Designer Spotlight

Katharine Pooley’s Elegant Style Is Truly International

neutral living room with pink accents by Katharine Pooley
Portrait of Katharine Pooley
British aesthete Katharine Pooley poses in a house she designed in London’s Notting Hill, for which she selected contemporary coffee tables and Japanese 19th-century silk panels, all from Guinevere Antiques (portrait by Kate Martin). Top: The living area of a home overlooking Hyde Park, also in London, features a chandelier composed of rods of ombré glass, curving custom sofas and coffee tables by Boca do Lobo. All photos by Nico Wills unless otherwise noted

Katharine Pooley’s family has a motto: Conare et vinces — try and you will succeed. It is advice she took to heart at an early age, finding success first in international investment banking and then with the eminent architectural and design business she founded 18 years ago.

Today, her team at Katharine Pooley Design Studio, numbering just under 50, manages projects across the globe that range in size from 3,000 to 100,000 square feet.

Although Pooley is one of the best-known designers in London, the U.K. capital accounts for only 20 percent of her business, with British country residences making up a further 20 percent and international ones 60 percent.

This year alone, she is working in the U.S., France, Monaco, Switzerland, Majorca, India, Malta, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Private residential work predominates in her portfolio, but the studio is also engaged in commercial, hospitality and superyacht projects.

Pooley cites her father, Robert Pooley MBE, as a huge inspiration. After serving in the Royal Air Force, he founded Pooleys Flight Equipment — still the global aviation industry’s go-to source for flying and navigation equipment — in 1957 and, subsequently, Pooleys Sword, the leading cutler of military and presentation swords for the British Armed Forces. She herself held a helicopter license for several years.

“It’s in my blood,” Pooley says. “The first thing I learned as a child wasn’t the conventional alphabet but Alpha, Beta, Charlie, Delta.”

Following university studies at the Institut national des sciences appliquées (INSA) in Lyon, France, Pooley relocated to Asia to work for Morgan Stanley, moving from there to Barclays bank, based first in Hong Kong and then in Singapore, Vietnam and Bahrain. While living abroads, she says, “I indulged my love of design by buying all manner of artifacts, including textiles, carpets and antiques.”

After 16 years, she returned to London with her husband, Daniel. Together they decided that she should change careers and indulge her passion for interiors by opening a boutique on Walton Street in Chelsea, selling items she had sourced on her extensive travels.

That was in 2004. Before long, clients were asking her to design their homes, and the boutique morphed into a full-fledged design studio. In 2012, she opened a second showroom, this one in Doha, cementing her links with the region.

neutral-toned living room with large chandelier by Katharine Pooley
Another view of the Hyde Park living area reveals artworks by Ilhwa Kim, made of rolled hand-dyed paper, hanging over a fireplace from Chesneys. The sculptural vases on the consoles flanking the mantel are by Sandra Davolio.

These days, her business is thriving, continually attracting new clients and earning commissions from many returnees. One such example is an apartment in The Lancasters — among London’s most beautiful residential developments, overlooking Hyde Park — where Pooley was asked to combine two apartments to create one magnificent home for an international family.

The drawing room is particularly spectacular, dominated by a chandelier of handblown glass tubes that appears to flow over the ceiling. “We design the majority of our lighting in-house,” says Pooley. “I love the theater and pizzazz of this.” 

She chose a feminine color scheme of rose, cream and blush pink for the space. “It was very much designed with the lady of the house in mind, but knowing that men can also sit in it comfortably,” she says. At one end are asymmetric resin-topped coffee tables with liquid metal bases, designed in-house, together with rock-crystal-and-bronze consoles by Simon Orrell, set into the niches on either side of the fireplace.

At the other end, the studio designed the over-scale curved sofas, while the layered coffee tables in wenge and gilt were made in collaboration with Boca do Lobo. The distinctive metal console by Adam Williams is in a colorway bespoke to the studio, topped in Calacatta Oro marble.

neutral living room with pops of blue by Katharine Pooley
For a commission in London’s Kensington, Pooley used lampshades, sourced from Guinevere Antiques and made from vintage blue sari fabric, to top navy Murano glass table lamps. The paintings are by Rebecca Meanley; the Venetian glass mirror over the fireplace dates to the late 19th century.

