Meet Laura Hammett – we interview London’s top interior designer
There’s something about Laura Hammett. I could see it straight away. Something different. She is sitting behind the wheel of her Audi on a drizzly Monday morning, telling me about her house. Meanwhile, I’m cloistered in the back of a Paris taxi headed for Montmartre – however, I’m more interested in my screen than the opulent blur of Avenue Foch.
Who is Laura Hammett?
Laura Hammett is the eponymous founder of Laura Hammett interiors – the interior design practice, which she runs with her husband Aaron. Together, they’ve built one of London’s most successful luxury interior design businesses. Their timeless contemporary aesthetic has propelled them to the forefront of the industry and won them international acclaim with projects across Europe, the Middle East and India.
We meet for lunch at the Arts Club – the polished private members club at 40 Dover Street, set behind a discrete and equally polished black door with a liveried footman.
Laura’s immaculate personal style clearly doesn’t end at interiors. Her white shirt is flawlessly fitted and paired with deep green pants in a shade that surely merits Pantone’s colour of the year.
What does she think of the Arts Club interiors? “They are really well done”, she says. “We are getting a lot of clients asking for this more eclectic style” she continues as we take our seat behind an oversized George Condo painting set against an inky blue backdrop. “I’m literally always looking around” she apologises. “It’s the details I love. For example that column over there is amazing” she says, gesturing to a dark bronze column behind me – her professional eye detecting beauty which mine had not.
The waiter asks if we’d like some wine. She declines, “I’m a coffee drinker” she confesses, picking up her glass and momentarily revealing a dainty star-shaped tattoo on the inside of her wrist.
“So what did you want to know?” she asks me directly.
She has the same authenticity that I first noticed on Instagram. When Laura Hammett first popped up on my feed, I was struck by how real she seemed. In contrast to other accounts I follow, there was no sign of a manicured social media personality. No filters or pained verbal over-enunciations. No elaborate lighting or manipulation of angles.
Laura Hammett’s Early Career
Laura’s trajectory to success has all the hallmarks of the classic hard work and talent formulation. “How I built the business is not glamorous at all” she confesses. “It’s not what you’d expect from a luxury interior design business like ours – but it’s the reality”.
As an industry, interior design is blighted by designers who have, through fortunate circumstance fallen into the profession – courtesy of a wealthy spouse, ample free time and a partiality for fabric swatches. Laura Hammett, of course, couldn’t be further from this paradigm.
She studied interior architecture at Brighton, which was at the time one of two places offering the course. I press her on her choice of subject. “I wanted to study something more substantial than interior design” she says. Of course, she didn’t even have to say it. From her articulate manner to her attention to detail – everything about her screams competence.
Her head spinning success is a world away from the more modest beginnings of her business. On completing her degree, Laura started working at a London interior design studio. However, personal circumstances intervened and she suddenly found herself at a difficult juncture. “I needed to be at home” she says. “So I brainstormed, what am I good at – what can I do from home?”. Sewing is another feather she can add to her cap of many talents.
“I made cushions to sell on Ebay. Very unglamorous” she gesticulates and I notice a delicate Van Cleef and Arpels alhambra ring on her finger. “But it was a desperate measure”. The fabrics were fashion fabrics from Soho – partly because approaching a fabric house to set up a trade account seemed like “quite an intimidating thing to do” at the time.
“I then built a website”, she continues. “Something I have a strange knack for is learning tech stuff. I bought a dummies guide and built a flash website from scratch. I did all the coding myself.”
Awestruck, I mutter a profanity, “but wasn’t that before the days of WordPress and ready made sites?!?” I ask. She confirms that it was. Holy shit.
She curated a selection of her own and other people’s products, which she found at trade shows. “It was a little different from what we do now. More colourful and playful”, she smiles. “But it was still elegant homeware.” She assures me.
At this point the waiter interrupts us. We order some starters to share, including burrata, which Laura adores – followed by the mains; a walnut and gorgonzola salad for me and a green bean salad for her.
Laura’s business soon evolved. “A friend of mine had started selling artwork. We found an empty shop in Brook Green and tracked down the landlord. We asked if he wanted to do a pop-up, rent free for three months. If it worked, we’d pay full rent”. They revamped the space as best they could and watched it turn into a sustainable business. She remembers it fondly as “a really fun time” in her life. “We were both doing part time work. I was doing graphic design for a magazine. So we were tag teaming with running the shop. We didn’t have much to lose. Only the time we put into it.”
