15 things i've learnt from being an Interior Designer
I’m not claiming to be a pro, but these are some things that I’ve learnt from my 9 years + (hells I am OLD) in the Interior design industry. Soz, it's a bit of a long one.
Me, not posing candidly at all
1. NO ONE ASKS FOR YOUR DEGREE CERTIFICATE
So this is a big one for anyone wanting to get into interior design. You don’t have to have a degree in it. It might help. It might not. I studied my undergrad in Architecture at university which obviously was a good gateway into design. It taught me a lot of useful things (how to use CAD, how to design spatially, how to look at the wider picture while simultaneously honing in on details) but I didn’t LOVE the course, it was bloody hard work (basically as hard as having a newborn) and it was obviously a serious amount of cash (not that I’d swap those 3 years of debauchery in Newcastle and ten thousand treble Vodkas for anything. Work hard, play hard right?). What you need is a passion (hate that word) for the industry, a willingness to work your ass off and an acceptance that you need to start from the bottom. I have cleaned a lot of apartments before move-in day (one with a specifically requested Ostrich feather duster - FML). I have been to the flower market at 4am a lot of times, I have done all nighters to get client’s furniture into their houses a lot. I actually started out as a Office manager / PA for a small start-up developer Banda Property and then kind of carved out a role as designer while also doing all the crappy admin. Other than the fact I could draw a floor plan to scale and had a lust for Elle Decor, I had no interior design training and there was no design side to the business / mentors so I kind of taught it to myself. Pinterest, magazines, books, (these were the days before insty) all helped me loads and so did being in a small, cool, entrepreneurial business. A few years later I was Creative Director. So you don't need to do all the courses, is essentially what i'm saying. Pre my paid job as an office manager I worked for a rogue property developer (who tried to make me sit on his knee in a meeting - awks) as a 3 month internship. That was a) hilariously underpaid and b) useful as I was well and truly thrown in at the deep end. Intern if you can (but don't do it for free).
2. BUT YOU DO NEED TO HAVE SOME BASIC TOOLS
You’ll need to be able to draw a floor plan to scale, scale is THE most important thing you can learn. It’s not hard. Buy a scale ruler and draw up your house for practise, fun times right? Sketchup is a sweet-as-a-nut piece of kit and is worth getting for sure. Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements which you can buy cheaper as it’s the basic version) is also worth it. Those are the only two programs I’ve ever used in the working world a) because thats all I need and b) because I’m tight and CAD is so much dollar. I use sketch up for floorplans and photoshop for presentations. You also need to be able to navigate Pinterest (or Houzz) and probably Microsoft word and excel for the boring shiz like invoices and schedules.
3. PRICING. Work out your day rate (it will be based on your experience and skills) I would say that a low to middle weight interior designer would charge anywhere from £200+ a day then senior could be up to the thousands (gulp!) and then try to work out how many days a project will take you. Don’t forget travel / site visits / meeting suppliers etc. I love working transparently so will say to potential clients; this is my day rate, it will take me x number of days for the job, here’s what the total will be. More often than not, it equates to around 15% of a job which is a little lower than industry standard but I’d rather be less pricey and have more work than more expensive and NEED to win jobs. That’s too stressful for little old me.
4. BE A SLAVE TO SOCIAL. I am probably the worlds most annoying instagrammer* but, to date it’s bought me 100% of my new business, so I gotta embrace it. I do spend a bit of time on photography, so if I’m using an iPhone shot I will actually spend 10 mins getting the right angle and editing it (I generally just use the instagram edits - not filters the actual edit functions) and then very rarely the Touch Retouch app to remove unwanted objects. I would love that thing in real life. Washing up - BE GONE. My lovely acne - BE GONE. I haven’t yet dabbled in facebook or twitter for businesses, one step to social media suicide at a time. I’ve heard on the grapevine that Pinterest and Houzz are both imperative to get your design business rolling. More evenings on the laptop for me. Yay. Also - always ask clients before you put their houses on social media. Just manners innit. * defo not as annoying as those #BLESSED #GRATEFUL ones though.
5. CREATIVES ARE CRAP AT ACCOUNTS SO PENCIL IT IN (as a rule). My accounts, genuinely the most hideous part of the job (except that time I had to talk to a maintenance guys about a bidet for about 12 hours). I’m very much a ‘get shit done’ person so I TRY to do them as quickly as possible. I have a ‘master’ Excel invoice template and then I just copy the tabs from the bottom so I keep the same template and change the address and amount each time. Then obviously PDF them before I send it out. I’ve hired an accountant who helps with my tax returns and that other boring HMRC stuff, so that is money well spent as otherwise I’d probably clock up some nice penalty charges from the taxman for being late / not knowing what the hell to do.
6. WORK OUT IF YOU WANT TO DO PROJECT MANAGEMENT (AND CHARGE FAIRLY FOR IT)
Project management can be a right little bitch. One job I once had the client chose some taps from America and then they don’t actually work with UK size pipes so kept leaking. Whose fault is that? The contractors, the clients? The project managers? Just make sure you have CLEAR rules as to what you are taking responsibility for. Some designers will only specify, which is a nice gig if you can get it, but more often than not clients will expect a level of project management to come as standard. Usually I specify a set amount of days for site visits (at my day rate) and then if the project starts to go over I’ll flag it and so the Client can understand where the man hours go and can choose to continue or abort.
