Acclaimed British designer Katharine Pooley, who currently has 30 projects going, is the talent behind memorable private residences and hotels across four continents. But her greatest feat may be helping people to forget where they are: the airport. Pooley’s refined sensibilities have reshaped the interiors of the Royal Suite Terminal 5 at London Heathrow and the VVIP Private Jet Lounge for XJet at London Stansted—spaces that serve not only as polished environments but also as refuges from the vicissitudes of 21st-century travel. With any number of discerning guests passing through, these facilities place a premium on privacy, as their separate entrances and screening areas attest. Employing a moody palette punctuated by metallic finishes and crisp accents, Pooley put her cool, understated imprint on each space, deftly mingling notes of residential splendor with elegant restraint. Here, the designer shares her thoughts on bringing touches of civility and comfort to passengers’ erstwhile purgatory.
Given that most people are harried or weary in airports, how did you approach the design of these spaces?
There had to be a strong design aesthetic to every area, but the furniture was predominantly handpicked with comfort in mind. I spent a great deal of time ensuring all fabrics were durable, soft, and inviting for the tired international traveler. A mixture of linens, velvets, cashmere, and leathers in cool tones were layered to create a peaceful and serene sanctuary from the rest of the bustling airport.
Were there any limitations or restrictions to these projects?
Absolutely. When working “air side” at an airport, there are many rules and regulations regarding fire retardancy, security, and durability that we had to take into account from the beginning. Also, the VVIP clients tend to have big retinues and groups of security personnel; we had to ensure, for example, that there were very strong chairs by every door for the bodyguards. The spaces also had to be fairly flexible in arrangement but completely private from each other. A typical hour might see the Pope, Justin Bieber, and the Emir of Qatar all passing through. Best kept entirely separate.
How was this different from designing a hospitality project?
Because of the nature of the clientele, it had to have a very luxury feel rather than a commercial one. It was designed more in keeping with an exclusive private members club or private home—with beautiful accessories, flowers, cushions, throws, and scented candles.
What amenities did you wish you could have included?
It would have been fun to incorporate some beauty amenities within the spaces. For many of our clients, having a massage or manicure while they wait would be expected—and designing private spa lounges is something I have enjoyed in the past.
What informed the color palette and furnishings?
I felt it was important to keep to a classic British color palette of royal blue, soft dove grays, and some ivory and crystal accents. I also wanted to ensure British manufacturers and artisans were predominantly used to showcase their high level of quality and unique design flair.
What mood did you want to evoke?
From my own experiences traveling around the world, I really wanted to create a tranquil and calm atmosphere where, for a moment, the clients might relax.
What have your travel experiences taught you about good design?
I find that the simplest things make a great difference when I am traveling. Can I charge my phone easily? Is the chair comfortable? The lighting flattering? Will my drink be reachable on the table? These small details, which are too easily forgotten or sacrificed for the overall design impact, make all the difference in achieving a truly successful design—one that is both beautiful and fit for purpose.
Favorite travel rituals?
There is nothing quite like turning my mobile to airplane mode and looking at photos of my two little boys, husband, and dogs to completely chill out and remember the most important things in life!