Interior designer Philippa Thorp tells Arabella Youens about the transformation of her Grade II-listed house in Hampshire.
There’s a discernible undercurrent of no-nonsense about Philippa Thorp that has clearly been responsible for propelling her business from a start-up in a friend’s spare bedroom to being the go-to architecture and interior-design company for some of the most powerful people in the world.
Among her faithful clientele she counts former presidents and oligarchs, who have her working on their global property portfolios, spanning continents from Phuket to The Hamptons. Recently, she’s been enduring Canadian winter temperatures designing the interiors of a client’s new Bombardier Global Express private jet. None of it appears to faze her.
The daughter of a naval officer who painted in his free time, she had a comfortable, if predictably peripatetic upbringing, but she credits part of her fearlessness to a ‘spectacularly challenging tutor who took every opportunity to knock me down’ while doing an art foundation course after leaving school. ‘I’m a fighter and I thought, if he wants to annihilate me, I won’t let him.’
Some years later, having abandoned a degree in textile design, Philippa was offered a role at Citibank. ‘I was signed up with a temp agency when the call came through. It was one of those pivotal life moments. Initially, I baulked at the idea of working in the City, but, in the end, I absolutely loved it—I like parameters and details and I like getting things done.’
When a friend said she was setting up on her own, Philippa jumped on board. Their first project was for a Lebanese friend. ‘He asked us to do a bedroom, then that expanded to a few more rooms. He then recommended us to friends and we were off.’
From the firm’s corner offices in Knightsbridge, Philippa employs a multi-disciplinary team with a ‘360˚’ approach to projects. ‘I’m a control freak, so we operate a one-stop shop and do everything from the architecture to the landscape design, interiors and project management,’ she says.
Her three daughters, Camilla, Belle and Letty, are also part of the team. However, it’s in the architecture and the interior layout where her heart and interests lie. ‘I have one skill and it’s an ability to understand space. I can see the internals of a property and know exactly what to do.’
When it came to finding a new home, this ‘one skill’, as Philippa modestly puts it, proved invaluable. ‘Before I even opened the door, I knew it was the right house.’
Her daughters were less enthusiastic. The Grade II-listed property, with a 1960s extension, was painted pink on the outside and every other colour on the inside. ‘It was the view across the valley that sold it to me—I knew that the house could be fixed.’
By the time Philippa returned to her desk, she had the new layout—which included moving the front door to the northern elevation and building a new staircase, as well as transforming the garage into a guest annexe and linking the two with a contemporary glass atrium—drawn on the back of a napkin. ‘It’s become a family joke that, when I see a staircase, I instinctively want to move it. The drawing I did then is exactly how the house is laid out today.’
Although there’s no ‘signature Thorp look’, the interiors of Drayton House are testament to Philippa’s ability to create bright, well-planned spaces that are brought to life by interesting artwork and pops of colour and are decorated with tasteful, tailored fabrics. At the top of the handmade staircase are the family bedrooms, each with a bathroom, dressed in fresh linens and fabric-backed or painted panelled walls.
The main bedroom, with extended views out across the valley, has a four-poster bed and a vast, walk-in wardrobe. Three guest bedrooms, including a double-bunk room are in the adjoining brick-and-flint cottage.
Back in Knightsbridge, a four-hour ‘lock-in’ is in session, with clients looking at various schemes for their barn extension near Henley. The team is also working on redesigning the clubhouse at Wentworth and Philippa is preparing to pitch for jobs in the Bahamas and the South of France. No one flinches—it’s a typical day in the global decorating game.
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