Laura’s story so far only affirms what I’ve always known about success. It’s as much about putting one foot in front of the other, as it is about talent. And in many ways, it’s the persistence that’s the hard part.
“So you were running the shop. It was all going great. But how did that translate into designing people’s homes?” I ask, whilst eyeing the courgette fritti. She moves the plate towards me and responds, “It was a nice part of Brook Green and I found myself consulting, helping people with their interiors. Someone might buy a lamp and would then approach me to ask about something else. It happened quite naturally”.
I reflect that the first decade of the noughties was a funny time for interiors. British interior design was just starting to get good. Thankfully, home makeover shows and their themed monstrosities were on the way out. However, these were replaced with a new class of offender – feature walls and jewelled door knobs. Fortunately, Laura didn’t get to where she is today by embracing fads. Does she still like her early work? “I do!” she says empathetically. “Of course, there are things I’d do differently. For example, I would never use a shower tray now” she says with a note of mild horror. “But my aesthetic isn’t wildly different”.
Laura Hammett interiors are known for their soft elegant colour palette and subtle jewel-hued accents within the contemporary framework of sophisticated British design. But that’s the business today. How about when she was starting out? Where did she get the confidence to share that vision with clients? She’s momentarily pensive. Her response is characteristically straight-forward, “At the start of my career, I don’t know if I necessarily had it – in the early stages of any career, it’s so easy to be client led”.
“But I learnt a lesson quite early on”, she continues. “Clients hire you for your vision – otherwise they would do it themselves… Our best projects are where the client let us have free reign… One of my favourite (among many) is a house in Surrey which was for a private family. Such a lovely family. They found us before they even found the house!… We had complete creative freedom. That allowed us to do our best work. It meant that every decision was the best decision.”
The Laura Hammett Business Today
How many homes is she working on at the moment? “Sixteen” she responds. “Wow, that’s a lot”, I say. There must be a lot of pressure. What sacrifices does she make for doing the job she loves? Again, she is forthcoming. “We are responsible for thirteen people’s jobs. As you can imagine that means a huge amount to us… There’s a lot of pressure to make the business sustainable for both ourselves and the whole team” she says. “And of course, the frequent travel can be difficult” she adds.
I want to know more about the challenges of Laura’s business. She wears success lightly, without its unattractive connotations. But nonetheless, how does Aaron feel about her being the face of the business they built together, I pry? Does he resent not sharing the limelight? A lot of partners wouldn’t be comfortable with that.
Laura laughs, “He doesn’t want to do it! He’s so amazing – but all he wants is to get his head down and work. He does so much already and is happy for me to run the more public side of things”.
By public side she means social media. If you have an Instagram account and even a cursory interest in design, you’re bound to know Laura Hammett. She has over eighty thousand followers and a slick professional feed that’s interspersed with the personal – pictures of her young family and stories from her life.
Has Instagram changed her business? “Absolutely” she responds. “Social media is changing design in so many positive ways… It’s also an amazing platform for clients to find our clients. Most of our international work has come through social media. It has opened doors which would have been closed a decade ago”
Her feed is elegantly curated and constantly updated. Does she have someone managing it? “I do it all” she replies. In part she credits her success to the fact that she got in there “quite early. It’s so oversaturated now… difficult to make a name for yourself” she says.
Doesn’t sharing her work so publically encourage imitation? “Sometimes you do find that… but as a designer, I also think it’s nice to see what others are doing so that we can do something different”. That’s a good way to look at it, I venture.
It’s been two hours and we’re not yet out of things to say. I change tack and go for a fast and furious approach – conscious that Laura has an empire to get back to.
What’s inspiring her at the moment? “Parisian style – especially Parisian architecture with contemporary furnishings.”
What’s the best piece of advice she gives juniors starting out with Laura Hammett Interiors? “Measuring, measuring, measuring!” she exclaims.
“Also double checking everything like crazy... My tip to everybody all the time is, think of the absolute worst thing that can happen? Now assume it will happen. The doorway’s too narrow, the sofa won’t fit… do you have a backup plan? What do you do?”.
Where does she go on holiday? “We go to Greece a lot. Our really close friends live there. I love Greece. But it’s been so long since we’ve done a holiday without kids” she says wistfully.
And what would she like for desert, the waiter asks? “The deserts are amazing here” I add.
“Chocolate” she says. And that’s enough for me. I officially love Laura Hammett.
We all have that one friend. The one who runs a FTSE 500 business, juggles a family, has an amazing figure and still makes time for her friends – the one everyone wants to come to their parties. She has it all – and you love her for it because she deserves it. Laura Hammett is that friend.