Sewing her way to success

Meet Helen Baker, a former primary school teacher who pursued her creative passion and retrained as a fabric and soft furnishings designer after becoming a mother. We asked Helen to share her story of career reinvention and her tips on how to style your home office space.

I’ve always been a creative person and I grew up making things on my mum’s sewing machine, playing around with any left over fabrics we had at home. Over the years I learned from my grandmother and mum, who would often be running up a pair of curtains or creating cushion covers, constantly making home improvements. My home has always been important to me and became even more so when I was on maternity leave, nearly 10 years ago. I wanted my surroundings to look as good as I could whilst I was spending so much time at home with a baby. After my second child, I found returning to work as a primary school teacher increasingly difficult – trying to balance work and family life, having no time left to be creative. I decided to leave my teaching career of nearly 10 years to be with my two sons, then aged two and four years. I went on to set up a small sewing business that I could work around the children but soon came to realise I enjoyed the designing more than the making.

In 2015 a change in my husband’s job meant a move from Cornwall to Wiltshire. Whilst renovating our new home I was searching for fabrics that weren’t too feminine, floral or fussy (I’m the only female in our household) and wanted something that suited all ages and genders. Frustrated that I couldn’t find what I wanted, I looked into how fabrics are designed. I took an online surface pattern courses, taught myself digital illustration and read as many books on fabric design as I could. Throughout this learning process I was constantly refining my design principles which I narrowed down to being nature inspired silhouette designs, shapes that everyone can recognise and relate to. I sent off my initial designs to be printed onto fabric which I then made into roman blinds, cushions and lampshades for our home. I was so pleased with the results that I wanted to take the fabric design further and create my first collection.

Growing up and living in Cornwall has always been a big influence in my life so I was drawn to create a contemporary coastal inspired collection – a far cry from the clichéd nautical knots and anchors that we so often see. I wanted the designs to reflect modern-day Cornish life. Designs include ‘Cornish Clouds’ and ‘Surfboard Scallop’ in colours such as Atlantic blue and Saffron yellow. From talking to people I heard how so many people have connections with the coast and how it evokes many happy memories. I wanted people to have these positive feelings everyday within their homes through a subtle nod to the coast, whether they lived by the sea or not. This is my debut collection titled ‘You can take the girl out of Cornwall…’, my story in a nutshell. It is family friendly and gender neutral to fit with how modern families live today, increasingly in open plan spaces. My aim is to create fabrics and home furnishings that fit the needs of everyone.

STYLING TIPS FOR YOUR HOME OFFICE SPACE

We live so much of our lives online, whether it’s working from home or online banking, we all need a comfortable space that allows us to concentrate on the task in hand. With so many distractions at home it’s crucial to create the right working environment. So here’s a handy guide on how to style your home office.

  • THE RIGHT SPACE: To create an effective home office it has to be somewhere you actually want to be, ideally with lots of natural light. This could be a separate room or just an area within another room but a designated area is preferable to the kitchen table otherwise you will be constantly moving your work to make room for meal times at the table.
  • DESK: Any sort of surface can work. From small desks to large worktops, as long as you can fit all the items you need, you can make any space work. The key is to keep things organised and keeping extra items to a minimum to avoid unnecessary clutter, wall mounted shelves are perfect for home offices.
  • CHAIR: Is it comfortable and at the right height? Two important factors that can really effect how long you are able to sit comfortably at your home office. I also recommend having an easy chair nearby for times when you don’t need to be at your desk but nearby, taking a phone call for example, or enjoying a drink away from a screen.
  • ACCESSORIES: Cushions are my go-to home office accessory. They not only look good and show your personality but they provide comfort and can boost your sitting height if needed. Keep everything you need for your home office nearby so it can be easily accessible and tidied away.
  • INSPIRATION: Keep whatever inspires you nearby. This could be books, photos of your loved ones or an inspirational quote, but think about where they can be displayed, on a wall instead of taking up room on your desk, perhaps? Peg boards and picture shelves are an easy way to restyle items that inspire you.
  • PLANTS: They create fresh air and are soothing to look at, perfect for a home office. I would suggest a small plant for a small desk or again you could think about having it on a shelf or nearby rather than on your actual workspace.
  • GET CREATIVE: It’s your space so make it work for you! By using colours, accessories and items that you love, your home office will reflect your personality and will become a space that you love spending time in.

