This month marks a decade since I founded Smartstyle Interiors. When I look at the Certificate of Incorporation that certifies Smartstyle is an official company, I almost can’t believe that this idea I had is not only real, but has been running for ten whole years! Ten years! I can’t help but feel a little glow of pride.
As with all birthdays, especially big ones, I find myself taking a hard look back at the journey I’ve been on and all I've done to get to where I am today.
THE START OF SMARTSTYLE
After graduating from KLC way back in 2002, I began working as an interior designer under a terrific industry leader, and when I started my maternity leave with my first son a few years later, I found myself ready to go out on my own. At the time, I wanted something that allowed me to continue my passion for design, but also gave me the opportunity to balance my work with my beautiful baby’s needs.
I still remember visiting my accountant with my 10 month-old on a play mat at our feet while I explained what I wanted to do. It was at this meeting that I officially set up the company. Talk about work/life balance! But as many of you surely know, when you become a parent, your grand plans don’t always match up with reality and I also vividly remember another meeting, this one with the bank to set up my company account. I had my son in his buggy while I passionately presented my business plan, detailed my vision for the company and professionally explained how it was all going to work. I had everything in order and felt I was being quite impressive, so why was she staring at me so funny? It was only as I left that I realised my shoulder was covered in cream cheese, lovingly applied by my little bundle of joy. In that moment I wondered, “Oh goodness, how am I going to do this?” Ahh, work/life balance.
Getting the foundation in place for a new company is difficult. There is insurance to sort, trade accounts to open, branding to decide on, websites to design, and social media to be figured out and managed. In the beginning, it was fair to say that everything except the designing was outside my comfort zone. But I wanted to do it right, so I worked hard and designed the kind of company that I thought I could really build a future with. And here we are!
MY FIRST CLIENT
No matter your industry, landing your first client is always a special. When I first started out, I advertised in a local publication and received a call to bid on a design job. I trundled along to the meeting with my portfolio and a whole heap of enthusiasm. I was scared and hoped that the client would be able to look past the work I had produced at my previous company, and that she would be able to see my unique point of view and fall in love with my vision. I was anxious that she wouldn’t want to take a chance on a designer who had only just gone solo.
Luckily, there was no need to worry and I’ll always be thankful for the faith that Claire had in me when she gave me my first Smartstyle job. I still have so much pride in the work we did together over the years, as the original job of designing just one room became a much larger project, that of designing her whole house.
The journey over the last ten years has been amazing, sometimes difficult, and a whole lot of fun. I faced my challenges, celebrated my victories, and grew as a designer and as a business woman with each new opportunity. I survived one recession, I relocated my established North London design practise to Tunbridge Wells, Kent, which felt an awful lot like starting all over again, and I’ve been able to work with so many amazing clients, suppliers, and products to create beautiful spaces that all have a distinct story to tell.
I’ve also watched as my small baby, who sat on the play mat in the accountant’s office, has grown into a strapping pre-teen with a fire-ball of a little brother. With every year that passes, the balance between being a parent and running a business becomes easier and I’m blessed that I’ve been able to do both to the max.
In the midst of all the design work, I’ve also started a blog (oh, hello!) which has been a wonderful creative outlet and has opened some very interesting doors for me and my work. I continue to surprise myself with sharing in this space as I’m dyslexic and had a very difficult time at school where I was constantly told that I was stupid. With every compliment or opportunity that comes from my writing, I feel a true sense of pride that I have proven many teacher and fellow pupils wrong. But maybe the person I’ve proven most wrong is myself, as I didn’t have any faith that I could achieve anything beyond waiting tables or shop work for much of my life. As I watch my youngest son struggle with Dyslexia as well, I feel proud that I can tell him that there is so much he can do and show him that life is full of opportunities, even when you have a learning difficulty that feels so crippling.
I’m excited for what will come on the path ahead and though I can plan for the future with some certainty, business, like life, can throw a curveball now and again. There are things I’m planning, things I’m dreaming of, and things that I know will take me by surprise– hopefully more good than bad! I’ve been so grateful for every opportunity that has come my way these past ten years and though I can’t say exactly where I’ll be in the next ten, I'm sure it will be even bigger than where I am now. No matter what, it will certainly be an adventure getting there. Happy Birthday Smartstyle Interiors, my third baby!