Cat Hoad, interiors expert

Cat Hoad, interiors expert

Cat Hoad is founder and director of Absolute Project Management, a company that manages and provides interior design services for residential renovation projects. Our two companies have been neighbours in our shared office space in Islington for many years, so we’re used to seeing each other most days. Some lockdown measures are being eased now, of course, but we are all still working from home.


Business in lockdown


Louise: Although working from home has its benefits, I know the Amazon PR team misses being in the office with you and the other firms we share with. We like hearing your conversations about wall tiles and lighting (and also we like ‘borrowing’ your milk). What have you missed most about office life?


Cat: I think the same as you, chatting in the kitchen or as we pass, liaising on important things like whether the windows are open and the general camaraderie of office life.


“We also definitely miss some of the Amazon conversations we overhear about many and diverse subjects – Holocaust Memorial Day to bowel health to donkey sanctuaries.”


A couple of our campaigns had to be postponed when lockdown began. Presumably lockdown forced some of your projects to pause. It’s interesting hearing how other professions are affected. What have been the most significant challenges for you and your clients?


Without doubt the difficulty, delay and in some cases impossibility of getting fittings delivered to site – whether that’s a national shortage of plaster or bespoke bathroom fittings ‘stuck in a warehouse in Dover’. This causes major delays to our projects which is extremely inconvenient for clients and makes our and our contractors’/ suppliers’ jobs much more tedious (and less profitable) – you can’t really use a shower enclosure if the tiles lining it don’t make it to site…


I was impressed by how quickly you launched a new lockdown service – your ‘Design Capsule’, a by-room design package for a fixed fee. With everyone spending so much time at home and no longer being able to ignore all the things they hate about their surroundings, has take-up been good?


It was quite fun although felt slightly insane to come up with and market a new product within about two weeks. Unfortunately take-up hasn’t been as good as we thought but with so much continuing economic uncertainty, that’s probably not too surprising. We were pleased to be able to support Shelter via this new service – and will continue to work with them.

Homes in lockdown


Given the nature of your work, presumably your home is beautiful?! Do you have a favourite spot in your house and what do you love about it?


I couldn’t possibly comment! I’ve lived here for 19 years and am generally really pleased with it though as a designer am always seeing beautiful things I definitely don’t need (and often wont fit…). I’ve got a ‘posh’ sitting room area which has velvet sofas and is v visually pleasing (to me at least) tho I have to admit for most of the lockdown I have been glued to the much scruffier sofa in the kitchen.


Although some people are returning to their regular workplaces, it seems likely that many will continue working from home to some degree. If we haven’t already got comfortable, pleasant workspaces at home, what should we be thinking about? What are the small changes that can make a big difference?


For the fundamentals, a comfortable, supportive chair + desk arrangement with good lighting are really important – preferably in a quiet place – and ideally these pieces should be ones you really like (specially as you may be using them a lot more in future).


However, I’d also really recommend having a few things around you that you like/ make you happy – whether that’s plants, artworks, photos or nice stationery. We’re big believers in biophilic design and these items will help you feel happier, more healthy and more grounded. Doing your best to maintain good mental as well as physical health is really important with so much stress and uncertainty globally.


Do you think our new relationship with our homes will bring lasting changes to the way they are designed and built? What trends do you see emerging over the next year or two?


I’m not sure this (possibly reasonably short-lived) need to work from home will change how new houses are built (as that’s a really long-term proposition), though a lot of people have experienced the downsides of very open-plan living – no doors!


“In the next couple of years I expect people will notice more than usual, and look to fix, the things that annoy them about their homes.”


There seems to be a lot of public support for a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. There are many aspects to this, but our homes are an important one. Do you think there will be an increase in people wanting to make their homes greener and more efficient?


I really hope there’ll be more of a move to making homes as energy efficient as possible – the ‘green energy’ grants planned by the government should help with this. Also, if you’re spending more of your waking time at home, it makes sense on loads of levels to ensure they’re well insulated, not draughty but with good air circulation and financially efficient to heat, light, etc.

Life in lockdown


Lots of us have been focusing on fitness during lockdown. I remember you were doing ‘Yoga with Adriene’ a while back. Have you continued with that (or something similar)?


Good memory! Yes I’ve been doing fairly regular 30 min morning Yoga with Adriene, with a bit of ‘pilates with katja’ and ThirdSpace IGTV core or weights classes to mix it up a bit. I also still cycle to sites as often as possible and (theoretically at least) do a 5k run ‘most’ weeks.


We both have children in secondary school. My son has just finished Y10, which is one of the years most affected by missed lessons. Your children were due to take GCSEs and A-Levels this year. How do you feel about the exams being cancelled, and how do you think it will affect their futures?


In general, I think it is an enormous shame the exams were cancelled, especially as the arbitrary-seeming way of awarding grades will mean lots of children with potential presumably won’t do as well as they would otherwise have done.


For GCSEs, if the student is going on to A-Levels or other education/ training, I don’t think the lack of ‘proper’ GCSEs will make an enormous difference (employers, etc. will be more interested in those subsequent results) – for students leaving school at 16 it’s more problematic, and for A-Level/ IB students reliant on grades they had no real control in getting, there’s a chance of real unfairness.


“I’m really hoping this year’s experience will be the death of the GCSE system as we know it – i.e. most students taking 8-10 subjects with multiple papers for many of those subjects – I can’t see how sitting around 30 exams in May and June of the year you are 16 is a good use of resources.”


You and I are both marking a certain significant birthday this month. Did you have something big planned?! How will you celebrate instead?


Yes! I was planning a big party and had the guest list and ‘save the date’ cards almost ready to go but realised by mid-Feb that was a bit futile for this summer.


I intend to have a late big party (probably in 2021). Instead, in a very impromptu decision, I’m going with the family to Italy for a few days – we were able to change flights we’d booked for a further-flung holiday that has now also been postponed til 2021.


Interview originally published in July 2020.