Helen is following…

Phillips Kay @recipeforflowers: sells the most beautiful wild and seasonal flowers from St Agnes in Cornwall, the village where I grew up. Her bouquets often include foraged snippets from hedgerows and she can send these blooms anywhere in the UK. Her Instagram feed is a floral feast.

Alison Bick @alisonbickdesigns: a friend, inspiring business woman, talented designer illustrator and creator of generally lovely stuff. I love seeing how her business and design style has grown from strength to strength over the last few years.

Mari Andrew @bymariandrew: an amazingly perceptive illustrator. Her work captures modern life and how we cope with everything that’s thrown at us. She is authentic, inspiring and has a great sense of humour.


Helen’s work 

helenbaker.com
instagram.com/helenbakerhome
twitter.com/helenbakerhome
facebook.com/helenbakerhome

Interior design with a difference

Zoe Hewett began her career as an Art Director in the film and television industry before retraining as an Interior Designer. She is now expanding her digital business offering and running workshops alongside her consultancy work. We asked Zoe to share her story and tell us about her plans for the future.

How did you become an interior designer?

Growing up in Cardiff, I spent my childhood making rudimentary props and sets for the plays we would put on for the grown ups, and my teenage years making giant carnival costumes and redecorating the house when my parents’ backs were turned. When I took the school quiz to find out what career path I should follow, I got into trouble for being interested in too many topics. Little did I know at the time that is precisely one of the best qualities for being a designer! I knew that I wanted to be a set designer though, so I went to art college in London and had a ball making live performance art installations in broom cupboards, period costumes and miniature models of monolithic opera sets.

The reality of making a living as a jobbing designer in Wales was incredibly difficult, particularly as I had trained in a different city and didn’t have those all important college to industry links. I was an outsider in my home town, and never quite managed to get enough work. Instead I found work in the film and TV industry as an Art Director. It was heaps of fun and better paid than theatre, but the crazy hours and feast or famine nature of it all eventually left me feeling disillusioned and burnt out. To get out of this rut I moved quite suddenly to Bristol, and as cringe-worthy as it sounds I kind of found myself, or at the very least my mojo, upon starting Capoeira. It had a profound effect on my outlook and confidence (not to mention physical fitness).

I decided to retrain and enrolled on an open learning Interior Design Diploma. Although the design process and required skills are exactly the same for both roles, the two industries are quite different. As career changes go this was more of a tweak than a total transformation, but that’s just as well, because having been creative all my life because I can’t really do anything else. So far it has gone smoothly, probably because people expect to have to pay interior designers, whereas the art world runs on air and broken dreams.

My business, although micro, is finally starting to grow after being in start-up mode for an extra long time. Midway through my first big job (a furniture store) I found myself unexpectedly expecting a baby with a (very) new man. Our daughter was then born suddenly at 26 weeks. It was a pretty hideous time and as a result she has additional needs, so it is imperative that at least one of us has flexible work, and for the moment that’s me. It is important to me to be able to also offer something affordable, because consultation, design and project management fees are exclusive for most, so I have started running interior design workshops which seem to be going well. That also fits around family life better than a full-time job with a commute!

How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?

Digital technology has absolutely revolutionised how I work. When I was documenting scenic continuity on film sets the preferred method was (the now amazingly retro) Polaroid camera! Digital cameras were just coming in but it was easy to lose track of scenes. It also used to be almost impossible to photograph anything in a dark theatre without paying a professional photographer, which would have cost most of the design fee, but of course without photos of your work you can’t get more work.

The iPhone for me has been amazing. Being able to show all your previous work in the palm of your hand is serious luxury after years of lugging around a heavy A2 portfolio of artwork in all weathers. I used to have to burn CDs with home printed front covers to send people my portfolio, which makes me feel like an old lady saying “we didn’t have TV when I was young”. I did go on a Dreamweaver course to make my first website, and I managed a one page CV with a photo which was pretty impressive for someone as analogue and non-techy as me.

Now, my website (an easy drag-n-drop template, of course) is all singing and all dancing with video, a shop and a rather earnest design blog. All these little graphics apps are my favourite, for editing photos and overlaying text on images to quickly get messages out on social media – it is just amazing. I just need to keep gradually growing my audience.

