Expert Interview : Caroline Foster, Associate Director Design Centre
FEATURED IMAGE: @carolinelfoster2
Tell us how you came to be working at Chelsea Harbour and what is your role?
When I was 19 I started working at the magazine publishers, Conde Nast. I was there for around 8 years, then I left to get married and have a family. During that time I set up a Wedding Consultancy, planning people’s weddings. When the current owners bought the Design Centre they asked The Publishing Director of House & Garden to come over to mastermind their vision and she asked me to join her. I thought it sounded great, so I took the job, thinking I would stay for a year, and here I am 15 years later! Currently I am the Associate Director and lucky enough to be involved in all kinds of varied and unique projects here.
I am a visual person who is naturally curious and obsessed with details, so this is the perfect role for me, I can be creative, obsess over details and get to meet and work with incredibly interesting people which are still my favourite elements of the work I do today.
What has been your favourite event, which you have organised here?
Each event presents a new opportunity, I love all the events for different reasons, the big ones are full on and fun projects to work on and the whole office gets involved. I also love the smaller ones, as I love the little details. However, if I had to pick one it would probably be Twinkle, as Christmas is my favourite time of the year and it combines all the above.
What are the 3 special ingredients that make an event truly memorable?
Being super organised - so everything is seamless on the day – timing is critical. You want your guests to remember all the positives.
Details, fun little touches that make people smile, ones that are good photo opportunities that provide social media moments.
Working with great suppliers, we are lucky at the Design Centre to work with the very best suppliers in their field
What makes the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour a destination location?
The owners of the Design Centre have an extraordinary vision and are very involved. That powered by our Managing Director, Claire German and her incredible drive makes it a formidable place to work.
We are the biggest Design Centre in Europe, home to over 120 showrooms, housing 650 of the best global brands. It’s more than a design resource, it’s a thriving platform both creatively and commercially. We will be launching our Design Avenue space soon, with a new restaurant, exciting new pop ups and more events. The Design Centre is growing rapidly and I feel very blessed and excited to be a part.
FEATURED IMAGE: @carolinelfoster2
Could you tell me a bit about your home - where is it and how would you describe the interiors?
I live in London with my husband, two daughters and our dog. The interiors are very relaxed - reflective of how we live our lives, I adore our home. I am a June baby and a typical Cancerian, fiercely protective of my family and friends and a real home bird. I love travelling but I am always happy to be home. However busy I am at work, the fridge is always stocked full, flowers are everywhere so when I walk in I instantly feel calm and at peace.
Which room is your favourite and why?
Our kitchen and little garden. I absolutely adore cooking, I particularly love the summer when I BBQ almost every night for six months, rain or shine! My favourite time of the day is the mornings, I love the quiet and stillness of sitting in our garden eating breakfast next to our large stone family Ganesh, it is my favourite item in our house. In the evenings I love to light lots of candles, enjoy food, wine and to spend time with my family and friends.
If you could live in anyone’s house whose would it be and why?
Easy, it would be yours (Gail Taylor). It’s beyond beautiful, the way you have worked the space, the details are exception but it feels like a hugely relaxed and welcoming home. You have totally mastered relaxed living and it is incredibly inspiring.
Do you have a “quick fix” to make entertaining at home stress free?
For sure, preparation. Be super organised and prepare everything ahead. I am a huge planner, every Sunday morning I sit at our kitchen table with my diary and plan that weeks menu. When we entertain in the Winter I love to make comfort food - pies, curry’s, tagines and crumbles and in the Summer - coronation chicken, salads, cold fillet of beef, a huge selection of cheeses and home-made ice cream. All done beforehand and then it’s just easy when everyone arrives. My kitchen is not very big, so I find this works so much better and I can just focus on being a good hostess. I love to style my tables for special occasions and to add new pieces to my collection from my favourite stores – Daylesford and Summerill & Bishop.
FEATURED IMAGE: @carolinelfoster2
How would you spend your perfect day?
An early trip to the flower market, I adore being around so many incredible flowers and love to see what is in season and what we could perhaps use at work for an upcoming event. Followed by a family walk in our favourite park with our beloved dog, Bear. It is my thinking time, I find it enormously therapeutic.
I would have to fit in a brunch and a wander round Petersham Nurseries, it’s the prettiest restaurant in London and my favourite. A culture hit, my two very favourite places in London are the V&A and Japan House, if ever I have a spare moment I am often found wandering round both.
An early evening drink somewhere fun like Isabel’s or The Blue Bar, then in the warmer months in the garden at Blakes or No.16 for cocktails followed by dinner at home in our garden with friends and family.
What is your natural style?
My daughter rather astutely pointed out the other day that a large proportion of my wardrobe is the exact same piece but in different colours and in different colours that means black, navy, grey, taupe and white! She is absolutely right, if I love something I will get it in the different colours they offer. I have always been the same, I love to buy investment pieces, I look after my things, and some of my clothes have been in my wardrobe for over twenty years. My style is super relaxed, I am a massive jeans fan - day or night I am usually in jeans, flats, a white shirt in the summer and a cashmere sweater in the winter.
If you had to name your top 3 favourite brands what would they be?
Investment pieces - Bamford, Chanel and Chloe
Everyday - Me + Em, Club Monaco, Joseph and my favourite shoe shop in London, Papouelli.
What is your biggest source of design inspiration?
Firstly London, I feel very lucky that I live in the most incredible city in the world and I get to spend my working day in the most wonderfully inspirational building, surrounded by beautiful product from the worlds leading brands whilst learning from the most creative of minds.
A huge inspiration is travelling. I have been lucky enough to travel a lot in my life and went on the most incredible trips growing up. We are now trying to give the same experiences to our daughters. Aside from England, my favourite place is Bali. I fell in love with the beauty of the land and its people twenty years ago and have been lucky to have been back quite a few times since. It really is my Spiritual home, I feel totally connected and at peace the moment I arrive, it is a very special place for me.
