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Dubai: Interior Design Capital of the Future

Kia Designs is preparing to open an office in Dubai. The expanding and exciting hub is a perfect place for us to reach new and existing clients, as well as access the myriad of suppliers and manufacturers available in the gulf states.

In the modern age there is nothing that competes with the design juggernaut that is Dubai. They are bold, brave, brass and they certainly don’t lack ambition. Wanting to capitalise on hosting the 2020 Expo, the city is creating a design quarter to rival that of Chelsea Harbour in London.

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Kia Designs starting to be a Carbon Neutral Business

Here at Kia Designs we like to carbon offset our yearly contributions and invest in environmental projects in the UK. We try to keep as paperless an office as possible, and keep our printing output low.

Interior Design isn’t the cleanest industry, we use lots of cotton (particularly in carpets and curtains) which is one of the most damaging crops on the planet. Fire regulations mean we coat a lot of products is some serious chemicals. We fly all over the world to attend trade shows. Then there’s the footprint for shipping furniture around the world, which is always very convoluted. A cane chair might be constructed in a village in Vietnam. Then coated with a varnish that has been made in China, shipped to the US and then sent back to factories in Asia. The chair might then be sent on to a wholesaler in China, bought by an American firm and shipped to their warehouse in Texas where it will be bought by a retailer, who truck it to their company. From there they send it to one of their international stores, say London, where we purchase it and send it to Dubai for a client. It’s more well travelled than your average yuppie.

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Creating A Kitchen That Isn’t A Kitchen

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 13.46.35One of our current projects has a very exciting feature – a kitchen that blends seamlessly into the lounge. The client loved the large open space, but didn’t want to feel like they were sitting in or relaxing next to the kitchen.

The first thing to do when integrating or disguising any object is to break it up into little parts. We’ve used different materials to clad different areas of the design. The island has been clad in a stunning burl wood, and is on raised feet, making it look far more like a dresser or sideboard. The sink unit is then painted in lighter colours which blend in more with the wallpaper, and the marble surface actually goes all the way up the sides of the window, cladding out the whole box, rather than just having a splash back. We’ve made the most of a quirky bit of space, where the building window juts out, and madScreen Shot 2016-06-30 at 13.45.56e it part of the design, throwing out conventional proportions.

The cupboarding is clad in a polished metal, which is very unusual in kitchens – intact our kitchen company, Roundhouse are making the finish specially for us. It will be highly durable and light reflective, so should make a stunning, unique surface. Inside the cupboards is more countertop and surface area, hidden away so that you don’t have acres of marble top visible in the room. A whole coffee station complete with quoter tap and appliances waits patiently behind the doors, adding to the clutter free look of the space.

We’ve used lighting that would more commonly be found in a lounge or bedroom. But not using function specific lighting, you can really change the mood  of a space. Here it instantly looks for informal and relaxed. If you were looking over from the sofa, you would just think this is an extension of the same room.

The island countertop is very special. We’ve gone for a mixed blue marble, which reminds us of a Van Gogh. It balances nice with the large oil painting which will go on the wall behind it. The blend of tones in the stone is quite remarkable, and it’s a bold colour most people would find too dominating for a kitchen.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 13.54.57 art,vangogh,,blue,painting,starrynight-d21f549d4e557dd5561e02524ec64ce9_h

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 13.46.24

Behind the kitchen will stand a wall of mosaic tiles in a flower pattern, akin to a dutch still life, to continue the art theme. This will be the dominant feature of the room and you’ll completely forget that you’re making scrambled eggs in your living room and think you’re in a great grotto somewhere in Southern Italy. We’ve enjoyed placing it in such an unusual setting, not only for the attention it will receive, but also for the amusement it should bring.


How Does An Interior Design Project Begin?

We’re often asked how we start a design. It’s a hard thing to answer as it’s really an intangible concept. After we’ve decided on the new layout, we start by asking the client a lot of questions, and getting a firm idea of what they don’t like and what they gravitate towards, as well as practical concerns (hardwearing, easy cleaning etc). Then we do a blitz of the major London showrooms for inspiration. We collect a few (we really try to limit these, as sampling for it’s own sake is a waste of everyone’s time and resources) samples and make note of features or furniture that would work. At first everything looks amazing and it can be overwhelming.

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Before and After

We often get asked to provide before and after photos on our website. We’d love to do so, but it’s problematic. On the one hand, without showing how we have transformed a space, we can’t get full credit for it. For all you know, looking at the finished picture, we might have just put up some wallpaper and curtains and slapped a vase on a console table. In reality that space may have originally been a boarded-up, decommissioned dumb waiter shaft. But on the other hand, some people have a hard time translating before and after images, as we have changed the space so much it becomes unrecognisable and the photos bear very little or no resemblance to each other.

