Advice for budding Interior Designers
Getting that all-important first break in your career can be difficult at the best of times, but in the current climate I am saddened to hear that young people are finding it ever more difficult to break into their chosen industry. I often have budding interior designers looking to me for advice and internships and I have noticed a real increase in these enquiries over recent months.
Whether you are just curious, or are certain that a career in Interior Design is your one and only true vocation, finding other perspectives can be helpful when you are at the start of your career journey. I remember how mysterious it all seemed to me before I made the switch from the corporate world to become a designer, so I've put together the Q&A below from a collection of various emails I've responded to in the last few weeks in the hope they will be interesting to others. By all means, if you have any other relevant questions, please post them in the comments and I'll do my best to help, possibly with a follow-up Q&A in future.
And in case you're REALLY interested in Sturman & Co., we're not currently recruiting, but we do keep a number of portfolios on file ready for when we next do. When things are 'normal', we work closely with Ilkley Grammar School to provide internships and work experience and I really do look at every single portfolio/CV we receive (for design and non-design roles). So please follow us here and on Instagram to keep up to date with the latest opportunities with us.
As a former lawyer, what qualifications have you achieved in Interior Design?
I came at my career switch with two degrees and a postgraduate diploma already behind me, together with ten years' corporate experience delivering professional services. I looked at the courses available and quickly decided that I didn't want to take the university route to become a designer.
My diploma from the Interior Design Institute was a useful introduction to the field of Interior Design and at the time I enjoyed the chance to study again, particularly the courses on the history of architecture and design, which I expanded into a larger self-directed project and linked into my knowledge of history and literature. The course also gave me a useful sense of project programming and how a designer's role fits within a wider project team. The admissions process to become a fully-registered designer with the BIID in 2017 was much more demanding - the BIID requires a minimum of six years' experience, evidenced by a volume of detailed designs, technical packs, schedules and programmes, together with an intimidating interview with an panel of some of Britain's most-admired designers.
Now it has been over ten years since I made the switch, I wouldn't do anything differently, but nor would I necessarily recommend my route to others. A degree in interior design isn't essential to success in the field, but it could be the best start to find out whether you like it, particularly if there is a sandwich year involved. My top tip would be to gain experience wherever you can - the experience I gained in professional services, through renovation projects over many years and then as a practicing designer (and every mistake I have learned from in all these areas) are far more relevant to me and our clients now than my qualifications.
What marketing channels would you recommend for someone starting out?
Platforms such as Houzz can prove useful if you're starting out - there are lots of users on there looking for help with smaller projects. I've seen many designers launching via social media with success too, so ten years on from when I started, I would definitely use it a lot more. Ultimately, when you're starting out I think you have to put yourself out there in as many places as you can.
What would be your advice for a complete beginner in this field?
Start small and with things you can manage. Don't overpromise - keep a clear scope of work in mind, communicate it clearly and make sure you stick to it. Be 100% honest with your clients and build a reputation for integrity. Don't try to show off and put yourself in the centre of your work - put yourself in your client's shoes instead. There is a big market for people who want a little bit of help and not a full interior design service. This can be a great way to learn your trade.
How did you grow your business?
In 2015 when my youngest child went to school, I took on my first full-time employee after five years of working from home on my own. We're now a team of six, mostly working part-time, so the studio operates a four-day working week.
I have deliberately kept the practice small because I've always wanted to give each client project my proper and full attention and I want to work personally on projects that are creatively exciting.
I love the relationships my team forms with our clients and how we get the opportunity to make a life-altering difference to people with our designs. Working on period homes as well as new builds means I'm always learning, so my skills and confidence have grown in tandem with my portfolio.
What software would you recommend to use as an Interior Designer?
We use Sketchup and AutoCAD. Some studios use other CAD software, but the key point when starting out is to find your preferred software and master it. In pretty much any design role, you need to be able to represent your designs accurately in CAD. You also need to be computer literate in many other ways, to be able to contribute to a studio or even run your own, so learn as much software as you can whilst you have the time.
What do you look for when recruiting a junior?
I definitely pay a lot of attention to a portfolio in terms of ensuring that we only add to our small team with people who understand and will naturally produce work which fits within our studio aesthetic. I would generally look for a good degree-level qualification for design-based roles, but this doesn't have to be in interior design. l often look at those who come from an arts or other design background or perhaps who come from an architecture background. But above all, the qualities I look for are drive, focus, meticulous attention to detail, ability to express oneself clearly and high productivity (what has a person created outside of their studies). You need a lot of energy to be a successful interior designer, since our projects are complex and fast-paced to manage.