Kelly Hoppen: 'Music is design to me'

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Kelly Hoppen
Image caption,

Kelly Hoppen at her design studio in west London

Kelly Hoppen has built an international reputation as an interior designer through her work in the homes of celebrities and for corporate clients. A love of music has shaped both her life and her approach to design, she says.

"This morning I went up to my design studio and they were playing heavy rock. I looked up at the girls and said, 'Soz, I'm changing it.'"

Choosing the right music to create the right "buzz" for clients who come to visit her west London studio is of the utmost importance to Kelly Hoppen.

Music sets the mood for them, but it also helps her get creative. "It has to be a certain music for me to get into the zone to design," she explains.

In fact, it's often through discussion of music that the decisive creative breakthroughs with clients are made.

"I say to them, 'If you wanted your room to sound like a piece of music, what would it be?'" she says. "Some don't understand the question, but others say, 'Oh, 100%, Say A Little Prayer for You by Burt Bacharach.' And I get that!

"I can't explain why, but music is design to me."

In a career that spans five decades, Hoppen, 63, has established herself as one of the UK's best-known interior designers. She is famed for her neutral palette, Zen-like greys which are meant to create a relaxing ambience.

Many of her celebrity customers have been musicians, including Victoria Beckham, Sean "Diddy" Combs and, most recently, Boy George.

Her job is to figure out what they really want, which isn't always straightforward. Boy George visited her home and explained the decor he was after.

"I said, 'I'm absolutely convinced you don't [want that]," recalls Hoppen.

But by speaking to him she found out the deeper feelings he was looking for, which gave her clues on how to express his personality in home decor - which is very different to his flamboyant stage persona, she points out.

Image source, Kelly Hoppen Interiors
Image caption,

Musician Boy George is one of Kelly Hoppen's recent clients

It's the part of the job she loves, getting into a client's head like a psychologist, she says.

The language of music is part of her method for "getting the information" she needs.

Apartheid and music

Hoppen was born in South Africa, where her mother is from, but with her British father the family moved to London when she was two.

They went back to visit her grandparents during holidays, and her grandmother's elegant home was another design inspiration for her.

In the mid-1970s, aged 16, she decided to "run away" back to South Africa on her own.

Her parents had divorced and she was living with her father after falling out with her mother. When her father died unexpectedly at the age of 48, the huge shock was the trigger for her to go.

Back in apartheid South Africa she befriended the musical group The Pacific Express and toured with them. The group contained both black and Indian members. She was breaking apartheid laws by mixing with them, and found herself in jail on one occasion as a result.

She had known the risks, but the music drew her in.

The experience left her "heartbroken and disgusted" at what South Africa was like under apartheid so she did not go back.

Instead, she channelled her passion for music into interior design, starting her company in her teens without qualifications, and growing it organically, one client at a time.

Hoppen's understated look for interiors has appealed to clients who specialise in luxury environments, whether it is boutique hotels, cruise ships or airlines looking to please first-class customers.

Image source, Kelly Hoppen Interiors
Image caption,

Hoppen designed the lobby of the Lux Grande Baie in Mauritius

She says it's a reputation she has played along with, though she's not averse to a splash of colour. ("But in my own home? Nope.")

Cost of living 'divide'

Apart from her design consultancy, her business empire also includes her best-selling books, which explain some of her design secrets.

The jobs that come into her studio tend to be from high net-worth clients, or companies that cater to them. Her customers have not been particularly affected by the cost of living crisis, she says.

She is aware of "the divide" that exists between her clientele's design needs, and the day-to-day concerns of most people.

But she is equally passionate about improving home design for those on smaller budgets, she says, and has built a large following on Instagram, sharing ideas about how to do it.

Interior design doesn't have to involve spending money, she says. You can create impact by small things like changing cushions, or rehanging pictures.

"I'm such a geek about it, if I could go into everyone's homes and help with the changes, I would. I'd love to be that magician."

People have come to appreciate their homes more now as "sanctuaries" since the pandemic and lockdowns, Hoppen believes.

And one thing that music and good interior design at home have in common, she's realised, is that they both have the power to influence your mood and have a positive effect on your mental health.

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