INTERVIEW: HANNAH LOHAN, FOUNDER HANNAH LOHAN INTERIORS
From TV to events and finally finding her feet in interior design, Hannah Lohan has had an enviable career so far. Here she tells Sophie Harper how she’s finally found her calling in interior design.
With a career that has seen many incarnations, Hannah Lohan admits it took a while for her to find her calling as a designer, but that ultimately it was the experience she gained from various roles that helped her to realise her true passion and natural skill for design. “My first career was in TV,” she tells me. “I started off as a runner and worked my way up until I was producing and directing. I worked on lots of different shows, mainly interiors and lifestyle programmes – I think that’s where my interest and passion came from on the interiors side. I wanted to do the job of the designers, I was there producing thinking oh God I’d love to do that.”
Hannah dipped in and out of working for her brother, who had an events company at the time. “He now runs Mr and Mrs Smith, the boutique hotel company with his wife Tamara,” Hannah says. “It was very creative, but it was always the design and styling side that I loved the most.” Taking over the events company, Hannah moved to north London where just around the corner from her office was Queen’s Park Independent Interior Design School. “I really enjoyed doing events but it was quite disheartening when you’d spend months and months and hundreds of thousands of pounds on sets for them to only last a night before being ripped down and I just thought I want to do design that lasts.” So, she signed herself up to an evening course at the interior design school. “I loved it, I love space planning and I loved thinking of all the logistical side of things and the ergonomics of the design as well as all the decoration side, so I thought OK, I can really see myself doing this.”
After her epiphany, Hannah took on a full-time course in interior design and, following a lot of travel and getting to know the industry, found herself in a situation where launching her own business seemed feasible and so Hannah Lohan Interiors came about in 2015. “I’ve been very lucky,” she says. “I get some really good introductions and meet a lot of hoteliers, but I still have to pitch and to go through the process.”
One of Hannah’s very first jobs was the styling of The Ampersand in South Kensington. “I loved it, I basically spent about a year going round antiques fairs and auction houses and all sorts of places to buy lots of little bits and bobs and it was great because they really understood the importance of dressing and styling a hotel and all those finishing layers, and so that was brilliant fun.” As Hannah tells me about some of her first interior design projects her energy is magnetic, and it is immediately obvious how she has managed to build such good relationships with hoteliers in such a short space of time.
Hannah did some work for the Farncombe Estate in the Cotswolds, which includes Dormy House, The Fish (which was a conference centre then), and Fox Hill Manor. “I did some styling for Fox Hill Manor and met the owners and the family behind everything. They said they had this conference centre and were thinking about turning it into a more of a budget boutique hotel, sort of the cheaper offering to Dormy, but it had to feel part of the same family. It was a dream project, you know, my first proper design project so I pitched for it and put together lots of mood boards and concepts and presented it to them. That was my first proper hotel.” As a result of her work and good relationship with the owners, the project evolved and the owners could see the benefit of doing even more with it, so Hannah and her team went back to do other bits on the estate including The Hook restaurant.
Hannah talks proudly about her team, telling me how close they all are and why they work so brilliantly together. “Finding the team and the skillset I needed to complement mine was a challenge at first,” she says. “I made the mistake of bringing people onboard who had the same sort of skills as me and that doesn’t work. You’ve got to be brutally honest with yourself very quickly and think about your weak spots. I’ve got a fantastic team now and we work very closely together.” Hannah tells me how the team all bring different skills to the table, but that ultimately they’re all on the same page when it comes to the overall design. “We don’t have a signature style as such but we very much use texture and layer a lot. We wouldn’t fit very well with a project that wants a completely minimal look,” she laughs, “that wouldn’t be us at all.”
She tells me about the extensive library of resources and materials they have that they like to dip into and take inspiration from. “It’s great to be able to mix things up and curate a bunch of materials that look beautiful and bring that sort of surprising element in design when they’re placed together – that’s what I love.” She tells me of her love for anything vintage and how she loves to find unique pieces to set the tone for each project, with the devil being in the detail. “I really do think it is all about being brave and bold and mixing things up. We love playing with detail – anything from beautiful trims to metal finishes. People think we’re crazy because we spend hours choosing all these tiny little details, but I think people notice them and even if they don’t notice something specific, they notice subconsciously, and everything just feels finished and plush. There are ways to do that with a big or small budget, you just have to be creative.”
Initially, when they start a project, Hannah tells me how they spend time with their clients and get to know them and take a really detailed brief. “We look at the building and the building’s heritage and history and then ask the clients what feeling they want their guest to have when they first visit. I think it’s really important and it’s a good discipline for focusing clients because there are so many different ways you could go with interior design, it’s sometimes quite overwhelming.” Hannah asks clients to give five key objectives to aim for so that any time anyone goes off on a tangent there’s always something solid to refer back to and make sure it’s part of the original brief or theme. “We do like to add personal touches though, meaningful things to the owners,” she adds. “That’s why it’s nice spending time with them, so we can extrapolate parts of their story and put a little nod to those in the design.”
Right now the team are working on a project in Devon for Michael and Xochi Birch, former Bebo owners. “They are a super cool couple and we work with their right-hand woman Emily, who is their Operations Director. Michael and Xochi live in America but Michael’s family are from Woolsery (the village in Devon the project’s in). His great, great grandparents literally built the village and he was sad to see the place go to wreck and ruin, so they basically bought up half the village to bring it back to life.” Having already worked on The Farmers Arms, the gastro pub in the village, Hannah and her team are getting involved with the whole project now. “It’s a big sprawling village project,” Hannah tells me. “We’ve already done a couple of holiday cottages and a house for Michael and Xochi and now it’s full on with the main manor house, which will be a 17-bedroom hotel. It’s a Georgian building that was stripped back to its barebones because over the years it had been treated pretty badly with so many of the original features ripped out, so we’re working with conservation architects Jonathan Rhind and everything is painstakingly being installed – all the correct cornicing, panelling, Georgian details, you know, so they’re really doing an amazing job on it.” It’s a project that will keep the whole team busy for a while yet, but Hannah tells me there’s even more in the pipeline. “It’s very full on now but we are pitching for the work. With lockdown it was obviously a worry, but things are happening – we just pitched recently for another hotel which I can’t tell you about, but it’s just really exciting to know that there’s stuff happening out there.” And we can’t wait to see what’s next for Hannah and her team.