In his TV show, the designer advises contestants on how to transform an interior in a few days. So why did it take him 12 years to do up his one-bedroom London flat?
Daniel Hopwood sinks back against his favourite oversized silk cushions and, over pink macaroons and red wine, tells me that he envies Tom Ford’s ceiling, enjoys “colour-teasing” Kelly Hoppen and wants his home to be “effortlessly stylish”. “I want people to walk into my flat and it looks like I don’t care,” he says. “But I do.”
It is a rare moment of indulgence in which to reflect on a busy few years. When we last met, in summer 2014, the interior designer was filming the second series of The Great Interior Design Challenge and making plans to gut and remodel his central London flat. Now the fourth series of the high-speed makeover show has arrived on our screens and the tiny residence is finished.
So can Hopwood explain why a one-bedroom apartment refurb took a leading interior designer more than a dozen years to complete? He bought the top-floor flat in Marylebone, “in the most expensive location I could afford” for about £500,000 in 2004.
“I was feeling pretty flush, but only flush enough to buy it,” he explains. “I spend my life advising on what things will cost to build, and didn’t take that into account myself. I had to move from a beautifully done flat in Bayswater to what was quite a wreck.”
The building was constructed in 1958, on a former bomb site in the middle of a Georgian terrace, and its location is exceptional. The view from the velvet banquette around Hopwood’s dining table is a twinkly street scene, including the clock tower of the 19th-century parish church and the roof garden of the Conran Shop. Hopwood lives there with his partner, Wolfram Petzinger, whom he describes as “a banker, but a nice banker”, and “a total brainbox”.
Originally occupied by surgeons and doctors drawn to the area by nearby Harley Street, the block was designed with all the mod cons of the 20th century, including storage heaters, wide Crittall windows and a 1950s fitted kitchen. By 2004, though, it was dilapidated and horribly draughty. The brief was to bring in 21st-century levels of comfort and an easy-living aesthetic. Sounds simple, right?
Yet Hopwood says it was one of his trickiest projects. “Because a big part of my work is listening to clients and defining other people’s style, it’s hard to define my own as a designer. So, when it comes to my home, decisions are difficult — I know all the options and I’m spoilt for choice. I talked to Wolf and we were in agreement that we wanted a space that was a haven.”
The only way to achieve that serene feel was to sweat the small stuff — to reconsider every millimetre of the floorplan.
Work started last January. The wall between the kitchen and the sitting room was taken down, with a sliding glass screen and a cocktail bar added between the two rooms. The long, skinny bathroom was extended, annexing a small amount of space from the dressing room, and another reeded glass screen was installed, to concertina between bathroom and hallway. To maximise living space, discreet storage was built into every room.
A breakthrough came when Hopwood visited the site and spotted wires through a crack in the concrete floor. These turned out to be an early version of underfloor heating, which could be excavated. “We added five inches of height to the interiors by dropping the floors.”
The designer ignored his own rules on spending. “With a client, I start with a budget, and we go backwards from that and try to fit everything in. That’s the sensible way to do it. On this one, it was budget smudget, I’m afraid. Speaking to the contractor, I’d say, ‘Oh, just do it. It will be fine.’ I spent about £140,000 in total. I didn’t charge myself fees.”
He did, however, listen to his usual advice when planning the decor. “When I teach Interior Design Masterclass with Sophie [Robinson], I say, ‘Look at your wardrobe, the colours, the styles and the type of clothes you wear. If you’ve got Valentino, then fine, we’ll go big and glamorous, but if you’ve got more North Face, there’s probably a level of practicality required.’ Nowadays, for me, it’s the classic Savile Row suit and white shirt, with one bit of naughtiness — a bright pocket square or socks — and I wanted the flat very much to have that.”
So the decor is classic, featuring unfussy geometric pattern and opulent fabrics in some unexpected colour combinations. The ceilings may be higher than before, but
they still aren’t as lofty as their Georgian neighbours, so Hopwood has avoided decorative pendants. Lighting is attached to walls (sconces by Serge Mouille) and set into the ceiling (Occhio swivelling spots), and an ambient glow is cast from numerous concealed LED strips.
His “bit of naughtiness”, hovering over the black travertine table in the dining room, is a stainless-steel semicircle edged with LEDs, cut out to reveal a gilded ceiling above. “I have to admit, I didn’t invent that idea,” he says. “I saw it in Tom Ford’s house when I was passing by in Holland Park, and it looked phenomenal. I thought, ‘I’ve got to have a stainless-steel ceiling.’”
The couple moved back into the flat in October, once most of the structural work was finished. Hopwood is delighted with his new habitat. Is his other half as thrilled? “There was a time when we were at a summit meeting at the office and he said: ‘I’m sorry, I’m not happy with this. These colours do not go together.’ I didn’t pull rank. I thought, ‘Keep calm. Keep quiet.’”
Somehow those stylish clashing hues survived. By way of a compromise, Wolfram picked out what has become his favourite piece of furniture: a brown leather swivel armchair called Blake-Soft, from Minotti. “I can’t get him out of it,” Hopwood says.
The decorative detente has even stretched to an amnesty on cushions, the most contentious accessories for any couple. “We never had them before — Wolf wasn’t a fan. The other night, he was taking the cushions off the bed and I said to him, ‘Do you know what those are for?’ And he said, ‘I haven’t a clue, but you seem to be very happy about them.’”
On the home front, then, harmony reigns. And, working on the fourth series of GIDC, Hopwood has acquired a new telly wife, the international superdesigner Kelly Hoppen, whom he plainly adores. “We had a great time on set. We disagreed on everything. It was pure joy. If you think about it, we are both from pretty serious businesses — hers more serious than mine — and we were out to play.”
The main source of ribbing was colour. “We colour-tease each other all the time. Kelly is a lover of taupe, and I am not. We enjoy that. Kelly doesn’t wear colour. For one show, I turned up in canary-yellow trousers. I’ve got this picture of her throwing herself in front of me, trying to hide the trousers.
The new series benefits from the chemistry of its co-presenters and bowls along at a faster pace, with twice as many reveals per episode after the initial heats. Hopwood, who has perfected the role of kindly, informed expert, says the standard of the contestants is higher than ever. It’s certainly proving to be must-see TV for the nation’s interiors enthusiasts, though my guess is that none will pull off anything approaching Hopwood’s personal design challenge: creating a home of laid-back luxury that fits his domestic life as well as one of his tailored suits.