Interior designers see their high earning clients move abroad

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This week, if they haven't done so already, many bankers, entrepreneurs and other high earners will be packing their suitcases and moving to new homes outside the UK. Many of these houses will have been freshly done up by the interior designers that worked on their London residences in the boom times.

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"One of my clients, who is moving to Zurich, told me months and months ago that there would be a big exodus, and it's true, we've had nothing but people coming in over the last month collecting up pieces to take with them," says Katrina Phillips, who runs an interior design business from her shop on Portobello Road. "I have been working in Zurich and Ibiza for people who are all refusing to pay the extra tax."

While big-name interior designers such as Nicky Haslam or Kelly Hoppen work abroad frequently, and do the sorts of jobs where they can fly their whole team out for a project, for smaller businesses such as Katrina's, which are used to working mainly in the UK, it is much more complicated.

"The logistics are much more complex," says Katrina, "if there's a small fault on something, you can't just send somebody over, in the way you can here, to sort it out."

In terms of cost, an interior design project abroad will take into account shipping, accommodation for the designer, and, in many cases, the cost of flying out labour for specialist jobs such as upholstery or hanging curtains. Of course, in some countries, such as Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean, often dubbed "a playground for the rich", there are laws in place to promote local employment that make it impossible to fly over UK or American contractors. But locals don't always give the same quality of workmanship that interior designers or their clients are used to, and, as Suzanne Awhai, Director of interior design business Habiba, points out, “we’re only as good as the contractors who implement our designs.” It’s for this reason that a project abroad will look more expensive than one in the UK, says Katrina, but, she remarks dryly, "I suppose it's less expensive than paying 50 per cent tax."

It might be logistically difficult to manage a project abroad, but most designers relish the chance to travel, work in a new environment and be exposed to new opportunities. The small contractors, however, may suffer as the rich up sticks and leave. "It may not affect my earnings," says Katrina, "but it will affect the earnings of the people who work for me, because as all the bigger clients move abroad, they’re not going to take every painter and upholsterer and so on."

Not all interior designers are lucky enough to be getting employed abroad though. Some are simply losing their clients - and the work that goes with them. Suzanne says that one of her clients, a young dot com millionaire, for whom she has worked on an ongoing basis since his business became successful a few years ago, is moving to The Bahamas to claim non-dom status. “For us it’s a huge loss, because he’s a very good client.” Another of her customers, the head of a global property company, for whom she has just completed the interiors on his south London home, may take his family and go back to Australia, where he and his partner are originally from. “We were hoping to do a country home for them as well,” says Suzanne,” but now there’s a question mark whether they might be taking off.”

When the bankers move abroad, they take their money with them. And that means less money spent on theatre, art, restaurants and so on.

"I represent several artists, and they [the bankers] are the people who were really supportive of buying art," Katrina says. "They went to every Affordable Art Fair, Frieze, to me, and were very happy to buy - especially young artist's work."

It's something that people tend to forget when they vilify bankers: that it was a small minority of miscreants that wrought havoc in the financial sector; and that when the bankers go, the money goes with them. Says Katrina: "I tend to work with really intelligent, well-grounded investment bankers, who haven't been the ones who’ve behaved like sharks. The knock on effect of them moving is a big loss to the arts, and to industries like mine."

But, as the monster tax comes in this April, good bankers are going after bad – many of them forced to make a financial decision (for not all are in the upper echelons of banking) when, if they had a choice, they would rather stay here. "It's a very emotional issue," says Katrina, "to suddenly leave your home and set up in new country. It means that we have to offer a lot more emotional support and make sure the fine details are sorted out." And while The Bahamas might sound great (all that sun), after a while, points out Suzanne, "it might actually become very dull." Perhaps it's time to give those poor old bankers a break – when they go, we may all lose more than we bargained for.

Emily Jenkinson is interiors writer for furniture and interior design website