INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

George Khachfe is the managing director and inspiration behind furniture designer and maker, Poliform UK. His three-storey King’s Road showroom in fashionable Chelsea in London was the former premises of the Chelsea School of Art and Design before the company bought and transformed it in 2002.

Today, he works there with his team of talented furniture designers with the emphasis firmly on functionality as well as quality finish and value for money. His gift has been described as his ability to visualise the finished article yet foresee in minute detail all the elements that must first come together to achieve it.

This year we’re delighted to announce that Poliform UK will be the headline sponsor of the World Interiors News Awards Dinner 2014. George will also be sharing his expertise as a judge on two of the WIN Awards panels on the Interior Accessories and Furniture categories. We spoke to him about his involvement this year.

What are you most looking forward to about being a judge?

I think - or I hope - that my 40 years in the interior architectural and design industry will bring, along with my fellow judges, some positive in-put into recognising the creativity that this industry has, and to help choose ‘The One’ most deserving winner.

As you know, the WIN Awards ceremony will be taking place at the influential Saatchi Gallery in London this October. Personally speaking, what impresses you about the venue and the events and exhibitions that go on there?

It is an incredible space and very impressive. In fact, one of the reasons we decided to sponsor is the venue; what better place to hold the Awards than in the midst of this inspirational art gallery.

How did it go in Milan at the annual furniture fair, Salone Internazionale del Mobile, this spring? What was the reaction to your new Bristol sofas collection? And the new Phoenix Varenna kitchen range?

Many people at the Salone thought that Poliform had the best stand. The venue is great because of its size as our stand was over 1,000 square metres in area.

Half of it was dedicated to the Bristol Sofa line system, designed by Jean-Marie Massaud, with many new additions like end, back and side tables. Together with our wall system libraries and bookcases, it all looked great.

The other 50% was dedicated to our Night section with new high-end accessories for our wardrobe systems. Every year we say we surpassed ourselves and how can we improve next? But it seems we do...

As for our separate kitchen stand, again the new Phoenix Varenna kitchen line was very well received, with its sleek 6mm top and its very innovative handle. The kitchens were in our latest smoked natural walnut wood and new metallic lacquers, which are the latest finishes of the next trend.

And what most caught your eye at the show in terms of innovative design or new trends?

I thought that this year’s strength was in improving quality and better systems, rather than new form direction or colour palettes. The most exciting thing also was the Young Designers/Student Show – very promising indeed, the future is bright.

Going back to the beginning of the story, it was nearly twenty years ago that you first brought over a Poliform wardrobe from Italy to your then design emporium, Interdesign, in Chelsea Harbour, London. Can you tell us about when and why you first came to the UK and the story behind Interdesign?

1987 is the year I decided to incorporate Interdesign UK instead of Interdesign LA – USA, and introduce what I always thought was the one and only future in design, lifestyle and furniture...that is to say, modern and contemporary. England was so behind Europe then and people still just inherited antiques from their parents.

But, the generation that grew up with the affordable Habitat items was now making good money and wanted the originals and the Italian iconic brands. So that is where I came and introduced a lot of modern companies that could give them what they wanted.

Even in 1990 it was a bit too early for some people, so it was a struggle and I had to explain a lot that it was value for money when it was a blank of wood but designed by a famous Italian designer, because it would become the antique of the future. And here we are: London is the leading city of design, where international projects are designed.

In more recent times, you’ve opened a 500 square feet specification hub at the Design Centre Chelsea Harbour. What does it offer designers and architects?

The ‘presence’ of Poliform in the Design Centre was a very important step for me, and had always featured in my plans to go back to where it all started. The Centre is the one-stop shop for architects and designers, and it’s where

we introduce our free space planning service and product range to them. They can then come to our main showroom on King’s Road with their clients and personalise the designs to each one’s individual requirements.

What satisfies you most about your work with Poliform UK?

After doing it for over 30 years, I stopped practising interior architecture and design myself when I opened the Kings Road showroom and offered my expertise to the trade. I had to take that step back as more than 85% of our business came from the design industry, so we couldn’t be seen to be competing with them. This way designers and architects can feel comfortable working with us.

For me, it is the ultimate where I can still be involved but without the intricacies of a project, so instead can really practice what I am passionate about and offer my expertise to the designer and sell what I think suits the projects.

And what do you think makes your products so desirable?

The most difficult thing in designing interiors is predicting what the next step is. Where does it go from a successful last collection to the next success? Preferably it should be as seamless and as natural as possible.

I think if you look at Poliform’s catalogues for the last 10 years you will not see, like in fashion, a trend going and a totally different pattern or colours come in, but a soft evolution of the last line that would take about three years to notice that we moved on. The most satisfying thing about Poliform is that it always fulfils first and foremost the function that any product is designed for.

And do you have any personal favourites?

The next collection and the next and so on.

What are your plans for the brand over the next five years or so?

Poliform Developments is my next objective, as we already supply to a lot of developments and of course know the ins and outs. I want to give value for money; provide space and fittings we know the purchasers would appreciate; saving them effort and money by actually personalising their space - be it a chest of drawers that we know they would need but is never usually there in a wardrobe, or a functional kitchen with enough storage. Mainly, we would treat it as an interior designed space and not just a concrete box.

You attribute the success of Poliform UK to the brand’s ability to keep pace with changing lifestyles. Speaking generally about how people live and what they want from their homes, what are some of the key trends emerging at the moment?

In the last couple of years Poliform has been concentrating on improving production and adding more sophistication, plus trying to find ways to individually personalise accessories - for example in wardrobe interiors.

Your biography states, ‘George was born restless and, inspired by whatever surrounded him, developed interests in everything from music to art and fashion.’ What made you opt to study interior design and interior architecture as you did, when it sounds like your career could have taken any number of creative paths?

In fact my dream was always to become an architect, but circumstances led me to start working at an early age and having to study at night, so I consider myself to be very lucky to work in this industry. But whatever career I might have followed, I know I would have done it passionately as it is the only way to work that I know.

Your biography goes on to say, ‘George continues to be inspired by what surrounds him.’ For example?

We are surrounded by inspirational things. The difference between one successful person and another is the level of sensitivity and being able to see beyond what seems a flat surface and go deeper. My best inspiration comes from Mother Nature, and the way people act with and react to an item they own.

What would we find you doing in your moments of free time?

Going once a week for two and half hours to an art school Open Studio, learning how to draw and paint. I am far from being happy with what I produce, but it is my way of being able to express myself without any restriction. I love it as I can put the passion I have that is dying to burst out onto paper or canvas.

And do you live in London? If so, what especially appeals to you about it as a city?

I do live in London, and wouldn’t live anywhere else. Here you are living in a major cosmopolitan city where you can have the buzzing life you want, or a quiet one as if you are in the countryside.

Gail Taylor