The philosophy of style: inside the world of Claudia Dorsch interior design
PUBLISHED: 09:00 03 July 2017 | UPDATED: 11:49 03 July 2017
After a decade in the City Claudia Dorsch started over with a second career as an interiors expert. She tells us about living in a show home, finding antique bargains on eBay, and why the job isn't just about crazy wallpaper
When handing over the design of your home to a professional you want to be reassured it’s in a safe pair of hands, and Claudia Dorsch’s are safer than most. After a ten year career in finance Dorsch swapped indexes for interiors. Having taken time out to raise her three daughters and renovate the family home she realised design was her new calling.
“I thought ‘I’m really going to make this into a career change’, but also need to get more knowledge,” she tells me. Dorsch, I soon realise, isn’t someone who does things by halves.
After setting up her own design company, Claudia Interiors, in 2009, she trained at the Inchbald School of Design in Chelsea, an institution that counts Zaha Hadid and Kelly Hoppen as alumni. Dorsch then spent another decade honing and refining her skill set on her own projects and learning from her mistakes.
It wasn’t just ten years of experimentation, either. Dorsch developed the concept of the ‘home show home’, using her own family abode as a life sized demonstration of her way of working. The Hampstead Living showroom is Edwardian, with the high ceilings of period property plus larger proportions than your average Victorian or Georgian home.
Dorsch is German by birth and favours a continental style that can be seen in the ornate cornicing and architraves. Her collection of art and antiques blends seamlessly with furniture sourced from her own carefully curated list of stockists. A sumptuous bed takes pride of place the master bedroom. Treca, the French company who made it, has been crafting their luxury beds and mattresses for 80 years, and Dorsch’s home is their only UK showroom.
Hampstead Living allows her to show rather than just tell clients how to show off a room to a best advantage, or create seamless storage space. “My skill is to edit, to have a good eye,” she says. “To know what are pieces that are beautiful and work well together, and how to put a whole house together. You need to be brave and bold but it still needs to flow.”
Not that Dorsch would ever impose her own style on her clients. Rather than apply a homogenous signature style, clients come to her for impeccable taste and a sharp eye for the bottom line.
“What I have is an aesthetic, a sense of beauty,” says Dorsch. “But you see, interior design is not just about pretty fabrics and finding crazy wallpapers.
“There’s a lot of management responsibility to it. I’m essentially managing how you spend your money and I want to help you spend it wisely. I take it very seriously.”
Once a client has procured her services, Dorsch sets about drawing up a highly detailed brief based on what they like, how they live, and what they want to achieve.
“That serves me as a guiding light,” she explains. She refers to it throughout the project, charting a smooth course through any unexpected detours any renovation project naturally throws up.
With so much experience under her belt nothing can faze her, not broken down vans, sold out suppliers, or even taking up the carpet to find floorboards that have rotted through. The level head that undoubtedly served her well in the City translates to precision project management. As she says, design isn’t just about finding lovely fabric swatches, and Dorsch is as at home charming and cajoling a recalcitrant builder as she is visiting a design fair in Paris.
This personal approach translates to her design philosophy. “Claudia Dorsch interior design is all about making you house looking individually beautiful,” she says. “I’m going to use what you like or already own. Then I’ll go out and find you a vintage chandelier or an antique rug, something that lends character to the house.”
That doesn’t mean sending out one of her interns to rifle through a dusty flea market. Dorsch does it all herself, pitching up at the twice monthly Sunbury antiques market at Kempton Park to hunt down the perfect finishing touches.
She’s also a secret eBay expert. It gives her projects an original edge, and also helps keep the costs down. “Decorating with a huge budget is not that hard, to be honest,” she explains. “When you’re on a budget you have to be cleverer about what you use.”
Her nose for a bargain serves her clients well. “For one project I had to find some nice quirky handles. You can get them made but they’d cost a fortune. You can buy them but they’d be the same as you see everywhere else. Or you can look on eBay,” she tells me.
“I found these amazing French, antique, really ornate brass handles that we stuck on a cheap piece of furniture which we had repainted and gilded and it looks like it is worth hundreds of pounds.”
For another client she spent a year gradually bidding on antique Imari plates, a period of Japanese porcelain characterised by their vibrant blue and orange patterning. The finished collection was used to adorn a feature wall.
This quirky approach with its focus on the individual appeals to her Hampstead clientele. “There’s a broad cultural mix here in Hampstead, and that’s reflected in the taste they have and where their furniture comes from or where their art comes from,” says Dorsch. “People are more individualistic. I would say that it’s an eclectic style.”
Dorsch doesn’t confine herself to NW3, though. She’s fluent in French as well as German, and has done several holiday homes in Europe for clients through word of mouth. My favourite is a house on the French coast she remained as a Moroccan Riad, complete with a collection of authentic Arabic art that Dorsch collected for the client. The designer finds travel endlessly inspiring, and Marrakesh is her favourite destination. “I have a huge library of ideas, of things that I’ve seen that I like,” she tells me. “I always take pictures on my phone when I see something I like, if I see a house door somewhere, or a garden wall, or a particular colour.”
Dorsch takes on one large project where she’s required to project manage or travel at a time, overlapping them with smaller projects with differing time scales. She can also of an hourly consulting service for those who want to run their own project but require her aesthetically attuned eye.
This mode of business allows Dorsch to be flexible, something she cherishes in her second career. “I have three daughters, and I wanted to do something with my life that is not just driving them to school and to sports, and supervising homework and piano practice,” she explains.
“This way I can do everything I used to do but I can also be around. It’s very flexible. I still work long hours but I can fit it in.”
She can also set a healthy example for her children, who are growing up in a very different world. “I think it’s an inspiration for them. I wanted them to grow up knowing you can change careers, you can start your own business, and you can be creative,” she says.
“There’s no such thing these days as a career for life.”
The Hampstead Living showroom is at 13 Bracknell Gardens, Hampstead, NW3 7EE