Celebrity designer Dara Huang offers tips on making any interior look upscale
While Dara Huang has built a global design business from
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London, its roots are in the United States
Huang, a Florida native and Harvard graduate, moved to the UK in 2010 after working for Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron in New York. In 2013, she founded the interior design firm Design Haus Liberty, which now employs 20 people with clients such as Four Seasons, LVMH, Cartier, Nihi Resorts and Starwood Capital. Dara Maison, the furniture collection she launched this year, employs another 20 people.
Huang has also become a small-screen celebrity in her home country. She is the head judge on Channel 4’s ‘The Big Interiors Battle’, a design competition whose grand prize is a mortgage-free apartment. She made headlines as the former fiancé of property developer Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, with whom she had a child and who is now married to Princess Beatrice.
Huang’s upcoming projects include a Chelsea exhibition scheduled to launch in December that will highlight her own designs, “brands we love,” and artwork by female creatives.
“As a company founded and run by women, showcasing underrepresented artists is important,” she said. Huang spoke to Mansion Global about the relationship between money and taste, why imperfection is beautiful, and why luxury means being completely natural.
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Mansion Global: Where do most of Design Haus Liberty’s clients come from?
Dara Huang: We have a lot from Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, and an increasing number from the Middle East. But most of the customers, and the biggest jobs, come from the United States. There are a lot of rich people who own a lot of big houses. We just finished building a huge property on Billionaire’s Row in Manhattan (on Central Park South). We have just completed a home in the Hamptons and a waterfront home in Miami Beach. For high net worth individuals in locations like these, the desire to renovate or buy a property and turn it around is almost a hobby project.
MG: Are there particular tastes or preferences that you have seen among your high-net-worth clients?
DH: Let’s just say that money can’t buy taste. We try to stay away from clients who are really drawn to things like color changing lights or crystals – that’s not our style. We try to be as natural as possible. What’s interesting is that we’ve worked with a lot of new-money people who have had great success in industries like technology, and they’ve never heard of quite common design terms, like a marble or a matching butterfly in books. Sometimes they don’t even understand the difference between porcelain and marble. We have to walk with them through this process.
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Melinda: When you help guide a client in this way, how much does the result resemble their taste versus yours?
DH: We’ve just created a £30 million (US$36.7 million) penthouse for the founder of a digital creative company here. He loved our vibe, and he also loved the industrial touches, like distressed metal. We call the finished product “industrial luxury.” I love the mix of time periods that are very rich and full of character. I love mixing Victorian cornices with contemporary touches. When we started, I remember asking him about steam/shower combos, double sinks, and heated floors. …and he was not aware of these things. It was fun to walk him through it.
MG: For someone who wants a very high value look without splurging, what are some tips?
DH: First, mix contemporary with traditional. Instead of wood molding, use dado bars and paint them off-white. You will feel like you are in a Parisian home. Choose the cheapest, high-density, high-density rug in a neutral color. Change the lighting too. People who are not wealthy can enjoy the atmosphere. Your home should have three types of lighting: indirect, such as IKEA spotlights, downlight plant lights, and direct light from downlights. Art lights are great too, even the magnetic battery operated ones. They are brass wall sconces that are placed above artwork. Also, don’t buy a rug that is too small, as it will make your space look smaller. And get one investment piece, like a sofa or coffee table, that will last you a lifetime. I would be my worst client (laughs). I actually love quick makeovers with no money back for the same look.
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MG: What is the philosophy behind Dara Maison, the furniture line you launched this year?
DH: We want people to think about furniture in a non-fast way. It’s not like buying IKEA, where you’re constantly throwing things away. We sell stone tables that are investment pieces; They start at around £2,000. It’s a piece I call sustainable because you’ll have it for the rest of your life. Likewise, our introductory prices for sofas are ‘affordable luxury’ price points, starting at £3,500, but they feel like £50,000 sofas.
MG: If you had to choose a signature piece from Dara Maison, what would it be?
DH: The Athena sofa is one of our best sellers, and I love it. It’s a mix between a perpendicular sofa and a curved sofa, so it has soft lines. They are also modular. I’ve never seen another sofa like it.
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MG: You’ve talked about how being a single mother influences your furniture designs. Does that come in Dara Maison?
AED: Sure. When we created the samples, the client was me. We wanted to check all the boxes for families. Do you remember when we were kids, and there were rooms you couldn’t enter because of the furniture? I wanted to get rid of that. Our sofas are covered with Scotchgard, easy to clean and stain resistant. This is furniture that your kids can actually use and not just look at. There’s none of the “Don’t sit there!” Face. It’s a myth that furniture can’t be kid-friendly and luxurious.
MG: What is your personal definition of luxury?
DH: Luxury is real. I want a real stone table, I want it to look like stone, and I want to know where it came from. I love going to a quarry and seeing the jagged edge. I love real hardwood. Nature is our most beautiful designer. That’s why many of our pieces have organic shapes. We even chipped the edges of one of our tables. In a quarry I recently saw a piece of marble with one side naturally cracked along the veins. Nobody wants that. loved it. I want to share this beauty.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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