Lee Hallman, Head of Candy & Candy Design

Candy & Candy are notorious for their domination of high-end, high-tech, luxury flats in London and beyond, but the company goes much further than development, right down to the most intimate details of a living space. Working on private commissions around the world, their holistic approach starts with concept sketches, concept developments and concept resolution, and is loyally carried through to detailed design, furniture design, procurement, construction & fit-out and, finally, the all-important dressing. We talked to Lee Hallman, Head of Candy & Candy Design, about the unique trials and tribulations of designing these lavish interior worlds; from the casual, last-minute addition of a 1500-seat opera house into the basement of a building, to finding exactly the right spot for a vase on a credenza.

How did you come to work as Head of Candy & Candy Design?

I was hired by Candy & Candy four years ago from Foster + Partners to be the Design Director, overseeing the internal and external design teams on a large project in Chelsea. When we sold our interest in that project, the role of Head of Candy & Candy Design was a logical next step.

Can you tell us more about the design aspect of the company?

The Development Management side of Candy & Candy accounts for about 20% of our staff. The other 80% is made up of interior designers, product designers, architects and interior architects. We have specialised in the high specification luxury market for the last 12 years, so with a design studio of over 80 people we are able to take on a wide variety of commissions from private clients around the world. At the same time, the studio is also responsible for creating the interior designs for all of the large-scale projects that Candy & Candy development-manage.

Each space is different and tailored to the client’s specific needs. So, when a client comes to you with a project, what will be the first stage in the design process?

The first and most important part of the design process is to understand the client’s needs, tastes and desires. The majority of our clients come to us because they want a bespoke design that is tailored and unique, rather than a specific Candy & Candy look. This means that we start from a blank piece of paper for each client and build up the ideas over a number of weeks of presentations. Once we have an understanding of the client we can then create a design that is sympathetic to their needs and fits well within the constraints of the building and broader context.

Is there any single project or piece of design that you are most proud of?

There have been a number of projects over the last 12 years that have helped define Candy & Candy Design as a leading force in the interior design world, however, mostly they are not publicly named projects. We complete approximately 25 projects per year for private individuals around the world and we are particularly proud of them due to the complexities of working internationally in difficult environments. We are currently working on the next round of projects that will definitely raise the bar even higher.

How long will the average project take?

The time a project takes depends upon two main factors: the scale of the project and the levels of embellishment and refinement that the client requires. A small project that has each surface and piece of furniture detailed with hand crafted embroidery or stone/wooden marquetry can take just as long to deliver as a larger project with less complex treatments.

What would be your dream project?

The vast majority of our work has been for private clients and therefore only enjoyed by a select few individuals. We would very much like to work on more restaurant or private members clubs like the Home House members club we designed a couple of years ago. We designed a couple of hotels recently but the projects did not continue to the construction stage, so a beautiful boutique hotel with exceptional hand-crafted finishes would be a very special project to work on and great for people to enjoy.

Much of Candy & Candy’s work derives in part from a respect for British heritage and quality. Are there any particular periods, or designers, in British history that have had the most impact on its designs?

In all of our work we strive to create designs that are timeless and not necessarily tied to a particular period or fashion. However, we do draw a good deal of inspiration from late 20th-century British decorative arts. We also have a staple of British craftspeople, artisans and joinery companies that we have worked with closely over the last 11 years. These suppliers understand the level of quality that is expected of a Candy & Candy design, while at the same time bringing their own expertise to the finished product.

Lighting features heavily in your projects. How do you go about creating the right ambience for a room?

Lighting is one of the more complex components within the interior design palette. Lighting has the ability to change the appearance of every material in a room plus highlight or cast into shadow each of the features. It is also a highly technical component to work with, so the Candy & Candy designers are generally supported by engineers and contractors in order to finalise the designs. However, the most important thing is to remember which aspects of the interior space are the most important to emphasise and to use the lighting and the mood settings to focus on those aspects.

With a 100-strong team of interior designers, architectural designers, furniture and product designers and development managers, Candy & Candy continue to be at the forefront of luxury property - but did the recession have any effect on the business?

Candy & Candy Design are very fortunate in that the market we specialise in has, so far, been relatively recession-proof. However, you are only as good as your last project so we always strive to achieve our clients’ expectations to ensure that we retain maximum client return business. In the high-end London residential market there has been a great deal of inward investment from people in countries looking to take advantage of the lower level of the pound. This has actually served to broaden our client nationality base even further than it was already.

Have you ever faced any big problems or obstructions mid-way through a project?

The very nature of building projects is that issues arise at all stages throughout the process that threaten the integrity of the project, so I suppose the answer to the question is yes. The key to dealing with these issues is for the full team to understand the principles and aspirations of the design well enough to be able to adapt it when necessary without compromising the original intent. However, I did once work on a 60,000 sq m project with a 21-month build programme which the client decided to add a 1500-seat opera house into the basement of after four months of design. The opera house was incorporated and the project was still delivered on time!

That’s impressive work! Working on such vast and detailed projects, from conception right through to completion, must be a very absorbing process. How and when do you decide that a project is truly finished?

This is a very real challenge for all designers when it comes to working on private homes for individual clients. The projects are finished, by definition, on the final date of completion when the last vase is placed upon the beautifully crafted credenza. However, by the end of the project the design team have developed a strong understanding of how the client wishes the house to be. This means that clients tend to continue to consult us about new artwork purchases, dressing items long after the actual project completion date.

Does your own home reflect the Candy & Candy aesthetic?

If only I could afford to it would do!

Amy Knight, Arts and Media Correspondent