My journey from Student to Interior Designer with Katie Thomas
SBID got in touch with Katie Thomas, Design Director of KTM Design and SBID South West Regional Director to discover more about her career in interior design and how her journey evolved, from studying interior design at university to becoming a professional interior designer and even co-founding her own design practice, KTM Design.
Why Interior Design?
I had just started secondary school when I made the decision to focus on becoming an Interior Designer. It may sound a bit trivial, but my passion and interest for interior design was sparked by my childhood love of the life-simulation computer game ‘The Sims’! I’m sure a lot of young designers can relate. Creating virtual people, placing them in houses that I designed and directing their moods and satisfying their desires – I loved everything about it. This, coupled with watching TV shows like ‘Grand Designs’ (cliché but true) and my enjoyment of the creative subjects at school, I was set on becoming a designer of spaces. I remember talking to my teachers about my options, and learnt about the role of an Interior Designer. It sounded like my dream job – creative, logical, people-focused and having the chance to have a positive impact on people’s lives. Fast-forward 13 years and I am designing restaurants, nightclubs, offices, shopping centres and homes and running my own interior design practice in Bournemouth, KTM Design.
How did you make your dream job become a reality?
My dream job becoming a reality didn’t happen without hard work. It was just over three years ago that I graduated from the Arts University Bournemouth (AUB). I studied on the BA (hons) Interior Architecture and Design course and then decided to do my Masters in Spatial Design the following year. I was working part-time at a commercial interior design practice in Bristol whilst I was doing my MA, which meant that I was gaining invaluable industry experience whilst continuing my studies. Prior to this, I had completed several internships at interior design companies in Bath and London. It was a big priority of mine to gain as much work experience as possible whilst I was a student. I wanted to understand more about the industry and prepare myself as much as I could before making the complete transition into my professional career as an Interior Designer. My life-long mantra of ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ was very apt. Curiosity also played a big part in this. Being a curious person, I’ve always asked lots of questions and find myself continually searching for answers, and the only way I was going to find out what I was getting myself into once I’d finished university was by experiencing it first-hand. I was curious about the varying working environments in different design studios, the operations and structure of companies, the type of work the designers actually undertake, and of course the company culture and what sort of working environment I’d feel most suited to. These are all things you don’t learn at university, but play a crucial role in feeling prepared for industry. I am very grateful to all the companies that gave me the opportunity to gain some experience with them, even if it was just for a few days. When I was at university I learnt about the SBID and the support they give to students, so I became a student member and saw the president Vanessa Brady as a great role model. I’d never had a role model before. I wasn’t interested in the pop stars and ‘celebrities’ that my peers aspired to be like, so it brought me a great sense of happiness and positivity to finally have someone to look up to. A strong woman in the same industry, achieving so much and having a positive influence on so many.
What made you decide to start your own business?
As I was coming to the end of my MA at AUB, I had a couple of job offers from companies that I had previously interned with as a student (another good reason to do as many internships as you can – you never know what your new contacts could lead to, and make sure you don’t burn any bridges). I really wanted to start my own business, especially after having so much creative freedom on my MA, and when an opportunity arose to co-found a company, I thought I’d give it a shot and see how it goes. It was a tricky first few months of having no work, but after a lot of ‘putting myself out there’, we had our first office redesign enquiry come through Twitter! This led to our next, slightly bigger office redesign project, and for a short while it seemed like all we were going to do was offices, which was quite ironic as most of my work experience was in office design! At the same time, I was ‘networking’ like crazy, being consistently active on social media, and eventually finding openings to our first night club project, our first residential project, and then things started to take shape. Now, going into our fourth year of business and with a lovely, hardworking team by my side, I always make sure I take time to look back, reflect and feel proud of my progress and where I started. I think this is important, especially when it is very easy to get swept up in the everyday stresses of running a business. If I ever have self-doubt, I remember how tenacious and determined 12 year old Katie was to be a successful Interior Designer, and I’m not going to let her down! There is always another mountain to climb or hurdle to jump over, and that’s part of the fun of it.
What advice would you give to current interior design students?
Say YES. When I was leaving university and the opportunity came up to start my business, the Arts University Bournemouth (where I had studied), asked if I would teach some of their interior design evening courses as the previous tutor was retiring. Just the thought of this petrified me. I used to hate public speaking and instantly thought, ‘I’m not good enough to do that’ and ‘I don’t know enough to teach’! Once I’d got a grip of this initial hurricane of self-doubt, I realised what a great opportunity it was and how many more things it could lead to, as well as hopefully being quite fun! Three years on, I’m still teaching the same evening courses (and more) because I absolutely love it and have gone through a significant amount of personal growth and confidence building because of it. So, as Richard Branson says, ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!’. I know the struggles of being at university and the fear of the unknown once university ends, so I am happy to listen to any questions and advise wherever I can. Remember to embrace the beauty of change.
If you’re inspired by Katie’s journey and want to make sure you get the essential work experience you need to launch your interior design career after university, make sure you take advantage of the opportunities SBID provide to afford students with internships at leading UK design practices.
The Get Me 2 the Top UK student design competition is now open for entries, awarding three winning students with a 3-month internship with the likes of 1.61 London and Crawford Partnership. Designed to help the younger generation of designers find potential employers, overcome the barrier between learning and earning, forge key relationships in the industry and gain valuable insight that will help to kick-start their creative careers.