Laura Hammett Interiors is a multi- award winning interior design and interior architecture studio based in London. Over the last few years the company has gone from strength to strength with an impressive portfolio of luxury interiors around the world. We recently caught up with Laura to find out how it all began…
The last 10 years have been quite a journey for you, from your degree in interior architecture to setting up Laura Hammett Interiors, can you tell us how you got to where you are today?
It certainly has been a journey. I put a fair amount of it down to luck to be honest, being in the right place at the right time and seeing the potential in opportunities, but there has also been a lot of hard work and risk taking along the way.
I got my first foot in the door of the industry as an intern for a start-up company in London that a close friend was working for. Because they were such a small team, I was completely thrown into the deep end and was pretty much designing from day one. Within a few weeks, I was given a permanent role and was quickly running small projects of my own. It was absolutely terrifying and I definitely made a few mistakes during those early years but it really accelerated my experience and gave me confidence. After about 4 years working for this, and one other small company, a difficult family situation meant that I just couldn’t keep up the hours the job demanded and I needed to find a way to work from home. It is incredibly difficult to build an interior design business because you can be the most talented designer, but if you don’t have a portfolio or a strong network it is almost impossible to get a decent project. Ultimately, you are only ever as good as your portfolio. So I took a bit of a side step and started making my own cushions to sell on eBay. I had always loved graphics, so I developed my own branding including a logo and letterhead, which led to building my own website from which I sold the cushions directly. I then started discovering unique handmade products online and added them to the site so it was a full homeware boutique. It was a fun and creative time, in which I was able to explore an aesthetic that felt genuine to who I am, rather than following someone else’s vision.
A close friend of mine was doing something similar with emerging artists and one evening we walked past an empty shop on Blythe Road in Brook Green where we were living at the time. We managed to track down the landlord of the premises and persuaded him to give us a 3-month rent -free trial to do a pop up shop/gallery. It was a bit of a crazy idea at the time because we had no experience with running anything like this and virtually no funds to get set up. But we took a risk and bought a second-hand cash till on eBay and hired a bunch of power tools, working day and night for a week doing all of the manual labour ourselves to get it presentable and open to the public. It was such a fun time and we managed to keep afloat for a while until the crash of 2008, which hit small retail businesses like ours quite hard. My friend’s business sadly had to close but thankfully I had built up a decent local client base through the shop where I had also been offering interior design services, so after reluctantly deciding to close down the retail side of the business, a local garden designer moved in to take over the other half of the rent and we turned the space into a design studio. It was this same year that I met my husband Aaron, who was working as a product designer at the time and became such a huge support to me with both the design and the business side of things. I continued working with local people doing refurbishments and partial furnishing, slowly building on my portfolio and local reputation. After years of procrastination Aaron and I finally took the plunge for him to leave the company he’d been at for 9 years to join me with the business, timed perfectly with us expecting our first child back in 2011. It was a risk but very quickly paid off, allowing me to take a step back from work for a while after our daughter was born. Aaron bought a completely different set of skills and professionalism to the company and it slowly allowed us to expand, taking on a designer and more projects.
We had a developer client we’d done a couple of projects within West London and he gave us an amazing opportunity to pitch for his next project which was a luxury Mews development in Belgravia. It was a huge jump for us and we threw everything we had at the pitch to prove to him that we had enough ideas and an understanding of the level of design a project like that required, and he gave us the job. This was a big turning point for us as a business and it opened up a whole new market within prime central London, which is now where most of our work is located. We moved out of the Brook Green studio into a beautiful space in Fulham called The Glasshouse, which was such an inspiring place to work and is somewhere very special to me. I feel like this is where we really developed as a company and found our identity. However, as our portfolio strengthened, we started winning bigger and better projects so our team started to outgrow that studio and we moved up the road to where we are now on New Kings Road. We are now a team of 15, split down the middle of Interior Architecture and FF&E with Aaron and I heading up each side of the business, FF&E being my predominant focus.
Knowing there’s probably no such thing as a typical day, what does being the creative director of Laura Hammett Interiors involve?
Everyday is different but they always start the same, being jumped on by two very overexcited children: Willow who’s 5 and Fox who’s 2. Mornings at home are totally chaotic, getting the kids fed and dressed while trying to make myself look presentable too. Our nanny then comes and takes over so we can make our way to the studio. This commute is our time to switch from “parent mode” into “work mode”, while we plan our days.
I’m a coffee addict so the first thing we do when we arrive at the studio is make one and sit with our two heads of departments, Ian and Wendy to go through workload and catch up with how the team is doing. My day can then go in any number of directions, from a client presentation, a site visit to one of our ongoing construction sites, a meeting with a potential new client, but my main role each day is to work on the creative direction of each project and check in with the design team to sign things off. A typical new project will start with me putting together the overall design concept, taking the design as far as possible so that it can be passed over to a lead designer within the team to refine and implement. Aaron and our key senior designers are very involved in this initial design process because I love designing in a collaborative way and it keeps each project fresh. We will all sit together and brainstorm our ideas and refine the design thread and key principles that we like each project to have. We have about 16 projects on at any time, all at different stages from design, construction, furniture procurement to installation so I need to check in with each member of the team to review things because nothing goes out of the studio without me seeing. Wendy is my right hand woman and keeps track of the running of each project and team member, allowing me to focus on design and my relationships with our clients, which is what I really love.
