We can analyse the photography of incredible interior design projects and explore the spaces in person, but the very best way to understand the makings of breathtakingly beautiful interiors has to be by delving into the creative mind behind the space.
If you’re not familiar with the name Deborah Oppenheimer, you won’t forget it after setting sights on her modern, tranquil design accomplishments. Since launching her eponymous interior design firm in 1993, the South African designer has perfected the art of integrating light and dark to create settings with subtle hints of exotica and maximum attention to materials.
From her style inspiration to her go-to colour palettes, we caught up with the designer to gain an insight into the thought processes behind her sublime interior design.
How would define the Deborah Oppenheimer look?
The look my work conveys is probably one of calm. I try to use light, clean lines and sculptural form to achieve this.
Where do you find inspiration for your projects?
Inspiration for me lies in so many places: nature, a great piece of sculpture, photography, a piece of stone. The list is endless.
You originally studied fashion design, in what way has this influenced your interior design work?
As I am trained as a fashion designer and not an interior designer, I think strongly about detailing, the texture of materials as well as how they lie or fall. My interiors are really an extension of the clothes I like best…a monochromatic colour palette, beautiful tailoring, clean lines and great hardware! You’ve lived in several countries – what drew you to settle down and launch your interior design business in Hong Kong?
I arrived in Hong Kong from Switzerland over twenty years ago and I loved it immediately. My two daughters were born here and I discovered Hong Kong is really a working city. I saw a huge opportunity for creating an interior design business specialising in residential work as there was so little good work being done. Everything looked flashy and vulgar to me. So much of this has changed now but, still, most good work is found in the commercial sector.
How do you approach your projects? Talk us through the process.
A really good understanding of my client’s needs and how they live comes first. It’s also important for my team and I to bear the budget in mind so our visualisations and suggestions are in keeping with it. We then spend time understanding the space we will work with and from there it’s about a layering process. I start with the end vision and then deconstruct everything. I edit out so our look is as pure as possible, but it must have soul.
What are your all-time favourite materials and colours to include in a space?
I love white, I love charcoal and I love petrol blue. Those colours seem to anchor most of what I do. Beautiful linen and men’s tailoring fabrics are favourites too.
Which past and present interior designers inspire you?
Christian Liaigre, Cécile and Boyd Ferguson, Gilles et Boissier and Axel Vervoordt.
Tell us a technique you always try to use in interiors and something you always try to avoid?
I always look for juxtaposition of light and dark, and soft and hard finishes. Bespoke details in hardware are also very important to me. I always avoid no storage and bad lighting as well as poor detailing and sloppy finishes.
There’s a beautiful symmetry to your projects which often fuse Eastern and Western influences. Is this a look you work in your own home too?
My home carries a mixture of influences and objects that have been collected over some time. I love changing and switching things around. It never stays the same for too long!
What would be your dream project?
A lodge in the middle of nowhere, for example, in the African bush, on an island or in the mountains.
As well as residential projects, you’ve also branched out into commercial commissions. What’s next for Deborah Oppenheimer?
I am starting work on a product line. It’s going to focus on accessories really as there are so many thing I look for that I can never seem to find.
Images courtesy of Deborah Oppenheimer