One-on-one interview: Jo Hamilton, Jo Hamilton Interiors

Posted 23 February 2017 by Keith Osborne

The interview this week poses the questions to Jo Hamilton, a judge from last year's WhatHouse? Awards and founder of her own interior design company.

This week we turn our focus to another of the judges from the WhatHouse? Awards 2016, the UK housebuilding industry’s biggest awards event, this time Jo Hamilton, a name widely admired for her expertise in interior design.

Jo, please tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

I set up Jo Hamilton Interiors nearly 20 years ago and in that time we’ve developed a strong reputation for high-end finishes no matter what the budget, but our luxury home designs are probably what we're best known for. And while these do play a large part in my business today, working with developers — of all sizes — on their show houses continues to be a key element of our everyday work. I am also, of course, a WhatHouse? Awards judge; do some television work; and, have been the ‘resident interior designer’ for Grand Designs Live for quite a few years now — I’m also a key speaker at the show and an ambassador with Kevin McCloud and Charlie Luxton. I am a show ambassador and key speaker, too, for House Ireland and will also be speaking at Index Dubai. More recently, we also launched a property search service for the UK and parts of Europe, which has been a really exciting development in the business.

How and when did you first get involved in the WhatHouse? Awards?

My very first experience of the WhatHouse? Awards was being invited along many years ago by one of the developers whose show house I had done. I’ve actually been to quite a few of the awards ceremonies in this way and so I know firsthand just how big a deal the event is. As for being a judge, Rupert Bates, WhatHouse? editorial director, kindly said they’d love for me to be involved, and I was delighted. It’s really interesting seeing it now from the judging side of the fence having seen it all those years ago as a relatively new interior designer — and my show house won so even from then my experience of the awards has been a happy one.

What were your first thoughts on the entries you saw for the 2016 Awards? Were you impressed with what you saw and the range of approaches taken by entrants?

The very first thing to cross my mind was wondering how to get through so many entries! I was hoping to see entries from across the UK, and from a wide range of developers, especially smaller ones who might be more willing to give new designers a chance — like I had been given all those years ago. The classic issue for show house designers is judging just how much personality to show in a scheme. Too much often scares the developer, who thinks it will risk losing potential buyers, while too little can be bland and unattractive to potential buyers. I think generally most of the designers got this balance right.

What made Audley's Chalfont Dene show home the very best in the Best Interior Design category?

There was much in Audley’s show house to praise. Firstly, it struck this personality balance perfectly and what is notable is that with this being a retirement development the temptation could well have been even stronger than most to play it too safe and conservatively. But what emerged — thanks to Audley’s design team, Inside Design — was beautiful use of colour and texture. The focus of the design was built around the stunning artwork, which was innovatively loaned from museums on the understanding the pieces would be lovingly restored and protected.

What were your impressions of the WhatHouse? Awards 2016 event last November?

Well it has certainly lost none of its dazzle over the years! I thought getting William Hague to be the host was a real coup and he was very, very funny. It also struck me, just like before, how big an event it is. If you look at the list of developers taking part it’s quite a sight.

Do you believe that show home interiors are as important now as ever, even in a digital age?

Yes, absolutely. I would argue that nowadays they are more important than ever. It may well be easy to view scores of different developers in just a few hours online, but there is no substitute for seeing and touching. Clearly, getting the digital package right is of the utmost importance. The website has obviously got to look great and be easy to navigate to the show house section, which should equally look great, but each developer is nowadays most likely doing this as a matter of course (or certainly should be).

For a show house to set itself apart it needs an element of personality that speaks to the potential buyer, and there’s no better way to do this than getting someone onto the site to get a feel for it; the build quality; the geography; the light; the atmosphere; the finishes — all of these can be very personal and key to selling a property.

What sort of trends were in place last year and what do you think are this year's?

We saw plenty of soft powdery pink blush, and this was complemented with warm-toned metallics — brass, bronze and rose-toned finishes.

We're getting back to nature this year with soft-toned greens, layered textures. Again, these are set off with wonderful soft, warm metallics. I actually love the pink blush of 2016 with this year's nature inspired greens. It's edgy and fun, with a beautiful elegance to it.

Do you have any particular favourite interior designers?

I think there are good interior designers out there today, but for me the late David Collins stood head and shoulders above everyone. He had beautiful style that I still find inspirational today. The elegance and serenity he was able to achieve is very much something that I also aim for in my designs.

How do you think new homes buyers can make the most of their site visit and tour of a show home?

Preparation is key, and so is seeing as many show houses as you can to develop a knowledge and feel for what you like and you don’t like. It’s very easy for show house touring to merge into a sea, forgetting which were the good and bad bits of each. I always recommend listing what is most important to you and taking notes on each home — it’s obvious, if a little geeky, but it works.

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