“I ignored my instinct and lost out financially”

Interior designer Hollie Bowden had to learn that setting boundaries and managing expectations makes work run smoother in the long run.

If you make and sell products, there isn’t much room for dispute when it comes to getting paid. But if your business offers a more creative service, subjectivity can come into play, as interior designer Hollie Bowden discovered to her cost. Her internationally acclaimed studio has been in business since 2005, creating memorable interiors for well-heeled clients all over the world. The London based designer tells us what makes her business tick – and how she learned to navigate the potential pitfalls of pleasing clients.

Some people assume interior design is just choosing paint colours, a few pieces of furniture and chucking some art on the wall, but what we do is much more detailed, considered and complex.

My first solo job was a really huge residential project in Ibiza and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I had known the client personally for some time, and it was fortunate and serendipitous. He put a lot of faith in me, my taste and my vision, and gave me a lot of creative freedom.

Visiting a site means so much to me. I ‘feel out’ the space and let the environment speak to me. I’d spent a lot of time in Ibiza and I found it quite an inspiring place. I’d always had strong reactions to places I visited on the island and when something really worked, I felt it.

One huge thing I’ve learned is to manage expectations. I took on one job when my instinct was to decline, but the client was a woman I admired. She seemed thrilled and expressed her gratitude with the work, but at the end she declined to pay. It turned out she wanted more than we had agreed. It was stressful, but it was a learning curve. Sometimes you think you know the client, but a situation or conversation has been manipulated to fit their own agenda.

In business, you have to make clever decisions, find balance and only take on what you can manage and do well. It’s better to do fewer projects and have focus than to spread your attention across many. I’ve also learned to say no to things.

I’m cautious when people try to gloss over what they want, describing it as a ‘simple consulting job’ or whatever.

I got the idea to do this when I bought my first house. It just came naturally to me and I realised immediately I had a real love for sourcing pieces, building a home and making improvements. It just kept evolving as I kept discovering more of what I loved.

Working from home was a big obstacle and I outgrew it quickly. I had this vision of what my studio would look like: a bank of computers, a team and a central table with all my samples organised – an entire space dedicated to my work. Having my own office has been life changing.

The best thing about seeing the business grow has been building my team. Having several designers to bounce ideas around with, develop our schemes and inspire one another is great. We talk about the projects and support each other across them. Everyone adds something different to the mix.

Many of my suppliers are in mainland Europe. The secret is to go see the artists’ and designers’ work. Engaging with it is so different to seeing it online, and it’s important for establishing relationships and building your global community. Travel inspires me. It’s a vital part of the job. Sometimes I wish I could duplicate myself so that I could be in the office and still make the trips.

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: https://ink-global.com/our-clients/portfolio/easyjet-traveller/