Behind the Scenes with Interior Designer, Ana Engelhorn 9th December 2019 | IN EXPERT INSIGHT | BY SBID

SBID Accredited Interior Designer, Ana Engelhorn of Ana Engelhorn Interior Design reveals how her interest in interior design evolved into a professional career after starting her journey with a background in business administration and hospitality. Now running her own design practice, she shares her thoughts on the challenges the industry faces when it comes to perception – and Pinterest!

Can you describe your current job?

I run an interior design studio in London, working on residential and commercial projects across the UK and Europe. Taking a ‘perfectly imperfect’ approach, we celebrate imperfections found in natural building materials, antiques or pieces of furniture, mixing old with new pieces to create a fresh, timeless look. We also love introducing art and colour into our clients’ interiors.

What is your background and how did you get into interior design?

I grew up in Switzerland but with a Spanish mother and German father, I was influenced by many different cultures. My parents bought distinctive properties and turned them into hotels and restaurants, so I always surrounded by beautiful, unique interiors. Watching these transformations unfold, I valued, above everything else, the authenticity that came through. My father has always been very traditional style-wise. If something was originally designed or made to be in a certain style, he wanted it to remain that. Therefore, if previous owners had modernised a building, he restored it, returning it to its origins. One of the hotels they bought and redid had no heating, so in winter the pipes have to be drained (so they didn’t freeze) and the hotel closed – he really took ‘original features’ to the extreme!

I knew I wanted to run a business but wasn’t sure what, so I initially studied Business Administration and worked in hospitality. However, I was buying and refurbishing and redecorating houses on the side, even gaining critical acclaim in the industry for some of the work I did. Therefore, when I became pregnant with my second child, it felt like the right time to go back to school to become an interior designer and turn my passion into my profession.

Interior designer, Ana Engelhorn project image of living room interior with pink sofa
Interior designer, Ana Engelhorn project image of dining room interior with fireplace

Describe an average day in your job role..

My days constantly change depending on the projects I have on and the people I am working with. Interior design involves a lot of admin, but if you run your own business, there is even more. With a background in business administration, however, I actually enjoy looking after all aspects of the business, ensuring that what I am doing benefits the whole.

Which elements of your profession do you enjoy the most and/or find the most rewarding?

I love the process of discovery I go through with clients. It starts from the moment we meet, form impressions, create a rapport and go through their brief. For me, it’s important to make a real connection with clients and to be honest and open – keeping open lines of communication. I then go away and create an interior design that brings their vision to life. I live for that magic moment where I’ve presented my design to the client and (if all goes to plan!) I can see that I have understood what they want. That amazing feeling I get when they love how I’ve designed their space is what makes my job so rewarding!

Is there anything new you are excited to be working on?

I have a full house renovation planned in Chiswick. It is very exciting as it is my first full house project in the UK (the others have been mostly in Spain). The CDM, Fire and Environmental steps you have to take here are much more involved than where I’ve worked before, and it’s a great learning experience for me. I’ve realised I don’t always need to be the expert. It’s led me to work with some very talented people who have enriched my knowledge in a way I had never imagined.

Interior designer, Ana Engelhorn project image of bedroom interior

What do you find the most challenging aspects of your job?

The most challenging aspect for me has been to make myself known in the UK, getting the word of mouth recommendations rolling here. Even though I work as an interior designer internationally, I am interested in having clients close to home too – my dream project would be a period building in London. I sometimes find it hard to go out and actively draw a specific client towards me, instead of waiting for them to find me.

What do you wish you knew before working in the field?

I believe we are who we are because of our experiences, so I hesitate whenever I’m asked what I wish I had known. It probably would have been ideal to study interior design at the innocent age of 19 at University, doing the full 4 years and then have the opportunity to cut my teeth at an interior design studio before launching my own. However, that would have meant I wouldn’t have studied Business Administration or worked in hospitality; running a restaurant and working at a hotel, and I wouldn’t want to have missed that. I think it has shaped what I’m doing now in a positive way.

What would you tell your younger self if you had the chance?

Choose what you want to do and stick to it, regardless of what other people think. It’s best to pave your own way and make your own mistakes rather than listening to others and regretting lost time because of it.

What has been your favourite project to work on?

A 16th century farmhouse in Spain. It was a project where we reused everything we could, bringing the house back to its origins. All new materials that were brought in were natural building materials. The project took two years in total – it was slow going, but an enriching and satisfying project.

Interior designer, Ana Engelhorn project image of antique chair
Interior designer, Ana Engelhorn project image of fireplace

What do you think is the biggest problem the interior design industry faces?

On one hand, the industry needs to combat the old-fashioned view that interior design is the domain of the ‘bored housewife’ and can essentially be done well by anyone who takes an interest in it. It needs to educate the general public about the knowledge and skill that goes into designing an interior space professionally. And especially, in the internet age, to get across the point that professionals can improve (and save time and money!) on what people can find and source through Pinterest, Instagram or other online platforms, and that they can help when it comes to the project management side as well.

On the other hand, the industry itself needs to open up to best support and encourage new interior designers and really help them to be successful. It’s worth remembering that interior design is also an art. You have to be organised, you have to know how to do industry-specific admin and be familiar with certain concepts and ways of working, but you also have to have intuition and imagination, to be able to envision how pieces will fit, what colours might go together and how a space can be transformed. You have to see, for example, how two potentially opposing objects could put together and, finally, you have to have taste. All of the more intangible qualities to do with artistic vision can’t be taught – you either have it or you don’t. This artistic side should be respected.

There is no lack of potential clients out there – the challenge is to find and convince them that their interior can really be improved by a professional interior designer!

Interior designer, Ana Engelhorn project image of bedroom interior

Which people do you admire the most in the industry and why?

I admire people who have not only been interior designers but have also created a business, employed others and grown from their small beginning. I also admire interior designers who share their knowledge, wanting to help others start up on their own. One such person is Katherine Pooley. She has been in interior design for 30 years, has grown a large business and now, on top of her business, gives talks and helps designers pave their way.

If you were inspired by Ana’s story, click here to learn more about the role of an interior designer.

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