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Interviews

How Abbie Smith got her design ducks in a row.

We sat down with Abbie Smith, founder of the eponymous design studio, Abbie Smith Design, to discuss her design story to date.

design story x eporta

Read Time 7 minutes

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and Abbie Smith Design.

Well me, I am a wife to my husband Toby and mum to our four-year-old son, Hector.

As for my work-life, I've been designing in one way or another for most of my life. My degree was in media studies, after graduating, I moved to London and became a runner for TV shows, which lead on to working as a set designer.

Friends started asking me to help them design their own homes, which over time lead to some ad-hoc work for property developers. It wasn't until I started a family that I moved into interior design entirely, as I wanted to be able to dictate my time a little bit more.

To be honest, when I started out, I loved interior design but didn't know if I could make it work as a business. Luckily the company has gone from strength to strength, and I've never looked back.

Abbie Smith Living Room design.png

Was there anything else that made you want to switch to interior design?

If I'm honest, from when I owned my first property, my focus changed, and I became obsessed with everything 'homeware'.

Shopping for clothes was replaced by weekend trips to B&Q and undertaking DIY projects. I just really got the bug, and it spilt over from doing my property to helping others with theirs.

As such my portfolio is predominantly residential, dipping my toe occasionally into commercial design, which is something I'd like to do more of.

...with commercial designs, you can be a little braver and wackier.

What attracts you to commercial projects?

There's an emotional side of residential design, meaning a lot more attachment to decisions. So often sensible and somewhat safer choices are made, which of course makes sense as it is someone's home.

But with commercial designs, you can be a little braver and wackier, especially as companies have to stand out to compete. They can respond to trends and take risks because the spaces are often updated every few years again.

Hair dressing salon designed by Abbie Smith Design.
Hair dressing salon designed by Abbie Smith Design.

What's the best part of your job as an interior designer?

I'm sure my favourite is every designer's favourite- the final phase. It's where you can see the jigsaw coming together.

I suppose all designers love this part, where you get to style the scheme and deliver the wow moment to your client.

I used to work on a TV programme called Extreme Makeover, and they called this part the reveal, and that's always resonated with me. Now I get to do the reveal of people's homes, which is my favourite part.

I also love the sourcing phase as I try and collaborate with the client a lot during this time, going to showrooms and discussing options. However, this is also when the project management side steps up too, which is quite time-consuming.

Styling perfection- it's clear to see that this is one of Abbie's favourite parts of the design process.
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Styling perfection- it's clear to see that this is one of Abbie's favourite parts of the design process.

What do you think is the hardest part of your role?

For me, it's the admin and accounting side of owning a design studio.

When you're running a project, there's so much to do. It takes time, patience and planning to keep on top of it all.

I have a great accountant, but he isn't going to send out the day to day invoices or fill out my cost sheets. Balancing all of this with design time, when you're on your own is tricky.

I know there are various apps, and that eporta can help me build my schedules, and send invoices, but I still wish there was someone else to cast an eye over what I'm doing, sometimes.

Now more than ever having a transparent pricing plan is so important
Abbie has a real knack for designing highly curated  yet super comfy corner nooks for armchairs.
Abbie Smith curated comfy corners 2.png
Abbie has a real knack for designing highly curated yet super comfy corner nooks for armchairs.

What's been your most significant learning from running your own business?

Two things, getting the business up and running, secondly choosing a charging model.

When I first started the company, I talked to lots of interior designers and entrepreneurs, the advice I received most was- clients first then get yourself up and running.

I chose instead to get all my ducks in a row first. I focused on getting the website up and running, showcasing projects I'd done for free for friends as my portfolio, so I was comfortable. I had something to show for myself to potential clients.

I look back now, and I'm so glad I did it this way, I got jobs off the back of my website and portfolio because people were confident that I knew what I was doing.

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Pricing- there are so many ways to charge! I've done a bit of all of them, and I think made a few mistakes early on as I tried to get to grips with them. I was reluctant to charge for things like travel costs to sourcing and meetings, so I probably lost some money too.

But looking back I think getting it right came down to confidence and knowing my worth as a designer. Now I have two pricing methods and work out with the client, which is best for them and their project.

I think now more than ever having a transparent pricing plan is so important. Long gone are the days where people come to designers for discounts, because so many are widely available to everyone already. It comes down to value, and all the other elements you bring to a clients life.

I'd probably be that voice in the crowd saying don't be afraid to get your ducks in a row first.

Why do you think design matters?

For me, design has always been important. I'm forever looking at details and seeing how they make a difference.

But people are much more aware of their identity at the moment, from their homes to their clothes; what we put out is who we are. Plus the inspiration for who we can be and where we live is much broader, from social media to boutique hotel stays, we've all experienced how great design can be.

So delivering well-designed spaces makes people feel great, and happy with who they are.

Abbie Smith bold kitchens 2.png
Abbie Smith bold kitchens.png

What do you think is your proudest design moment to date?

I have two. The first wasn't, the biggest job, but it meant a lot to me. The clients were a family emigrating from Canada who had put their total trust in me to get their new home right.

Being so far away, their involvement was limited, and they couldn't see day to day developments. So when the client walked into her finished home and cried, I almost cried.

I don't like to blow my own trumpet, but at the end of that day I thought, I'm really proud of myself.

Abbie Smith the world of cushions.png

My second was my first big commercial project. It was for a TV production company, and I went in thinking I'm never going to get this gig.

If I'm honest, I winged the pitch a little so when I heard I'd won the job it was shock followed by the realisation that I needed to deliver what I'd promised.

As long as you know full well that anything you don't understand you'll learn, being out of your depth can be a great thing, you just have to approach it confidently.

It's so important to ask people questions, read, accept advice and just throw yourself willingly into learning. Often the thought of doing something is a lot worse than actually doing it.

Abbie Smith eclectic dining space design.png
Abbie Smith eclectic dining space 2.png

While every scheme is bespoke to the client, do you have a signature design trait?

While I would say I don't have a style, I know from clients I do. I have a distinctive blend of Scandi, rustic and earthy influences in my schemes. In fact, I'm a bit of a plant woman.

What advice would you give to an interior designer just starting on their own?

I'd probably be that voice in the crowd saying don't be afraid to get your ducks in a row first. Understand the lay of the land, where you want to take your company and the type of design you want to do.

But if you're a creative person, you know what try it! Go and work with other interior designers to work out your strengths, and to highlight your weaknesses. From there, you can hire freelancers to help you when needed.

Abbi Smith devil in the details.png
Abbie Smith devil in the details 2.png

Quick-fire Round

Where is your happy place?

In Hector's bedroom, when I'm reading him a bedtime story. And, also I love his room because I can change the layout all the time and he's too young to care!

If you weren't an interior designer, what would be?

A personal shopper.

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Abbie Smith child bedroom. Available on eporta.

Where is your favourite place to go in London for design inspiration?

It's cliche, but the Design Centre at Chelsea Harbour, because they're always changing things up.

Also, I love going to boutique hotels in this country and abroad. I think if you mix up the feel of a hotel with your real-life you kind of get the perfect interior scenario.

What would your dream project be?

A boutique hotel, in Ibiza. Mainly because I think it would lend itself well to my design style.

You can see how and why Abbie uses eporta here.

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