Behind the Scenes

Becoming an Interior Designer

December 10, 2019

Interior Designer, Ana Engelhorn shares her personal journey to becoming an interior designer after starting out with a background in business administration and hospitality. Now running her own design practice, she shares her thoughts on the challenges the industry faces when it comes to perception – and Pinterest!

Can you describe your current job?

I run an interior design studio in London, working on residential and commercial projects across the UK and Europe. Taking a ‘perfectly imperfect’ approach, we celebrate imperfections found in natural building materials, antiques or pieces of furniture, mixing old with new pieces to create a fresh, timeless look. We also love introducing art and colour into our clients’ interiors.

What is your background and how did you get into interior design?

I grew up in Switzerland but with a Spanish mother and German father, I was influenced by many different cultures. My parents bought distinctive properties and turned them into hotels and restaurants, so I always surrounded by beautiful, unique interiors. Watching these transformations unfold, I valued, above everything else, the authenticity that came through. My father has always been very traditional style-wise. If something was originally designed or made to be in a certain style, he wanted it to remain that. Therefore, if previous owners had modernised a building, he restored it, returning it to its origins. One of the hotels they bought and redid had no heating, so in winter the pipes have to be drained (so they didn’t freeze) and the hotel closed – he really took ‘original features’ to the extreme!

I knew I wanted to run a business but wasn’t sure what, so I initially studied Business Administration and worked in hospitality. However, I was buying and refurbishing and redecorating houses on the side, even gaining critical acclaim in the industry for some of the work I did. Therefore, when I became pregnant with my second child, it felt like the right time to go back to school to become an interior designer and turn my passion into my profession.

Interior designer’s home

Describe an average day in the life of an interior designer.

My days constantly change depending on the projects I have on and the people I am working with. Interior design involves a lot of admin, but if you run your own business, there is even more. With a background in business administration, however, I actually enjoy looking after all aspects of the business, ensuring that what I am doing benefits the whole.

Which elements of your profession do you enjoy the most and/or find the most rewarding?

I love the process of discovery I go through with clients. It starts from the moment we meet, form impressions, create a rapport and go through their brief. For me, it’s important to make a real connection with clients and to be honest and open – keeping open lines of communication. I then go away and create an interior design that brings their vision to life. I live for that magic moment where I’ve presented my design to the client and (if all goes to plan!) I can see that I have understood what they want. That amazing feeling I get when they love how I’ve designed their space is what makes my job so rewarding!

Is there anything new you are excited to be working on?

I have a full house renovation planned in Chiswick. It is very exciting as it is my first full house project in the UK (the others have been mostly in Spain). The CDM, Fire and Environmental steps you have to take here are much more involved than where I’ve worked before, and it’s a great learning experience for me. I’ve realised I don’t always need to be the expert. It’s led me to work with some very talented people who have enriched my knowledge in a way I had never imagined.

Beautiful sitting room

What do you find the most challenging aspects of your job?

The most challenging aspect for me has been to make myself known in the UK, getting the word of mouth recommendations rolling here. Even though I work as an interior designer internationally, I am interested in having clients close to home too – my dream job would be a period building interior design project in London. I sometimes find it hard to go out and actively draw a specific client towards me, instead of waiting for them to find me.

What do you wish you knew before working in the field?

I believe we are who we are because of our experiences, so I hesitate whenever I’m asked what I wish I had known. It probably would have been ideal to study interior design at the innocent age of 19 at University, doing the full 4 years and then have the opportunity to cut my teeth at an interior design studio before launching my own. However, that would have meant I wouldn’t have studied Business Administration or worked in hospitality; running a restaurant and working at a hotel, and I wouldn’t want to have missed that. I think it has shaped what I’m doing now in a positive way.

What would you tell your younger self if you had the chance?

Choose what you want to do and stick to it, regardless of what other people think. It’s best to pave your own way and make your own mistakes rather than listening to others and regretting lost time because of it.

What has been your favourite project to work on?

A 16th century farmhouse restoration in Spain. It was a project where we reused everything we could, bringing the house back to its origins. All new materials that were brought in were natural building materials. The project took two years in total – it was slow going, but an enriching and satisfying project.

Luxury bathroom freestanding ball and claw bath tub with oversized chrome towel rail in a Palamós farmhouse in Catalonia, Spain

Which people do you admire the most in the industry and why?

I admire people who have not only been interior designers but have also created a business, employed others and grown from their small beginning. I also admire interior designers who share their knowledge, wanting to help others start up on their own. One such person is Katherine Pooley. She has been in interior design for 30 years, has grown a large business and now, on top of her business, gives talks and helps designers pave their way.