Residential interior design

 23 June 2011

Dan Hopwood runs his own interior design company whose clients include bankers, lawyers and celebrities. He recreates stunning interiors, combining modern and more traditional designs.

Dan's work is about helping his clients to discover their own unique style.
Dan's work is about helping his clients to discover their own unique style.

As well as high-end residential projects, Dan also undertakes work for commercial clients, and was responsible for re-fitting the suites at the Berkeley Hotel.

Training for interior design

Leaving school after A-levels, Dan joined the furniture department at Harvey Nichols. He was attracted by their reputation for high-quality products and cutting-edge design. The experience he gained, initially as a sales assistant and later as assistant buyer, was invaluable.

“Harvey Nicholls was really breaking new ground at the time, and I loved this whole experience.

"I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I left school, so I decided to delay university for a while, five years in fact. I learnt so much about furniture and where it comes from, which has proved to be really beneficial in my subsequent interior design career.”

As a mature student Dan opted for a degree in Architecture at the then-Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster). After graduating Dan attended the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture for a one-year diploma course. He then spent two years working with various architects as a draftsperson.

“This was before the days of Computer Assisted Design (CAD), and everything was drawn by hand. I was gaining useful experience as a draftsperson, but there wasn’t enough contact with people for me.

"Interior design seemed more appealing. My first break came when I was asked to design the interior of an apartment for a colleague. As this was a success, he was able to recommend me to others, and I gradually established my reputation as an interior designer.”

Developing an interior design business

At present Dan employs just one other designer and a part-time accounts person.  He also has an intern working with him, who is soon to join the paid staff. It hasn’t always been like this, as he explained:

"I am responsible for everything that goes on inside the property. My work is a blend of architecture and design."

“Seven years ago, after building my business over a period of several years, I had around 25 staff working for me.  However, I was starting to lose creative control, and employing so many people was becoming quite stressful.

"Although I was technically self-employed, it didn’t really feel like it. So I gradually decreased the number of employees, and nowadays I am much happier and am earning just as much money as before!"

Dan's office is in a building that houses other creative professionals and artists, and he would never want to work from his own home.

“I think it is really important to go out to work, to provide a separation from your home life. I love working here, alongside many other creative people, including mosaic artists and furniture-makers, some of whom I collaborate with. It is also important for me to have an office which clients can visit.”

Although Dan has a website, he has never needed to advertise and has worked with some of his clients for 18 years, since starting his business.

“I am very fortunate in that I have been completely unaffected by recession, and have work booked a whole year ahead.

"Understanding my clients’ needs is paramount. Absolute discretion is vital when you are dealing with celebrities and international business-people. And of course I must ensure that we stick to the agreed budget.”

Being creative with interior design

Dan never imposes his own style on clients. His work is much more about helping them to discover their own unique style. He often designs a room around a work of art or piece of furniture. He also uses samples and fabrics from his extensive library to guide, along with examples from his own portfolio.

“I love the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement, and often integrate art or craft-work such as mosaics or stained glass into my designs.

"I might use specially-commissioned glassware and then ask a cabinet-maker to make some shelves to complement that. In this way everything blends together perfectly. My designs are also worked into the architecture of the building, creating harmony.

Keeping abreast of the latest designs and technological developments in everything from tile grouting to fabrics is vital. Dan visits the furniture shows in Paris and Milan every year and meets sales representatives at his office most days.

Managing a team for interior design

At any one time Dan may have up to 100 people involved in his projects, from electricians and specialist plasterers to curtain makers and joiners. Managing this diverse team is quite a responsibility and is not without its stressful moments! But it is also something that makes his job so enjoyable.

" My designs are also worked into the architecture of the building, creating harmony."

“As an interior designer I am responsible for everything that goes on inside the property. My work is a blend of architecture and design.

"Some projects take as long as two years from the initial meetings with the client to the final handover. Completing each job, having created something so beautiful, is hugely rewarding.

"My job is similar to that of orchestral conductor – everyone has their individual part to play and I need to listen carefully to each and every person. At the same time I must keep the bigger picture in mind without being too dictatorial.

"Having a great team that I can rely on certainly helps. I have established effective working relationships with the best people out there.”

Ensuring that people turn up each day and work effectively, keep to the brief and interpret the specifications and drawings accurately are all part of Dan’s challenging job.

“Sometimes I need to be assertive and firm, but I always aim to be fair. Keeping calm at all times is also vital, whether you are dealing with trades people or clients."

Working with interior design clients

“At any one time I usually have around twevle projects to manage. It is my job to remove all possible stress from the client.

"They are often making the second biggest investment in their lives (the first being the property purchase), which may make them somewhat anxious. I need to reassure the client, and to inspire them with my confidence and calm approach.”

To help ensure everything runs smoothly Dan visits projects all over central London on a daily basis, travelling by scooter to save time. Self-presentation when meeting clients is also important.

“I need to look right, and that means being well-dressed. But you are never competing with the client. I am more like the butler, discreet, professional and putting my clients first.”

Advice for an interior design career

  • Interior designers need to be numerate with commercial acumen and excellent judgement.
  • Interior designers need expertise with spreadsheets and CAD, as well as a knowledge of building regulations
  • At a job interview, don’t tell the client you have lots of ideas – being a facilitator is more important
  • Long working hours go with the territory, but it's important to take regular time off and maintain a good work life balance.

Unfortunately Dan Hopwood is unable to respond to individual emails about careers in interior design. Please visit our Tools & Resources section for online support and advice.

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