Behind the Scenes with Richard Angel 1st June 2020 | IN EXPERT INSIGHT | BY SBID

Richard Angel, founder and managing director of SBID Accredited Design Practice, Angel O’Donnell reveals his unique perspective on managing an interior design studio. After making an award-winning comeback following a period of redundancy, he launched his own practice with co-founder and interior designer, Ed O’Donnell.

What is your current job?

I’m founder and managing director of Angel O’Donnell, a London based design house that I founded with Ed O’Donnell in October 2018. My role is the business generator, together with the overall running and strategy that we adopt as a studio. As the initial customer point of contact for AOD, my role is incredibly client facing and whilst Ed takes over the client management once a project is in the studio, I really like to maintain the interface with our clients at all times, even if that is for a coffee and a chat to check in and see how things are!

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

I started life as a chartered surveyor but have always loved the creative industry. I was previously working for a major developer in London when I was asked to join an interior studio, whom I was a client of, and who were in the process of selling their business. The Private Equity buyers wanted to increase the firm’s presence in London and so were really looking for someone to spearhead that expansion. I joined as London MD which is where I met Ed and we got on fantastically well, and realised that our mindset was very much alike!

However, in April 2018, I was made redundant and after some soul searching and a lot of research, realised that I could offer a better, more commercially astute service within a crowded market – but needed a phenomenal designer to compliment my skillset. I approached Ed and in October 2018 the doors were open for business and we won our first commissions shortly thereafter. Then in October 2019, on our 1st anniversary, we won our award from the SBID International Design Awards. To be recognised globally by the industry professional body, with a hugely respected judging panel, as being one of the best at what we do, was a huge accolade and somewhat humbling, especially when we were up against competition from some of the industry greats internationally.

interior design, Behind the Scenes with Richard Angel

Describe an average day in your job role..

Well it’s slightly different now compared to prior to Covid-19. Before lockdown, it was always an early start! I like to kick start the day with a spin class or gym session, and then I’m on the train to make the commute from my cottage in West Sussex into our office in Soho. This is when I’m able to plough through my paperwork and emails that have come in overnight, together with catching up on my diary and to-do list! Once in London, I grab my regular flat white from Grind on Beak Street and have a catch up with Ed on projects, what’s happening and when, together with a creative review of designs that are in hand. From 12pm onwards, I’m out of the office, meeting new clients, catching up with existing ones and generating new business. Often, I’ll meet up with an old contact in the property industry for a light lunch. I tend to work a long day and will attend an evening event at least 3 times a week in London, networking or learning. I’m a member of Soho House and they put on some great professional talks which I find so interesting and inspiring, they’re not necessarily design related but do challenge the way I think!

However, since March my daily routine has changed somewhat! Now, it starts with a Joe Wicks exercise routine at 9am with my kids, catch up with Ed over Teams (which thankfully we’ve been using for about 18 months now so there is little change), updating our live blog ( and then dealing with the tasks for the day, partaking in a number of webinars and coupled with some maths and English tutorials!! Quite a balancing act!!

We’ve had a big drive on social media recently, where we’ve been wanting to put our skills to use helping others, which has led to our ‘Wednesday Wisdom’ series on Instagram’s IGTV. The response to that has been great, helping our followers with a number of the burning design issues that they’ve been wanting to deal with, especially now that they’re spending so much time at home! I always, always finish each day with exercise and yoga or meditation, it’s so good to clear the mind and stay physically and mentally fit.

Lockdown has been an incredibly busy period for me, other than Angel O’Donnell, I co-own a hotel in Surrey which was obviously forced to shut, so that has been challenge unfortunately having to deal with the furloughing of all the staff and navigating a path in uncertain times. However, I always recognised that the hotel was not fit for purpose in its current form, even prior to the pandemic, and thankfully during lockdown, I’ve secured planning to convert part of the hotel into 18 residential units and another part that’s Grade II listed into a boutique restaurant with 12 bedrooms, which I have confidence will no doubt be hugely attractive in the future as we see an uptake in the ‘stay-cation’ market.

interior design, Behind the Scenes with Richard Angel
interior design, Behind the Scenes with Richard Angel

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

I love the excitement of bringing on a new client and turning an idea or a dream into a reality! I love people and being able to surround myself with great colleagues, and amazing clients is a dream! Many of our clients worry about not having the vision or are sometimes embarrassed to express their taste and style ideas and it’s incredibly rewarding when we’re able to find the thread that inspires them and to pull that into a design.

