Oliver Burns

Joe Burns, Co-Founder, Oliver Burns, Walpole Member

Oliver Burns is a luxury architectural interior design studio that thoughtfully designs the world’s finest homes.

Working across an exclusive portfolio of international turnkey projects, their multi-disciplinary team has a world-class reputation for both bespoke private commissions and super-prime development projects.

Established at the turn of the Millennium by Joe Burns and Sharon Lillywhite, their first ever project was the extensive design and restoration of a forgotten listed Georgian country house. This won them their first civic award for the sensitive restoration of a Georgian landmark building.

Since then, they have delivered over 30 turnkey projects; underpinned by their values of Thoughtful Luxury, and have won multiple design and property awards, including World’s Best Penthouse.

“The spirit of happy collaboration and rapport, we believe, is the best recipe for success”.

In order to be a successful luxury entrepreneur what are three pieces of advice you would give?

Tenacity and belief in yourself… this will have to come first and last if you want to be successful as there are many highs and lows in having your own business.

Cashflow is king – know your finances inside out and be commercial as you can’t run a business on passion alone. Invest in a good accountant and tax consultant.

Build your Brand. Invest in building your brand and don’t be afraid to say no to the opportunities that may dilute what you are trying to achieve. Building a luxury brand is a delicate balance between exclusivity, awareness and profitability.

What are the most important lessons you have learned along your journey?

Banks sell money. If one says no, another may say yes…. I was 17 when my family bank manager told me I was too young to borrow the money I asked for; luckily I was tenacious so tried another bank and got my start-up cash.

You can’t do everything yourself all the time. When you get to a certain level you have to relinquish an element of control otherwise you end up spreading yourself too thinly.  One of the best things we’ve ever done is bring in a fantastic MD to run the business day to day so that myself and my partner can focus on what we are good at, and have more of a work/life balance!

Learn from your mistakes – review regularly what is working well and what isn’t, whether that is with a client, a project or your team.

Treat your staff well, they will in turn treat you well.

What are the watch outs along the way?

Make sure you have a good accountant – don’t assume that they are good – do your research.


Follow your instincts – particularly when hiring. The wrong staff can dilute your brand.

When you were started out who was your biggest inspiration? And what did they tell you that helped make you a success?

I had two uncles that were very successful.  They lost it all in a recession… they then worked to get it back…. this was something I really admired. The advice – you get out what you put in.

I am lucky enough to have worked and collaborated with some very accomplished people along my journey; each and every one of them has taught me something. It’s still very much work in progress and I am constantly learning which in turn makes me a better person and life much more interesting.

The other thing to remember is why you do what you do….I realise I came into the world with nothing and will leave with nothing…. everything in between is life, don’t waste it on doing something you don’t love. My reason is my family.