He was described by the Financial Times as “the go-to supplier of exotic and experimental surfaces for walls, floors, ceilings and furniture.” Fameed Khalique, since launching his own brand in 2008 has proven to the world that there are limitless possibilities in luxury surfaces and interior design.
The world-renowned designer, who is arguably most respected for his ‘eye’ and ability to curate exceptional techniques to crete unexpected results, started his journey in design with a five-year stint working with luxury leather merchant Alma Leathers. Striking out on his own, Khalique’s solo business began with just one leather collection, growing exponentially to the point where his showroom in Chelsea’s Furniture & Arts Building now contains the world’s largest selection of luxury surface material samples under one roof, and his client list includes the cream of interior design companies both in the UK and internationally.
I caught up with the designer in his London-based studio to find out more about the man behind the surfaces…
Hamish Kilburn: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your what you describe as an ‘extremely traditional’ background?
Fameed Khalique: As a child I always wanted to be a pilot for British Airways (which I couldn’t do because I was short-sighted) and subsequently I’ve had quite the eclectic career – producing fashion shows, sales, marketing, PR, logistics and publishing. I never really felt that I had found a home as far as my work life went. But that started to change when I became the Sales Director at Alma Leather and had my first foray into the interior design industry. This is not only where my interest in design and interiors developed but I was also able to broaden my skill set by observing and understanding how architects and interiors designers think and work.
“We now have what I believe is quite possibly the world’s largest collection of surfaces materials under one roof anywhere.”
I then went onto launch Fameed Khalique back in 2008 with the aim of selling leather and, as time went on, that expanded into other surface finishes. We now have what I believe is quite possibly the world’s largest collection of surfaces materials under one roof anywhere. What I do now is really about two things: identifying and developing materials I know our clients will love and finding solutions to the challenges that designers face every day. That can cover many things; be it a bespoke finish that seemed impossible to find or creating/finding a material to suit a time or a particular budget constraint. A lament I often hear in the industry is: “I never see anything new” and what we do in our showroom is challenge that through our extensive collections of surfaces and techniques that are all curated to ensure there’s something for every project and budget from hospitality and commercial to marine, aviation and residential sectors.
HK: What are the different luxury surfaces one will find when visiting your showroom?
FK: The showroom is often described as a treasure trove of surfaces; people are always surprised by the many different finishes and techniques that you can find here. You will find thousands of different surface finish options here – everything a hospitality designer specifies day in and out like fabrics, leathers and wallcoverings through to the more exotic such as semi-precious stones, exquisite hand embroideries and jacquard woven copper textiles. In between there are woven leathers, wood veneer, ceramic and marble tiles, resins, acrylics and so much more. And if there’s something else specific that a designer is after, we will work out a way to create or innovate a particular technique or a material to rise to the challenge. Yes, we work with the world’s leading design studios at a premium end of the market, but not every project is a super prime residence or yacht. I think a lot of people don’t realise that almost half of our business comes from hospitality and therefore we look for new techniques to deliver materials in ways that offer value for money or are more durable. We are always finding cost-effective solutions to budget challenges. And I very much see our role as being to help the designer deliver their vision without compromising on their design or quality.
HK: How have you utilised your experience in fashion and PR in design and the luxury surfaces sector?
FK: Once I knew that being a pilot was out of the equation, I chose to study PR and events. I originally wanted to work in fashion, which is something I’ve had an appreciation of for as long as I can remember. This still inspires me to this day and it can be seen in our collections, particularly our leather and embroidery collections which really allow me to experiment with the level of detailing seen in couture fashion. I’ve always had an eye for detail and something that I love is taking the finishes that I see in fashion or accessories such as a crochet detail on a dress, or the woven technique used on a bag and translating them into our surface collections. This passion has also led me to develop a collection of lifestyle accessorises where we develop our amazing techniques to create a truly unique collection of woven and laser cut leather scarves and luxury cushions for the home. It felt like a natural progression and allows us to reach a different type of customer and make our materials available to a far wider audience.
HK: You are renowned in the industry for your ‘eye’ and ability to curate exceptional techniques. What inspires you? What is your favourite or most iconic product?
