Interior Design, Just me
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How did I get into Interior Design?

I get a couple of emails a month from people that might have found me via a blog post or an Instagram pic, asking me how I got started. How did I set up Making Spaces with no formal qualifications in design? And in my head, I just kind of go, erm… I just built a website and got started…. but then I have a proper think and find myself asking the same question.

One Year Later, October 2015

“I’ve never had “a job”. The concept of “a job” scares the shit out of me. I’ve always been self-employed and been my own boss and worked myself hard. But having the freedom to make creative decisions is something I hold very dear. In fact it’s my air. I genuinely admire people such as my OH that can commit to a full time job, working for someone else. I tried to convince myself that I could do it too, get a sales job in an interiors shop or something, but if i’m honest with myself, I was just saying the words.”

I’d always been self employed, ran my own business and found my own work. I’d never really thought about it as being any more difficult than getting a job working for someone else. In fact, i’d find that much harder. I find it interesting that many recent graduates contact me for work, a job, an apprenticeship but don’t think about setting themselves up as an independent interior design studio. Especially in a creative field where your ideas are really what counts.

Can you put a price on creativity?

But it’s not all about being creative and prancing about, a 14 year stint of working freelance in the arts and over a decade in project management, focusing on timescales, budgets, contracts and “protocol”, gave me a pretty good grounding to set up a new creative business. I had no idea if Making Spaces had legs, but the only way to find out was to put myself out there. I wasn’t comfortable going into it with literally zero qualifications under my belt, but I also knew at the time, I didn’t have the right kind of energy to study. I had that nervous, impulsive energy where I wanted to “do”. Do and learn. Learn and improve.

Very first project

So I set my rates accordingly and have slowly put them up over time where I feel they are a fair reflection of my ability and quality of my work. I remember my lovely client from the Sherwood Forest continually telling me I wasn’t charging her enough and I could charge double and she’d still be happy. 

I didn’t of course. I learnt so much from working on that project and was still getting paid. The client was happy, I was loving it and pushing myself, so it seemed to work out for both of us.

Each and every project has taught me something new. Which it should. If you don’t make one small mistake on every project from trying something new, you’re not challenging yourself, your client or the space you’re working in enough. If you got everything right 100% of the time, it suggests you’re playing it safe, using the same layouts, materials and repeating what you already know. Every project is a new challenge for me and I go into each one feeling like i’m starting from scratch again. That nervous energy never really goes.

Since setting out in this crazy ass journey, i’ve learnt so much it’s actually a bit ridiculous. And whilst i’m not knocking anyone who’s trained or currently training, i’m not 100% sure how much of this stuff I would have been taught by doing a diploma.

  • Marketing/PR (this, so much of this)
  • Social media management (full time job by itself – I now have 10 accounts to run)
  • Building and maintaining a basic website (so not my forte)
  • Running a blog (it’s not for everyone, but it’s really helped me. Each post has been like writing an assignment)
  • Photography (i’m not amazing, but I get by. My images have made it into print several times, so they can’t be that bad)

Actually, photography is a MASSIVE one to focus on if you’re starting out. I’ve seen so many interior design websites where you can tell the images have been snapped quickly at the end of a project, sometimes on a camera phone… If you can’t afford to use a professional photographer (I can’t) then you have to buy a half decent camera and learn how to get the best shot you can. You’re only as good as your portfolio and if your designs are great but your photos are pants, that’s not going to get you shared online, or get you featured on Houzz for example. Interior design is a visual industry, it’s all about those images baby.

I don’t want you to think i’ve mastered everything by the way. I certainly haven’t. There are still plenty of areas I need to work on. It’s the same old story for me as it was back in my dance days; Technique. I always got top marks for performance, organisation, choreography, but nailing the technique was the area I found most difficult. This still applies today. I need to spend more time learning how to produce detailed drawings and mood boards. I’ve managed to blag it for so long, it’s now time to focus on in and deal with it. Getting to grips with Sketch Up is on my list of things to achieve for 2018. I can’t get my head around starting it now, not with everything that’s going on with the Interior Design Collective, not to mention 10+ projects.

Katie Lee for MADE

Another thing I need to be better at is accepting criticism. I am crap at that. Despite having this tough, brazen northern exterior, i’m such a sensitive little sausage.

