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A Q&A With Daniel Hopwood

Posted 23.09.16  - Culture

When it comes to creativity, not many gents can boast a career as diverse as Daniel Hopwood's.

Having started as an assistant to a furniture buyer, Daniel also learnt the crafts of stone and wood carving, gilding and restoration before deciding to embark on an architecture degree in his 20s. Swapping architecture for interior design once more, he founded his own company, Studio Hopwood, at the age of 30. Since then, he has balanced personal commissions with a more educational role as President of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID), alongside TV work as a judge on Channel 4’s Britain’s Best Homes and most recently as presenter of BBC Two’s The Great Interior Design Challenge. Idle hands? No chance of that – in between the aforementioned, Dan is also a guest tutor at KLC School of Design, lectures at trade shows such as 100% Design and acts as a trends consultant for brands like Dulux. Despite his hectic schedule and colourful CV, Dan insists he feels most at home (no pun intended) when brainstorming for clients or doing the rounds on building sites.

We sat down with the designer extraordinaire to talk to him about his views on interiors and menswear, his admiration for HRH Prince of Wales and what he really thinks about IKEA.

TA: Dan, you took quite a unique route to get to where you are today as an interior designer, learning a lot of physical skills before deciding to further your education. Did you ever consider being an architect given your choice of degree?

DH: No I never actually wanted to be an architect. I was lucky because I knew what I wanted to do as a teenager but most people thought I was totally mad. Interior design was a very different world when I started; designers were very grand Chelsea ladies and the design itself was decoration. Interior design now is more about internal architecture. Why I chose to do an architecture degree later on was because I think you need to have a level of maturity for design, and as a young kid I wouldn’t have understood what it was all about. Doing it in my mid 20s meant I got a lot more out of it. However I wasn’t interested in the buildings - the ‘shells’ - I was interested in the living aspect. My motivation in design is people; I need a client to relate to and learn about and that is why I wanted to do interior design. Because I’d crammed so much into my 20s, I was able to open my own business when I was 30.

TA: At T&A we are very proud of our ‘Made in England’ mantra and we are very passionate about British craftsmanship in general. Where do you think Britain sits in the grand scheme of interior design? Are we a contender for one of the best?

DH: Yes we are certainly a contender but it’s taken a long time to shake off that traditional view of what British design is. People do assume it is all chintz curtains and big fluffy cushions, but now really it has become much edgier. It’s quite interesting because you can see Savile Row and Jermyn Street presenting another take on themselves now. We know they can make beautiful clothes but it’s about deconstructing it - looking at menswear in a different way for a new generation. What’s happening in men’s clothing is the same thing that’s happening in interior design.

The next trend for interiors? ‘1960s Palm Springs. Think glamorous plush velvets, soft blush pinks and golds... Luxury shown in a very modern way.’

TA: You and T&A both share a link to Prince Charles - we have held a royal warrant from him since 1980, and you have worked with the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture. Can you tell us about that?

DH: I think the Prince of Wales is a superstar. He does amazing work that a lot of people don’t see. His institute came about because he felt very strongly about architecture and how dreadful it was [in the past.] He became one of the few voices who could stand up and say that we needed to reassess. At first I didn’t completely agree with what we wanted us to do, which was reverse back into being classicists, but I did like the fact he wanted us to look at what we were doing and let people have a say. Having been taught at university in a very modern ‘Corbusier’ manner, it was quite interesting to go off and learn about classical architecture. [The Institute] took us right back to learning life drawing and watercolour which was actually really valuable. I didn’t get that when I was at university so I learnt much more about the human form and how important to was to have the skill of being able to draw.

TA: Do clients become quite involved when you’re working for them or do they take a step back?

DH: Most do and I encourage them to, but of course some are obviously so busy that they don’t have the time which is also fine. It is one of the most expensive things you’re going to do so there is often a lot of fear with clients; I have to reassure them that everything we are doing is going to work. Most people, when I’m designing their house, are not thinking about them using it themselves, they’re thinking about what other people are going to think when they walk in there so they want it to reflect their personality and their success. I did a château a couple of years back for a client who said: ‘Dan, I want people to walk into my château and think I don’t care, but I actually do.’ I think that’s very similar to wearing a handmade shirt. You can put one on and although they don’t scream out, people around you think, ‘Why are you so well dressed? I know you are but I can’t work out why.’

TA: Where does that inspiration come from for commissions? Does your aesthetic differ for each one or do you have a signature style? Do clients give you a very pronounced idea of what they want?

DH: I would claim that I don’t have a trademark style. A lot of interior designers are branded designers; you’re buying their look. I don’t do that. My work is more about reflecting the client so my influences are people and places, the style and demands of the building I’m working on and the people I’m designing it for. No two properties are the same.

TA: Which project to date has been the most fun?

