What prompted this post was watching blogger and interior stylist Sarah Akwisombe’s late night Insatgram stories. Looking tired and drained Sarah bemoaned that it appears you need to be both rich, posh and from a good background to get ahead in this industry. She then hurriedly went on to say she has nothing against posh, rich people just reiterated that she’s just tired of the ‘same old story innit” and working glass girls need to continue to push to break that glass ceiling.
It could be passed off as a ‘chip on the shoulder’ comment but I knew what Sarah was talking about. Of course it’s not constrained to the world of interiors. Rich and well-connected people are getting head starts all over the place. It’s just the way the world works and there are always exceptions to the rule. But I think it’s particularly true in the world of interior design and here is why I think that needs to continue to change.
You don’t need to be posh and rich in Interior design but does it help? I feel it does and the main reason for this is the clients. People who employ an interior designer tend to be rich. Very rich. The posh bit is not as important these days, but while interior designers might not have been born with the silver spoon, they are well connected. They tend to socialise with rich people, they network. They’re in the same club. It’s something that Daniel Hopwood and I are always feeling a little anxious about on The Great Interior Design Challenge. All these keen hopefuls are desperate to make it in the world of Interior Design, but as industry professionals we know that the sector is niche and the clients few in numbers. You won’t want clients that expect you to turn a room around in 3 days and all for £1000. While the demand will be there, that’s no business model. If it was I guarantee Kelly Hoppen would have thought of it by now! And the competition is fierce. Where you live and your catchment area makes a huge difference too. And again, it’s often who you know in order to snag your first few clients before word of mouth takes its grip.
I’ve seen it in my own publishing career too. Interior Design magazines are typically the playgrounds for middle class women. It’s a cliché but its often true and while I wasn’t born with a trust fund, I had ponies growing up so I know what camp that puts me in. When I started out it in my career, over 20 years ago, it became clear to me that there were certain interiors mags where you needed a double-barrelled surname in order to get someone to look at your CV. Whether its snobbery about what post code you live in, what school you went to or whether you own an original Finn Juhl armchair, its all bull. What the world needs is passionate, creative and boundary breaking individuals who create innovative and exciting spaces for us to live in. Otherwise the world would be covered in a swathe of beige.
But while the industry has come on leaps and bounds since the days when ladies with big hair covered everything in Colefax and Fowler, Interior designers will continue to design for rich people. It’s an economic reality. But interior design offers so much more that I’m always keen for people looking for a career in Interiors open their eyes to. There’s retail, styling, blogging, product design, commercial design, upcycling, photography, instagramming that all go towards creating a rich and vibrant design democracy. You may need to be rich to employ an interior designer but you don’t need to be loaded or from SW1 to be talented at interior design. You do need to be driven, resourceful and prepared to work your butt off though and then the prize can be yours. (It’s worth noting all those posh and rich people didn’t get their success from reclining on their chaise longue. Its takes a lot of hard work and commitment to make it in this industry!)
And the trailblazers can always inspire us. All the finalists of the past three series of The Great Interior Design Challenge have gone on to have successful careers within Interior Design. (And the TV show in no way hands you a ready made portfolio of clients on a plate). The oh-so-posh Daniel Hopwood is a Yorkshire man and son of a policeman, retailer Abigail Ahern bought her home in an unfashionable part of East London on which to build her successful design empire and interior designer to the Kardashians, Martin Lawrence Bullyard, is a boy who started out with a market stall in London. So watch out for Sarah Akwisombe, the girl from Croydon. She’s hot on the heels of fellow Croydonite Kate Moss and ready to take on the Chelsea Harbour set yet.
Is the design world a democracy or does the old school snobbery still prevail? If you’ve carved out a career as a successful interior designer I’d love to hear your own experiences.
(Featured image by interior designer Gavin Houghton)