Clare Gaskin Hertfordshire Country Home
Interviews

Stepping off the conveyor belt into interior design- with Clare Gaskin

Clare Gaskin shares her interior design story so far, as the eponymously named studio celebrates a decade in the industry. The imagery throughout is from Clare's award-winning interiors scheme at a Hertfordshire country house.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and Clare Gaskin Interiors.

A Londoner, born and raised, most of my interior design projects are within the city or surrounding home counties. I set up Clare Gaskin Interiors in 2009, so we are celebrating a decade in the industry this year, which is amazing!

Clare Gaskin- founder of eponymous interior design studio Clare Gaskin Interiors
Modern country house in Hertfordshire by Clare Gaskin.
Clare Gaskin- founder of eponymous interior design studio Clare Gaskin Interiors
Modern country house in Hertfordshire by Clare Gaskin.

But I haven't always been a designer. I studied History of Art and Architecture at Manchester University. I loved this course, but I recognise now I'd unknowingly stepped on to a conveyor belt that would run throughout my twenties.

Graduating from such a degree typically presents two options, working in a gallery or an auction house, and I had my sights set on Sotheby's. I pestered them with letter after letter until they hired me, turning my six-week contract into six years.

Pull up a chair- this sumptuous living room design by Clare Gaskin.
Pull up a chair- this sumptuous living room design by Clare Gaskin.

Sotheby's was eye-opening, broadening my knowledge of furniture, art and different cultures. But, during my time on the valuations counter, think Antiques Roadshow, my love for jewellery design developed, so much so, I spent my evenings qualifying as a gemologist.

Armed with my knowledge of diamonds, I was offered a marketing role in a new Sotheby's diamond spin off, set up in conjunction with Steinmetz.

There were three of us, onboard and we had to be self-sufficient, operating without all the software and tools awarded to in-house teams.

This became my first experience of almost running a company. I had to develop spread sheets to track production, pricing, margins and sales. I regularly travelled to Geneva designing pieces with specialists. Almost running a creative business as I do now.

Tub with a view in the Hertfordshire modern country house.
Tub with a view in the Hertfordshire modern country house.

Heading towards my milestone 30th birthday, I started questioning where I was. I loved my job but wanted to learn something new.

After lots of self-analysis, weighing up my strengths and weaknesses and being really honest with myself, it highlighted my need for creativity.

A builder working on my house had complemented my eye for interior design, which gave me the confidence to start an evening course in design alongside some internships with well known interior designers.

Bold bedroom in the award-winning Hertfordshire modern country home.
Bold bedroom in the award-winning Hertfordshire modern country home.

It became clear it would be tough to turn a placement into a permanent role without more formal training, so I opted to do the certificate course at KLC.

Four weeks in, a friend asked me to pitch to renovate a house in Belgravia which belonged to his principal investor. This was my first client and the start of my business. My interior design studio has grown through referrals to what it is today.

What was it that really attracted you to interior design?

Lots of things, but there was a tangibility to interior design that captured my attention. You see a space transform, from something that doesn't look great or function well into an evolved design that looks fantastic.

The playroom- combining pool and cinema.
The playroom- combining pool and cinema.

Now having practised for nearly a decade, tell us what your favourite thing about being an interior designer is?

It's the client relationship, so many have grown to become friends. Every client is different, and I love interpreting their brief to come up with a design unique to them.

I've always struggled with the concept of a prescriptive 'Clare Gaskin look'. For example, I love colour and will encourage clients to use it, but it's not for everyone. It's their money, and it's their home- who am I to dictate?

Every new client means another learning, so the other benefit of these relationships is constant growth. Plus everyone likes a bit of approval, so when a client adores their new home, it's incredibly fulfilling.

Drama- this bespoke headboard in bronzed silk was designed by Clare Gaskin.
Drama- this bespoke headboard in bronzed silk was designed by Clare Gaskin.

On colour, do you think people are getting braver in using it?

Yes and no. Design has become universally huge, from social media to TV programmes, it's everywhere. Meaning people are exposed to design at all levels, and that affects their perception of things like colour and budget.