Tell us about your new design packages

The idea for the Newlyweds Nest came from wanting to give friends a meaningful wedding present at a time when I had no money. They had not long moved into a new house that needed some character, so I gave them some pointers and it grew from there into a comprehensive interior design service. Initially it was email based, which is quite a popular concept in the States but hasn’t really caught on over here. Somehow I arrived at the idea of putting it in a gift-box, to make it a more tangible present, which is infinitely more charming than printing out documents from an email!

The idea is for couples to enjoy filling in the questionnaires inside the box together, whether their home is old or new to them, and return their answers with photos and dimensions to me. From there I can put together a bespoke design scheme for the room of their choice, complete with sample boards, drawings and a budget spreadsheet, with an action plan for them to follow, to make it a reality under their own steam.

There are two packages: a classic monochrome version and a rainbow pride ribbon option for LGBT couples, and those who just prefer joyful colour. I think there is something fun about using the postal service in this crazy digital age. This is a scaleable business model which is potentially quite exciting, plus because I never meet the client in person it is easier for me to work and still do the school run.

I love face to face client work, but there is a limit to how much I can take on, because the logistics of getting to site to let tradesmen in and simultaneously take a small person to school without any grandparents nearby are a bit tricky. Luckily I have some fantastic builders and project managers to call upon for help with bigger jobs where we do meet the clients and undertake the installation work for them. But I think the digital-postal design packages like Newlyweds Nest (I have more in the pipeline) are likely to take over, because it is also a more affordable slice of luxury service,  especially for clients who would rather save money by doing or organising the hands-on redecoration work themselves.


Zoe is following…

@blackparrotsstudio: Sarah Mitchenall won The Great Interior Design Challenge in 2016 and kindly loaned me a few of her fab monstera lights for a roomset I designed for Grand Designs Live last year. As a former garden designer, her work with jewellery designer Alexa as Black Parrots Studio is just utterly fantastic. There’s a lot of interiors ‘noise’ on instagram, but these women actually HAVE IT!

@ware.london: Jewellery designer Emma Ware is a long time buddy of mine from when we were students at Wimbledon School of Art. When she quit TV working as a Focus Puller to set up her brand, she was a huge inspiration to me and set the bar high. Her work is hugely stylish, wearable and ethically produced. Amazing!

@iris.apfel: How could I not follow this inspirational woman? Interior designer turned fashion and style icon, still working in her 90s, Iris Apfel has such a wonderful outlook and a gentle, joyful demeanour. She is an incredible wit, huge intellect and cheers up my feed every time. I also covet her architect’s glasses!


Zoe’s work 

zoehewettinteriors.co.uk
instagram.com/zoehewettinteriors #mybristolhome
twitter.com/zoehewettdesign
pinterest.com/zoehewettdesign/zoe-hewett-interiors
facebook.com/zoehewettinteriors

Bring colour into your home

Vickie Nickolls is an interior decorator from Buckinghamshire who is embracing social media to grow her business online. A career change after the birth of her daughter (due to lack of flexible working provision) led to the launch of her business Interior Therapy. Taking the plunge and following her passion for design, interiors and colour has proven to be the right decision.

Vickie shares her career story and interiors tips. Read on to discover simple and effective ways you can add personality to your home.

Vickie Nickolls owner of Interior Therapy

Tell us about yourself

I live in Buckinghamshire with my husband, daughter Grace and dog Geoffrey. I have always had a really passion for interiors, fashion and all things design related. With a background in fashion retail, I have been a buyer and also a wholesale agent, which lead me into a job as Trend Researcher for an international footwear brand. I was lucky enough to travel the world focusing on new trends in footwear, material and colour – working alongside a large design team.

Unfortunately, after having my daughter the company were unable to accommodate a part-time position – therefore forcing the hard decision to leave.

I had always been told I had an eye for interior design, so I decided to build up my portfolio and take the leap by starting Interior Therapy. I wanted to make the most of people’s homes and make them personal to them and a space that they loved living in. This doesn’t have to be huge changes – but even the smallest item such as a rug, new cushions and some artwork can totally transform a room.

Interior Therapy by Vickie Nickolls
Adding pops of colour into a neutral scheme lifts the look

I have never looked back, I work around my daughter being at nursery three times a week (so I get a nice mix) although now that the company has grown I am finding it hard to get a balance between family and work life which is frustrating. My daughter will start school in September, so I am hoping to be able to increase the business.

