We are delighted to share our interview with Karen Howes, a great businesswoman, interior designer and CEO of Taylor Howes, one of our best clients.
How and when did Taylor Howes start?
Taylor Howes is going to be 25 in 2018 but actually, I’ve been designing for over 30 years. Our first offices were in Chelsea Harbour when it was not really the amazing centre of design and excellence that it is now. It was a very sleepy design centre trying to get on its feet. So, we started there and in fact, it’s actually really nice that one of my companies , th2designs, is still there, so we’ve had a long linked association with Chelsea Harbour. Back then, we were two men and a dog or two women and a dog to be exact, and now we are a team of nearly 30 members of staff.
How has your job changed and what you now find as some of the most rewarding aspects?
The job of the interior designer wasn’t taken seriously as a profession; it was decorators rather than anything else. Interior design was left to architects and architectural practices in the main, apart from Mary Fox Linton along the way. We were always very much an afterthought. The developers would bring us in at the end of the project to finish it rather than bringing us in at the start. Now, what happens is that we come in pre-planning, often pre-the architects because they realise that we are a critical part of the team. You wouldn’t see a project in central London, of a private nature, without an interior designer, which certainly wasn’t the case when I started. I think practices like Taylor Howes have had a hand in bringing about real professionalism. We love working with architects. We have an interior architecture team but that doesn’t mean to say that we take care of the role of architects, they should work hand in hand.
"For me, the projects have become a lot more technical and a lot more complex and I like complexity and challenges."
Doing a project is like doing a jigsaw puzzle: you get your frame in first, which is your kind of layouts and things and they are great because you’re going backwards and forwards until you know you hit that perfect layout. It’s like finding the corner of your jigsaw and the minute you find it, you know that. Then it’s filling in the rest, you’ve got the sky and the sea, depending on how complex your jigsaw puzzle is, it’s filling in all the other bits. So for me, what I love, is running a strong team. I still get involved in design but very much on the managing and editing, so I will set the tone of a project, the team will go away and do all the hard work and find all of the amazing materials. I always say to clients that really I am the first client as far as the team are concerned, so they come to me and present it to me and I edit it before it’s even put in front of the client. The changes are very minimal because we’ve been through that rigorous process before, and that's the best bit of my job. I’m lucky that I ‘ve got a fantastically young, energetic, passionate team. Fortunately, I’ve got a lot of energy so I can keep up with them. In fact, we sat down to meet the team this week because we’ve got a lot of new young members of the team, and I forget that some of them don’t know my journey and how I’ve got here, and actually I wanted to know their journey. In our office, we have a Spanish, Middle Eastern, Irish, Hungarian, South African and German team members, so we have a complete wonderful representation of what London is about, and all of those influences are brought to the table. We don’t sit in the look and the style, we’re always moving forward. I very much let the team bring all of their passion and ideas and we have a discussion about it, but ultimately I’m the one editing and making sure that the standards and the quality that Taylor Howes represents is out there.
Can you describe some of your personal design influences? What do you like?
I do a lot of travelling both for work and pleasure because I like to see all of the different cultural influences. I go to the Middle East a lot, I absolutely love it. The mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I go there every time I visit Abu Dhabi. I admire what the planet produces for us, the stone is so breath-taking. I still have a major passion for art and I collect British 20th century’s art. Art is one of my big influences and we have quite a few clients who are major art collectors. That’s really exciting because what we do is secondary to the art, and it’s quite important that we make the art sit in an amazing environment that it’s not completely overwhelmed by it. I like glamour, I like detail, we’re not afraid of colour in the practice here. We would never do 'death by beige'. We like balance and symmetry; I’m quite particular on how things sit, so we spend a lot of time detailing joinery, furniture and all sorts of pieces.
"People don’t come to us for our particular look, they come to us for our expertise and our passion for what we do, and the insurance that we will deliver the absolute best on time and on the budget."
How much input do you allow your clients?
We always say as much as they want. The nice thing is that we have a lot of repeat clients. Some clients just say: 'Karen you care about these things more than I do, so just do it'. Then we have other clients who are really passionate about it and they travel a lot. We encourage clients to have their own Pinterest boards so they can share with us the staff that they like. Again, we're going back to the jigsaw, it’s just putting all of those pieces together and what we want to do is to interpret what they want and how they want to live. Because at the end of the day, I always remind my team that it’s not our home, it’s their home and the client’s always right. What our duty is that if a client is asking for something that we know isn’t going to work, we need to explain that to them because they come to us for our experience. And the scale of the piece of furniture is everything. Part of what we do here is to stop clients making really expensive mistakes. If somebody wants something and through our experience, then we will be honest with them and say it isn’t going to work for these reasons, have you thought of this and this and it’s up to us to give the client a wide range of options.
How do you see the London property market changing?
