Interview With Gilly Craft, Founder Of Koubou Interiors


Gilly Craft explains the meaning behind the name Koubou Interiors, shows her pride at being a former President of BIID and designing with a difference

Pre-Koubou Interiors, what was your background in design?

I wanted to go to art college in my youth, but my parents wouldn’t allow it. I subsequently got a ‘proper job’ and flew as cabin crew for BEA and British Airways for over 20 years. Circumstances meant that I had to change careers midlife and so felt the time was right to take those qualifications in fashion and interior design that I had always wanted to do. I then taught both subjects for City and Guilds at the local adult education college for a while. The time was then right to take a leap of faith and so in 2004 I refurbished a building in Crowthorne – and Koubou Interiors was born.

On your CV is your work with BIID and you were President in 2019. Was that an honour to hold that position?

I have been a member of the BIID since 2002 when I first graduated from college. I worked my way through the professional pathway, gaining full registration. I have been a CPD assessor, member of the CPD committee, chair of the CPD committee, which is when I joined the governing Council. I was then very gratified to be asked to be President of the Institute 2018- 2019. I am now on the Audit Committee with two other Past Presidents. I still do various work for the Institute in addition to the Audit Committee.  I was delighted and proud to be asked to be President of our professional body. It was a lot of work, but very exciting, I enjoyed every minute of it.

Koubou Interiors Our House
Gilly Craft

Why did you launch Koubou Interiors in 2004?

I tested the water from my back bedroom as most people do whilst still doing the tutoring. There seemed to be an appetite and as I was going to have to make this my second career, as retirement was some way off, it made sense to be really serious about it. Taking on the premises and refurbishing was a huge commitment, but after a while I was able to give up the tutoring and concentrate on building the business.

Is there a meaning behind the name?

We were doing our branding and wanted a name that looked good in a logo and had a ring about it. I had a Japanese design assistant at the time, and she suggested the name. As with all Japanese names, depending on the inflection, they can mean several different things. For example, nice design/home, workshop or studio, but the name can also mean rise and fall, offense/defense, so I think you just have to take your pick.

What makes you different?

We can take a project from the initial idea all the way through to completion. Spacial planning, drawings etc are all done in house and we have several architects we work with so that the process through planning (if required) is seamless. We don’t design to any prescribed formula, we work with the client to bring forth their ideas, likes and dislikes (even if they don’t know them yet!) to get the finished project that they love and want to live or work in. We design all our own joinery and bespoke fixtures and fittings, so the kitchen, bathroom etc can all be designed and specified at the studio. We will co-ordinate the building/installation phase of the project if the client requires and can suggest contractors if asked. We are also happy to work with the client’s chosen architect and contractor. We have worked on a number of large projects where we are part of a much bigger team brought together by the client. This tends to be more the case with commercial projects, but not unusual on larger residential projects.

Koubou Interiors design for both residential and commercial

Your work covers all areas across the interior design spectrum. Why are you keen on taking on all manner of projects?

Historically, we have worked on a mix of commercial and residential projects with the larger proportion probably in the commercial sector. I think this is more about being approached by clients because we have a particular expertise and because of recommendation by previous clients. Covid has turned everything on its head and I would say that nearly all of our projects are residential projects at the current time. The commercial sector is very flat at the moment and I don’t see that improving in the immediate future. Being flexible is key and we are lucky that we have the expertise and experience to undertake a broad spectrum of project type.

How do you tend to approach a new project?

The brief is key. Time spent on taking and developing the brief is the most important element in my view. Building a relationship and trust with the client is terribly important as well. There is a very different approach between residential and commercial projects, however. For our residential clients we offer an hour’s free consultation in our studio to work on that brief and get to know the client. This is someone’s home, probably the most expensive asset they own and it is more personal – they will live and grow as a family in the space. With a commercial client we would need to understand how the space is working – or not. This space is all about making a return for the client, so observing and asking the right questions is more key here. Yes, it is about the look but there are more complex elements to consider with commercial spaces and a lot more regulation if a public space that has to be considered.

Healthcare is one sector we don’t often cover in our interiors profiles. Why do you work in this sector?

I would say that healthcare is our speciality, and it is also my passion. Many years ago, I was asked to do some work at a local NHS hospital. It was well received and over the next ten years, we did a lot of work there. Subsequently to this, we were asked to design the interiors for a private hospital which dealt primarily with mental health, so not a clinical hospital. Many things had to be considered; for example anti-ligature together with a five-star feel as many of the patients were being treated over many months and in some case years. We also designed a centre for children with special needs about the same time. Adapting client’s homes due to ageing, dementia or life-changing injury is also a project sector we undertake. Dental surgeries are also a sector we historically work in. Designing for dementia is a particular interest for me and I often give talks and write articles on the subject. There has to be a very particular understanding to work in the healthcare sector, it is so easy to get it wrong. Understanding clinical need, regulation and the very particular cognitive changes especially with clients with dementia requires knowledge and skill.

Frimley Park Hospital
The Frimley Park Hospital project highlights Gilly Craft’s passion for the healthcare sector

How long have you been based in Bracknell?

We moved here very recently, in June.

What do you like most about the area?

We have moved to Moss End Village, which is a community. There are other businesses that are complementary to ours and I hope we can grow collaborations going forward.

If possible, could you pick out three projects in Berkshire or Buckinghamshire that stand out for you and explain why?

Three very different ones. First two on the website, the third one, I am waiting for the pictures – expected this week.

One is an Orthodontics practice, which was the transformation of the upper floor that had just been storage and offices before. The client wanted to grow his business by creating a private suite to complement the NHS practice that was on the ground floor. The building had many challenges, which we managed to overcome.

The second is a refurbishment of the ground floor of a house in Ascot. We had Covid to contend with throughout, which made things very challenging. We totally transformed the space from what it was before.

The third is a small project, a lounge in Sandhurst. The design really worked well and the space looked so much larger even with putting in a new fire/fireplace and joinery the length of the room. The joinery design I am particularly proud of.

Can you tell us about your furniture range?

This furniture range is in collaboration with MRF furniture, who is a manufacturer we have worked with for many years. The furniture is for commercial interiors and is targeted towards clients and other designers.

Koubou Interiors has picked up a host of awards over the years. What do these mean to you?

These awards mean a great deal to me, I am particularly proud of the award ‘Best Public Service Building’ the practice won for the children’s centre we worked on. Other awards were given for this project, but this one was particularly prestigious. Obviously, the pandemic has meant that there haven’t been any awards for the last couple of years and it has been difficult to finish projects to be able to submit, but hopefully that will change and we will be able to submit and hopefully win again in the future.

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