Over the years, Pooley has worked with a handful of developers who share her commitment to exceptional quality. One such example was her client for a handsome Queen Anne townhouse in tony Rutland Gardens in Kensington, which needed a complete rethink.

“We knew it was likely to be a second home,” says Pooley, “so I challenged the client a fair bit on resolving tensions, such as balancing storage requirements with spatial flow. This is about how to live perfectly, with every detail considered, down to how best to integrate the coffee equipment.”

neutral entryway and dining room with teal artworks by Katharine Pooley
Paintings by Sam Lock and Meanley adorn the Kensington home’s hall and dining room, respectively. The bronze and limestone console in the foreground is by Adam Williams, and the French Baroque–style rock-crystal candlesticks on the dining table in the background are from Guinevere Antiques.

She kept the color scheme neutral, allowing prospective owners to imprint the house with their own taste and personality through soft furnishings and artworks. However, it was important to style it to attract the right buyer, by juxtaposing antiques with contemporary art. The result is a home that is harmonious and considered, with superb finishes, like seamless marble floors, but also individual. No wonder that it sold immediately.

living room with blue accent chairs and area rug by Katharine Pooley
Pooley commissioned custom chairs and a tall bespoke bar cabinet with straw marquetry doors for the Notting Hill sitting room, which also features gold Donghia lamps atop Kifu Paris side tables. In the background is a Steinway piano and a limited-edition Hervé Langlais console table from Galerie Negropontes. Photo by James McDonald

One of Pooley’s favorite projects is the house she designed for a young couple in Notting Hill, who had such confidence in her proposals that they never asked for any changes. “It had been renovated by a developer previously,” she says, “but with very little thought. That meant we needed to start from scratch with many of the key elements, including the flooring and the pool, but we worked like demons over the first lockdown to complete it for them in eight months.”

The clients appreciate quality, so Pooley commissioned the finest craftspeople, including cabinetmakers Halstock and Silverlining, and ordered a piano from Steinway, bespoke elevator doors from Based Upon, a billiard table from William Bentley, alabaster pendant lights from Hervé van der Straeten and hand-painted wallpaper from Fromental. The result is a blend of comfort with cool — a home filled with a dynamic energy ideally suited to her clients.

indoor pool with green wall and suspended sculptures by Katharine Pooley
Next to the Notting Hill house’s indoor pool, Pooley placed McKinnon and Harris chaise longues. The wire-mesh sculptures of diving figures are by Nikki Taylor. Photo by James McDonald

Pooley herself owns a portfolio of carefully chosen properties that include a smart London townhouse, a magnificent country house in Oxfordshire, a Hamptons-style holiday home in Devon, a romantic castle in Scotland and a tiny bolt-hole in the Lake District called Little Nut Cottage. “The colors in the autumn there are like those of Vermont,” she says. “Crazily beautiful.” 

rustic cottage living space with wood beams and stone fireplace by Katharine Pooley
In her own country house, known as Little Nut Cottage, in England’s Lake District, Pooley hung a beautiful bronze and hand-carved lead crystal Montalembert chandelier by Jonathan Browning over a custom walnut and wenge dining table. The sofa is also bespoke, while the console is from Soane Britain.

She bought the cottage in 2020, had it completely stripped and refurbished, then decorated it in natural tones with accents of claret red. Rather than being constrained by the small scale, she went as large as possible, with pieces of furniture that include a bespoke L-shaped sofa in the sitting room and a minimalist four-poster bed in stained oak she designed for the master bedroom.