We know we are in the big changing phase at the moment but London will always be a designed destination place to come and certainly, a lot of our high network clients are still here and will stay here. I think it’s interesting that people are realising that in terms of interior design London is the gateway pretty much to the rest of the world, and I think we’re really lucky that we have access to so many really amazing things. We do a lot of work with developers at the moment, looking at specs, people are wanting more for less. I’ve been in the industry long enough to have lived through many different ways that London has changed. We all just need to be adaptable and I think that is the key. We’ve got a lot more international projects now than we had before. We’ve got a couple projects in Abu Dhabi coming up, but I think London is always going to be the jewel in the crown for people’s property portfolios. We have to accept London is an international city and I think interior design wise, it will be interesting to see the changes actually. The real challenge is how designers are collaborative and innovative on a lower budget, and we’re not afraid of doing that because that’s where we started. We still work with St George and other developers who need to build at a bigger volume. It’s quite a different thing designing a one off completely bespoke interior to a design that’s going to be rolled out to over 30 apartments without causing the build team a complete headache.
Your new office looks great, was there a budget involved?
There was, and as you know we had amazing collaborations with all of our wonderful suppliers we’ve worked with over the years. The location is fantastic for us, it used to be an Aston Martin car showroom and when we took on, it was a complete shell. We were lucky with the Rigby&Rigby who are partners in Howes&Rigby. They did the work for us because it’s a great showcase of the quality of what they do and what we do. I love the fact that we’ve got almost two different zones and feels in the office; the ground floor is very much the showroom as it was when it was a car showroom. It represents a lot what we do in marketing suites and show flats and what we do for our private clients. Downstairs used to be where the mechanics were fixing the cars and we kept that industrial feel because downstair is where the really hard work goes on. It’s also great for our clients to see both spaces; you’ve got the calm serene finishes going on upstairs and then a lot more energy going on downstairs. It’s also great for us to have the space to show off products from strategic partners and suppliers like yourselves. We want to be constantly changing the space, we don't want to be static.
Do you have a favourite piece that we provided?
It has to be my desk, I love it! Everybody loves it. It’s classic, it’s timeless, it’s elegant, finishes are quite feminine, I think, which is nice for an office. I love the combination of the lacquer of the timber and the leather and then the metal accents... it’s just perfect. Even practically it still works well for me, it means I still have a window to the world going on in my office. Having said that as well, the meeting tables practically have performed really well. Clients really love it when they come in, it’s been a very good balance between not being too residential or too commercial, so when clients come in for meetings, they feel quite relaxed.
There is a growing trend for an office space that is a bit more residential feel to it.
Yes, we do a lot of private family offices. They don’t want anything that is really boring mass office space, they want something that’s more boutique hotel-y, more like their formal living space at home. People don’t sit at their desks 8 hours a day anymore. They do a lot of work on the move, on their phones and iPads, and I think that’s reflected in their office spaces as well. Of course, we also love doing boardrooms and reception desks, private screening rooms. Even the lawyers' firms now would have a bar space where people can have a cup of coffee or much-needed drink and chat about things informally, and that’s really fun.
How did you find the process of both designing and then actually going through the developing process with Decca?
From my point of view, it was a really easy process. I was very clear and definitive on what we want so in terms of selecting things, it was quite a quick and easy process, having all the finishes that we could select from because that is obviously key for us to get the right finishes in place. For you then to take and understand what we wanted to achieve, to then bringing back the drawings back for us to approve was a very seamless and easy process. And then you rushed it through for us as quickly as you could.
Find out more about the new Taylor Howes office HERE.
Do you get feedback from your designers about your suppliers as well? Are there any certain boxes that need to be ticked?
We’ve been in the industry long enough that we just want this to be a fun process. We’re all passionate about it, we all work very hard, all our suppliers and designers. We want people to be on the same page as us. So suppliers who go the extra mile, which you guys do, to bring us finishes and products but also to follow through on the delivery and the aftercare, are really key for us because at the end of the day if we’re let down by a supplier, the client doesn’t care. When we say we’re going to meet a date, we meet it. The client doesn’t need to know all of the stuff that goes in the background, but to get it there, that is what they’re paying us to do. We have our kind of key lead suppliers that we love working with and who make our lives easier, which you do.
What does the future hold?
It’s exciting, we’re going to be doing our first book! I don’t know how long it takes to put a book together, we just started on that process. We’re also doing some more lights and electrics, we’re working on our first product range which we’re hoping to do a launch towards the end of this year. I’ve got lots of speaking engagement, we’ve got a lot of travelling, we’ve got some projects overseas, which we’re really excited about. We’ve got the launch of 3 new show flats coming up now, which will be great. We’re finishing an amazing apartment in One Kensington Garden. Every project sets the bar and tone higher, but this one’s really quite special. Because we’ve taken a very simple developer finish and turned it into a real jewel box.
Find out more about Taylor Howes on their website www.taylorhowes.co.uk.