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Interior Design:On-site Video Interview with Daniel Hopwood

“A designer is expected to go above and beyond when working on a clients project,” that is the ethos of Interior Designer Daniel Hopwood, founder of the Daniel Hopwood Studio. The team pride themselves on being a small, multi-disciplinary practice of interior designers, architects and landscape architects that offer their clients a dedicated, personal, bespoke, design service that isn’t just ‘skin deep’.

“We always ensure that the skeleton of the building is in good shape before dressing it. As much of our work is in based in central London, we have a wealth of experience with old and listed buildings. Collaboration with the on-site team is essential so site visits are frequent and every detail of a completed project is quality checked before we hand it over to the client as the finished product, their home. We know that every client values their home and wants it to reflect their individual tastes and personality. Whether they want to be very hands-on, have little free time or live abroad, we adapt accordingly and deliver interior design projects that combine the client’s vision with seductive glamour, cool subtlety and originality. We believe that it is very important to engage and spend time with our clients during the evolution of the project, making the process enjoyable, accessible and fun for everyone involved”.

In our video below, we interview Dan on location in Kensington as he explains the project considerations and lengths an interior designer might go on a project.


Daniel Hopwood:On-site Interior Design Project Location Interview

I wanted to show you this site today because it’s a really good example of how far an interior designer might go on to a project. Now, we’re in Kensington, in a very smart square so, the square meter cost of this property is huge. Although, what we’ve got is a relatively small flat so I’ve got to make sure that every ounce of space is used, so there’s a lot of special planning that goes into this project.

The project

It’s one floor of 3 houses so it’s what’s called a lateral conversion. You can see the thick walls over there as you go through into one other property. The building is also listed and it means that the original walls can’t be moved. I’ve got a spine wall that runs all the way through, there are openings into it and I cannot change those openings and yet I’ve also got to create a flat that reflects the cost and value of being here.

The design process

The very first step of any project is the measured survey, often when I meet a client on-site for the first time they say ‘what will you do? What do you plan to do?’ well I can’t answer that until I have got a drawing, that’s where I start. And that’s what I did here, with the original layout and then it’s a game of chess, moving spaces around, squeezing a bathroom a little bit more, making one a bit bigger, to come up with the idea special plan. Before any colours or finishes are picked that’s what we do. I think a lot of people don’t understand the design process and how long it takes. It’s very very important to have everything nailed before it goes onsite, because you can’t work a project on a wish and a prayer. I know exactly where everything is going, in fact I could stand on this building site with a contractor and tell him the details without even having the drawings, because I know it back to front. It’s all about the preparation.

The challenges associated with this project

There are always lots of challenges and one of them is actually the other specialists that work on the project. For example, I’ve got to handle a structural engineer who’s going to tell me, for example, that no, I cannot make that wall bigger even though I wanted to and I tried to negotiate that but he said no way. Also, I’ve got a conservation officer who’s telling me he wants lath and plaster walls returned where they were meant to be, he’s rather strict on the type of cornice I choose and the skirting, so I’ve got to come up with details that are very typical of Kensington and prove I’m doing the correct thing. On top of that I’ve also got to get landlord’s consent and they have an expectation of how you’re going to lay this out, for example they would only want the bathrooms to be at the rear of the building, so I’ve also got that constraint. And then of course of top of that are building regs, so I’ve got to conform to a building regulation and actually get approval from the local officer. So, amongst all that I’ve also got to try and find something that suits my client, is inspirational and suits her lifestyle too.

Project considerations

This bathroom is going to be a square, in this space here with a coppered ceiling around the edge with up lighting which I always love. What I’m trying to do is ensure that the floor in the bathroom flows smoothly into the floor of the shower without a step. So the issue is, you can see this running into the soil pipe there, that’s fairly simple because we’ve cut in there and that would be for a wash hand basin. But a shower basin is going to come in here and you’ve got a trap, and that trap is going to want to drop lower than here, so what we’ve got to do is investigate what is underneath there but very carefully because I know that the ceiling for the flat below is not very far away. Now, if when I lift that and I’ve got about that much space, I’ll be a happy guy. This wall here is the original spine wall that goes right through the middle of the building. Its early 19th century and the conservation officer is adamant that I keep it. Not only that but you can see that its, you can see these little bits of wood here and these other bits of plaster, now that’s called lath and plaster and that’s actually horse hair there. They want me to put that back on the walls so I’ve got to get a skilled specialist that can actually do that.

