Designer Living: Katherine Whiteman's home-sewed upholstery

The interior designer and Abu Dhabi resident specalises in handmade soft furnishings.

Katherine likes to mix the contemporary, such as her Eames chairs, with the classic, like her simple oak dining table.
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Where do you live and how long have you lived there?

We've lived in Sas Al Nakhl, Abu Dhabi for a year. I liked the space in the house and the large garden. Having space is a luxury. It means we can appreciate our pieces so much more because we can actually see them.

What does your home say about you?

It's a collection of my and my family's life. The Chinese lacquered furniture was given to me by my father from his travels in Hong Kong and China. He was a filmmaker and made a film in India, sio we've also got lots of beautiful artefacts and fabrics from there.

I trained as an upholsterer so I've got some lovely upholstered pieces. For me it's all about making it look good but not being afraid to use the pieces.

Is there anything about it you would like to change?

If it were my own home, not rented, I would definitely have painted the walls and wallpapered a lot more. What I've done instead is use the curtains to give pattern and texture.

Where do you source your fabrics for your upholstery and soft furnishing work?

For the pieces I upholstered in England I used fabric from Osborne & Little, Ian Mankin, GP & J Baker and Designers Guild because the texture is hard-wearing but the designs are bright and beautiful. I also use end-of-line fabrics to give a piece some originality.

In Abu Dhabi I buy fabrics from local shops, and on my travels I collect swatches to make patchwork and larger pieces that I'm drawn to because of their design or texture. Just in case.

How would you recommend that any would-be home sewers start to learn how to make their own soft furnishings?

Get to know your sewing machine. Read books about home-made furnishings for patterns and ideas, and use the internet.

Also, get inspiration from things you see in the shop. If you think, "I could make that", you're halfway there. Then just experiment with your machine and its different functions.

Make cushions to start with, then try a simple bedspread or quilt. Move on to curtains when you're used to dealing with larger quantities of fabric.

Are there any particular projects that you are especially proud of?

I did a villa in Al Raha Gardens that belonged to a South African family. They had some amazing artefacts that they just needed help displaying. We went for an electric orange for one of the walls. It was really striking. It was very different from jobs I'd done before and from my own style.

Which item would no home of yours be without?

A really comfortable bed. A good night's sleep means you feel prepared for the day ahead. Ours is a beautiful French upholstered one from Marina. Buy the best mattress you can afford, and the best sheets. I love Zara Home and The White Company for linen.

Where do you like to shop for pieces for your home?

We've got stuff from places like The One and Marina Trading, but I like to go off the beaten track and look for unusual, individual pieces. We've got a pair of one-off antique chests that I bought from a market in London, which we use as side tables.

What is the best way to simply and instantly update a room?

Change your accessories. You could change the cushions on your sofa or buy a new rug to change the accent colour in your living room. You can do it very cheaply. Also plants, particularly table plants, are great for changing a room.

What inspires your work?

I encourage my clients to tell me what their style is or to show me something they really love in their home, and that inspires my work for that job.

When I'm out shopping or just looking for inspiration it will be something that's really beautifully designed. Form and function are what I'm attracted to.

Who are your favourite designers?

Charles Eames for inspirationally shaped chairs, Designers Guild for fabulous fabrics, Alessi for quirky, beautiful Italian products and Le Corbusier for his pioneering work on modern living.

How would you describe your interior style?

I love mixing contemporary and classic. For instance, our dining table is a classic oak table and then we've got some Charles Eames chairs around it, which works really well.

What is the key to creating a happy home?

Comfort and space. Also, plenty of laughter and photos on display of friends and family to keep you grounded.

How do you like to relax?

I love going to the beach, sitting in the shade listening to my iPod with a well-stocked cool box of fresh orange juice and pineapples while watching my family play in the water.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?

Sydney, on Manly Beach, so I could have my own beach house.

To view more of Katherine's work, visit