Home » Blog » In Conversation With – René Dekker

Here at DKT Artworks we are very pleased on how things are going despite the very challenging times. Our workshop is bustling with activity and we are so happy to get to see our clients and partners in person, looking through samples and discussing future projects.

Recently we had a visit from one of our oldest friends, award-winning interior designer René Dekker of René Dekker Design. We wanted to pick René’s brain about interior design and his work, as well as re-visit some of the projects we’ve done together over the years. You can read this conversation in full below, or view the video interview here.

René Dekker and Steve Keeling, at DKT Artworks studio in London. Photo by DKT Artworks.

Who is René Dekker?

René Dekker: I’ve been an interior designer for around 35 years and it’s been an amazing time. I started out at the bottom just like everybody else, doing very small jobs and then over the years, we've been fortunate enough to get some fantastic clients, doing really large-scale projects. Some in London, some outside of London and some abroad.

What drew you to interior design?

René Dekker: I have to say it wasn't my first choice because I started out as a window dresser for a large department store. I was taking a gap year and my parents really wanted me to do something. And my mother made the suggestion that we go for an interview with the principal. I went and after she explained what the work was all about and what the future could hold, I left there completely starstruck and totally amazed, thinking that's exactly what I wanted to do. I never started out thinking that this would be something that would make me money but I was very passionate about it and I realise now that if the passion comes first, the money will come afterwards. If you're going to do it for the money, you're probably not going to succeed. But if you're passionate about it, then you will definitely succeed.

Maple tree bas-relief finished in stucco and metal leaf, Photo and Interior Design by René Dekker Design.

What inspires you?

René Dekker: Inspiration comes from different angles. I guess it depends on the project that we're doing. It also depends on the client, and how the project is developing. I might be driving and suddenly there's a billboard poster with an amazing wall behind the models and it suddenly clicks that that's what you really need for the project. I also have to say that if I am looking for inspiration, it's very nice to come to DKT because obviously you have all these wonderful samples and sometimes I don't know what I want but I find it when I look through them. Quite often what we end up doing is not really what I had in my head to start with.

Cross combed polished plaster for private residence dining room. Photo and Interior Design by René Dekker Design.

Can you tell us about your design process?

René Dekker: You start with meeting the client. Often the client doesn't have a clear picture of what they want. They have a few tear sheets or photos with some colors and and a couple of ideas for little bits of furniture but often there’s no big picture yet. Then we start with the brief. What is it that they want to achieve? What are they looking for? How long is it going to take? We then formalise this in a document, something that is easy for the client to understand. Once fees are agreed the main design process starts. We have another meeting and you discuss more in depth what they want to achieve. We put our initial ideas together in the form of simple sample and image boards.

You need to win the client over without being too crazy. Once they understand the process and where you're going to, you then start putting things in that push them out of their comfort zone. And then you go shopping! We also bring the client to DKT, so that they can actually touch the samples and see the finishes, and perhaps see if there’s something else that they like. In tandem with this you are also sketching up. You are drawing. You are padding up. And then at the very end you start with the FF&E, the fabrics, accessories and furniture.

Do you have a house style?

René Dekker: We don’t, and over the last few years, I’ve noticed that clients often say that even if they didn't see what they wanted on our website, they saw such a broad selection of work that they understood that we would be able to achieve that for them anyway.

Wall-mounted sculptures and columns that reflect their surroundings, Photo by James Silverman, Interior Design Project by René Dekker Design / SHH.

Is craftsmanship important?

René Dekker: I think in a disposable age craftsmanship is very important and I also think it sets really good design apart because clients who are spending good money are expecting to achieve something that they've never seen before and that other people don't have. People discover things that are not visual when they walk in. You know, if you are lucky enough to be able to have just polished plaster on the walls, that's great, but if you have polished plaster on the walls and also have some micro concrete in it, that makes it sparkle.

A cabinet is a cabinet until you put a specialist finish on it and all of a sudden, it's much more of a magical item.

Somebody who knows what they’re doing will be able to bring out those fantastic elements. And I think you can only do that with craftsmanship and with specialist finishes because it is a journey and a process that you are having with the person who is developing it and also the person who is applying it.

How did you start working with DKT Artworks?

René Dekker: Around 2005, I was given Steve's name by a girlfriend of mine who said that I just had to meet him because he was the most amazing and inspirational person, and she wasn't wrong. It’s been a fantastic relationship ever since then.

The first project we did together was for a residence in London, and DKT did several things for us. I think the thing that inspired me the most was the dining room where we did the cross combed polished plaster which had several tones of colour and metallic over the top. It was rich and beautiful and it was very deep. It was just totally gorgeous for that space. Then in the main reception room we did pearlised polished plaster. Which I'd never heard of at the time. In fact I was really all new to these things before I came here.

Also, we hadn’t actually agreed on a final decision for the swimming pool… I remember that movie that I saw many years ago called The Abyss, where the water comes into that submarine and I wanted the columns to look like water and you created this amazing milled perspex finish that had been silvered on the inside: I think it's just iconic!

Illuminated panels and murals, for graphic novel themed pool area. Photo by DKT Artworks, Interior Design Project by René Dekker Design / SHH.

Another early project was for a private residential swimming pool area. That client was quite cool in that he allowed us to mimic his collection of artworks which were all the cartoons of Batman and Daffy Duck and that sort of thing. We turned that space into a comic story.

Do you have a favourite project?

René Dekker: The most iconic project that I’ve done with DKT is the olive tree staircase bas relief. I wanted something like a forest and my first thought was TV screens. I'm sort of glad I didn't do that because it would have looked like a disco.

The initial inspiration came from a restaurant that I went to where they had a detail around the door and it was a bas relief and it had a few little olives. It wasn't great, but I remember thinking: an olive tree, that’s what we're gonna do! And it was the most involved process that I think I have worked on with DKT. First came the artwork, which was based on an elevation that had already been generated and which also showed the staircase.

Olive tree staircase bas-relief, Photo by James Silverman, Interior Design project by René Dekker Design / SHH.

You entered the flat on the top floor and then went down into the flat. So from the top floor the first thing you see are the branches and the olives. Then of course we had to extend the artwork over three floors and we needed a certain amount of realism. So we did try a few things and then I remember you made full scale drawing, showing the full tree, which we hung on the wall. This was amazing, since it gave you a completely different impression from what you had in mind.

I remember you had made up the leaves with the branches, with the olives, and they could be put together in various ways so that you didn't see any pattern repeat. And then of course, putting it up, it's mostly based on a design that you've created but I'm sure there was some artistic license when you stood back to see that perhaps an area was either too full or not as full as what you were expecting it to be.

Development sketches of olive tree staircase bas-relief.

Why do you come to DKT Artworks?

René Dekker: The finishes here are amazing. The other thing that I love about DKT is that in all the years that I’ve been coming here, I see the same people. There’s not a high turnover of staff. And also when you come to a place where you know the people, they know your name and they ask how are you…It just makes your day! You feel confident and they draw out the best in you. I think those things are important and it is a personal relationship.

The finishes here are amazing but it’s also a personal relationship. And it’s the samples you can see, you can touch, you can feel.

What are you working on right now?

René Dekker: A big restaurant project. You've worked on two of them with us. We are also finishing off a large project in South West London, which you have been working on with me for ten long years. I'm doing a small project near Hampton Court and I am about to start another project.

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