Q & A With Sophie Paterson
I get a lot of questions asking how to start and how to become a success in the interior design industry. Do you need a degree to make it? What does it entail and where to even begin in this journey? I reached out to the first person that came to mind who can share with you her path to success. I am hoping that you can take away from her experience that hard work and dedication will take you places. Passion and love for what you do is key. Not to take away from those who have worked hard and went to school for years and have become just as successful and creative. Sophie’s story is quite inspiring!
What advice would you give to someone trying to enter into the world of interior design(without any formal degree in design)? Do you recommend enrolling for interior design courses? Or a hands on /on the job learning approach by assisting interior designers?
I don’t think there is the ‘perfect’ way to get into interior design. I had an element of luck and a LOT of hard work to get into the industry and find my niche, and did so without a formal qualification in design (having studied 4 years to get my BA hons i really couldn’t face more study). I made the leap from Events management to interiors through a property developer who I met and who after visiting my home liked the interiors and asked which designer I’d used. When I told him I did it myself he gave me the opportunity to undertake all of his interiors in his latest residential project, initially for free, which i was more than happy to accept as this was an amazing opportunity to jump start my portfolio and test the water to see if it was what i really wanted to do as my job or just keep as my hobby. From there I did one more project for him and he introduced me to several other people in the industry and with word of mouth recommendations I built up my initial client base. I have since studied a short course on CAD as I wanted to brush up on my technical skills which I feel are vital even when you have staff who can deal with that side of the business for you- I like to understand what is involved when I ask them to draw something up. However the design side from my point of view you either have or don’t, you can improve by absorbing other people’s design and style and certainly build your confidence through studying and immersing yourself with like-minded people, but I don’t think true original style can be taught. These days most of my work comes through Instagram, word of mouth recommendations and repeat clients
If I was to re-do the beginning of my career I would definitely have tried to secure internships with other designers- that would have been such a great insight into how others work and best practice and before I did this I would get a proper CAD qualification- not a short course and not Vector works but CAD- the same as architects use. Its not easy to master but the one area where most designers are weak are CAD and accounting, they will always want to take someone on that has these strengths.
What’s the best piece of career advice you could give?
Having now run my own company for 8 years I would say never give up or take rejection personally. Everyone who you admire has also faced rejection or failure; if you don’t then you aren’t putting yourself out there enough. I make sure I always have several things in the pipeline whether it’s potential projects or press releases so that if something doesn’t work out I don’t waste a single minute worrying about it, I move straight onto the next goal.
What was your first job?
A 5 story townhouse in Kensington with a basement extension- talk about jumping in the deep end! It had no set budget or brief so I basically got to do whatever I wanted- unheard of in this industry!
What advice would you tell your 21-year-old self?
I was still at Bath university studying international management and Spanish at 21, I was really unmotivated and didn’t know what I wanted to do- the reason was because I wasn’t really listening to my self, I was doing what I thought was expected of me at the time. The minute I took the leap of going into interiors I became so much more focused and driven. I’m glad I did my degree but I would tell myself and any other 21 year old not to waste time doing things they aren’t interested in for the sake of it- if it’s a means to an end then fine but the minute you are able to get experience in the industry that interests you then do it, whether its working for free in your summer holidays or working in a shop, do it- I wish I’d done more of it. For me experience has taught me so much more than education ever did. I talk more about the two weeks I spent doing work experience at Zoffany and Cole and son as a 16 year old then I ever talk about my I.B results or my degree, because relevant experience is worth so much more in practice and real life. If I could go back in time I’d jump at the chance to have done work experience at another interior designers studio, I’ve had to learn everything through trial and error in the early years so it would have been great to know how other designers run their projects and practices.
Why do you think you have made it in your industry?
I truthfully never sit back and think I’ve made it or reflect on what I’ve done so far, I’m too busy making plans of what’s next and working out what my goals are and how I’m going to get there. Sometimes I wish I could sit back and enjoy the moment more but maybe that’s what you need to do- to keep moving forward and focusing on new goals.
Did you have a Plan B?
This is quite a telling question because I’m amazed to say it never crossed my mind that I’d need a plan B, even with my initial hesitation about doing my first project. Once I decide to do something I fully commit and focus on that task. I also think because I didn’t have any formal training I felt like at the beginning I needed to work twice as hard as anyone else to prove myself. I remember an acquaintance of mine at the time commenting to mutual friends that I was taking forever to complete my first project and generally being quite dismissive- she’d done a course on interior design and worked at a well known designers practice… Rather than letting it hurt my feelings I found it really motivating to work harder, do more projects, get more magazine coverage and basically build a brand and practice as successful and inspirational as possible… and prove myself! Now looking back I think if I had done a long course on interior design maybe I wouldn’t have pushed myself as hard and things may have turned out differently, so I think it was definitely the right path for me.
