First he rockets to international acclaim as a gifted interior designer, highly sought after for his quirky and eclectic style of Portobello-Road-meets-French-Baroque, then he opens a boutique hotel that is raved about as the most exciting place to stay in London, yet he’s had no formal training in design and he doesn’t know a thing about the hospitality business. So who the hell is this buccaneering upstart and what’s he playing at? His name is Carter, David Carter. I went to meet the man behind the hype.
His East End home-cum-hotel is situated on Mile End Road, once the domain of the Krays and Del Boy-esque likely lads, the community is now warmly embraced by the international creative jet-set, bringing regeneration and new money to what has always been a vibrant and exciting neighbourhood. But David isn’t from the mean streets of Commercial Road, so how did this dandy gentleman end up here?
Interior design and decoration have been close to David’s heart since childhood; his mother dealt in antiques, exposing him to the resplendence of vintage objects. “I was taken around antique shops and auctions from a young age and I loved it. At university in Bristol I would go to the auction house every week and find little bits and bobs to decorate the room I was renting. My environment was important and I needed to be surrounded by things that resonated with me.”
David read law at university but soon found that it wasn’t to his taste. “I got completely bored with it after a year and changed to a degree in religion and literature, which is completely useless, unless you want to become a teacher or the pope.” Unfortunately for them, the Vatican wasn’t blessed with his creative touch and he worked instead in the fashion industry, until one day in 1992 when his life suddenly changed quite dramatically.
“A friend of mine came round to take some snaps of a flat I had in Islington, and he sent them off to World of Interiors magazine. They were on the phone the next day asking to shoot it. The flat ended up on the front cover and I got an invitation to have lunch with Min Hogg, the legendary Editor-in-Chief who’s launched many designers’ careers. She said, ‘Darling, you’re a genius, you should be an interior designer. We’ll photograph anything you do.’ So it was really Min’s phenomenal and brave support that got me started.”
And what a start; plunged into the deep end, he became an overnight sensation and his work began to appear in glossy magazines around the world. “After 18 months I already had 40 pages in World of Interiors and two front covers, which is still quite an achievement. I was put firmly on the interior design map.”
Carter’s talents, while employed by the likes of the Saudi royal family, captains of industry and city high-fliers, are by no means limited to an exclusive club. “The first paid job I ever did was in France for a dentist’s surgery in Cherbourg. I phoned Min to tell her that I’d just completed the project and I asked if she wanted to photograph it for World of Interiors. There was a pregnant pause at the other end of the line and she exclaimed, ‘A dental surgery…in Cherbourg?!’ But I sent her some pictures and she loved it. They called it Driller Thriller.”
Although most people who use the services of interior designers are wealthy individuals, David believes that good design is not only the domain of the rich and famous. “I’m passionate about interior design and it’s very important to me that good design is accessible to everyone. It’s not about how much money you throw at it, but the quality of ideas. You can come up with the most fantastically creative ideas from everyday things that people have in their cupboards.”
At the heart of David’s interior design philosophy is the need to be surrounded by objects of emotive value to afford the homeowner a sense of belonging. “My home here is in many ways an autobiography of who I am; it’s always evolving and changing and it reflects all the things I’m interested in. I think every home should be like that. We all need to be fed emotionally, even on a subliminal level. We need colour, vibrancy and texture and we need to be surrounded by things that have an emotional significance to us, even if it’s just a load of pebbles from the beach or a piece of china your grandmother gave you. It reminds you that you’re a human being and not there just to broker money from your home like some sort of commodity.”
After an illustrious career as a globally acclaimed interior decorator, David opened 40 Winks, his boutique hotel, with that same entrepreneurial spirit behind his artistic vocation. “I’ve got no background in hotel or event management and I’ve just learnt very quickly by doing it. I’m sure I’ve made lots of mistakes and there are probably things I could do better, but hopefully my passion for it makes up for the lack of knowledge.”
Having opened in March 2009, 40 Winks is situated in a Queen Anne period townhouse that has been David’s home for the past twelve years, itself the backdrop of many fashion shoots for consumer magazines. Once a hangout for fashion models and photographers, the doors are now open to anyone wanting the Carter experience. “We’re very small, very niche, we’re not trying to build a puffed-up global brand. We just want to create something with authenticity and honesty about it. A lot of people who stay here are used to staying in smart and swanky hotels which are rather anonymous in nature. They come here and find themselves in a place that feels like a home; they hangout and sit up to the early hours of the morning chatting. It’s a very different experience, a human experience.”
The events at 40 Winks are booked up months in advance, being small, bespoke and exclusive yet accessible to all. They are an extension of the concept behind the hotel and of David’s design philosophy. “People are looking for different experiences that are interesting and stimulating on both an emotional and intellectual level and the popularity of the events here are testament to that. It’s about finding things that have a value.”
One example of the eclectic events to be found at 40 Winks is the Bedtime Story Nights, a refreshing take on a traditional storytelling experience. “Dressing up in pyjamas and nighties and allowing oneself to be transported back to childhood, listening to a fantastic ripping yarn or a ghost story is a really magical thing. There’s warmth about it, a sense of humanity. It’s not about prettying things up, packaging and branding them, but a lovely thing to do for its own sake and an enriching experience.”
David has created something wonderful that has captured the hearts and minds of all who enter his domain. The hotel and their events are the very antithesis of faceless corporate globalisation, harking back to an era of community spirit, of storytelling, socialising and the innocence of being oneself among likeminded companions. And while his hands are truly full juggling a design career with a landmark boutique hotel, he welcomes all with open arms and that, in a nutshell, is David Carter and 40 Winks.
In the words of another iconic Carter, “With me it’s a full time job. Now behave yourself.”