Have you met Hélène Dabrowski?
Who could be a more appropriate guest for our next Métier Rendezvous ‘Have you met…?’ interview? A warm ‘bonjour’ to this month’s featured interior designer, Hélène Dabrowski. Originally from Paris, Hélène brings her French style and flair to our shores along with over 21 years’ experience as an interior designer. Specialising in luxury residential renovations and refurbishments, Hélène’s studio opened its doors in South West London in 2001, and Hélène Dabrowski Interiors has gone from strength to strength.
Hélène has been a Metier Member for about 7 years and while Sting might have sung about “an English man in New York” …. today we are chatting with our French Designer in London. I’ve known Hélène and had the pleasure of collaborating with her on a number of projects over the years. Her patience, calm and excellent humour make it easy to see why her clients value her expertise and keep coming back time and again.
So, let’s find out what makes Hélène tick…her raison d’être, you might say…
Who or what inspired you to forge a career into Interior Design? Was there a “lightbulb moment” and what initial first steps did you take?
I have always been interested with anything to do with decoration from when I was a child. I used to regularly go to flea markets with my parents looking for antiques and furniture.
I remember creating little room sets for my dolls which were forever changing and getting quite passionate about wallpaper, fabric and furniture for my own bedroom! I did not realise this is what I wanted to do much later on after studying and working in advertising. The lightbulb moment was when I bought my first flat. I then decided to change career and study interior design at Chelsea College of Art and Design.
Having to manage different “hats” within a design business can be tricky for anyone. What would you determine as the key skills in managing this process successfully?
Be open-minded, curious, well organised; be able to multi-task and know how to delegate if there is an aspect of the business you do not enjoy doing.
If a client is working to a tight budget, what are the Top 3 design elements to concentrate on to a achieve a successful result?
1- Establish a realistic budget and what can be done within this budget. Some things might have to wait or go on a wishlist if this is not all achievable.
2- Have a clear plan of action and explain to the client that they will not be much room for changing their mind during the course of the project as it will add to the cost.
3- Source cleverly, see what existing item they have can be re-used, up-cycled…
What office tools do you find indispensable for accomplishing your day-today typical tasks? (software, advice, physical thing, whatever)
Dropbox is brilliant as a cloud solution and accessing your files on the go; Vectorworks software for drawing and the Trello app for organising tasks.
Who, either in the design world, both here in the UK and abroad, are and remain your biggest influences?
A lady I used to work for in Paris called Magda D’Auzers was a great influence for me in terms of her natural and effortless style. She was also very generous in letting me loose on clients and expressing my design ideas, when I just started in the design world!
From the past, I love the French 1940s with furniture designers like Jean-Michel Frank , Gilbert Poillerat and artist like Cocteau.
My influences at the moment are Kit Kemp and her thoughtful use of original craft and art as well as colour and pattern; also love Jean Louis Deniot for his sophisticated approach and mix of modern and classical.
Where and how do you work at your best?
In my home office, with some music on and my cat, Sakura, nearby.
How do you structure your time over a typical day?
There is not really a typical day, it really depends on the schedule of events planned for that day. But I always check my emails first thing and try to send inquiries to suppliers and orders first thing. After that there is no set structure; every day is different and you need to adapt to react to situation or problems that might present themselves.
How do you balance work and family demands?
It is an ongoing balancing act, however, I really do try to preserve my weekends for family time.
Would you have done anything differently if you knew 10 years ago, what you know now? What’s the best advice you ever received?
I would have learned how to draw on a CAD program as soon as they were available as it is such a time saver.
What are you finding is still the biggest challenge within your own design business?
Managing some suppliers, their delivery time and quality control.
What do you love most about being an Interior Designer?
Being my own boss, being creative, playing with colour and pattern, always discovering new suppliers and trends, the process of spaces’ transformation and the end result.
Do you have your own style and if so, how would you describe it?
I always try to discover what is my client’s style first when doing a project and adapting to it but ultimately there is a common element that transpires from my designs which is the use of colours and patterns. I also love mixing old, new, art, and meaningful craft items. Although I don’t like being categorised into one thing, I guess it is slightly eclectic.
One thing is for sure you won’t find any all grey or beige minimalist interiors in my work, as I find those soulless.
What skills / elements make you a stand-out designer? Why should your clients choose you to work with?
I am a good listener which is essential to understand how the client’s lifestyle works and try to discover what makes them happy in term of design, which is not always easy because some clients doesn’t have any idea of what they might like. It is a bit like detective work.
I guide them in the right direction and sometimes push their boundaries but without forcing any style on them, so we can naturally achieve something unique and adapted to their lifestyle. It is important that the client is an integral part of the decision-making so they feel this is their home and not mine.
What’s your best advice for other designers for handling a tricky situation or client?
For a good client relationship and an enjoyable project, it is really important that you obviously get on and have common interests with the client. In the first meeting, always follow your gut instinct: if you think the job is not for you, or you think that there might be a personality clash and you might not necessarily gel with them, or the brief does not suit your style of working – then, don’t go for it.
Never promise things you won’t be able to achieve and most importantly manage your clients’ expectations right from the start to avoid difficult situation down the line.
If a problem arises during the project which most of the time always happen because a good part of interior design is about problem-solving, always pre-empt the situation and inform the client straight away. Try to analyse the situation from all parties i.e. contractors, suppliers, you and the client, and be fair to all.
If you won the lottery and could purchase your favourite iconic piece of furniture, what would it be and why?
I would love a Blue Yves Klein coffee table. I could just get lost in the blue pigments.
What’s next for you and Helene Dabrowski Interiors?
I am looking at doing a new website with updated projects, perhaps changing my branding and some furniture designing.
Exciting times ahead for Hélène. Our heartfelt thanks to Hélène for her time and for sharing her influences and an insight into how she works. To learn more about Hélène and her Interior Design follow this link to her website or follow her on Instagram.
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