FK: My inspiration can come from anywhere really. I do love travelling and being able to meet the artisans that we work with, being inspired by their work and vision and seeing how we can translate that into something new. With the pandemic that obviously hasn’t happened over the past year! However, it has opened up a new opportunity for me which has been to cycle around the city I have lived in for more than 35 years and discover it in a way I haven’t been able to before. The architectural details and something as simple as the magnolia trees in bloom are magical. I also love Art Deco and Hollywood Regency – who doesn’t? The opulence and decadent details are something I try to translate into some of our product offering, but with a contemporary twist. I love discovering new techniques and finishes, which a lot of the time are influenced by the challenges our clients face. As they say necessity is the mother of all invention! I have no formal training in design and have in the past suffered from imposter syndrome but, what I have come to understand, is that having a deep passion and understanding for the products that we create, has given me the confidence to continue to grow the company. I really do get very excited about every new product we discover or develop so it’s hard to pick a favourite – it would be like picking between your children!
Embroidery, leather and semi-precious stones are three categories that I really enjoy, mainly because there are so many different techniques and applications to experiment with. I’m particularly proud of the water moulded leather panelling we have recently created; it’s a contemporary twist on fibrous plaster ceilings and is completely unique. It has a wonderful matt finish and looks incredible in contemporary as well as more traditional interiors. I’m also in love with black resin which is hand inlaid with mother of pearl and abalone shell in a foliage pattern – it truly is breathtakingly beautiful and catches my eye every time I’m in the showroom. Equally I am loving the simple life with a new collection of contract velvet that has a great colour palette and is super durable – it’s been specified left, right and centre by hotel designers.
HK: What are major pitfalls designers should avoid when specifying luxury surfaces?
FK: First and foremost, I would say don’t be scared of using them and secondly don’t immediately rule them out on the basis of cost or durability without finding out more information. For example, we are now digitally printing glass to look just like our semi-precious stones or we are weaving faux leather to look just like the real thing. Whichever supplier you are working with should offer you the appropriate product information to let you make an informed decision. But that also works both ways – it’s equally as important the supplier is advised of how you are intending on using a finish so they can advise accordingly. A good example is when I see something like a soft lambskin leather specified for hotel bar stools which is not fit for purpose. By asking the right questions on both sides, we can find the appropriate and cost-effective solution. Lastly luxury bespoke surfaces need time to be developed and this has to be allowed for. I also find that if we are brought into the design process early on, not only are we able to provide exactly what the designer wants but we can ensure it will meet any budget and performance criteria from the outset.
HK: What are some of the recent projects you’ve been working on?
FK: I really love the fact that we work on all types of projects from hotels to cruise ships to private homes and yachts. Over the past few years we’ve worked on many a hotel in London (and further afield) including the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, The Ned, Grosvenor House, IHG, Soho House and Hoxton Hotels. No day is ever the same! Recently, I’ve loved working with Fabled Studio on the Baccarat Bar in Harrods. The interior is lavish and absolutely stunning (as one would expect from Harrods and Baccarat). We’ve also worked with David Collins Studio on the Nobu Hotel which I can’t wait to see. I have really felt for the hospitality sector over the past year and I’m really looking forward to it reopening so I can return for a cocktail or two or even an overnight stay!. As far as upcoming openings or launches go, we have also been working on the new Peninsula Hotel at Hyde Park for a couple of years now, which I’m very excited about. It’s been a real challenge getting the vision of designer Peter Marino right and working to meet the super high design standards of the Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Group. But it has paid off as we are supplying the wallcoverings and fabrics for the guest rooms, suites and public areas. We’ve also worked on the Nomad Hotel in Covent Garden, the Hoxton in Rome and P&O’s new cruise ship, the Iona amongst many others.
HK: What trends are you noticing at the moment?
FK: We are seeing a general focus on hand made and more natural materials. People want to understand the provenance, they want to see the craft, the hand of the artisan in a material, but they also want innovation and modernity. It is the collision of these two ideas that is producing new and interesting materials. Our collection of wood veneer wallcoverings, which we developed as an alternative to straw marquetry for a hospitality project is proving to be extremely popular, as well as our 3D-engineered wooden tiles, woven leathers and raffia collections as clients are searching for noble materials and more textural detailing for use in their interiors. Clearly there is a big movement towards understanding the sustainable credentials of materials and within the cruise sector, clients are demanding IMO inherent materials. We now have an ever-growing repertoire of sustainable materials and, over the past year, we have introduced a comprehensive collection of IMO finishes.
Main image credit: Fameed Khalique