Maybe this is something that’s too engrained… seems to be one of the downsides of being a creative nut job i’m afraid. But I do need to toughen up and accept that if someone doesn’t like my work, it doesn’t mean i’m not good enough, or I didn’t work hard enough, it just means they don’t like it. Respond. Don’t react. **wags finger at self**

So what advice can I give you to round things up? Here’s are some nuggets I offered in response to an interview a couple of years ago, which seem pretty relevant today:

Start. Start now. Be pro-active, make connections, design as many spaces as you can, whether they be virtual or literal. Get a good camera. Photography and design go hand in hand. My photography skills have definitely improved in the last year. Looking at photographs of your work also gives you a more objective view. Use social media to your advantage, it might not be your forte, but if you’re starting a new venture then you have to build a brand and that brand has to be actively seen. Learn as much as you can from others but also be true to your vision. Work on that vision and clarify it. What’s your USP? What is different or good about you? Do you have a signature style? Your instincts about design are your most important asset. Use them. Trust your gut and follow it through. Be prepared to work for free (at first). Say yes to as many opportunities as you can. Then as your presence grows you can refine and be more selective. Rinse and repeat.  Wayfair, 2016

So that’s today’s ramblings for you. I hope it helps at least one of you out there wondering how the flip to get started!? There’s not a right and wrong way, there are many different meandering ways, it’s just about finding the path that’s right for you. As ever, i’d love to hear your thoughts…

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11 Comments

  1. Karen I hear you! I’ve literally launched my new interior design service today and as you know my background is in dance and arts management too and I feel like why would anyone trust me. But I KNOW my creativity and skills are so perfect for this role. And like you I’ve always been freelance and could never ‘work’ for anyone. I think you’re journey has inspired me and helping me fake it til I make it (in a good way)! I’ve already had two people sign up so I’m on my way and feel like I’m definitely on the path to a new career I’m going to love! All the best x

  2. Melissa Price says

    Great article and just what I needed to read at this point. I’m making a slow transition and after reading this, it’s been the perfect (in a nice way) kick up that arse! On a practical point, what camera did you buy to get started?

    • Karen Knox says

      Oh good. Am glad to hear that. I bought the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. I think it was about £300. And it’s still doing me proud. Perfect for someone that doesn’t really know what they’re doing!

  3. Agnes says

    I’ve been made redundant while on maternity leave and currently considering my options. Whatever I do I want to start something up on the side and see what comes of it, but it’s really scary! Having always been employed it seems so alien but great to read about someone who’s done it, so thank you for the post (I also have a background in dance!)

    • Karen Knox says

      Oh good luck Agnes!! And thank you. I’m glad the post was helpful 🙂

  4. Olivia Miller says

    Thank you. It’s so encouraging to hear from people like you. Realistic and inspiring all at the same time. It’s a hard balance to strike. I’m a recent graduate, have been in my first full time job for almost 2 months now. Some days I want to burst into tears because I feel that by accepting this job, I’m chickening out of what I want to be doing. You remind me that that’s b*****ks. You’ve just got to MAKE IT HAPPEN.

    • Karen Knox says

      Absolutely! There’s no right and wrong way…. there’s your way. Good luck!!

  5. Holly says

    Hi Karen,

    Thank you so much for writing this! Like Agnes, I’ve just lost my job because the start up I was working for had to cease trading and I’m taking this as a signal to just DO IT.

    The jumping in and going for it thing is what I normally do but working for myself feels really terrifying. There’s a real imposter syndrome thing going on where I know I can do it but what if someone finds out I’m doubting myself?

    The only thing I was wondering was do you recommend any events/exhibitions/shows (locally to Yorkshire or beyond) that you really love going to and would be a great place to get inspiration from? I’ve just recently got in touch with a few other budding or working interior designers and found it really encouraging to just talk to like-minded people so think any events might be a great place to explore and just get to know others in the industry would be great 🙂

    Thanks,

    Holly

  6. So great to meet you yesterday and thank you for pointing me in the direction of this blog post. It is exactly the motivation I needed to move on and follow my heart into an interiors career that works for me. I love what you do and how you do it. I also love it when fate throws me in the path of inspiring people! X

    • Karen Knox says

      Very lovely to meet you too Claire. V happy to hear this has provided some motivation. And thank you for your kind words 🙂 x

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