I help clients save time searching for items (a lot of my clients are mums and just simply don’t have the time). I take the stress away by giving them multiple choices for each item.

How has digital technology and social media has changed the way you work?

Social media has played a huge part in building my new business. Not only as a huge source of inspiration, including sites such as Pinterest and Houzz, but also being able to network with others who share the same passion.

Houzz has been by far the best social media platform for me with one of my images being saved over 220k times, which has led to press such as the Mail Online. I’m also being featured in a book which comes out in April, this has helped raise my profile and I have received lots of work via the site.

Instagram has been an important factor (I’m building a following slowly!), mainly for inspiration and also for finding new products, especially for independent brands. I really like to support the independents and often find great pieces via Instagram to use in my clients’ homes. It’s also a great way to showcase my style and current projects.

VICKIE SHARES HER INTERIORS TIPS…

Interior Therapy by Vickie Nickolls

Create a feature wall of prints

Interior Therapy by Vickie Nickolls

Be creative, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on expensive artwork to give your living room a boost. Simply display an eclectic mix of framed photographs, quotes and prints or anything that is important to you to create a wow factor feature wall.  Behind a sofa always works well and frames the area, and also you are not directly looking at it whilst relaxing! Mix up the frames, or even co-ordinate your sofa and cushions for a dramatic look!

Interior Therapy by Vickie Nickolls

Add character to your bathroom

Adding a personal touch, a private ensuite bathroom warrants the use of more personal decor. Have something framed that is personal to you, whether that would be a wedding invite, favourite place to visit, picture? Hanging this up will add instant character that is special to you and only you will see it!

Interior Therapy by Vickie Nickolls

Be bold: mix and match

Don’t be afraid to mix and match prints and patterns. You can use a variety of scales large and small when doing this just ensure that you stick with the same colour palette. Or choose a dominate print from either artwork or wallpaper then select a smaller scale print for something such as a cushion or rug.

Here I have used a contrasting print on the cushions and pillows to add interest, but have kept to the same colour palate and also introduced plain bold colour pops.


Vickie is following… 

Sarah Akwisombe

Sarah Akwiscombe: I love her honesty, style and straight forward talking. Her blog has totally inspired me and helped me along the way in improving my business.

The Unmumsy Mum

The Unmumsy Mum: I literally love her, every post makes me laugh out loud, its nice to know your not alone as a mum and her honesty is refreshing!

Kitty McCall

Kitty McCallI love her style and use of colour, prints are to die for and also so are the cushions!

Vickie’s work…

Interior therapy logo

interior therapy.co.uk
instagram.com/interior.therapy
pinterest.com/vickienickolls
houzz.co.uk/pro/vickienickolls/interior-therapy
facebook.com/interiortherapyuk
vickie@interiortherapy.co.uk

Interiors blogger Lisa Dawson’s top independent retailers 

Instagram is a social media platform that has really captured the imagination of interior lovers all over the world – arguably overtaking Pinterest as the social media of choice. Lisa Dawson is an interiors blogger who is riding the wave of this growing trend and has built a 25k strong Instagram following (impressive considering she only started posting photos of her house last year). It has helped raise her professional profile organically and now she now runs regular ‘Styling Your Home Workshops’ with her workshop partner Dee Campling (another interiors obsessive with a loyal Instagram following). The business Lisa Dawson Styling is going from strength to strength and now offers an interior room design service.

lisa dawson styling

Quick to realise the potential of social media Lisa finds it’s a great way to discover independent brands. “Instagram has become the social media hub to be on. No longer the domain of the teenage selfie, everyone and their dogs are getting in on the action. With the huge increase in hash tagging and its popularity as a creative platform, more and more independent companies are finding that Instagram is perfect for launching and promoting their businesses.”

Lisa lives in York with her husband Joe and three children (Ella, Max and Leo) and her “badly trained” Lhasa Apso dog, Buddy. She has a background in fashion retail, having previously worked for Top Shop. She’s learnt the hard way about running her own business (she used to sell jute bags on notonthehighstreet.com). “When the plastic bag charge came into effect and supermarkets started selling similar products to mine at a quarter of the price, I was forced to admit defeat”. So, with her new interiors business she’s keen to champion the kind of independent brands she identifies with and is “committed to the promotion and support of these inspirational companies”.

With that in mind I asked Lisa to pick her top five interiors and homeware companies which we should look out for in 2017. So check them out: “but be warned the temptation to purchase will be strong!”.