On top of that I’m not allowed to move the openings, so here is the original door opening, which luckily works perfectly for this room. But within the rest of the building I’ve got different layouts and I’ve had to dance around those openings in order to make the space work for modern day use. Even though when you’re planning a project, you don’t know exactly what will be there until you start stripping the flat out, so for example on this one we discovered these pipes which can’t be moved. And there are valves that need access below and yet I’m going to have very smart bedroom in here. So I’ve got to box this out so you never even knew it existed. And what I’m going to do is deepen the fill and there’s going to be a radiator on this wall and I’ll integrate it on to the wall, so somebody thinks it’s just a really good idea of hiding the radiator rather than hiding the pipes. This space eventually is going to be the kitchen, there’s going to be a dividing wall here and there’s going to be all the mega flows etc. hidden in a cupboard here, but I’ve got to get those walls exactly in the right places. Because even though there might be a kitchen designer, I will do the initial kitchen design so that I’m working on 600 units all the way through and the wall finishes exactly where the kitchen unit finishes too.

One of the specific challenges that I’ve had on this property is classic of dealing with an old building, in that the floors are sloping quite a lot and also we’ve got the original beams which are quite weak as well. So they’ve been strengthened up, but also we’ve levelled off the rooms as well if not they’d all be sloping and that’s very difficult when you’re putting in modern joinery for example. What it does make it difficult for me, when I’ve drawn each elevation, I’ve had to assume a certain ceiling height, but of course that will vary once we’ve levelled the floors off, so then what has to happen is I re-draw the joinery details to what we have actually achieved so, there’s a lot of drawing going on throughout the project as well. When you’re dealing with high value apartments like this, they want it to be very good, and you can see there’s a whole ream of wires that have been stretched through from one end of the project to another. That sort of thing is only possible when you strip out flats to this level, which means as an interior designer, you’ve got to be able to do that, we’re not just skin deep.

The importance of communication

I am subject to the whims of the conservation officer and what they want. I’ve got to be able to speak his language, that’s what an interior designer does, he speaks lots of different people’s languages, from the plumber to the tiler, to the structural engineer to the conservation officer, to the building regs officer, and you’ve got to know their subjects. There’s constant compromise and changing on site and that means that it’s really important that I’m here to have those discussions with the contractor. I come on site, or one of my assistants is on site and they’re like sponges, they need this information, because even though it’s on a drawing, they still need it explaining and also, the skill of being on site is full of compromise so you know that it’s not going to happen how you’ve got it on a drawing, you’ve got to be able to listen to your contractor and the separate trades that have those specific skills and understand how they can solve the problem or come up with another solution.

Project valuation

Being able to value a project requires quite a lot of experience frankly, because I can look at all of the other projects that I have done recently with similar buildings which have all got similar issues and I know how much they were. The way I do it is based on square meterage plus bathroom plus kitchen plus heating. So it gives people an idea of what it’s going to be. But before the project actually goes on site before actually you know a space like this, it has been completely specified, drawn, the contractors have put a price to it and we know where we are. So unless there’s some big hidden nightmare, then we know where we’re going.

The importance of project scheduling

When you’re running a project, not only do you have the drawings, you also have the specification, which is a list of the works, that has to be written very very carefully, because if I trip over slightly and am not clear in what I’m asking for, then the cost could be different and that could land on me. So it’s very specific, it’s also the set of rules on the way the contractor is going to conduct themselves onsite as well. So it’s a very important part of the design package. There are also schedules, what are called finishing schedules, so we know what the timing schedules are, door schedules, bathroom equipment, we’ve got lighting layouts, I do most of the lighting design as well. The list of all the lighting products, everything has to be priced up, so the level of paperwork on one project is very big. And it doesn’t just stop there, it will change, not only because of circumstances on site but also, your client might change their mind too.

Project timescales

An interior design project like this, I think might take about 5 months. That is 5 months on site from beginning to pull up the original floor to somebody finishing the last touches of paint. This has got to be a very high spec and very high finish, so its very difficult to overlay the different trades. For example, when the decorator is in, he doesn’t want anyone cutting wood at the same time, so it just takes a little bit longer.

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4 Responses

  1. Thank you for this very inspiring and instructive interview. I am a fervent admirer of Dan’s and his work, so it’s been a treat to watch this video ! Thanks !

  2. Loved watching this video — thank you for sharing! Inspires me to work harder and understand other trades well. I have always loved building and renovation projects for this reason. The thrill of so many aspects considered and coming together in one place to make a beautiful space for life to happen.

  3. Hi,
    This was a great video. Very informative and a concise look at just how much is involved when it comes to designing a new space. It’s not just all about complementary colours and flattering lighting!
    A good introduction to the diploma course . . .


  4. I enjoyed this. Very straight to the point and clearly understood re: the conflicts when designing.

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