How I went from a soul-sucking office job to running my own interior design studio
People often say to me how much they wish they’d trained as an interior designer. And my answer is “it’s never too late”.
It was around this time of year (September) eight years ago that things really started to come to a head. I’d been working in my non-creative, corporate 9-5 (well, more often 8-6 – and the rest) job for about two and a half years. I was working in the utilities division of a large construction company. The job paid well, the management team seemed to appreciate my efforts and I was on my way up the career ladder.
There was one major problem though. I bloody hated it. It had gotten to the point where I was driving to work every morning in tears because I just couldn’t face another day of the soul-sucking drudgery. Sounds dramatic (maybe melodramatic?!) but there you have it.
I was your cliché round peg trying to fit into a square hole. Things had to change.
I read career change blogs and trawled Amazon for career change books. I was hunting for the answer to the age-old question of “what do I want to be when I grow up?”
After a couple of months of this, my friends and family were getting tired of being asked what they thought my strengths were, what they thought I should do with my life and whether being an underwater basket weaver would be a good idea (I exaggerate slightly for dramatic purposes). I considered re-training as a ballet teacher, photographer, piano teacher, potter, carpenter, set designer and any number of other creative, hands-on careers.
What I knew was that any career needed to be a) creative, b) mentally stimulating, c) problem solving and d) visual.
I had my Bachelors degree in Industrial Design and Technology – basically product design with an emphasis on how things are made. Drawing was my thing too, having loved art at school and done loads of art evening classes. Every which way I looked, I kept coming back to design as the one main thing that I wanted to do with my life.
A chance conversation over some beers led to a good friend mentioning that his sister knew someone who ran a design agency who might be able to help. A tenuous link indeed! And this was when I first really learned the power of networking.
I went over to the design studio after work one evening to have a chat with Bev Wood of Beverley Wood Design Limited (www.bwd.uk.com). My plan was to learn about the world of interior design and see if it might be for me. Bev showed me some of her agency’s fabulous client work – including some really prestigious projects. We talked for a couple of hours and I went home inspired!
At this point, the most encouraging takeaway from meeting Bev was her story. She’d graduated with a degree in Product and Interior Design, and her early career had been in product design roles for agencies in London. Then she had made the transition into interior design – proving to me that the thought processes and skills are transferable between the disciplines. If Bev could do it, maybe I could too…
The world of interior design was beguiling. Colours, patterns, materials, spaces, objects – I was entranced by the creative possibilities.
As a kid, I used to wait until my parents went out for the day and then completely re-arranging my bedroom, occasionally roping in my brother to help with the wardrobe so I didn’t end up squashed by it. I was insistent on re-decorating using colours that my parents were dubious about at the time, but have kept to this day (blues, purples, dark red – very 90s teenager but it worked!). Perhaps interior design really could be for me?
A couple of days later I had an email from Bev. She wanted to meet up for another chat. It turns out that our original meeting had actually been a job interview for the post of Senior Designer. Bev was keen to have a second interview with a view to potentially offering me the role…
Long story short, I must have done something to impress Bev, as I was offered the job!
It was crunch time. Time to make a big decision. Should I stay in my safe, comfortable and well-paid corporate job with a company car and a pension, or take a leap of faith (and a 25% pay cut) to follow my creative dreams?
It was a tough decision.
But the answer was clear.
Handing in my notice to my old boss was one of the hardest conversations I’d had in my career. I was leaving behind all my work friends and colleagues, and a safe corporate structure to go into a design agency of three people (including me).
During my four week notice period I took books out of the library and watched YouTube tutorials to teach myself the CAD (computer aided design) software that I would need for the role. I got a new car (as I didn’t have a company car any more). I bought myself some new work clothes that expressed my personality, rather than dull, bland trouser suits.
New job, new career
On my first day in my new job I was actually designing interiors at last! In my first week I helped design a multi-media room for a tech company. I had finally made it into the design industry.
I’ve never regretted my decision to take the leap.
While I was working at BWD I started a Masters degree in Transdisciplinary Design. The idea of the course was to bring designers of different disciplines together to devise new solutions for public spaces. I was free to explore the worlds of urban design and town planning, graphic design and advertising. I loved it.
After working for Bev for about a year and a half, sadly the recession started to hit the business hard. Our public sector clients didn’t have any budget for design or construction projects. Redundancy was inevitable.
I was still doing my Masters and now I needed a part-time job to pay the bills. Luckily I’d kept in touch with my old boss from my corporate life, and I was so fortunate that he offered me a role back in the utilities division. It was a job of necessity, but thankfully it did bring some interesting challenges and responsibilities. However my goal never changed.
Unwavering in my ultimate aim, once I’d graduated with my Masters (with distinction, I have to proudly add!) I spent the next 18 months honing my freelancing skills and learning the business of design. I built up a financial safety net. My portfolio was growing and I’d worked for some great clients.
going it alone
In July 2013, I took the second big leap of my professional life. I handed in my notice again (this time it was a whole heap easier) to concentrate full time on my interior design company, Pickard Design.
An easy option would have been to go full time in my safe 9-5 job. Alternatively a straightforward route would have been to be a freelance bid writer in a market where companies were crying out for bid writers. Or maybe even to seek a position in a larger interior design agency.
However being an independent interior designer gives me the flexibility and choice to work on an amazing array of projects. From pie shops to living rooms, from high-end bars to hotels and ice cream parlours – the sky’s the limit!
I love being a designer and adore the world of interior design.
I love looking at a tired empty space and imagining what it could be transformed into. I love designing new spaces and new items for those spaces. I love choosing colours and finishes and fittings and patterns.
My role as an interior designer is always challenging, with new projects bringing new problems. I’m constantly learning and evolving as a designer – finding out about new technology, staying on top of the guidelines and regulations governing our industry and meeting new clients, collaborators and suppliers.
The business is constantly evolving and adapting, most recently with a big re-location from Lancashire to Somerset (via the USA for two months) for my husband’s job. Being self-employed and running my own business has been incredibly rewarding – and sometimes challenging. As a business owner the lows can be pretty darn low but the highs are amazing, and the success is all down to one person.
How about you?
I wanted to share my story with you to show any creative souls out there who believe they’re stuck in a dead-end office job that there’s another way. And to share with you just how much being an interior designer means to me. Just to get a little schmaltzy, I do believe being a designer is my calling in life.
Have you always harboured a secret desire to be an interior designer? Or maybe you’ve made the leap from boring office job to follow your passion. Tell me about your experiences in the comments below!
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P.S. For anyone who’s thinking about making a career change, here are a few of the books and websites that inspired and motivated me to take the leap:
- Katie Cowan’s inspiring content and hugely useful tips at Creative Boom https://www.creativeboom.com/
- Marianne Cantwell’s Free Range Humans http://www.free-range-humans.com/
- Michelle Ward – the “When I Grow Up Coach” http://www.whenigrowupcoach.com/
- James Victore’s Burning Questions YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/JamesVictore