We are planning a trip to Koyto, Japan in 2020 so I am researching like crazy at the moment. I find it enormously rewarding and inspirational and have just finished my sixth Japanese book this year! I first went many years ago when my in-laws lived in Tokyo. I am fascinated by their design aesthetic, simplicity, culture, and the beauty in everything they do. How they approach design with a respect built upon centuries of ritual and tradition and how for the Japanese it is as much about the future as it is the past. Japan is a county of extraordinary cities but also nature, art and technology and their incredible ancient traditions. Nothing is by accident, everything is considered, nothing is excessive but beautiful with their attention to the very smallest of details. The Arts are Japans most important heritage, their appreciation and respect for things made by hand, when you recognise the hours of labour that have gone into an exquisitely crafted object it adds emotional value and this transcends costs.
My two favourite books inspire me - Wabi Sabi by Beth Kempton – Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life - encouraging us to find the beauty and joy of imperfection and to slow down, breathe and take time to find beauty and Ikigai by Hector Garcia, The Japanese secret for a long and happy life. I must have brought twenty copies of both books last year for friends.
FEATURED IMAGE: @carolinelfoster2
What is your daily essential to get the work life balance right?
Daily meditation, it unclutters my brain and allows it to do what it is meant to do which is think. It is the first thing I do every morning, from the moment I open my eyes and its the last thing I do at night before I turn in. Also an obsession with multiple ‘to do lists’ I run them for every part of my life at home and work. However, long they get to, it doesn’t phase me at all as I know I will get to everything eventually. It helps me feel in control and it keeps my head clear but fully focused on my tasks ahead.
Like most working mothers, its not always easy, there are times when you can’t do everything but I have always worked from when I was 18, right through both my pregnancies and soon after our daughters were born, so as a family we don’t know any different. Family teamwork is critical for a happy balance for us all. I am proud of my career and excited for the future but my biggest achievement will always be my family, my wonderful husband who gave me the greatest gift of all, our two kind, happy and strong girls. I have always shared my work and passions with them, I take them to exhibitions, share my favourite books and urge them to walk around with their eyes open, to be curious and to know they can achieve their dreams.
We chose day school rather than boarding schools for my girls, which has been the most incredible blessing for me. I honestly believe the biggest gift you can give your children is your time. We are the very best of friends and it is a total joy to share breakfast and supper with them every day. I feel we all balance each other out and help along any little bumps in the road.
I am also acutely aware and appreciative that I have the most wonderful parents and brother, we are incredibly close and I owe them everything. They taught us both the values of life, to be happy minded, healthy attitude, kind, positive and grateful.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Two, both by my parents.
“If you have something nice to say, then say it.”
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new”
- Dalai Lama.
How do you decide what to post on your Instagram feed?
I have days when I don’t look at Instagram and other days when I really enjoy looking through but I now follow too many people and therefore miss far too much! I really don’t overthink, I genuinely just go with the flow and post things I love. I try and make my nine squares looks good with colours and themes but that doesn’t always work and I often go off piste. Because I have an open account, I choose to never post anything deeply personal.
Who are your favourite instagrammers?
I have a few but will choose ones outside our Design world to be diplomatic!
LITTLE LONDON WHISPERS - my friend Emma Bevan’s incredible feed - a brilliant insight into the best things to do in London, totally fascinating! She constantly finds all these little hidden jewel boxes.
GOOP - I love their posts and their podcasts
VOTARY LONDON - my favourite skincare and inspiration shots
EYESWOON - gorgeous inspirational posts and recipes
V&A My favourite museum in London + they have amazing talks
MEGAN HESS - we commissioned Megan to do an illustration of the DCCH a few years ago. Meg is based in Australia so we did the whole project over the phone and email. We have now become dear friends.
MICHELLE OBAMA - I have just finished her book Becoming - she is just the best - love her!
What tips do you have to ensure that social media does not take up too much of your day?
I spend an average of between zero and maybe fifteen minutes maximum a day on Instagram. I often check before work and then after supper perhaps but never ever during the day. I don’t remotely suffer from FOMO so I am quite happy to take it or leave it! If I see an image I like I save it to re-post, I love to support my friends so often post their work but I don’t over think it, it kind of just comes and goes...
What other forms of social media do you use alongside Instagram?
Pinterest - I find it enormously therapeutic, helpful and inspirational. I think it is my favourite of all.
How do you think social media will evolve and how can we protect the next generation from the negative side effects.
Instagram is an amazing tool for self-expression and connecting with people you wouldn’t necessary meet in real life and it is so great for our industry as we live in such a visual world. It is great for businesses, giving them an interactive and broad reach for their brands. Brilliantly, it is a platform that has allowed some women to redefine work and work from home, enabling them to spend more time with their family. The downside is that it’s created a society of comparison, viewing the false highlights of someone else’s life and thinking they don’t measure up.
We have tried to protect our daughters, they are 17 and 15 and really don’t know life without it. We have openly discussed the ups and downs since the beginning, to let them be a part but not to let it consume an enormous part of them. I really believe that Instagram is a small part of their lives, I feel they have their feet firmly on the ground and have a healthy attitude to it, at least I hope! Hopefully we have instilled into them that life really is about attitude, to learn from your mistakes, be confident to be your true self, work hard, embrace your passions, laugh a lot, use your voice, to have integrity, to be honest and loving. I hope they always follow their dreams, knowing that we will be right beside them every step of the way.
What would your mantra for daily life be?
I think it has to be from my childhood fictional hero, Snoopy.
“Keep looking up, that’s the secret of life”. I have it inscribed on my beloved Anya Hindmarch daily journal!