Do you dream of being an interior designer, but worry about how you’ll get your foot in the door? We’re here for you. With the Amara Student Interior Designer of the Year competition, we are committed to supporting passionate people like you every year.
We give amazing awards for winners and runners-up, all to help UK students to start their careers in interior design. To find out all the details, click here. But first, to give you the edge we are bringing you insider tips from our three judges, Sam, Daniel, and Rachel…
Sam Hood, Creative Director and Head of Buying at Amara
Sam: The most important part of being an interior designer is being able to hone in on the needs and requirements of the client. We’re looking for an entry that really answers the clients’ needs and lifestyle choices above all other entries creatively and instinctively, combined with air-tight business acumen.
Past President of the BIID and judge on the BBC’s
The Great Interior Design Challenge
Daniel: A clear concise presentation always catches the eye and is an insight into good content. Keep the words to a minimum, illustrate your heart out and show the design process including a compilation of initial drawings. Pretend technology doesn’t exist and rationalise decisions and choices that you have made. If you have been inspired by other designers work, say so and say why but don’t copy. Avoid themes at all costs, instead design from the soul.
Rachel Winham, Interior Designer
at Rachel Winham Interiors
Rachel: As an interior designer, I focus on creating unique bespoke spaces, with uncompromising detailing whilst ensuring functionality – and this is what I’ll be looking for in the winning entry. You cannot go wrong with a design that exudes elegance and sophistication, no matter what the brief. Whether the budget is big or small, I believe it’s the small, well considered details that defines the design.
Check out the Amara Student Interior Designer of the Year here for more details about how to get involved.
Below, The LuxPad breaks down what it takes become an interior designer, and speaks to several leading interior designers about their career paths. Keep reading to arm yourself with the knowledge you’ll need to break into the interior industry.
1) What does an interior designer do?
A typical day in the life of an interior designer is fast-paced and varied. The beautiful space that an interior designer creates for their client is the result of months of planning, creative thinking and hard work. From coffees with clients to finding fixtures and fittings, these are some of the main responsibilities of an interior designer:
- Source new clients and projects
- Prepare briefs, sketches and quotes according to the job specifications
- Create a timeline of the project
- Assess and evaluate the client’s requirements throughout the project
- Prepare detailed drawings from the initial sketches, usually done on a computer
- Source and find furnishings, fixtures and fittings
- Attend regular site visits and client meetings
Of course, this list is far from exhaustive. An interior designer must be flexible and quick to react to any number of problems that can arise throughout a project. And what other qualities must an interior designer have? The LuxPad spoke to a number of industry experts and the five traits below came out on top.
- Organisational skills
- Excellent communicators
- Attention to detail
- Commercially minded
All the interior professionals we spoke to stressed creativity as a crucial piece in the interior designers’ toolkit. Unsurprisingly, having great organisational and communications skills are also important. An interior designer’s eye for detail should be second to none, and all the above must be underpinned by an excellent awareness of current business conditions.
2) What qualifications does an interior designer need?
There are several routes that an aspiring interior designer can take to break into the industry. As a general rule, interior designers must have the qualifications that demonstrate an extremely high level of design ability and artistic talent. The most common ways to prove these skills are:
- Higher education – There are a vast number of higher education courses available to students. Some take a full-time 3-4 year undergraduate course in interior design or a design related degree. Others prefer to take a year long foundation course first, which gives students a solid knowledge base before they take their studies further. A HND (Higher National Diploma) is also worth considering. These can take 2 years to complete and is equivalent to 2 years at university.
- Interior design diploma – These are short, intensive courses that generally take 1 year to complete. The KLC School of Design offers a full-time or blended learning (part-time) version of the interior design diploma which is one of the most well-regarded in the world. The National Design Academy also offer an interior design diploma, with good opportunities for distance learning.
- Short specialist courses – Build up your portfolio and enlist in as many short courses and workshops as possible. These are great for helping to build skills such as technical drawing, Photoshop or CAD.
The LuxPad spoke to Polly Williams from Camberyard, who specialise in helping interior professionals forge their careers, and she explained that “[their] advice is always the same. Take the time to work out a career action plan so that you know what kind of designer you want to be and how you can realise your goals” She explains that “spending the time to work out what kind of interior designer you aspire to be before you embark on your career journey” can be one of the most helpful steps of all.
3) What can I expect to earn?
The salary of an interior designer is very much dependent on level of experience. Junior and entry level positions start at the lower end of the scale, while head designers can earn much more. Freelance designers set their own hourly rates.
4) How can I further my career as an interior designer?
Once you’re a fully fledged interior designer, how can you stay at the top of your game? Consider a membership to a professional institution, continue to network with other industry professionals and enrol in further training courses.
- British Institute of Interior Design – a BIID membership is extremely highly regarded in the UK, and is well worth looking into if you are a practising interior designer with over 6 years of combined education and work experience. If you are an interior designer with less than 6 years experience, you can join the organisation and work towards a full BIID accreditation.
- Chartered Society of Designers – whether you’re a student looking to improve your opportunities at an early stage, or a fully -fledged chartered designer, a CSD membership is accessible to everyone in the industry. The membership levels change according to your experience level – but all offer access to a network of like-minded individuals.
- Keep learning – interior design is a constantly evolving discipline and it is crucial that designers stay up-to-date. Attending conferences, enrolling in classes and networking with other professionals are excellent ways to stay abreast of the latest industry developments.
Q & A - Ask the Experts
The best advice often comes from those in the know, so with that in mind The LuxPad got in touch with a few of our favourite interior experts to find out their experience of becoming an interior designer…
How did you first become interested in interior design?
