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Q&A: A Glimpse into the Life of an Interior Designer

Here at Distinctive Chesterfields, we create a truly bespoke service – handcrafting beautiful Chesterfield furniture to your exact requirements. But we’re not the only ones offering a custom experience in the interiors industry; everyone from curtain designers to bed makers are providing a similar service. People like Anthea Gray,  who single-handedly offers a bespoke service by way of her interior design company Dressing Room Interiors.

Anthea’s based in Eastbourne, and following a successful career as a finance manager she decided to take the plunge and do what she’d always wanted to do – train as an interior designer. Today, she offers affordable interior design, focusing on the guiding principle that great style can be achieved with simple changes.

We caught up with Anthea recently to learn more about the lady herself. Enjoy!

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Distinctive Chesterfields (DC) How did you get started as an interior designer for Dressing Room Interiors; what was it that initially sparked your interest in that particular industry?

Anthea: I have always been interested in design, reading all the interiors magazines and advising family and friends on their decorating schemes. I had a feeling that I wanted to change career, to do something more creative, so decided to start studying interior design part-time at KLC in London, whilst still working. I received my diploma last January and now work full-time growing my design business.

DC: Yours is a relatively budget-conscious service, which is great in times of recession. What, if anything, can interiors fans make cut backs on in the home while still achieving their desired look? And what, in your opinion, should a home owner never make cut backs on?

Anthea: I think good quality flooring and upholstery is worth splashing out on, as these need to keep their looks for a long time and withstand a lot of wear and tear. Also cheap sofas and chairs tend not to be so comfortable! If you have an old sofa and can’t afford to replace it, use beautiful cushions or throws to spruce it up. If you need to cut corners In the kitchen or bathroom, buy cheaper cabinets and sanitary-ware and add the wow factor with an amazing worktop or splashback in the kitchen, or stunning tiles in the bathroom. Also, a cheap kitchen can look really expensive if fitted correctly, so I would always employ a good kitchen fitter.

DC: What proportion of your clients are from outside of the UK? And how do customers’ interior tastes compare from country to country

Anthea: Up to now, most of my clients have been from the UK, although I am getting more followers on my blog from the USA and Australia, so I am hoping that I will soon break into those markets. However, a recent client was from the Caribbean, and she was very adventurous with colour –don’t know if that was just co-incidental!

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DC:  When it comes to interiors, what’s your own personal décor style? And which – if any – key trends will you be incorporating into your own home in 2014 and beyond?

Anthea: I live in an Edwardian house with some lovely original features, so my personal style is classic with an Asian influence. When I was young I lived in the Far East and my mother comes from Sri Lanka, so I have inherited some exotic bits and pieces, which needed to be incorporated. I love bold colours and pattern and I like to mix different styles. The most likely trend that will fit into my home will be tribal, which uses dark woods, a layering of pattern and colour provided by ethnic textiles like ikats and suzanis, and copper or brass to add a bit of bling.

DC: We loved your pastel trend-led piece on your website blog. You do say, though, that pastel shades can easily become ‘twee’. What’s your top tip for ‘toughening’ them up?

Anthea: I would use black or dark grey accessories as an accent colour for contrast. Industrial style lighting will also introduce a “tough” element into a feminine, pastel scheme.

DC: If you could offer some advice for anyone wanting to take a leap into the interiors industry, what would it be?

Anthea: I would recommend either enrolling on an industry-recognised diploma course, or working as an intern with an established interior design firm. Although most design intern jobs only pay expenses, they often lead to permanent work and are a good way of finding out how  the industry works.

DC: Our service here at Distinctive Chesterfields is similar to yours, in that we offer a bespoke service truly tailored to each client. Do you think more people are splashing out on such a service; is it important that people have a certain level of creative control? Or do you find that people like to be steered/led in a certain direction with their interiors taste/scheme?

Anthea: I think there is so much choice out there that people need and want some guidance on how to put a look together. I find that people often cant make up their minds over what to buy, having spent hours trawling through pattern books and paint charts, and so retreat back to the safety of  ‘taupe’, so they need encouraging to be more adventurous. At the other end of the spectrum, I love it when people have the confidence to mix styles, but sometimes they need to be reined in a bit, otherwise the end result can be messy. I see my role essentially as helping people to find and develop their own sense of style.

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 DC: What’s been a career highlight for yourself as an interior designer?

Anthea: Getting my diploma after three long years of studying! It was hard work but definitely worth it as it has given me the confidence to branch out on my own doing something I am passionate about.

DC: Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do on a day off? And how do you like to relax?

Anthea: Walking my dog is a great way to relax. I am lucky as I live near the South Downs, which is a beautiful part of the country, and there are lots of lovely walks on the doorstep. I also like doing the occasional course:  I have just finished an upholstery course, which was really enjoyable and sociable. And entertaining at the weekend with a few friends, when I experiment with new recipes, is always fun.

 DC: Finally, what’s in the pipeline for yourself and the company? Any new developments on the way?

Anthea: I am planning on starting an online shop, selling quirky, original accessories, soft furnishings and design-led gifts produced by small companies and designer-makers. I would also like to start one-day workshops on key topics, such as how to develop a colour scheme, kitchen and bathroom design, lighting design, window treatments and soft furnishings, giving people the tools and confidence to produce their own design schemes.

Don’t forget to head over to Anthea’s website; she offers a variety of packages for those wanting to overhaul their home – hop over and take a look!

A big thank you to Anthea for taking time out to answer our questions. Like interiors-focused Q&As like this? Keep an eye on our blog, as more of the same is on its way!

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