Lisa’s top five independent retailers for 2017

Violet & Thistle

Jane is the founder and owner of Violet & Thistle and she is absolutely fab. With a background in costume jewellery retail and years spent visiting the Far East in order to source, Jane realised after the birth of her first daughter that she needed a business that kept her closer to home. Based in London, she launched her online store at the end of 2015 and you could not hope to meet a friendlier person. If you follow her on Instagram, you will know that she loves a chat. Her shop is a fabulous collection of individual homewares, lighting and one off vintage pieces.  Check out her most recent stock which includes fantastic neon wall lights and a gorgeous range of macramé plant holders. My favourite all time purchase from Jane is my pom-pom basket which is always commented upon and my applause light box is about to be put above my bar so that people can clap me when I pour them a drink.

pink neon wall light love violet and thistle
Violet & Thistle sell an eclectic mix of items for the home including this vibrant pink neon sign

Curious Egg

Lorraine Aaron is a professional artist with a background of making art for public places. She has an obsessive interest in art, architecture and interiors and how the combination of these can contribute to our happiness. Her store is a curated heaven of the most beautiful items sourced for their interest and individuality. Her customer service is second to none and her shop is well worth a visit.

gold-strand-candleholder-lifestyle-curious-egg
Curious Egg has a carefully curated selection of items to make your home beautiful

Grey September

Sara Griffiths is the founder and creator of this newly formed online collection of homewares, interiors and gifts. Expect a little bit of Nordic, cool Copenhagen and the rest of the globe for a unique blend of design must haves for your space. Sara has worked in TV for the last 20 years whilst also having the extremely busy job of being a mum to two girls. Having curated her own small but perfectly formed family home, she finally decided to put the dream into reality and her fabulous store is well worth a visit.

grey september bed
Grey September is a beautifully curated shop selling Scandi-inspired homewares

We Are Amused

Susan and Donna, with their backgrounds in styling and photography, are the creative wonders behind We Are Amused. They produce innovative photographic and typographical prints from their studio in Fife, Scotland that look stunning in any interior.  Their prints will add that essential edge of cool to your space.  I’ve got their gorgeous (and I’m sure to be iconic) shoe last print, or I did until my daughter decided it would look better in her room than mine. You can contact Susan and Donna via their Instagram feed. Inspirational mums Donna and Susan started their print design business from a studio in Fife last year.  Through sheer hard work, their artwork is flying into stores. They supply Rockett St George and were recently part of a pop up in Liberty London, as well as a huge selection of independent stores.

sixties chair neon print fireplace interiors we are amused
We Are Amused produce unique prints: as featured in Lisa’s daughter’s bedroom

Hilary & Flo

Founded in 2015, Shelley’s shop is a gorgeous eclectic mix of home accessories and furniture that is an absolute must. How excited was I when I realised that Hilary & Flo was in Sheffield and therefore close enough to visit? Very excited. My (very good at shopping) friend Liz was visiting from America, had been following the Hilary & Flo feed and was desperate for a visit, so together with two other friends, we had a girls outing. The trip got off to a bad start after I drove into another car at the roundabout on the way there due to excessive chatting, but we persevered and were very glad that we did. Shelley is absolutely lovely and so welcoming and friendly, making any visit to her store a pleasure. She stocks a selection of independent retailers including Abigail Ahern.

hilary & flo interiors shop sheffield
An interior lover’s emporium: Hilary and Flo is one of Lisa’s favourite shops

Lisa is following…

Jennifer Harrison, Fleamarket Fab

fleamarket fab“Stateside Jennifer is an inspirational mother and businesswoman with an online store and design service.  Her style is recycled glam and she sources from flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores.”

 

 

Sarah Akwiscombe, Interior Stylist & Blogger

sarah akwiscombe“When I decided to start blogging, it was Sarah’s webinar that I took to get the lowdown.  She created and runs the No Bull Blog School teaching others how to start writing and also has a career as a successful interior stylist.  She’s a mum of one and lives in London.”

 

Lisa’s work…

Wesbite: lisadawsonstyling.com
Instagram: _lisa_dawson_
Twitter: Lisadstyling
Facebook: lisadawsonstyling
Pinterest: Lisajanedawson
Email: hello@lisadawsonstyling.com


Interview with Amy White