Behind the Scenes with Interior Designer, Jacqui Smith
SBID are delighted to launch a new blog series designed to dig beneath the surface of the interior design industry, exploring the personal journeys of professional, practising interior designers across this diverse, far-flung field. With the aim of peeling back the glamorous guise of interior design which extends much deeper than perception permits, we get the honest and exclusive insight on what it’s really like working in the Interior Design industry as an interior designer.
For our first interview, we talk to Interior Designer and Director of HomeSmiths, Jacqui Smith, as she discusses her work-life balance, how she uncovered her lingering passion for interior design and her unusual route into the industry.
Can you describe your current job?
I run an interior design practice in Sussex with my husband David, working in healthcare and private residential.
What is your background and how did you get into interior design?
Since a young age I would decorate dolls’ houses and spend hours rearranging my bedroom. Graduating from St Andrews with a degree in economics and maths I ended up in marketing but never felt that I fitted. My free time would be spent on all things interiors be it my own home or those of friends. I met my husband, David who at the time was a cabinet maker. Friends would say, ‘wow you two could work together’. With impostor syndrome looming I did not see how at the time but then we decided to set up HomeSmiths as a bespoke furniture business. Clients would ask David for advice on colour and that’s how it all started for me. People responded well to my ideas so I decided to take some courses, build up a portfolio and very quickly our client base grew. In 2007 we closed the workshop and focused purely on interior design. David still designs furniture but is no longer behind the bench.
Describe an average day in your job role…
I am very much a morning person. Assuming I am not due on site early I will start my day with at least 15 minutes of exercise before breakfast. This wakes me up, clears my brain and definitely helps me focus during the day. Usually at my desk for 8am, I like to have clear chunks of time for my design work rather than dipping in and out so I tend to clear my bitty jobs first. Running a number of projects at any one time those small jobs can take my brain into lots of different places so by clearing those first I can then focus on designing with a clear mental desk! Lunch sometimes involves a walk, it depends on the day but I never miss lunch and make a point of stopping rather than eating at my desk. I aim to finish at 6/6.30pm. Six years ago I lost the sight in my left eye. Before this happened I would often work late but these days I am too tired to do this consistently. There will be the odd time when I am working on a deadline which keeps me in the office until 9pm, but any later than that I find is complete false economy as I tend to sleep poorly and feel less on it the next day. After work I cook dinner, I might go for a walk or just relax with David and my two teenage sons. Family time is really important to me.
Which elements of your profession do you enjoy the most and/or find the most rewarding?
I LOVE working in healthcare design. The built environment can have a massive impact on a person’s health and well-being and support them from a sensory and cognitive perspective. Well designed living spaces keep people independent for longer and everyone benefits from that. When I see the community’s residents use the built-in spaces that I have designed, that’s a wonderful moment. Not from an ego perspective since I genuinely feel that there is no place for ego in healthcare design, but as pure job satisfaction.
What do you find the most challenging aspects of your job?
Being let down by suppliers, dealing with constantly moving fit out dates and trying to keep everyone happy. I am not a fan of confrontation. When I shared this once with a rep she told me that I was in the wrong job! I have got tougher over the years but I don’t feel the need to throw my weight around and I feel that our clients and suppliers respect me for that. I care about our clients, our team and am a very fair person and at all times professional, so when met with unreasonable behaviour, I can struggle.
“Interior design is not about the latest kitchen or the most expensive wall covering, it’s about creating environments that people want to spend time in…”
What do you wish you knew before working in the field?
I do think I went into it with my eyes wide open. I do love a spreadsheet and the paperwork side has never phased me. Some designers I know who have closed their businesses will say that they found the admin/planning side too onerous. The reality is that interior design is hard work, stressful at times and rarely glamorous, but I knew that from the start so my expectations were fully managed!
What would you tell your younger self if you had the chance?
Believe in yourself. A talented New York designer who was an ex-banker once told me that to be a successful interior designer you need to be “great with colour, organised and smart”, and I would add to that – good with people. Had someone told me that when I started out I would have felt more confident in the early days.
What has been your favourite project to work on?
On residential, a country house in East Sussex and on healthcare – that’s a hard one, but I would probably say a dementia home in Ipswich.
What do you think is the biggest problem the interior design industry faces?
Brexit! I know that’s potentially a predictable response but I feel that people in the private residential market are more cautious at the moment and in healthcare we have had projects delayed, pared back or clients have felt that they can save on the engagement of a professional and do it themselves.
Which people do you admire the most in the industry and why?
I admire any designer who is down to earth, authentic and hard working. Interior design is not about the latest kitchen or the most expensive wall covering, it’s about creating environments that people want to spend time in but crucially, ones that work, ones that make day to day living easier. A room can look stunning but if the needs of the people spending time in it have not been considered then that’s not interior design, and the needs of people in the space is so incredibly important in healthcare design.
If you were inspired by Jacqui’s story and want to find out more about interior design and the role of an interior designer, click here.