You’ve most likely seen Sophie Paterson’s dreamy interiors, whether you’re one of her 186,000 Insta followers or not – the London designer’s creations are on many a Pinterest board and the subject of countless #interiorgoals hashtags. To mark the start of her 'Week with SheerLuxe', we sat down with Sophie to get to know the esteemed business woman and talk everything from career advice, to work/life balance as a mother-of-one…
Tell us, where did it all start?
It was a chance opportunity that came about ten years ago. My husband and I were disagreeing on whether we should knock through and convert our garage into an open-plan kitchen or not – I wanted a bigger kitchen and he wanted to keep the garage. We agreed to consult a property developer to see what would add most value to the house, and the developer ended up agreeing with my husband – but he loved how I’d decorated our existing house in South Kensington and asked me to help with his latest residential development.
I designed everything from the bespoke kitchen and bathrooms, down to the wallcoverings, polished plaster and furnishings. I was working full-time as an events organiser, but once I saw how well the project had gone, it gave me the confidence to leave my job and go out on my own. Initially I worked solely with the developer on several developments and then through networking, PR and magazine coverage I began to build up my list of clients.
Did you have to do any training?
I already had a background in business and marketing but after that first project, I studied Vectorworks at the KLC School of Design to improve my technical skills. Initially I designed all the joinery on the computer program SketchUp, which is very intuitive and easy to use, but now I have a team of interior architects who draw up all the elevations, floor plans and architectural details. It has been really helpful having experience in doing all the various tasks involved in interior design though – my hands-on experience has been the best training and you never stop learning.
For readers considering a career as an interior designer, what are the most important traits they need to have?
In terms of personality traits, you have to be incredibly detail orientated – you need to ensure every single thing is correct, so in this job, it pays off to be a perfectionist and a control freak! It’s also important to be patient and diplomatic – occasionally, you have to manage stressful situations with numerous parties involved, so it’s important to remain calm and professional at all times. I never lose my temper in my job and my mantra is there’s a solution to every problem.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Always do the right thing and deep down you'll know what that is. Don’t go for the easiest option if you have a feeling it’s not right. Also to have integrity – always do what you say you’re going to do, and if you can’t, communicate this clearly and at the earliest opportunity.
What would you say to your 21-year-old self?
I would probably just give 21-year-old me a hug – emerging from education is an overwhelming time and you’re meant to know exactly what you want to do. I’d tell myself to enjoy each stage and not to constantly rush and push myself… although, thinking about it, that's probably what has helped me get to where I am now.
How did you grow the business in the early stages?
It was slow and steady. I marketed each project I completed by having professional photos taken right from the beginning and doing my own press releases to try and get some publicity. Plus, I used Twitter and Facebook to spread the word and find media contacts – social media has always been key for me. Right now, it’s all about Instagram – we’ve had great projects offered to us thanks to our large following across the world.
Have you always had a five-year or ten-year plan? Do you now?
Yes, I always knew what goal I was working towards whether it was to complete my website complete or get into a particular publication. Right now, I’m pretty happy with where the company is, but I’m always working on new things – we’re currently expanding the office so we can grow the team and I’m also working on getting a book deal so I can share our projects in a beautiful and more permanent way than just online.
I do have a few dream projects in my head, too. But I usually set goals year by year – I can’t think five years into the future right now as everything is growing and changing at such a rapid pace.
How did you cope with growing your team?
Taking on employees was something I was very scared of – the commitment, the responsibility, will I get on with them, will they get on with me, what if it goes wrong? I’m glad I did it slowly because I would never want to be someone who hires and fires depending on their work load at the time. I take my responsibility towards my staff really seriously and want to give them both security and a growth path. After I hired my first couple of employees I realised how much I’d been holding myself and the company back by being scared of being an employer – you are only as good as your team and it’s important to surround yourself with the best people you can find.
Talk us through your average day…
There’s no such thing as an average day running an interior design studio and being a mum – it can vary greatly!
Two or three times a week I wake up at 6am, get showered and then have my hair blow-dried at home, which is such a luxury but also saves me so much time. You have to be groomed at all times, with manicured nails and blow-dried hair, in this job – you represent your brand so a slobby day at work is not an option. After that, I get Ava up and have breakfast with her and my husband. We have paleo pancakes most days (there’s no flour, just four eggs, two bananas and two spoons of cashew nut butter, blended). It’s our favourite part of the day.
After breakfast, I get dressed – it takes me five minutes to put on my make-up and five minutes to pick out an outfit. I am always multitasking, so whilst I do my make-up I normally make a call – whether it’s to one of our suppliers, or my mum about Ava.