You have people pushing neutral palettes and others promoting a technicolour world. Introducing colour is a judgement call about the client. Just because they've seen it somewhere doesn't mean in reality they can live with it every day.

Devil's in the details- patterns and finishes by Clare Gaskin.
Modern Country House 23
Devil's in the details- patterns and finishes by Clare Gaskin.

What's the hardest part of being an interior designer?

It's hard when something goes wrong. Your feelings are exacerbated because these problems are in other's homes, with other's money.

There are going to be blips along the course of any project with so many things to juggle.

You always try and shield your client from them by coming up with solutions, and it helps when you work with trusted contractors who do the same.

Working from home- the office designed by Clare Gaskin for this Hertfordshire country house.
Working from home- the office designed by Clare Gaskin for this Hertfordshire country house.

What's been your most significant learning about running a business?

Learning how to grow my business and decide what direction to take it in with so much noise around. You can feel pressure to simulate others in the industry when actually you need to find your own path.

Secondly, hiring a team. I took on employees while also becoming a mother, and in hindsight, I hired too quickly.

Clients are coming to me because it's my name on the door, the designs they've seen are done by me. If you're the core of your business, you end up getting caught up in the HR and management, so you're no longer doing your actual job.

I work with freelancers now, which allows me to flex up and down. It's not to say that lots of other studios, don't work well with having big teams it just depends on what kind of business you want to nurture.

Top Table- the dining room of this modern country home.
Top Table- the dining room of this modern country home.

What's your proudest design moment to date?

It's probably my crazy Surrey Fun House. It was an incredible project to be involved with working alongside a client who I'd known for years on a brief that gave me so much scope.

The client bought a Georgian Lodge opposite his main house and told me to go nuts, no jokes, that was pretty much the brief. I only had two more interactions with him throughout the project. The grand reveal resulted in the client skipping across the road with happiness.

I went to town on the details, like recreating a robot inspired bar that he loved in Tokyo, in his guest bathroom with a Pacman twist. All the way through to the fun door knocker and Alice in Wonderland doors, the project was a pleasure.

Appearances can be deceiving- the outside of the Surrey Fun House.
Appearances can be deceiving- the outside of the Surrey Fun House.
Alice in Wonderland Doors within the Surrey Fun House project by Clare Gaskin.
Pacman themed wetroom designed by Clare Gaskin.
Alice in Wonderland Doors within the Surrey Fun House project by Clare Gaskin.
Pacman themed wetroom designed by Clare Gaskin.
Games room brimming with colour within the Surrey Fun House project by Clare Gaskin.
Games room brimming with colour within the Surrey Fun House project by Clare Gaskin.

What advice would you give to a designer starting out?

It is so different now to when I was starting out, 10 years ago, I didn't even have a website, let alone social media, and what's more that didn't matter. Now it really does.

My main piece of advice- take baby steps. The business landscape is forever changing, especially regarding the software we choose to use, how we interact with the online world and social media.

Don't feel rushed into buying products and programmes- excel, business cards and networking should be enough to get you started.

Also, don't underestimate your social networks. You don't have to know oligarchs to give you leads, so spread the word and see what comes back.

Kitchen with plum accents within the Hertfordshire country house.
Kitchen with plum accents within the Hertfordshire country house.

Quick fire round

Where is your happy place?

In the morning, when Rufus, my son, gets into our bed.

Where's your favourite place for design inspiration?

Everywhere. When I'm walking to a meeting, going to restaurants, through to the pattern on a skirt someone's wearing on a tube, inspiration is all around, we're just getting worse at looking up and seeing it.

If you weren't a designer, what do you think you'd be doing?

Well, if I'm not a designer, and I'm not an architect, maybe a yoga teacher.

What would your dream project be?

I like variety, so something that I've never done.

A lot of my projects are family homes in London, and while the clients are unique, the building footprints are all quite similar. They just get bigger or smaller dependant on postcode.

So something like a coastal property or a fully carbon-neutral house would be fantastic to try.

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