What’s the difference between someone being good at their job and fantastic at their job?
In interiors it’s all about creating timeless interiors that stand the test of time, anyone can jump on the latest trend bandwagon. But I think if you look back at previous projects 6/7 years down the line and can still think they are stylish and look good then I think that makes you a fantastic designer, because your clients who are paying you don’t want homes that are going to look great in your portfolio for a few years then have to live with an outdated trend that doesn’t reflect them 5 years later, they want homes that are going to look current and luxurious and not worn out for at least 10 years.
What can someone do in an interview or during the job process to impress you?
My two designers impressed me with their resourcefulness, their energy and enthusiasm and work ethic. I am a total perfectionist and control freak and employing them was the first time I ever felt comfortable delegating anything, even small tasks! I love being part of a team and we complement each other’s skills.
For my next employee I’d want someone who had relevant experience and who’s personality would be the right fit for working with our team and for interacting with our clients. I also like people who are prepared to get stuck in and help with any task- I never think I’m above doing any tasks required throughout a project no matter how un-glamorous they are, and interior design has a lot of unseen, un-glamorous moments!
What is the biggest thing you have learned?
I’ve learned to not compromise on perfection- it’s what makes me a great designer, often you’ll have a builder/ tradesmen/ project manager or even client suggesting how to cut corners and make something easier and on the few occasions when I’ve caved I’ve always known it was a mistake afterwards. You won’t ever achieve total perfection but if you don’t aim for it and insist on it you won’t even get close. I used to feel I was being difficult at the beginning when as a 24 year old girl I was telling all these tradesmen to re-do something because it wasn’t up to standard, but now I have a team who work on almost every project and they know and understand my expectations, instead of feeling bad or that I’m being difficult, being a perfectionist is something we strive for.
What got you through tough times at work?
My husband is my biggest supporter and is someone who has given me great business advice over the years so generally I’ll talk to him or think what would he do if there is a tough situation. But that said truthfully as I get older and more experienced I don’t get overwhelmed very often, certainly much less than in my 20s, I think it’s a combination of having been there before and knowing there is always a solution to any problem and I also have worked out what works for me to get a balance and not feel stressed- exercise is really important to me to ensure the level of work we do is sustainable. I see a wonderful personal trainer and work out with my husband three times a week first thing in the morning, which puts me in a really positive frame of mind and gives me more energy. If I’m not feeling particularly energized in the afternoon I now know to take an hour or two out the studio and go for a walk with my dog Bo, or often if we are having a stressful day I’ll take my designers out for lunch- which always helps!
Shall I directly approach the interior designers who inspire me? What is the best way to make myself stand out to them…since I’m sure they get numerous such requests…
The best way to make yourself stand out is not make general statements about yourself but list practical ways that you’d be prepared to help them- put yourself in their position. what would they want help with?
From my point of view i’d want an intern that understands interior design is 10% design 90 % admin, accounting, chasing suppliers etc..
Suggest you could do the following (if you really are prepared to)
- make coffee / get lunch
- post office runs
- process invoices/ support with their accounts (if you are able to do this)
- make the mood boards- the designer will put together the scheme but actually physically cutting, printing images and glueing is time intensive.
- source specific items the designer needs- sometimes its a question of trawling the internet/ shops for the item that suits the brief AND budget.
Maybe list transferable skills you have from your previous job and how those could be applied to help the designer?
As for portfolios what would you advise?
I would straight away start working on sketch up- a free program for 3d designing by google. Maybe see if you could do a drawing of one of the designer’s rooms using this program to present to them at the meeting- that would be impressive! bring along tear outs of magazines of rooms you like. Once you’ve got a bit of experience working alongside a designer ask them if you can design a room by yourself to be approved by them- could even be a bathroom, toilet, guest room. Listen to their brief, they may be v. specific, and if you submit items/ designs they like and they approve it ask them if you can use the photo of this room in your portfolio.
What are your goals for 2016?
To build on our portfolio and brand- the projects we have done in the last two years are on another level, I’m so proud of the interiors we are creating. We have an incredible project that are completing this month and that we will hopefully be shooting in February or March so I’m looking forward to adding that one to the website and we are starting work in January on another Knightsbridge project a beautiful period apartment that will be very luxurious.. We also have some other very large and exciting projects that will be completing later on in the year so I can’t wait to see our designs come to life there. .