As I reach a point in my career as an interior designer, which I now refer to as over 35 years of experience, I am also led to reflect on the vast difference between starting my Australian interior design journey in 1997 to the interior design world of 2023. If you’re feeling nostalgic, join me for a little recap from then to now.
Sydney in the 90s as an interior designer
I emigrated to Sydney from Johannesburg in 1985 with my husband Robin. I worked as an interior designer in South Africa, but had to start from scratch when arriving in Sydney, whilst juggling raising my three daughters. As I re-entered the workforce in 1997 from my home office I didn’t know a lot of people in the trade. I knew where fabric houses and retail spaces were, but certainly didn’t know any manufacturers, upholstery or painters… these trades I originally had to look up in the Yellow Pages (long before it was an online directory).
A lot has changed in over 26 years since I first started working as an interior designer in Sydney. There was internet access in the late nineties, but certainly not as we know it today. This is a period of time when I would use a fax machine to send orders to vendors, and a landline to contact rather than a mobile phone. I used to use a manual Excel sheet in the form of a ledger book.
Over time I compiled a little black book of addresses and phone numbers of my favoured and trusted suppliers or tradespeople, before devices came along that had directories built into them (although at this time you couldn’t make a phone call from those technologically advanced devices, you had a separate mobile phone for that!). I had a hard-cover diary which was completely necessary to keep organised, something I still use even today as I love to write, in lead pencil, black or green rollerball pen.
Aside from the lack of contacts I initially had in the Sydney area, there were other challenges to interior design that certainly don’t pose any sort of problem in today’s fast-paced world of design. Before the internet flourished and everything became available online, it was incredibly difficult to access international products. Unless you went to an overseas fair or travelled extensively you wouldn’t know a lot of things even existed back then, having to rely on what others imported into Australia.
Even if you saw something in a magazine that would work perfectly for a project, the freight cost to import single pieces would be so high that it would be prohibited to consider importing the item.
In the early noughties architects didn’t have interior designers within their practices. After the GFC in 2008 this completely shifted, as architects embraced the value of interior design and incorporated designers into their own practices. This saw a major change within the industry altogether that we embraced.
What I love about then
I don’t particularly miss anything from my early years as an interior designer in Sydney; I appreciate that the world has moved and everything has gotten better as time progressed. At the time it suited me to work from home while my children were young. I had to have a lot of self-discipline and motivation, to ensure that my days were structured. Once the children were in school, I was at my desk designing or hitting the streets of Sydney hunting and gathering.
Back then I did everything from start to finish completely on my own. I could start a project from a single piece of fabric alone. If I am decorating a room I know instantly what to do with the fabrics, from the sofa, chairs, curtains, and cushions, I will put the fabrics together then the furniture, with a combination of colours and textures. But eventually wearing every hat became harder and harder, which is where my amazing team of interior designers and interior architects come in.
What I love about now
The explosion of the internet has to be the single biggest advantage to the interior design industry today. Here’s a few examples why:
My website – when I first started in interior design I used to have to take a physical portfolio to showcase my work to a potential client. Drawings, photographs, all encapsulated in an A2 leather folder. Today I can simply direct a potential client to my website to view my work, our ethos, the musings in our blog.
Social media – I feel that this is a massive advantage for designers today. Not only as an avenue to showcase work or journey but to draw inspiration from. Social media has helped us to engage and communicate our love of design and hopefully inspire our audiences.
Marketing – if you were recruiting before the internet you relied on the SMH trade section on a Wednesday to advertise your role. If you wanted to advertise for new clients (that weren’t from word of mouth) you relied on a small ad in a magazine or newspaper. The internet has opened up so many more opportunities to reach potential clients and create magic together.
Now we take iPads to our site meetings with clients. We can take images, illustrate them, show the client drawings/plans. If we’re discussing something we can quickly Google it to show them what we mean, rather than trying to explain it descriptively.
What I love about our future
The main difference between then and now are the important connections that I have forged over the many years I have been working in interior design in Sydney. I am very well connected within the industry. I have built up connections with not only trades & suppliers, lines of credit, trust and reliability, but also a professional circle that I consider both colleagues and friends. I belong to two different professional women’s groups, where we all support each other in our separate ventures, a level of support that I never had at the beginning of my journey, but that I am very grateful for and will be a massive asset to my future in the design space.