Nordic Design Institute
Feature: Interior designer Henriette Kockum
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Working with interior design projects around the world reaching from The Hoxton in Paris to Blueground in San Fransisco – the Swedish interior designer Henriette is a great source of inspiration for all of us in the world of interior design. Read more about her projects, the difference between working in Scandinavia versus the U.S. and so much more!
Hi Henriette, tell us - what you do and where you live?
Hello! I grew up in Sweden and I have worked as an interior designer for eight years. I have spent most of my career abroad, including London, New York and San Francisco. Right now I'm in the process of moving from San Francisco to Texas.
When did you become interested in interior design?
This may sound odd and it’s a little embarrassing to admit, but looking back I honestly my interest comes from The Sims, a compute game I played a lot as a child. I remember spending several hours building different houses and designing rooms. That was my favorite part of the game. Then, I planned various make-believe renovations for my family home that I presented to my mother. "We should repaint here, build storage there" etc.… None of my ideas became reality of course haha, but it was fun to fantasize.
How would you describe your style as an interior designer, do you have a basic philosophy?
I think it’s difficult to define my style because I usually adapt it to where I live. When I lived in Brooklyn it was more industrial, in London a little more eclectic, etc.… As a basic philosophy, I think it is important to consider the environment you design in; the culture of the area, the architecture of the building, etc.… My latest apartment was an Art Deco building so I tried to adapt my interior design accordingly. Not just to create an entire "Art Deco theme" but to elevate those architectural elements through a more stripped-down interior.
Image from project The Hoxton, Paris.
Image from project The Hoxton, Paris.
You have studied interior design. Do you think an education in interior design can be beneficial for those who want a career in the industry?
I studied interior design at Parsons in NYC and it helped me a lot, not just on a technical level but also for motivation. Every day I was inspired by my classmates and we pushed each other to improve. It was also good for networking purposes, because I found my my first internships through school contacts. However, I also want to emphasize that an education is not a must-have to make it in the industry. I know several super talented interior designers who are self-taught. It simply depends on where you want to work and how strict they are with requirements for qualifications, something that we see more of in the industry as it grows.
You interned with Cheryl Eisen who styled for Eklund NY. What was that experience like?
It was my very first internship and we styled and did staging for many “Million Dollar Listing” homes. I'm so grateful for what I learned there. Styling is super important and it is the finishing touch in interior design. I learned all sorts of crazy and cheap staging tricks like taping the back of rugs for a "super-size" look, how to fake luxury curtains without sewing, and so on. Looking at the photos or watching the show, no one could guess what really happened behind the scenes haha!
Since then, you have worked with hotels, restaurants and home furnishings. What has your journey in the world of interior design looked like?
I stayed in NYC for a while and worked on Selldorf Architects, which has a small interior design department with a focus on exclusive housing projects. After that I moved to London and worked on Soho House and WeWork. Soho House is a private member club that runs hotels, restaurants, spas, etc.… My biggest project with them was the hotel The Hoxton in Paris. With WeWork, I designed office projects in London and Dublin. My most recent job in San Francisco was with Blueground which is a startup that runs flexible rental housing.
On paper, this may sound a bit chaotic, but each job has provided me with new knowledge that I have been able to reuse later. So in reality, it has flowed on quite smoothly. The styling I learned in my first internship I needed to recall at my last job. Furniture design, which I learned at Soho House, I have also had pick up again. Every new skill counts and can be of high value to you at a later point.
Some of Henriette's projects
What do you think are the biggest challenges working as an interior designer?
For larger projects, it’s patience. The Hoxton Paris project took three to four years from concept to construction. During that time, interior design and styles change. What you think in the beginning will fit is hated one year later. For these projects, you need to think long-term and not fall too deep into trends, and be ready to adapt.
What are the biggest differences between working with interior design in London or San Francisco versus Scandinavia?
Scandinavia is very well known for its interior design, so abroad it is absolutely attractive to be a Scandinavian interior designer. But interestingly enough, the industry differs between the UK/USA and Sweden. As an interior designer in the UK and USA, you are a mixture of interior designer, product designer and stylist (depending on where you work, what takes up more of your time will vary) while in Sweden that kind of role doesn’t really exist. Or at least it's not that common. It feels like it’s more separated, you’re either a stylist, or a product designer, or an interior designer, etc.… While abroad, there are many interior design jobs that require some knowledge from everything.
Images from project Chicaco Bucktown Loft
We are often asked what it’s like to work as an interior designer. Tell us the process of an interior design project, step by step.
First and foremost, whether it is a new building or renovation, you work closely with the architect to find the best floor plan from a practical, cost and aesthetic perspective. You listen carefully to the client’s needs and try to meet them. With commercial projects, you usually have more creative freedom to try different concepts, while with home projects the client is usually more firm in their personal style. So you adapt your design proposal accordingly.
Like many interior designers, I start with a moodboard. I find my inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram. In the beginning, the images are abstract to make sure you are going in the right direction. After you get feedback from the client, the images are gradually replaced and the moodboard becomes more and more concrete. The moodboard almost becomes a design bible you always refer back to. It’s after that you know exactly what kind of products to choose, colors, materials, etc.… If you start with a strong concept, the rest falls into place.
Here is one of the final moodboards for one of the restaurant spaces in The Hoxton Paris next to the final result. The picture to the left is a "mood picture" but the rest of the pictures are quite concrete. I used the same chairs, lighting, table and floor. I later redesigned the bench with channel and button tufting. Plus we had the budget to add an entire greenwall instead of the outdated wall effect. The green plants really lifted the whole room.
What are your best tips for those who want to follow in your footsteps and become an interior designer? What are your biggest lessons?
Analyze every job you do; what did you like, what did you not like, etc. How can you continue to develop your skills to do more of what you enjoy? I knew after my first job that I wanted to try more commercial projects, and thought - what do I need to know to get there? For example, I have to show strong technical knowledge and innovative design concepts, so I focused on showing this in my portfolio when I applied for a job.
My biggest lesson is that being creative is really a very small part of the job itself. You have to be good at all sorts of other skills to get your project to go ahead as planned. You should be able to collaborate (eg with architects, suppliers, construction workers, etc.), find unique products at the best price and lead time (Pinterest and Google image search are your best friends), and be very organized. So many mistakes can be made with orders and constructions because someone in the chain of events has missed important information and it can cost both delays and money.
This or that (Henriette’s choice)
Light woods/Dark woods
Digital moodboard/Handmade moodboard
Wooden floors/Terazzo floors
New construction/Turn of the century apartment