Emma H – “I was in the property industry prior to my training and was fascinated by the difference an interior could make to the way people felt and how they lived within it. That coupled with the practical and creative challenges made it a natural choice.”
Kay – “Growing up I had a strong interest in property development and art. I constantly changed my bedroom to my parents annoyance but they let me get on with it as they could see I loved redesigning the space. At 16 I decided that interior design would be the career path I wanted to take. So at College I studied Art, Design and Fashion which gave me the A Levels I needed to do a degree in Interior Architecture. Whilst at Uni I worked for a small practice in Richmond Hill, this gave me a head start over my peers and taught me a vast amount about the professional world. I then went on to work for world renowned interior designers in the UK, Dubai and Barbados.”
Meghana – “I have always had an interest in all things creative, from sketching & painting to rustling up different cuisines for my friends and family. My love of interiors was something that happened quite by chance from looking at a change of career that was about me and what I am passionate about. I didn’t have a background in art or design but I could style a home with ease and most importantly I enjoyed finding unique items for my home and creating beautiful schemes. The key was finding a career that I was passionate about.
I started to look at courses and I came across the diploma at KLC school of design. All I can say is that It was an amazing, intense and rewarding year and I was fortunate enough to land my first job for a reputable London Designer soon after graduating (not all my fellow graduates were as lucky, persistence is key).”
Emma S – “My career started in film production for Ridley Scott. Not the most conventional path into Interior Design, but I learnt a lot about managing large-scale projects, which has stood me in incredibly good stead for the kind of interior projects I do now. When I married, I left London and moved to Wiltshire, where I completed a course on how to sew curtains. I learnt so much about fabric, which could then be applied to other items like upholstery and soft furnishings. From there, it was quite a natural process because I would make curtains for people and inevitably they would then ask my opinion on other design decisions. Word spread and people began asking me to design entire rooms. My ‘big break’ came when I was recommended to do the interior for a manor house.”
Faiza – “My route into interior design wasn’t entirely typical – after graduating from Northwestern University with a BA in Economics, I moved to Hong Kong to work for Lehman Brothers on the Equity Capital Markets team. It was only really when I moved back to London after acquiring an MBA from Stanford University in 2007 that, seeing great potential in the high-end property market, I founded Casa Forma, property development, interior design and architecture firm.”
Radhika – “I didn’t arrive at interior design through traditional routes either; instead I joined Casa Forma following two decades of experience in sourcing luxury goods with my family’s business: NARR International, which provides exclusive procurement of valuable antiques and art. This gave me a really wonderful grounding in how to source beautiful, exclusive goods, and being constantly surrounded by some truly impressive decorative pieces helped develop my love of interior design. In 2007 I set up my own company – Luxury Interiors which was an interior design and sourcing company catering to UHNW individuals. In 2012, I rebranded the company as Luxury Interiors London, streamlining and focusing the business on turnkey project management and interior design.”
What advice would you give to aspiring interior professionals?
Lauren – “The number one tip I have for aspiring designers is to get out from behind their laptop screens and go and meet people face to face! Why not arrange a time to pop into a local designers studio and introduce yourself – you never know what will come of it. Designers are inundated with CVs and generic emails and so a smile and a friendly face goes a long way. Ask if they have any installations that you can help out with, or if they have any odd jobs that you could be involved with in return for a weeks worth of experience. This industry is all about people so get out there and introduce yourself!”
Nathalie – “For aspiring interior designers hoping to break into the industry, the most important thing to do is to get experience of working on projects from start to finish, preferably (to begin with) by working for a very good, experienced interior designer over a decent length of time. Once you have this experience under your belt, the next step is to prepare a really eye-catching and impressive portfolio. Always ask clients for testimonials at the end of each project to build up a positive reputation.”
Emma H – “Do your homework on the practices in your local area, you’ll find they are all very different in style and will specialise in different areas such as boutique hotels, yachts, restaurants or private residential projects. Make the most of any career advice you have at your disposal, perhaps from your school or university and build your network, join design groups and go to talks to meet like minded people. Familiarise yourself with Chelsea Harbour suppliers and visit trade shows for inspiration such as Decorex, 100% Design, Sleep or Design Junction. Follow your favourite designers on social media and interact as much as possible to build contacts and create a presence online.”
Kay – “My tip for anyone wanting to join an interior design practice is to do a course or degree in a field relevant to interior design. Intern at practices to gain professional experience which in turn will build up your portfolio.”
Meghana – “The advice I would give anyone wanting to enter into the profession would be to research research research! Research and reinforce that you really do love interiors. Do up a room in your home, start looking at fabrics, furniture and lighting. Start to feel passionate and informed about what you see. Research courses and keep on top of trends. A reputable course will give you the right background and confidence to offer advice as a designer. Start creating mood boards on Pinterest, look at other designers on Instagram and follow design brands on twitter.
Get as much experience as possible and start networking early. You learn on the job and gain confidence in yourself. Be passionate about your work, stay humble and work hard….”
Emma S – “It is imperative that you gain as much experience as you possibly can. Do your research – there are plenty of companies who would be happy to invite you along for work experience. I think that it is also really important to remember that you do not need to be a designer to work within interior design. I have such a wonderfully creative team that work in marketing, project coordination or business development. The career choices are endless.”
Faiza – “One of the best pieces of advice I can offer to young designers is to focus on the client. You may be a fantastic designer, but that’s not enough, the real skill is to understand how your client lives, what they want from the space you are creating and then to make it functional as well as beautiful.”
Radhika – “I would say to anyone looking to get into this industry, you have to be willing to adapt your design style. If you create the same style over and over again, pretty soon the aesthetic and feel that originally made it so special will be diluted. Fit design elements to the space that you’re working with, and always be willing to try something original.”