DH: Very early on in my career I worked on a property for a man that Turnbull & Asser would know well - a gentleman called Johnny Gold, owner of Tramp nightclub. I renovated a gothic folly in St John’s Wood and it was really quite spooky. If you look at T&A’s wall of famous customers in Bury Street, many of those faces like Roger Moore and Michael Caine often turned up to his parties. I would sit inside and think I must be the only non-famous person there. It was a real rock ‘n’ roll house, I loved it.

TA: How long does one of your projects typically take?

DH: As is natural with experience, the projects are getting quicker and quicker. I’ve just completed a five-storey house in Bayswater for a very well-known comedian and from walking through the garden gate to meet him, to us handing him the key, it was a year. That included us digging down into the ground and completely renovating. He decided that he wasn’t going to see it until it was all finished. At certain points it was literally a building site with holes into the ground and no roof. In the minutes before those grand reveals you’ll find everyone lighting candles and plumping cushions to make sure it was all perfect. On this project my assistant Karen was shouting ‘Don’t step on the floor!’ while I was outside the front tying back a falling tree. Then he walked in and it was an emotional moment; he was gracious and lovely and then we got down to the floor below and he just burst into tears. He said ‘I could stand on stage and entertain every night but I couldn’t do this,’ and I just said well that’s why you stand on stage and entertain and I do this!

TA: Speaking of entertainment – let’s move onto your TV work. You did Britain’s Best Homes many years ago and now you are a judge on The Great Interior Design Challenge, which is about to go into its fourth season. For those who haven’t seen it, what can we expect from the next series?

DH: I’m just filming it now, it’s me and Kelly Hoppen this year. The key thing is that it’s a programme that enables people. You have two trained interior designers who are used to working in very grand houses, sharing their advice with people who are budding and think they have it. We have three houses to start with, all very close to each other, all with similar space and all of architectural interest, located around the country. The contestants get a room each, £1000 and three days. It’s not a vast quantity of money but all labour is included separately. We could make it more money but it wouldn’t be as interesting because it’s all about making something from nothing, making it accessible. I learnt the word “upcycle”! There’s various heats until we do the final show which usually takes place in a stately home.

It’s great hearing it fed back to me from the public. Recently I was in a London taxi and the driver told me that he watched my programme all the time and he was a big fan. He said ‘My wife has given me a wall that I’m allowed to be creative on.’ Then he showed me what he had done to it and I could see why his wife had only given him one wall! He was saying he loved that wall and he liked watching the show because he learnt how to make things. So the show appeals to all sorts of ages and industries - last year a gentleman came up to me at a talk I was giving and asked if he could get a boxset; I asked him what he did and he said he was a luxury yacht designer.

TA: Have there been any challenges with the show?

DH: Time! The first three series had 16 episodes, with filming taking three days per episode so it was a lot of work. The main criticism that we received however was that people thought it would be Changing Rooms, but it’s completely different. The talents on the show are not doing their neighbour’s house, and nobody is trying to catch them out. The owners of the homes are clients, the amateur designers get a brief and do a presentation like professionals would. The clients come in and look half way through and are allowed to be involved in the process. In Changing Rooms you had the same group of people designing rooms week after week but TGIDC has three different people on one programme. Also, this year is slightly different because in the second round the contestants have to do two rooms, with the first room revealed within the first half hour and the second reveal later on – the reveals are what people love.

Daniel with his previous co-presenter Sophie Robinson on 'The Great Interior Design Challenge'.

TA: There’s been a considerable rise in design blogs and mood board websites like Pinterest and Houzz – do you think that the internet and social media have impacted the industry positively or had a noticeable impact?

DH: Yes – I actually use Pinterest professionally. Any social media platform can be addictive and dictatorial so you’ve got to be in charge of it rather than let it be in charge of you. The way I use Pinterest is I ask a client to create a board of things that they like and then one to also select things that they don’t like. We will meet and go through it for an hour or so and then I wipe the board completely. I’ll have made notes in word form but not visually because we don’t want to copy images, we want to create something new for them.

Twitter has also been amazing for the show - there’s a whole hashtag community. I’m on Twitter when the show is on TV and I’ll be talking to people about it and listening to the debates.

TA: Moving onto interior style trends - Scandinavian aesthetic has been very popular in the last few years, what do you think is going to be the next ‘craze’?

DH: I’m not a “theme” person but of course interior design has fashion cycles as well. I think that soon we will be seeing a lot of 1960s Palm Springs come up - very glamorous plush velvets, soft blush pinks, greens, aqua, golds, agate and onyx - luxury shown in a very modern way.

TA: That’s interesting to hear because it can be said that interior trends have been very colour-phobic recently. Everyone has been stripping back to rawness, showcasing lots of monochrome and metals. To hear that glamour is coming back is exciting.

DH: I find that trends follow economics and politics. My prediction before was that it was going to go in the direction of being futuristic, very new and ground-breaking but now, because we are in fear of a recession, I think people will want some sort of home comforts in a new way. We will go from bare essentials to feel-good.

