It is quite astonishing how little information is available on the process of large interior design projects for private clients looking to spend millions on their properties. There are plenty of glossy books that illustrate the finished work of designers to give you inspiration. But finding information on how to select the right designers, their cost, how they work and how to work with them is not as easy.
Thankfully, Graham Green has agreed to share his expertise, and in the process, helps you make informed decisions when selecting a designer.
Could you introduce Keech Green and the type of projects you work on?
The company was established in 2002 when Michael and I left our respective creative positions at Ralph Lauren (Europe) to launch Keech Green. Starting with two large residential projects in London’s Kensington and Mayfair, we set about creating what is now recognisable as the signature Keech Green style.
Our principal aim is to ensure that we fully realize our client’s brief. Working with the finest materials and craftsmen, we strive to create interiors that are timeless in terms of design and style. This desire for longevity ensures that we rise above the prevalence of short term ‘fashion statements’ that pervade the design industry.
Based at London’s Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, we are supported by a highly competent team of designers, draughtsmen, artists and project coordinators. With projects ranging in size from 4,000sqft to 50,000sqft, we aim to effortlessly transport the Keech Green style around the globe. One half of Keech Green’s work is located in the UK; the other half is located internationally. Principally we work for private clients and their families.
Some of our clients are closely involved at all stages of a project, others prefer to take a back seat and we present our ideas for approval as they are developed. We work with both existing and new build projects. Commencing with rearrangement of the proposed floor plan, we develop the design of the building’s interior from this simple and vital starting point. Very quickly we produce detailed hand drawn images of the rooms which assist our clients with visualisation of our ideas. We are generally responsible for all aspects of the project’s interior architectural design. This is complemented with the detailed selection and procurement of all materials, furnishings and decorative items. This usually extends to the selection of artwork and framing.
At what stage of a new build should the interior designer be engaged ?
I feel it is important that we are engaged at the earliest possible moment in a project’s evolution. We give great consideration to the notion of what it would be like to live and function in the interior spaces that we design.
Undoubtedly it is also imperative that we consider the exterior architecture of the building and the garden in which it is encompassed. Planning and incorporating our ideas early on in a project’s design development saves both time and money. Not in a willful way, but we are likely to make changes anyway!
How is the interior design team structured?
We have dedicated team members that remain with a client and a project from start to finish. Each project will have at its core a dedicated designer/drafts person that has an intimate knowledge of the building’s interior design. Additionally there will be a dedicated project coordinator that manages every detail of the project’s day to day development – again from start to finish.
What is the relationship with the architect? Who leads and how do you work together?
Generally the architect is the lead designer. It is imperative that there is one ‘information conduit’ along which the details of all project specialists is channeled.
We produce very detailed drawings of every aspect of the interior design. Pending client’s approval of our design, these drawings are then issued to the architect for incorporation into the overall scheme.
The architect reproduces our drawings and we are then responsible for approving the architect’s version of our drawings, to ensure that our design has been interpreted correctly. It seems a protracted process but it is in fact vital to ensure that our design fits and that the architect has understood our design intention. In addition to the architect and the interior designer, every project relies on an army of specialists. For example, mechanical and electrical engineers responsible for heating, ventilation, air conditioning etc., audio visual specialists who’s role extends beyond sound and vision requirements to matters relating to security, telecommunication and internet requirements.
Each specialist has his or her own agenda and will require regular meetings with the interior design team to ensure that their service requirements are met and installed with the greatest consideration for the interior fit out.
Naturally, we don’t want air conditioning vents to be located in ceilings that have been earmarked for a valuable chandelier. In this case it is our task to sympathetically and discreetly incorporate such a technical detail into the design without compromising on the effectiveness of the A/C when in use.
Likewise, we will have numerous meetings with the other specialists who will in turn require space to locate their mechanical kit.
Once you have finished the design of the internal structure, do you then start the procurement process for the furniture ?
Pending client approval of the design concept, the design development takes place. It requires many weeks of drawing to ensure that every detail of our concept is documented. These drawings will be important tools that assist the other specialists later in the project.
Meanwhile, a detailed budget (shopping list) is developed by room, itemizing furniture, fabric, decorative detail etc. that will be required to furnish the house in the final hour.
Pending client’s approval of the budget, the furniture and decorative details are sourced and procured on our client’s behalf. These items will be stored off site until all works are complete. At this point (usually two months before the end of the project), the site is cleaned and prepared for wallpaper and carpet installation. In the final two weeks, furniture is brought to site, curtains are hung, all furniture and decorative items are positioned and the artwork is hung (all details of this final process are pre agreed with our client).
Do you make the furniture or do you buy it retail?
Much of the furniture that we specify for our projects is designed in house. Our clients like the notion of bespoke furniture and this contributes to the designs great point of difference.
The great benefit of bespoke furniture, aside from being unique, is that it enables us to specify exact dimensions and material finishes.
We have an clutch of extremely talented craftsmen that manufacture our furniture in the UK. Usually smaller workshops that specialise in exquisite bespoke production of furniture.
By working only with UK specialist makers, we are able to regularly monitor quality of finish of these pieces several times during the course of production.
Additionally, we also buy pieces of furniture at retail to supplement these bespoke items.
How do you incorporate art ?
Some clients come fully armed with a beautiful collection of art, curated over time. Some of the works, we will reframe and we are fortunate enough to work with one of the best frame manufacturer in the UK, located in London.
Other clients rely on Keech Green to source and coordinate the purchase of paintings and sculpture. Working with a small number of art specialists and our own connections within the art world, we regularly assemble incredible collections of art from dealers both nationally and internationally.
Once the structure has been delivered by the builders, how much time does it take to deliver and position the furniture and art that you have sourced?
The final phase is very swift. It can take less than three months from wheel barrows in the drawing room to lit candles on the mantle piece. For those currently experiencing this final phase as I write, the end is not far away. Do not succumb to installing wallpaper too soon in order to rid yourself of builders. It will be damaged for all time!
From start to finish, how long does a project last on average?
Approximately 18 – 30 months, depending on the size of the project. On average 24 months from first client meeting (bearing in mind that planning permission can take three months +).
How is a project priced?
Generally we charge a fixed design fee based on the square footage of a property. The full trade discount on all furniture and decorative items procured at trade price is passed onto our clients in full to which we add a commission fee @10% of this cost. The overall saving to our client is therefore significant.
What advice would you give to a client who is looking to hire an interior designer for a large project?
When selecting a designer it is paramount that a positive chemistry exists between the client and the designer from the outset. For better or worse, the client will spend a great deal of time with their chosen designer for the duration of the project.
Naturally, it is important that a client likes the design style of the chosen designer but a designer’s ability and willingness to adapt, tweak and manipulate their own style to suit a client’s taste and the requirements of the project is also very important.
The tasks of the interior designer are extremely diverse. The ability to keep the general builder, the architect, the lazy supplier, and the difficult specialist happy requires extraordinary skill, patience and diplomacy.
It is therefore imperative that the designer who does not exhibit calmness and diplomacy at the first meeting is avoided at all costs!
It is not my place to suggest that Keech Green exhibits the above skills in equal measure, but we try our very best to do so.