Our studio opens at 10am and I try to tackle my emails first thing. I deal with the most urgent ones first, then read the rest and mark them as unread to deal with later in the day. I prefer not to let emails dictate my day as there’s a constant flow of them and otherwise I never get to finish the priority items on my to-do list.
After that, I’ll usually work on client proposals, presentations for our latest projects, and inevitably something accounts and contractual related – I’m constantly chopping and changing between three tasks which isn’t efficient but I can’t change how my brain works!
I stop for lunch around 1pm. We have a kitchen in the office so I'll often make something light there but, if I have time, I like to pop back to my house to have lunch with Ava. I have a nanny three days a week and I spend the other days with Ava – spending time with her is really important to me; I don’t want to look back and feel like I missed it.
I go to site visits and client meetings about three times a week; we manage them between myself and the rest of the designers. It’s always fun going to site visits – seeing the progress gives you a break from the endless admin!
I generally finish work by 5pm so I can get back to Ava. I try to put her to bed myself every night, but if I have a work event my husband does it.
When I'm in I work from 7 to 9pm – answering emails and working on content for our social media. I like doing a bit of work in the evening as it’s undisturbed and I’m a lot more efficient, but I always stop at 9pm no matter what so I get an hour and a half to chill out with my husband before bed.
Once or twice a week I’ll have a work event – a launch or supplier party, or meeting someone in the industry who I’ve connected with via Instagram, it’s great to get out there and meet other people who work in similar fields.
Any tips for turning your passion into a business?
Setting up any business involves a million small steps, big tasks, networking, planning, promoting and a huge amount of work that’s best not to know about when you first consider it. If you knew what was involved, it might put you off! When it comes to chasing your passion, you just have to keep plugging away. Any failure or doubt I’ve encountered has just driven me on and motivated me to work harder.
How would you describe your work/life balance?
I’m very lucky that I get a good balance between looking after Ava and working. I also consciously choose to prioritise my family life whenever I can. You see so many designers and business owners who have no balance and it’s because they always put work first. You can’t do that and expect to have a happy and balanced home life. I don’t think anyone looks back on their death bed and wishes they had worked that bit harder or done that project or got that deal... at the end of the day, what really matters is relationships, family and friends.
Has being a mum changed your working life?
I’m better at delegating now and seeing the whole picture. I’m a control freak – but having Ava has forced me to let go, and my team do an amazing job of managing the aspects I can’t personally do anymore.
Did you ever have a plan B?
No, I never had a plan B. I had a lot of self-belief and I knew I would do whatever it took to make things work. I didn’t have kids for the first eight years of the business, and my husband was very supportive, so I could throw a huge amount of time and energy into making sure the business took off.
Back to that huge social media following. How have you grown it?
I was a very early adopter of social media – I understood it was important as I couldn’t afford a PR team, but I didn’t have any idea how big our following would become. Being one of the earliest on Instagram has helped – it’s a lot harder to grow your following now it’s so saturated – but being consistent is important too. As is great imagery, sharing a balance of work and personal, and being true to yourself instead of adopting an online ‘persona’. I’m pretty open as a person so my followers get a real insight into my whole life.
How important is Instagram to your brand?
It’s getting more and more important. Interiors brands are now realising how amazing Instagram is for marketing – the fashion industry has been aware of it for a few years, and the opportunity for interiors is massive. I am first and foremost an interior designer, but I also have this other sector to my business as an online influencer – I work with a very select number of high end interiors and lifestyle brands who I truly like, otherwise I would turn them down. Instagram has been great for networking for me too – I just message or email the people who I admire and ask them if they’d like to meet for lunch or dinner.
What are your top tips for growing a personal brand?
Make sure you’re authentic and create original content – don’t just copy others who are doing well; people want to see something new and fresh. Being honest and real is important, but it’s also important not to overshare and keep back something for yourself and your family.
Which other businesswomen do you admire and why?
There are so many inspiring women in design – Nina Campbell is amazing, she’s been in this industry for decades and is still so relevant, and very funny. I’m drawn to strong, fun women so I also admire Dara Huang, along with Natalia Miyar, Laura Hammett, Bunny and Emma from Turner Pocock… too many to mention them all!
What’s next for your brand?
Our book! I’m meeting with lots of writers, fellow designers and other industry leaders who have written bestsellers and researching the whole thing right now – I like to be informed about whatever I do – and then I’m going to approach publishers. I’ve said it publicly now so it has to happen otherwise it will be embarrassing… watch this space!
For more about Sophie visit SophiePatersonInteriors.com