For example, here are 3 areas of a project we have recently completed (although the “after” photos were taken a few weeks before finishing). Even though the transformations are quite dramatic, the images are taken from the same position and you can see that some features remain.

before and after bathroom

See more of the transformation

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Kia’s List for Life

We love the website List for Life, it offers bite-sized advice from an assortment of really talented and inspirational people, which always brightens our day.

The website features vox pop advice about money issues, work/life balance and play, as well as small bios and general pointers from exciting people.

This month they feature an interview with Kia, where she discusses why and how she got to be a London interior designer, the challenges faced along the way and offers advice for any budding young designers out there who are thinking of  branching out on their own. You can read the whole interview here.


Kia Designs interview

We thought we’d put together our own list of 5 things you need to know about interior design as a profession:

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Using a Professional Photographer

We’ve recently shot our latest project with a super talented interiors photographer Anna Stathaki.  One of the most satisfying parts of finishing a project is getting it professionally photographed and sending out the glossy snaps to the press and public. The lovely comments start rolling in and you forget about all the dust and hours you spent arguing with building control.

Doing a professional photoshoot can be a long and arduous task, and pre planning is key. Photographers aren’t cheap, so you’ll want to have a very good idea of what shots you can get yourself (if you’re any good – be honest!) and which ones only a very skilled snapper can capture. Our Knightsbridge project was full of mirrors and reflective surfaces, so we made the most of Anna’s expert lenses and photoshopping skills to remove the image of the camera from all the images. There are  couple of things to remember when booking a photo day:

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Interior Design Internship in London

What do you need to take in consideration when you are applying or (happily) moving to London for an international internship?

London is an amazing city, not only for living but as well for working here. All creative people adore it due to number of events and design stuff that are happening in the city all the time. You can’t see everything, and at some point you get used to the fact that you are missing out on important events, because an even more interesting and more creative event is happening on the other side of town. In most cases, creative interns love it. what do you need to know before moving here?

london view from WeWork Spitafields

  1. London is expensive. There is a price to pay for all those amazing events and design trades that are going on every day basis, and this price is called the living costs. If you are already live in a big city, you are probably aware of the monthly pass costs and rent and eating out. If you are living in smaller town, those prices may surprise you. If you want to fully enjoy the city, take in consideration all the museum exhibitions tickets and concerts that you want to attend. After all, being in London is all about enjoying the cultural and art scene here.

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Budget With/Without an Interior Designer

People often have the impression that hiring an interior designer is an expensive and indulgent activity. And it can be, but it’s probably not as expensive as you think, and invaluable if you haven’t got a lot of spare time.

First, let’s tackle the expense:

Our fee structure is very simple. £2500 per room if you have a big project and want just Kia’s design input, and £1500 per room if you’d like Kia aided by her studio. There is a minimum of 3 rooms per project. On top of that we charge a 20% buying fee, but this usually doesn’t really cost the client anything, as we negotiate hard with suppliers for trade discounts and then pass them on. Most of these discounts work out between 15-30% off, with an average of 20%, so once you’ve paid our buying fee it comes to the same as if you had walked into the shop. These discounts aren’t available to the general public, and even if you are going to ‘do it alone’ and set up a company to do up your flat or house, several traders will have high minimum spends (which we can  accumulate over the year on many projects) or only deal with proven businesses.

We realise that by improving your home, it well need to not only be beautiful and work perfectly for you, but you will need to see added value, and so sadly we turn away several potential clients if we feel the amount they would pay us in fees could compromise the amount they would spend on the whole project. Typically our fees fall between 3-7% of the overall budget. Here is an example of a build where the design fees were at the top end of what we would normally recommend spending.

design fees

We thought it was worth while, as over 2 years the properties in that street went up an average of 21% and this property went up 63%.

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Why We Don’t Offer Space Planning

We often get asked by prospective clients if we will just do ‘space planning’. The answer is always no. It’s a service that architects offer, and many designers will do a space planning consultation for a small fee. It’s usually requested when doing an extension or conversion, to see if you can fit everything you want in. The problem with it, for us, is that when we create homes we aren’t just plonking together “a sofa” with “a TV” and “a coffee table”. Each of these things will be specific pieces, with different sizes and shapes, and until you know which exact sofa you want to buy, space planning is a fairly useless endeavour. The TV you buy will have an optimum viewing distance and height, you’ll need to select a sofa that works with it, or vice versa, or you’ll get neck strain and headaches and wonder why. We consider exactly how you live – if you always eat dinner in front of the TV, you’ll need a higher, closer, table so we can reduce the space needed. If you always have a cup of tea in your hand, we’ll want to widen the walkways between furniture so that you don’t bump into things and spill it.

