Lock down has been extended by another two weeks and I think we are all feeling a little down about it. So we thought we would chat to some of the people we admire in the industry to find out what they’re doing to keep busy and positive at home (and also to hear their design stories to inspire us for when life gets back to normal).
Up first we have our very own Yvonne O’Brien. Yvonne has been in the industry for almost 30 years and has a wealth of knowledge and talent to share with us. Here is what she has to say about design, starting out and life after Corona.
Q: LET’S START AT THE VERY BEGINNING: WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP? AND WHAT DID YOU STUDY?
A: Growing up I always loved the idea of decorating, though never thought of it as a career. I was always styling and rearranging furniture in my parents home.
When I finished school, all my friends went to university and I went traveling. I went to London for a year and stayed 5 and half years. I got a temp job working at Nina Campbell’s shop in Walton Str and it was then that I decided that this was the career I wanted and I enrolled in a design course at KLC. After that I got a permanent job at Nina’s , running her concession store at Harvey Nichols.
Q: WHERE DID YOUR CREATIVE JOURNEY BEGIN AND WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THIS WAS YOUR CALLING? DID YOU HAVE A “BIG BREAK”?
A: When I got back to South Africa, I got a job working for Dominique O’Connor. She had an agency working out of her garage in Illovo, selling the Cecile & Boyd’s lamps and lights for Morgan & Associates and it was a real hotspot for Interior Designers. It was during that time that I was introduced to a client who wanted his house done in Bedfordview, and that was the moment I went off on my own.
I think my “big break” was Londolozi. I was working on my own, I had my mother helping me with admin and production, and I got the job to do one of the camps. I was very nervous about taking on this project and it presented me with some big and nerve-wracking challenges. But having pulled off that one camp, 13 years later they have 5 camps and I still work on all 5 of them. And that has probably been by biggest journey.
Q: WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN GETTING TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW, AND HOW DID YOU OVER COME THEM?
A: I think that initial job at Londolozi was also one of my biggest challenges as it was so early on in my career. The biggest challenge of doing a project in the bush is that you’ve only got one shot at it. Everything arrives in the container and you can’t leave behind a piece of furniture or swap out something that doesn’t work. So I remember when that container arrived praying up to the heavens with sweaty hands that all was going to be ok. But when you are in a challenge like that you are very focused and you look over those checklists again and again. There’s just no room for mistakes.
Q: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE JUST STARTING OUT ON THEIR CREATIVE JOURNEY?
A: I advise them to go and work for someone else that has been in the business for a while so that they can learn the ropes. Interior Decorating is not about just being creative; it’s about having the knowledge of running a business and there is a lot more that’s involved. I always say that 80% of the job is production and only 20% is creative. So my advice is to get as much experience as you can before you go out on your own.
Q: TELL US ABOUT THE PICTURE YOU HAVE SENT US? WHAT IS SPECIAL FOR YOU IN THIS AREA OF YOUR HOME?
A: Choosing a picture for my own home is always hard, because as a decorator you are always working on a room. You are always changing things even if it’s just the coffee table that is getting re-arranged or the cushions getting swapped out. So I would choose my entrance hall because it’s the one area of the house that I don’t often change except for the flowers. The picture of my entrance hall often pops up on Pinterest and I always feel proud of seeing it there because I like it so much. It also tells the story of the simplicity of the design work that I am drawn to.
Q: WHAT ARE YOU DOING AT HOME TO KEEP BUSY? IS THERE ANYTHING YOU HAVE TAKEN ON TO CHALLENGE YOURSELF DURING THIS TIME?
A: During this time of lock-down I am really trying to stay in a routine. I am getting to enjoy the things that I don’t usually have the time to do. I am taking full advantage of this time at home, starting my day with meditation and then exercise. I make sure by 8.30 I am dressed with my “face” on to start my day.
I am hoping to do a 3D drawing course. Whether I am going to be able to draw afterwards or not is yet to be seen! But I am going to try because I don’t know if I will ever have this time again to do something that I have always wanted to do. I think it’s also good to take advantage of this time to hone your skills – do what you have to do to be better. At least then when we do come out of this then we will feel a little more empowered.
Q: HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC AFFECTED YOUR BUSINESS, AND DO YOU SEE YOUR BUSINESS CHANGING OUT OF THIS EXPERIENCE?
A: I am just trying to be as hopeful as possible but this pandemic will have a huge impact on our economy… I don’t know yet know how we’re going to come out of this on the other side – there is so much uncertainty. I’ve just told myself to surrender to the uncertainty. I have a shop where I employ 12 members of staff and to close the shop for 6 weeks and to continue without any revenue is really tough. But the thing that keeps me going is that we are all in this together and we have to stay positive. I don’t think the business is going to be the same after this. It is going to change and we have to be prepared for that and be adaptable. We have to look for other ways of running our businesses.
Q: WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED, EITHER PROFESSIONALLY OR PERSONALLY?
A: As I have two sides of my business – the retail side and the design side – I have received good advice for both. On the retail side, where I import furniture, the best advice that I’ve received is “always watch your cash flow”. I completely understand why cash is king because it doesn’t matter how good your business is, you HAVE to always watch the cash flow!
On the interior design side I think the best advice I’ve received is “when you’re doing a project, to do each project as if it were your own home.” As much as you have to follow the client’s brief, you also have to keep in mind what YOU would do creatively. The client has chosen you because they like YOUR style. So I always like to ask myself first “what would I do if it were my own?” You can sometimes lose your way when you don’t follow what instinctively comes to you. You need to always walk away from a project and feel 100% happy with it yourself. Because then your client will too!