, my motto is nothing's too big, but nothing's ever big enough.

Chris Do: Okay. I love that. That's a great way to end the show. Kelly, thank you very much for doing this. I appreciate your time. I think even though it was fairly short, it was super impactful and just full of bits. I think my audience is going to eat this up. Thank you very much for doing this.

Kelly Hoppen: Thank you so much for having me. This is Kelly Hoppen and you are listening to the Futur.

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