There is no ‘set’ or ‘average’ size of furniture for living spaces. A good interior designer will be creating a scheme that all relates to each other. Before we purchase any items for you, we’ll be checking they all work together, both functionally and aesthetically – making sure the rug you like is the right size and that you aren’t tripping over it or catching it on a chair leg.

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One of the most satisfying parts of our job is finishing a project and then looking back over the initial brief and inspiration to see if we’ve achieved what we set out to. When we are pitching to a client, we create mood boards, based on all the inspiration and ideas they have given us, mixed with our own thoughts and specific product knowledge. From creating these mood boards and presentations to actually seeing the finished product can be well over a year, and quite often you find that a design has matured and developed along the way. Not so with our recent big project, when we went back over the presentation notes we were quite taken aback at how accurately they represented what materialised. For examples, the hallway:

knightsbridge flat inspiration

Before board

hallway after

After photo


And that ottoman is in the study and living room.


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Interior Design Intern Interviews

Employing Interior Designers in London

Finding the perfect Interior Design Intern

Finding new Interior Design interns can always be a challenge.  Bringing new members in to our tight knit and dynamic team is extremely important as our staff provides an integral part of our service. Everything that we do from blog posts about designs through to how fabrics are labelled when we do a design presentation include our interns – we see it as a chance to educate the next generation of interior designers and prepare you for what the world of design will throw at you.  Many people see interns as the bottom of the ladder, at Kia Designs we don’t we see our interns as the most important of building blocks. We value every hour that our interns but in and how much passion they have for the industry and that’s why picking the best person for our team is always important.

Interior Design Internships

So who better to pick the new interns than the whole team?! That’s right.  We aren’t looking for a HR team or recruiter who will be picking the “best fit” based on what’s written (or, if you read our post on internships, what isn’t written!) on a CV.  We use the whole team to make sure that the person we are bringing in brings a new perspective to the overall team.  We aren’t looking for carbon copies, we are looking for new innovative people who are also aiming for the same thing we are: making an impression in the fabric of the interior design world. Sorry, I couldn’t help the pun.

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How To Get a Interior Design Intern Position

Every week we receive emails from prospective interior design interns. They are usually from students looking for experience in their holidays, or recent graduates looking for intern programs that will translate into permanent positions. Occasionally we get applicants who want to completely change career, or who have experience in a similar field and want to gain a brief insight into other aspects of design (for example, we get architects who want to see how we look at spaces in alternative ways).

We usually take on 2 interns at any one time. Our ideal placement is 6-12 months. Kia offers paid internships, unless a candidate’s visa forbids it. We can take on students over the summer, but the problem is you don’t really have time to learn much, as it will take you a month just to learn the ropes (and us a month to show you those ropes) and you won’t get to see a whole project. Our projects are usually minimum 3 months, with the majority of them being 6 months. An internship should work for both parties. You learn lots about running a business, designing for the practical world, dealing with clients and suppliers and seeing a project through from concept to completion. Kia is very thorough and you’ll spend lots of time learning how to do the accounts and operate a profitable business. You’ll also be given a lot of responsibility to design, source and style rooms, under Kia’s guidance.

interior design intern

Our offices at WeWork Spitalfields

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The Trouble With Designing Bathrooms

Bathrooms can be one of the trickiest areas to design and it’s where professional designers really save you time and money. Designs can be limited by technical specifications, legal requirements, structural and drainage limitations. Having said that, they can often be the most exciting space to design. In small projects with budget limitations, bathrooms tend to be the place you splash (sorry for the pun) out, as you aren’t buying materials in huge quantities, you can get the extra nice tiles or go for slate floors. Or you might decide that since the downstairs cloakroom is so small and people in there will probably have time to look around them, you might go for that bold wallpaper and make the room more exciting and visually interesting.

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Ever Wanted A Secret Passageway?

‘A house with a secret passageway’ tops most people’s “lotto win dream house” list. They feature largely in the children’s literature and adventure films that dominate people’s formative years. Later in life you might really see the appeal of being able to sneak out a lover, bump someone on the head and make a swift exit, or you might want to be ready to conceal a priest at short notice…

A more 21st century friendly secret passage usually leads to a private bathroom, office or walk-in wardrobe. It’s more about uninterrupted clean lines and reflective spaces than secrecy. On the occasions we are commissioned to build a secret room, it’s more likely to be for shoes than a 50 Shades of Grey style chamber. Pity.

At Kia Designs, we’ve used hidden rooms in several builds as a means of problem solving. Older fire regulations usually stipulated that you need a door between each room and the main entrance, and before open plan living became popular, entrance halls were all the rage, even in the smallest flats. The combination of the two tended to result in a hall of doors, all identical and very confusing for guests. We also can’t tell you the number of flats we went into that would have a large storage cupboard in the hall, covered by a “room door’, designed to give the impression you have another bedroom. This style of layout is impractical and aesthetically unappealing. It’s also wasteful in small spaces.

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