Aaron and I are both in and out of the studio and in different meetings so much of the day so our drive home is our time to catch up on our days and then reverse our mind-set back into parent mode before walking in the door to bouncing, shrieking kids, which is always the best part of my day. It is so important when you work with your partner to keep the separation of work and home life, especially around the kids. It isn’t always easy but the hour we get at the end of the day as a family is a very special time so we leave our phones in our bags and hang out with the kids in the playroom (usually building Lego or dressing Barbies…). We both love cooking, especially in our new kitchen so try to make dinner if we have the energy, before collapsing on the sofa to watch TV. Life is pretty exhausting these days so we try to keep things simple during the week.
You wrote about your career journey on Instagram recently and mentioned how tough it is ‘letting go of the reins’ when you had your first child, how do you find being a parent and running a business?
It’s a juggling act and not always easy to get the balance right. I don’t think there’s ever a perfect balance though, because there’s guilt either way. I’m a perfectionist and the reality of being a working mum is that something always has to give which doesn’t naturally sit well with me. However I think this is the closest I’ve got to feeling on top of it all and that’s completely down to the support I get from Aaron and my team at work, allowing me to work part time. My youngest still naps in the day so I can spend that time catching up with work on the days I’m not at work. The kids are also regular visitors to the studio and have grown up knowing most of our designers. Going back to work after kids is a very personal thing, but for me it was never an option not to because my work is such a big part of who I am. My kids know that they will always be my priority but they see me working hard and being passionate about something separate to them, which I think is a strong message for both girls and boys to grow up with.
What’s the most important thing to you and Aaron for the future growth of the company?
Stability of the studio is a real priority for us. We have grown fast in a relatively short space of time so it’s really important that we keep control of that growth and make sure that our team is strong and the business is sustainable. We don’t ever want to be the kind of company that fluctuates it’s size based on the workload and would much rather pick and choose what projects we take on to ensure we don’t overload the team. We have very high standards and run things in a particular way so it’s crucial that we have a team that can be trusted with that.
Developing our aesthetic and experience is also very important to us. It’s too easy to fall into a comfort zone as a designer and churn out projects. There is of course an aesthetic that we are becoming known for, which is important too, but we like to take on the challenge of a variety of design styles within that. We pride ourselves on pushing each project further, so that we’re giving each client a unique design but also to keep ourselves excited and inspired each time because that’s definitely when we do our best work.
Where do you begin when starting a new project overseas and what challenges do you face compared to UK based projects?
It actually isn’t that different working on a project overseas. We have so many projects on site at one time and can’t be there physically at every moment so need to be very heavy on paperwork with detailed drawing packages and schedules to make sure that every detail is implemented exactly as we have designed it. This same level of information is needed whether the site is up the road or on the other side of the world. The main difference is that every site visit needs to be maximised and planned so that we can coordinate as many things to happen at a time, because we obviously can’t keep popping over to India to meet with a subcontractor to check something. We also insist on an English speaking project manager based at the site so that all drawings and documents can be interpreted correctly and we can communicate well remotely.
Client meetings often still take place in our studio in London because many of our clients visit or have a property here, but we also often travel to see them with suitcases full of samples and do some interim meetings over a conference call. Because we don’t see them as frequently as our local clients we need to make sure that the communication is regular so that they feel updated with the progress of the project.
We understand you create bespoke furniture for your clients, what does this involve?
Sketching is the best way to start designing a piece of furniture, and it can be a dying art these days. Once the overall form and concept is established it is then developed in CAD. Usually 2D is enough but we will often look at upholstery pieces in 3D to make sure the proportions feel right. They will then go to our furniture maker who will provide shop drawings for us to approve. With some more complex pieces we make paper mock ups in full scale and view them on site so that we can be completely sure. For me design is all about proportion so the smallest thing can throw off the whole piece if it isn’t right.
Your interior design style always feels so timeless, can you share any tips on how you achieve this look?
I don’t like to pay too much attention to trends. Most of our projects take a couple of years from conception to completion, and although the furniture isn’t finalised until the end, the designing is conceptualised as a whole at the beginning while the details are developed during the project journey. Therefore there isn’t any point in following a strong trend because it may have passed by the time we are installing. Of course there are natural developments when it comes to finishes and colour pallets. For example, antique brass and bronze being used over chrome when it comes to ironmongery and brassware, and I’m also finding myself moving away from cooler greys in favour of warmer champagne tones on walls and fabrics.
My approach when it comes to designing a scheme tends to be layered in priority of what needs to have most longevity. Starting with the architectural base which should be very timeless, particularly when working with a historical building. The decorative lighting and main furniture pieces can be a bit more contemporary but as they are still a big investment they need to feel just as current in a number of years time, but then the styling and finishing touches is where we can bring in some more personality because they can be easily updated. For example a trend like blush pink (which I still love) is a lovely accent colour to bring into a bedroom, but through the use of accent cushions or accessories, items that wouldn’t be too costly to change after a few years.
What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
We are currently working on 6 overseas projects, as close as Isle of Man and as far as India and the Middle East. There is so much variety in the style of these projects, naturally as the location and building type is such an inspiration for us. We’re finding that interest is spreading overseas more and more which is something we’re definitely embracing. We’re also looking at doing some collaborations this year which I can’t talk too much about yet but it’s going to be a fun year!
To find out more about Laura Hammett interiors and view other amazing projects visit their website here.
Image Credit, Laura Hammett Interiors