TA: You believe in making design accessible as you’ve said – what are your thoughts on fast and affordable design like IKEA? Or do you believe in quality over quantity?

DH: I love IKEA; IKEA is quality, everything is well-tested. The reason it’s not expensive is because they can mass-produce it on a wide scale. The only problem with IKEA is that people overdo it – they go into the store with a trolley and buy everything and it ends up looking the same as everywhere else. My favourite IKEA piece is the Lack shelf, Kelly [Hoppen] admits it’s one of her favourite pieces as well. They would cost a fortune if you handmade them and yet you buy each piece for about £5. The trick with IKEA is customising. There are actually companies now whose whole business is customising IKEA furniture. The high street is also great – West Elm is fantastic, French Connection and Zara Home also have super products. The beauty of design today is that everybody can have a beautiful home for an affordable price. It’s just that guys like me do it custom.

TA: Moving on to fashion design – as a visual person, what you wear must be quite important to you. The visual style that you have on television is slightly eccentric and personality-loaded, is that how you dress in your spare time?

DH: I’m a bit of a chameleon, the way I dress for TV is slightly different to how I dress for work. At work, one minute I’ll be standing on a building site with mud and plasterboard around me, then the next minute I’m talking to an Arabian princess about her house and I will still see the MDF on the welts of my shoes. I need to be appropriate and not alienate people - I can’t walk onto a building site in a Savile Row suit. However, when I’m working with clients I’m actually working for somebody therefore it’s not about me, it’s about them. To be a good designer you have to be a good listener as well as a good talker so you tend to dress very neutrally; for me it's usually a white shirt and grey trousers. If I was sitting there in a purple shirt, the client could either think ‘Good Lord, I’m going to hate it’ or ‘Wow! This is going to be bold.’ I focus on the details instead: I make sure my shoes are always polished and my shirts are always ironed and pristine. A lot of men are obsessed with their watches, but as I’m always using my hands – whether it’s sketching or in a meeting – something big and blingy would be impractical and distracting, so I opt for a vintage watch.

TA: Are you in charge of what you get to wear on the show?

DH: Yes, they don’t tell me what to wear at all so I get to play around and it’s really good fun. I think on TV you’ve got to pop out a bit. I’m also standing next to Kelly Hoppen who is famous for being the queen of taupe and always wears very controlled, black designs so it’s nice to have both ends of the spectrum.

This season I was up in Yorkshire and I was dressed in clothes that made me look like I was a mill owner. Then I was in Cheltenham and so dressed with a slight nod to regency. It’s not fancy dress, just carefully thought out. I was in a lovely fishing town in Wales last week; I looked up the area on the internet and saw that the houses were all painted in really bright colours so I thought that was a great opportunity to have some fun, and opted for a truly bold pair of yellow trousers.

Instagram: @daniel_hopwood

I enjoy wearing bright colours. My dad, who is always the critic of TV, called me up and said that he was not happy with what I was wearing on one of the episodes. I asked what it was and he said a bright pink shirt with orange trousers. I just looked at him and said ‘…But you remembered what I was wearing, didn’t you?’

TA: Do you ever find that clients’ fashion tastes are reflective of their interior tastes?

DH: Completely. That’s actually my little secret. When I see a client and go for a walk around, I’ll take my camera and I’ll ask them to open their wardrobes and I photograph inside – I say it’s to see how many clothes they have and how it works but really what I’m really doing is photographing the colours and the styles. When you first meet clients they’re usually on their best behaviour, and they’ve got dressed a bit more thoughtfully and perhaps not as true to their own personal style.

Fashion and interior design are definitely related but we just work a little slower than you do. Trends last for three or four years rather than for a season. The “fashion” in design is usually the accessories; the furniture I buy is usually more neutral and then it’s dressed to look fashionable.

TA: What piece of advice would you give to other people who want to get into design?

DH: If you’re getting into design, you’ve got to like people. If you don’t like people and you want to hide in the corner and draw pretty pictures then you’re not going to go anywhere. The designs you create have to reflect people - that’s the excitement, that’s what makes something magical. It’s also important because you have got to motivate a lot of people. The actual office might be only 10 in number but there are probably 300-400 more behind the scenes doing things on projects because of what we’re instructing. A lot of the time I will go on site just to say thank you and a craftsman will explain how he’s made a joint work and I will listen. That’s his moment of pride… it’s my design but he’s had to make it, and I want to use him again to get the same great quality.

TA: Lastly, do you prefer doing your own commissions or do you prefer your TV work?

DH: Oh I definitely prefer my own commissions, that’s my passion. Television is great fun to make, you get a buzz from walking into a room and seeing a camera man and director waiting for you to say something but for me, it’s a chance to share my knowledge and make design accessible.

Elle Jenkinson - T&A Editorial Team

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