Meet Kunal Trehan of BBC One's Virtually Home

Very luxurious living room with curving bespoke white sofas, chandeliers and grey rug, cushions, wall covering

Kunal typically works on very high-end, luxurious projects and has a distinctive, attention-to-detail, style - Credit: Touched Interiors

Kunal Trehan, through his interior design business Touched Interiors, based in Manchester, has an international reputation as an designer of super-luxe interiors for the world’s most demanding clients. Not demanding as in painful, but demanding as having the highest of expectations. The very wealthy have their own way of working, and managing the expectations of those with money is a skill that must go hand-in-hand with talent and the unfailing ability to deliver precisely what is promised, when it is promised for. Which is why Kunal's participation in the BBC’s most recent interior design show, Virtually Home, came both as a surprise, and not a surprise, to those who know him. 

Kunal Trehan portrait photo

Kunal Trehan joined the new TV show Virtually Home in early 2021 - Credit: BBC / Lion Television

‘I admit, when I was first approached by the BBC with regard to Virtually Home in early spring 2021, I was initially apprehensive; I had to really think about it. I am known for working on very high-end projects and for that you need a certain amount of budget. This was more accessible budgets, but for me design is design regardless of how much is spent, and this programme is about inspiring people and I think I am at a stage in my career when I just have so many tips and tricks and trade secrets I’ve built up, I thought it would be so nice to share that – and what better a platform could there be than the BBC?’ 

The programme’s concept is a simple one, and is driven by something we can all relate to – two people with conflicting design ideas trying to agree on how to redecorate a particular room in their home.  Fifteen different couples – spouses, partners, parent and child – meet with one of four interior designers to discuss their, sometimes completely opposing, design dreams. The designer creates two solutions and both are presented via cutting edge virtual reality – not with the goggles we’re most familiar with, but with the design projected using light technology, providing the homeowners the opportunity to see just how the designs would work in their home. It’s as close to actually doing it as you can get without actually opening a tin of paint.

Camera films Kunal on set on BBC One's TV show Virtually Home

Kunal prepares to meet his clients on the set of Virtually Home - Credit: Touched Interiors

‘The couples see two different designs, each of which reflects the design brief they would give us as an individual. It’s not about fuelling the conflict, but about bringing them to a harmonious place, where they can see how each version would look, understand their partner’s thinking and unite in a shared decision over how they then take that forward.’ 

The designers, once they have presented and explained their concepts, leave it to the couple to decide upon their preferred option and then to take it forward, resulting in a reversal of the usual process for Kunal. 

Hall console table in front of huge mirror with side lights, and panelled wall in verticals with brass strips between.

Kunal uses varying materials in dazzling ways to create always unique and beautiful interiors - Credit: Touched Interiors

‘My design projects can take months, even years,’ he says. ‘First I will work with my client for as long as it takes to agree on a finished design, with bespoke furniture and lighting, wallcoverings, flooring, smart heat, light and media solutions and then I project manage its implementation. I can often just be handed the keys to a house and the owners won’t return until it’s complete and I can do the big reveal. 

‘With Virtually Home, once they agree on a design concept, it’s all taken out of my hands and they go off and sort everything themselves, before inviting me back for their big reveal.’ 

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For a man so used to having ultimate control over the design and the project completion, this must surely have presented some challenges for Kunal? 

Kunal Trehan in a gold and black silk shirt on the set of Virtually Home

Kunal Trehan, who took part in BBC One's Virtually Home in 2021 - Credit: Touched Interiors

‘I worried that it might, but actually, the joy lies in the provision of inspiration, seeing their reactions to the presentations in the virtual reality room and then their happiness with their finished space. I am there to provide inspiration and guidance on sourcing the various aspects of their chosen design. It’s my role to bring two people’s diverse ideas together, to help them create a room they are both really happy with. It doesn’t matter if they choose different furniture to that I suggested, or pull their favourite bits out of both designs and weave them together, the point is that they are always so thrilled with what they have achieved and I am so proud to have played a part in that. And it all happens so quickly, too – from my concept to their finished room it can be as little as eight weeks’ 

As a viewer, it’s clear to see that one of the benefits of engaging with an interior designer is that they can open up ideas and design tricks you would likely never have thought of yourself, from use of colour to lighting to layout and small things that make a big difference, such as using moulding to create the effect of panelling on walls in a Georgian home owned by two gentlemen in Huntingdon, who couldn’t have had more diverse décor preferences. 

‘It’s my job to listen and translate their hopes and wishes into a design that meets those desires,’ Kunal says. ‘For the participant it’s as much about discovering what they don’t love as what they do.’ 

Programme Name: Virtually Home - Niranjan and Subodh portrait photo

Niranjan and Subodh were at loggerheads over how to furnish and decorate the living room of their new home - Credit: BBC / Lion Television

In Huntingdon, one of the clients wanted to combine his glorious, huge, colourful paintings with a classical, elegant design, in a nod to the age of their home. His husband wanted to imbue the space with the colour and style of his heritage, south India – lots of fabric, lots of colour and no real wish to acknowledge the 350-year-old bones of their house. And there was also a lift in the corner of the room, which had to stay. 

‘The design they finally agreed on was an amalgamation of my ideas,’ Kunal says. ‘They chose to take the layout of seating from the south Indian inspired design and the panelling effect from the more classical design, which they used to really showcase the huge and beautiful artwork. They were both so happy with the end result, and that wouldn’t have happened, I think, had they just battled it out between them to end with a winner and a loser.’ 

In a later programme, Kunal took on the design of an entrance hall, one of his favourite spaces to work with, uniting the conflicting ideas of a mother and daughter Sue and Natalie; the former rather stuck in the past, while acknowledging the need to embrace more contemporary design, the latter ready to change everything and keen on the use of bold colour. 

Programme Name: Virtually Home - portrait shot of Sue and Natalie

Sue and Natalie, who took Kunal's design and replicated it faithfully - Credit: BBC / Lion Television

‘I love to point people in a direction they didn’t even know was there,’ Kunal laughs. ‘In that episode they chose Sue’s design, where I had lifted her from her comfort zone into a new place she loved to be. They followed my design precisely, from the light fittings to the bespoke seating to the wall lights and window blinds. It was being able to present both ideas in the virtual reality room that really made it work for them. They could see precisely how each concept would look in reality, life-size, not in splotches of paint on the wall and swatches of fabric. In fact, Natalie was able to see that her idea of sage green paint really wouldn’t have worked at all, and would have been an expensive mistake.’ 

As with his work for private clients, Kunal takes his design work for Virtually Home very seriously. 

‘Each design takes me some time,’ he says. ‘I don’t compromise on my usual approach. I provide the BBC, and therefore the clients, with everything they need to build the VR room and then to take it to reality, all reflecting the budget they have indicated they have to work with. 

‘It’s been a lot of work, but I have loved the whole experience. The series has been very well received and the feedback all positive. Now you shall have to watch this space to see what happens next.’ 

You can find every episode of Virtually Home on BBC iPlayer.