Furthermore, I love the creativity and drive of entrepreneurship, thinking of new ideas, testing them and making them happen! I’m so lucky to have Ed as a business partner, we get on fantastically and have completely complimentary skills, which makes for a brilliant fit and is incredibly rewarding!

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

Yes!!! We’ve just finished the tallest Build-to-Rent building in London for Canary Wharf Group, designing all their front of house and communal areas and the results are fantastic! We’re also on site on our second project for a particular client in Fitzrovia, having completed his first home in the summer of 2019 which he wanted to refurbish to sell. He’s now down-sizing into what will be the most fabulous pied-a-terre, so it’s great now bringing that to reality!

I’m also a little proud that Ed and I have managed to pitch for the work, secure the contract and design the most fabulous penthouse in a tower on the banks of the Thames in London, doing so entirely remotely during lockdown! This really will be the most phenomenal apartment and I can’t say much at this stage, other than it has a vast roof terrace with spectacular views of London, and we have plans for a sunken, outdoor lounge and a hot tub, it will be a pretty special place to sip champagne from when complete!!

interior design, Behind the Scenes with Richard Angel

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

Lack of time!! Time is such a precious commodity and being a still relatively new business, it’s still very much Ed and I doing everything which is great on the one hand but means I’m working incredibly long hours on the other!! Nick Jenkins, founder of MoonPig, talks about working smart and not hard and I’m trying to embrace that, employing others where I can so I can delegate and really using technology to help make my life easier but it also takes time to know what tech is best to suit our needs and then learning how to use it!

More recently, it’s been lack of human, physical interaction when trying to develop business but we’ve secured two jobs during lockdown, which whilst they’ve been a challenge, they have also been the most rewarding, as we’ve really had to think creatively in how to secure the work.

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

The secret to fee scales and how best to charge clients! If I knew that, then I’d be winning all the work I pitch for!!

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

Tenacity is critical. Learn your craft, have the strength of your convictions, and don’t take no for an answer, and success will follow. There is also no such word as can’t!!

To those that are reading this, I would say that the coming months, and possibly years, are going to be very difficult for many both in and out of the industry. Sadly, we will see a lot of redundancies and many businesses will not survive. However, for those that can show tenacity, resilience, and an incredible work ethic in the face of adversity, they will come out stronger than ever. It was only two years ago that I was made redundant; I had huge concerns as to how I was going to cope financially and what the future had in store for me but I spent time thinking about how to create a business and drive success, 18 months later I was celebrating my win at the SBID 2019 Awards! You just need to believe in yourself!

interior design, Behind the Scenes with Richard Angel
interior design, Behind the Scenes with Richard Angel

What has been your favourite project to work on?

That is a tricky question, as they have all been great, with different challenges along the way but with fantastic results! However, if I had to choose one, it would be The Atlas Building penthouse in Shoreditch. The client had high expectations but was a dream to work for, we loved the collaboration between ourselves and our client, and the result was incredible!

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

I think it needs to be recognised as a professional body, much the same as RIBA or RICS for architects and surveyors alike. Furthermore, is the issue with fees, it’s been spoken about numerous times at SBID events and in the wider press on fees not being paid and the challenges being faced, particularly around the final payment. There are now several online escrow account businesses, where provided there are cast iron terms of business between the client and the customer, monies can be held in escrow before a payment is due or a dispute arises.

Who do you admire the most in the industry and why?

I really admire those that are multi-faceted in their business interests, the likes of Kit Kemp being both interior designer and hotel owner, Chloe Macintosh for her work on and then creativity at Soho House, and in the same vain Vicky Charles for the Soho House ‘look’ she has been so fundamental in achieving and that people want to emanate, and of course my friend Edo Mapelli Mozzi who has created both a successful design studio and real estate development business.

Want to become SBID Accredited? Click here for more information.