How to Start Your Day on Top and Stay There, with Katie Hillier

Between rising before dawn and her revolutionary diary hacks, not a minute is wasted during the designer's days

By Emma-Louise Boynton

3 March 2021

ammersmith-born accessory designer and creative consultant Katie Hillier, 46, counts Marc Jacobs and Shinola jewellery amongst her roster of clients. She’s also the co-founder of luxury label Hillier Bartley, which she launched in 2015 with her long-term collaborator and best friend, Luella Bartley. Having split her time between London and the US for the past 20 years, she is now a permanent fixture in Hudson, upstate New York, where she lives with her husband, sculptor and artist Jeff West, in a house surrounded by vast expanses of open greenery and snow-capped mountains.

Image by Katie Hillier

I don’t sleep with an alarm...

and normally get up at around 5am. I have always been an early riser, I’m not sure why. My brain just functions best in the morning for work. The time difference means I have to get up at 5am to start work around 7am with the UK or Japan. I tend to wake up feeling quite relaxed, because at that time I know I have at least two hours to do what I need to do before I start my day. I suppose it helps that we have no curtains or blinds in our house, which has huge windows.

When I used to stay over at friends’ houses when I was a kid, they’d always get mad at me because I’d wake them up early. Now if I stay with a friend I just get up, make tea and do the washing-up, which gives people less of a reason to get mad.

As soon as I wake up...

I check my phone. I know my team needs stuff from me – we’re a small team and a lot of what we’re working on is time-sensitive. I open it up and the first thing I look at is my emails. I think I’m more addicted to email than Instagram, which I won’t check until I make my tea – a cup of organic English breakfast tea that I make using loose tea leaves (never a tea bag) in a tea infuser and drink from a handmade mug that was given to me by my mother-in-law and is so large it looks like a tree trunk.

Image by Katie Hillier

I get my news from...

My digital subscription to the New York Times, but I don’t check it every day. At the moment I’m on a bit of a news ban, because going through the election here had a really negative impact on my wellbeing. It was a lot. Everything I was looking at and reading had the same negative theme, and I became almost over-informed. There is a certain tone to how the news is delivered here. It’s very dramatised, almost to a level that can cause anxiety. You can get to a point of hopelessness if you’re not careful. Reading or listening to more independent podcasts is much less stressful.

Sometimes, I do still buy a paper copy of the newspaper when significant moments of history occur, as I’m a bit of a collector and newspapers are great for capturing a moment in history. I also love magazines and still buy them on occasion – not the monthly ones, more the special ones like [Love]( or The Gentlewoman, or more zine-like publications.

My breakfast consists of…

A boiled egg, sometimes, but usually I’ll just have my tea followed by an oat milk matcha latte. I’m addicted to oat milk. I got the matcha and bamboo whisk from Japan and always enjoy mixing the powder together, as it feels quite ceremonial. I drink this from a mug I got from a local artisan in Sayulita, Mexico. That and the tree-trunk-esque tea mug are the only ones I use.

I don't drink coffee because...

I gave it up a while ago because it made me feel crazy. I’m naturally quite an anxious person, and at times my anxiety has been so terrible I’ve had to take medication and adjust the way I eat. I don’t drink any more, because that’s terrible for anxiety, and coffee was just too harsh.

Before I can start my working day, I absolutely must…

Tidy up. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a crazy freak about tidying – every cushion needs to be in place. Then, about 30 minutes before my first call, I have a shower and use Dr Bronner’s hemp peppermint or hemp citrus shower wash. If I don’t have time for a shower, it really affects the rest of my day.

Image by Dr. Bronner's

I always plan my day…

But I can’t use Google Calendar. I have to use a paper calendar. If I can’t fit all my appointments into the calendar box, then that’s too many appointments. You can have five or six calls a day max, and that will fit in the box. But anything more than that and you go into the next day having not had time to do any follow-ups to those calls or do anything else. I map out my calendar about six months in advance.

I do my creative thinking in the morning…

As the best of my brain happens then. If I don’t have time during the week, then I have to push that time to the weekend when I have no calls or commitments. I have a lot of amazing books that I’ve ordered in the past year but haven’t had a chance to look at yet, so at the weekend I try to make time for that. I know that as soon as I put my nose in a book, I’ll have an idea for something.

I don’t really eat lunch, but…

I generally make time to make my husband lunch, then I’ll just have a salad or something. Dinner is when I really like to have time set aside.

Image by Katie Hillier

I don’t have an assistant…

I just make sure there is a really good team involved, always.

I always make time in my day for…

Exercise. I regularly go on an hour-long walk around the hilly area next to my house. Then two or three times a week I do Pilates, and on the weekends we go on a hike in the mountains. I like to get in as many steps as possible just for maintenance, as I do want to be able to spring out of my chair when I’m 80. I usually get my exercise in before 11 am.

I never sleep through the night…

I always wake up three or four times, although I don’t get up and wander around, unlike a friend of mine who, like clockwork, gets up every night to make a peanut butter and jam sandwich. I need my room to be really, really quiet in order to get to sleep. Anyone who knows me or has travelled with me knows I’m a real pain in the arse when it comes to hotels. The noise of the fridge will keep me awake, so I have to unplug it, and I’ve had to move rooms numerous times because of the sound of the air-con. I wear big chunky Bose headphones too, if I can’t sleep.

When it comes to time…

I just like to be efficient with it and make it last as long as possible. You have just eight hours in the day, when you can achieve so much, but you have to be really organised to make that happen and make the most of it.

Lead image courtesy of: Katie Hillier

The Short Stack

Hillier's hack? To better pace the meetings in your day, try a paper diary, and only book in as much as you can write into the box on the page.

By Emma-Louise Boynton

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