In conversation with… the inimitable Kelly Hoppen, first lady of taupe, time-management and interior design. First published in the February 2013 edition of ELLE Decoration UK
I must confess to having always being a little intimidated by Kelly Hoppen. Not the woman herself so much as the empire, the business behemoth that encompasses everything from paint to publishing via shops, yachts, homes, restaurants, hotels, accessories, candles, carpets, lighting, scent, even aircraft interiors, products for QVC and most recently kitchens for Smallbone. She just does so much! And so well — whether you’re a fan of her crisp interiors and trademark neutrals or not, you’d be pretty churlish not to admire the quality of her work: beautiful materials, perfectly finished, packaged and presented. This is the kind of work that shrieks attention to detail. And indeed, she confesses to being ‘very hands-on’. To top it all, every time I meet her, she always seems full of energy and enthusiasm. I want to know her secret.
Nevertheless, in my experience, very successful people have often lived through a significant event which turbo-charges a stubborn survival instinct and their desire to do well. For Hoppen, it was the sudden death of her father when she was just 16. ‘I’d never felt so insecure,’ she says, ‘but it gave me the determination that I was never going to rely on anyone again. This was both a strength and a weakness.’ But today, feeling older and wiser (she’s 53), she confesses that she’s super loved-up and has never been happier. And it is a real pleasure, once comfortably ensconced in her studio, to be introduced to the spiritual, softer side of the woman behind the brand. I like her. A lot.
Our conversation thus ping pongs back and forth fluently and ranges easily from the professional to the personal. We talk openly of love, life, energy, learnings and the importance of Feng Shui and alkaline foods (Hoppen’s daughter, Natasha Corrett, has written a great recipe book called Honestly Healthy expounding the theory. When she passes through the office, Hoppen makes her sign a copy to give to me). And inevitably, I mention taupe. ‘Oh, I’ve been slated over the years for this, but it’s absolutely my favourite colour,’ she says. ‘I’m obsessed by it, every shade of it. I’m not against colour, but I believe that home should be a backdrop, with you as the colour and the life.’ And it’s this simple yet single-minded philosophy, fused with an Eastern sensibility of harmony and balance, that has enabled the brand to expand. Each step is simply organic evolution as she applies the thinking to the next medium. Add in the Kelly Hoppen Design School, the instructional apps (Home Style by Kelly Hoppen), her blog and clips on Facebook, the mentoring with The Prince’s Trust and her role as a trade ambassador for Britain, and it’s no surprise that she was awarded an MBE for services to interior design in 2009.
Hoppen is one of a creative few who can combine an entrepreneurial spirit with a steely business sense and an acute passion for what she does. And in talking with her properly, it’s clear that this is an absolutely authentic mission. ‘I just love home, the idea of creating home. I’ve been doing this since I was 16,’ she says. ‘My mother was very messy, so if she had people coming over, I’d move everything around!’ She also fondly recalls her grandmother’s home: not the style of it specifically, but its smell (‘cedar and coffee’) and the way she made it feel so comfortable. ‘She had cupboards full of Venetian glass. Even laying the table was a pleasure!’ And so, perhaps, the notion of visualising perfect homes for other people as a profession was born. She describes it as ‘creating a vision of how a home could be – beautiful, functional, somewhere you grow into’. It’s also something she does in a very intuitive manner. ‘I can design something in my head, right down to the details. I’m dyslexic, so everything’s visual.’ But underlying it all is a kind of focused yet realistic optimism that’s positively infectious. Sample phrases include: ‘I never spend time worrying that something isn’t going to work out. But if it doesn’t, I don’t waste a single further second on it. Delete the email. Move on to something else,’ and, ‘Life isn’t a maze. I always think there’s a way out.’ Hoppen is currently writing a book on business, which she thinks she’ll release as an eBook because she just wants to get it out there. She’d love to do a film (‘I saw Tom Ford’s film and thought, “I could do that”’). And before I leave, she thrusts a copy of Rhonda Byrne’s The Power into my hands, saying she found it inspirational and bought a copy for all 38 members of her team, although she’s pretty sure they didn’t all read it.
So what’s her secret? ‘I train for an hour every morning at home. It’s my treat to myself – a personal trainer. I wouldn’t do it otherwise. I also get my nails done every week and buy fresh flowers for the house.’ Simple! Then again, she adds at the close of our interview, ‘Success is not a day job. I’ve always been able to visualise my professional life and make it happen.’ Kelly Hoppen: not intimidating, inspiring!
Tell me five words to describe yourself: Loyal. Passionate. Focused. Happy. Loving.
What was the last film you saw? I went to the opening night of The Electric to see Silver Linings. Brilliant. But also, last night watched White Christmas on DVD in bed. The room sets! So inspiring.
What’s your favourite type of music? Soul. Black. Funk. Jazz and the classics like Sinatra.
What keeps you awake at night? Nothing. I sleep like a baby. As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that unless someone’s died there’s never a problem you can’t sort out.
Do you have any regrets? I think it’s a waste of time to have regrets.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My height. I’d love to be taller.
If you could be a different nationality, what would it be? Italian? They’re so stylish.
You’re having a fantasy dinner party, and can choose anyone you like, from the past or present. Who do you invite? Marilyn Monroe, a hundred per cent, I’ve got so many beautiful pictures of her. Obama. James Dean. The Dalai Lama. Sharon Osbourne and Catherine Deneuve.
Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with? Simon Cowell?
What do your consider your greatest achievement? Being a mother. But if I think of all the 1000s of homes I’ve designed, I think this is a huge achievement too because your environment is so important and I’ve created spaces for people to sleep, breathe and live in.
Tell me something that annoys you. When people are blinkered, or people that don’t listen, or aren’t prepared to see the positive.
Do you collect anything? Shoes. Photographs, I learnt a lot from my brother [the gallerist Michael Hoppen], and white jade.
If you we’re an animal, what would you be? A dolphin. I’m obsessed with dolphins, they’re so gracious, intelligent, and they’ve always got a smile on their face. They seem very spiritual to me too.
What’s your idea of a really good night out? Good friends and laughing. Drinks, dinner party, dancing. I love to dance! I entertain more in, than out.
What star sign are you? Leo.
Do you believe in luck? Yes. I believe in fate, and synchronicity.
Do you have a motto? Learn from the past, live in the present, visualise the future.