A still from Kelly Hoppen Design Masterclass (pub: Jacqui Small, 2013)
Kelly Hoppen is an internationally renowned designer, the empress of all things taupe and beige, an entrepreneur, and a business ambassador for the UK. She was even a fixture on the BBC’s Dragons Den for two years, but she recently left “due to a packed schedule”. Juggling so many roles sounds like it requires time travel, yet when I speak to her she’s remarkably Zen.
“Speak to me in a couple of weeks and I might be on my knees,” she jokes; as close to a laugh as I get during the time I spend with her. Sitting in her west London studio, the somewhat aloof decorating queen makes a fearsome interviewee.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Hoppen moved to England with her parents (both worked in fashion and the arts) when she was two. Her love affair with design was ignited early – she was fascinated with the show homes she used to visit with her mother, although she puts her entrepreneurial zeal down to the death of her father when she was 16 years old.
With no formal interior design training, Hoppen left school to set up her own business and landed her first job redecorating a family friend’s kitchen. Forty years on, there is hardly a project – yacht, villa or jet – she hasn’t put her name to, and she counts many of the world’s elite among her clients, the Beckhams included. “Yes, I have designed pretty much everything,” she says, her voice as smooth as the marble in her designs.
Hotels, however, are still a new-ish area for Hoppen Interiors and her latest completed project – the five star hotel and resort Lux Belle Mare in Mauritius – is by far the biggest she’s ever done. The transformation has been three years in the making: in 2011 she met Lux’s chief executive Paul Jones on another far-flung island in the Maldives and was asked to work on a turnaround of the hotel.
A bedroom from the Lux Belle Mare hotel in Mauritius
Tucked away on the east coast of the island in the sleepy village of Belle Mare, the resort is almost a village of its own with thatch-roofed suites and peaceful villas overlooking the beryl blue sea. “It was a very different place before,” Hoppen recalls. “It was hideous. There was a lot of orange wood and it was dark and oppressive. It was not at all what you would want in a resort – we have lightened the whole thing up.
“When you go to an island in the middle of nowhere with sandy beaches, you’ve got this idea of barefoot luxury. The question was, how could we create this five star hotel that was understated, a breath of fresh air?”
Spread out like a fan on either side of the main building are the hotel’s 174 suites, with 12 Lux ocean villas to the north. The rooms are decorated with Hoppen’s signature neutral colour palette and splashes of traditional Mauritian shades of blue, green, orange or pink on the cushions and the runners. Even the bathroom walls are clad in taupe wood, adorned with panama hats hanging in a row.
The dining terrace at the Lux Belle Mare hotel
“The look of every room is pared-down simplicity. You don’t want lots of fabric around you when you’re in the heat. I wanted to capture the feeling of getting off a plane from a city and shedding all that ‘cityness’, being able to relax, do nothing. That’s really what we created.”
One of her favourite features is the smell of freshly roasted coffee to welcome guests entering the hotel lobby. To the left of the reception are the three restaurants including Amari by Michelin-starred Indian chef Vineet Bhatia and Duck Laundry, which serves contemporary-style Chinese dishes.
At the furthermost point of the hotel and closest to the sea is K Bar – “it was named after me” – which has its own microbrewery offering a range of craft beers. After cocktail hour, the party continues at Beach Rouge, which is decked out in white sofas and hexagonal tables on white-washed wooden boards.
She talks in abstract terms about the atmosphere she set out to create rather than specifics; of spaces where guests “do not have to think” and places where your “every whim is catered to”.
The lobby of the Lux Belle Mare hotel
“For me, time is the most precious thing of all,” she says. “Being able to go on holiday and not be interrupted is so important. So every time you want something, it’s just there – that was the brief.” You can see the results of this philosophy everywhere, from the movie screens and bean bags on the beach, to the Mauritian food truck towed by a Rolls Royce, bringing veggie burgers straight to your sun lounger.
After putting the finishing touches in place at the end of the year, Hoppen celebrated over Christmas by inviting dozens of guests to Lux Belle Mare, including Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon and his model wife Yasmin.
Hoppen Interiors is now working on 40 projects around the world, including her second collaboration in India with Yoo, the luxury residential developer founded by John Hitchcox. She has also launched an online business selling homeware and linen through her website KellyHoppen.com and set up two Christmas pop-up shops in Bluewater shopping centre and Westfield London.
An apartment from the Lux Belle Mare hotel
The list of accolades for the MBE-awarded designer goes on. There is Studio Hoppen, an interior design service with a less hefty price-tag, which launched last year, and her design school which runs twice a year. A team of over 80 people now work for her global design empire; her profile overseas even led David Cameron
to appoint her as ambassador for the “Business is Great” campaign, for which she will visit Shanghai later this month with other ambassadors including Stella McCartney and David Bailey.
Given how far she’s come since that first kitchen project 40 years ago, I wonder if she feels her work has evolved? “Hugely... but the same philosophy is there. I create homes for people to live in rather than look at. It is about how you feel in an environment. If you put a ring on that hurts your finger you’re not going to wear it. It has to fit. Same with clothes, design and interiors. It has to be effortless.”