Among her favorite touches are the ceramic flowers behind her bed, sourced from all over the world, each depicting a bloom indigenous to the Lake District. She also loves scouring local art galleries for paintings by such British artists as Richard Cook and Jeremy Gardiner.  

gray and white bedroom with four-poster bed by Katharine Pooley
In a bedroom at Little Nut Cottage, contemporary Vaughan sconces hang on either side of a bespoke oak four-poster bed, two of whose posts frame hand-sculpted flowers mounted on the wall behind it. Pooley sourced the blooms from around the world, each depicts a flower indigenous to the Lake District

Each year, Pooley writes a list of goals, relating not just to her business but to her personal fulfillment as well. “I love what I do, but I’m capable of even bigger. I also enjoy giving back,” says Pooley, who is a trustee of the British Forces Foundation and King’s medical college; an ambassador for the women’s health charity Lady Garden; and an advocate for the international Campaign for Wool, among other philanthropic commitments.

“The interior design community is such a privileged one that I feel we could achieve so much more for society, for the planet and for our children if we all came together for the common good.”

Katharine Pooley’s Quick Picks

Christopher Haedy chandelier, 1770, offered by Fileman Antiques Ltd
Shop Now
Christopher Haedy chandelier, 1770, offered by Fileman Antiques Ltd

“A magnificent chandelier and a completely one-of-a-kind piece. I positioned a similar chandelier in our recent French château project. Imposing architecture requires beautiful large-scale lighting. It is the most important piece to get absolutely right.”

Japanese six-panel screen, winter into spring, 18th century, offered by Naga Antiques
Shop Now
Japanese six-panel screen, winter into spring, 18th century, offered by Naga Antiques

“I adore Asian screens, especially when they are generous in proportion. The paint work on this Winter into Spring collection of six panels is particularly pretty. The ornate, richly finished gold backdrop would look superb in a minimalist architectural interior.”

Pair of Hervé Van der Straeten Athena alabaster and brass table lamps, 2012, offered by Curato
Shop Now
Pair of Hervé Van der Straeten Athena alabaster and brass table lamps, 2012, offered by Curato

“A very graceful table lamp in beautiful alabaster. The form of the column base is simple but beautifully crafted, and I love the inset base detail.”

Raffaello Romanelli reproduction of the Gaddi Torso, new, offered by The Craftcode
Shop Now
Raffaello Romanelli reproduction of the Gaddi Torso, new, offered by The Craftcode

“A striking marble sculpture anchors a formal interior and works equally well in a contemporary or traditional setting. I placed a bust much like this one at the foot of a sweeping staircase in London recently for maximum impact.”

Alabaster sconces, new, offered by Studio Glustin
Shop Now
Alabaster sconces, new, offered by Studio Glustin

“The clean lines of these wall sconces are most attractive, and the natural alabaster will create a beautiful soft, flattering light.”

<i>Rolling Hills</i>, 1940, by Birger Sandzen, offered by Charles Morin Fine Art
Shop Now
Rolling Hills, 1940, by Birger Sandzen, offered by Charles Morin Fine Art

“I love the combination of layered impasto texture and vivid color captured in this landscape painting of rolling hills. It would make it an evocative and inspiring starting point for a living room design.”

Christian Krekels etched brass coffee table inlayed with agate, 1970s, offered by MORENTZ
Shop Now
Christian Krekels etched brass coffee table inlayed with agate, 1970s, offered by MORENTZ

“Christian Krekels is such an iconic postwar designer. Every time I feature one of his pieces, it completely captivates my client and draws many compliments. This table is no different: unique, original and timelessly chic.”

Mosaic dresser in selenite, bronze and American walnut, new, offered by Newell Design Studio
Shop Now
Mosaic dresser in selenite, bronze and American walnut, new, offered by Newell Design Studio

“This selenite and bronze dresser would look marvelous in a luxe urban interior. I would balance its rich detailing with a light timber parquet floor.”

English portland stone fireplace, ca. 1900, offered by Thornhill Galleries
Shop Now
English portland stone fireplace, ca. 1900, offered by Thornhill Galleries

“A striking Portland stone fireplace, this would give gravitas and classic elegance to a large-scale interior. I often source fireplaces and mantelpieces from the team at Jamb. They always have the most unusual and interesting pieces, and their taste is faultless.”

Loading next story…

No more stories to load; check out The Study.

No more stories to load; check out The Study.