7. THE CLIENT IS ALWAYS RIGHT
Step one of business. Yes you might not LOVE a pink velvet sofa and red leather curtains together but it’s their house, their taste and their rules. You are merely a vessel in which to implement their vision. Also you might (often) become some type of marriage referee / arbitrator ' No DARLING we agreed on the Mole's breath REMEMBER????!!! elbow dig in the ribs'. Some clients will appoint you based on your style (that’s always amazing) but some will want to design a certain amount themselves… leads me onto point ……
8. TRUST YOUR GUT (sponsored by Actimel)
You have got to be the right fit for one another - client and designer. YES it is totally possible to design something that isn’t your usual vibe, as long as you understand and interpret the brief correctly and respect the clients style and you’re willing to hold back your own taste and embrace theirs. But NO it is impossible to work with someone who you don’t have some sort of rapport with. I’m not saying you need to be sharing the newly selected King size bed by the end of the project, but you need to want to speak to this client on a (sometimes daily) basis and want to help them create their dream home. It’s ok to say no to a job (probs don’t tell them that you can’t stand them) if you feel unsure or nervous about a client and they won’t for example, sign your T&C’s then maybe it’s better to let that job slide. I have been very fortunate in that over the last near 10 years I’ve had only 1 occasion where a client was super rude to me. I sucked it up, apologied about the thing he wanted me to apologise for (that was entirely not my fault), accepted that I lost money on the job and then cried in the loo afterwards (obviously). Sometimes you gotta put your big girl pants on.
9. WORK OUT WHAT MOTIVATES YOU
Do you want to be one of House and Garden top 100 designers? Do you want to make great money and are happy to sell your design soul to do so (ain't nothing wrong with that), do you want to do quick turnaround projects and have a full portfolio or do you want to complete 1-2 beautifully intricate projects a year where by every single detail has been meticulously designed to your exact taste? There’s no ‘right’ way, it’s just how you want to work as a designer. I like working fast personally, I’m a decisive and slightly hectic person, so to spend 4 weeks deigning a silk rug, to me would be hell. But each to their own and we need variety in the industry, so you silk rug designers, keep working your magic. I also have a pretty set ‘style’ myself and luckily a lot of clients approach me on this basis, but I have designed rooms to ‘emulate the Ritz’ and one ‘Pop Art themed’ house. So I guess I’m happy to be adaptable if the job meets other criteria (basically timeframe, nice client and acceptable fee).
10. WORK DYNAMICALLY
Hello - big word alert. Here I mean work in the way that suits your client. Some of my clients love WhatsApp, and will send me 2500 images / messages a day (fine by me) and will expect quick, simple responses; ‘yep I like that table here’s one that might also work which is £1000 cheaper” (screenshot from Internet no editing required). Others will want to send you 10 page emails with every point delicately detailed and will expect a meticulously and thoughtfully composed response which you should give them. Some clients won’t know what the eff to do with dropbox, whereas some will want you to send them instagram pictures direct. Just read your audience and respond appropriately, basically.
11. PAY PEOPLE ON TIME
You are nothing without your suppliers, sub contractors and contractors. Be respectful and pay them on time. You never know when you’ll need them to pull in a favour for you so by ensuring you’re always up to date with them might mean you can call a favour in your hour of need. You’ll expect clients to pay your invoices on time so exercise this when you ensure you’re paying your makers fairly, especially if they’re small businesses Cash (flow) is King :)
12. GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE (If you’re on it)
It’s really balls that the interior design industry has such a name for being pretentious and obnoxious. But then again I’ve met a fair few arrogant AF interior designers in my time. The worst is when designers talk ‘down’ to builders. Erm HELLOOOO, do you want them to build it well or not? Be nice, you’ll get a lot further (in my opinion)
13. COPYING - GET OVER IT
Not to sound like one of the aforementioned but I’ve come across designs that are suspiciously like my own. That’s GREAT in my eye, I don’t care. I genuinely do not care, good for that designer for being inspired (maybe / hopefully by me). No one can exactly replicate a design - unless they are creepy and clever enough to do so. The room, vibe, styling will always be slightly different. Sharing is caring peeps.
14. NETWORK (ANY WAY YOU LIKE)
Personally I HATE schmoozing over a cocktail in a mayfair members club (yes, maybe once upon a time I would have been ALL OVER THAT SHIT) but now I try to reach out to designers who I like, who seem to have a similar style and are approachable for, you know, a humble coffee and not a night in central London on the Raz (shudder). But if that is your thing, go for it. Do it whichever way you like, and remember it will feel a bit alien and uncomfortable to start, but it should get easier over time. I'm not embarrassed to admit that i've never been to any of the design fairs (minus the London ones) It's expensive and time consuming, i'm sure 100% worth it for inspiration, but as a general rule my inspo comes from places like the sea, the wind and the earth - JOKES!!!
15. MEASURE THIRCE CUT / BUY ONCE
You don't really want to end up schlepping back and forth to a client's house because you've forgotten to take various measurements (trust me i've done that a lot more times that I should have done) try and nail them all in one day. No one will thank you if you order a custom sofa that won't fit through the front door or bar stools that are too high* for a counter top (easy mistakes to make). So measure, Treasure. * thankfully not mistakes i've made (YET).
FINALLY, Some days are of course crap, like any job, some days you have no inspiration or focus and some days / weeks are so admin heavy you might as well be a PA to your client, some projects last months / years longer than you anticipate. Sometimes your clients wont like all of your ideas. Grow thick skin. As long as you've got 'fire in your belly' for it, it's yours for the taking! Anyone considering the move into interiors? Any other questions?! X