Laura Hart | Founder of Surface House | Where It Began

A Personal Story - Starting an Interior Design Business

 

Lets Start At The Beginning

I’m guessing that no one really wants to hear about the good old days of being young and carefree.. When the biggest worry in life was leaving a book bag at school.

So we will breeze past that bit…

I have ALWAYS been obsessed with art, drawing, being creative. Owning lots of pens but never using them. I would sit and think for hours at my little red drawing desk. (Maybe you really do know what you want to be when you grow up at an early age.)

 

School

I first took a real interest in textile design at school, when it was by chance that I took Textiles as a GCSE option, not really understanding what it was all about or knowing what to expect. It didn’t take long until it became a major interest. College A levels breezed by, with my other subjects fading behind my growing obsession with print and textiles. When I first discovered screen printing I was in heaven!

I was lucky enough to take a one year Foundation Art Degee following that, which was one of the best things I ever did. It completely changed my perception of things and opened my mind up to so much. It took a lot of adjusting as I had spent so much time studying textiles and not art; I saw them as two very different things. The Art course helped me to find a unique perspective of the two subjects and merge both to create my own unique style. I didn’t always get along with everyone or every idea and project that we attempted but the it all added to that year being an invaluable experience.

University – Degree in Printed Textile and Surface Design 

I chose to do my degree at Birmingham City University, in Printed Textiles and Surface Design, many people were trying to push me to move away and live a student life, I didn’t want that. University for me was about working hard, saving and doing something with the degree I was paying thousands for.

It seemed like a tough three years, at the time. I thought that what I was doing was so difficult, but with hindsight,  I realise that being at university was such a different world, there was always support and guidance throughout. We also tended to focus on one project at a time and become completely engrossed in it, shutting out everything else, if only I was able to do that now!

If anyone is at that stage in their lives now or is planning to go to university, my advice to you would be to always try to cherish and make the most out of every minute you have there. The incredible resources and knowledge that you have access to. Along with the vast amount of time you have available to you, in which you may do whatever you want. It is priceless!

Make the Most of Every Opportunity

The image above is from one of those experiences I am talking about. This was a collaborative project between Birmingham City University and Global Colour Research for the trend ‘Flint’. Inspired by neolithic man and raw materials.

I worked so hard to ensure I had a chance at being part of the final display for the project; which was a stand at the Interiors UK Show 2013. My ‘caveman’ wallpaper was chosen for the main ‘Flint’ display and I was thrilled.

*Chair, flooring and other artwork pieces are by other students from the University.

 

Advice for Students

At the time it was so easy to become completely absorbed in a project, shut out the bigger picture, get into a panic about deadlines and enjoy the freedom a little too much. But it came as such a shock to me and it was really hard to adapt to the real world afterwards, when the safety blanket has been taken away.

Think about money, that is my second piece of advice, there are so many examples of people who left university and became sucked into their part time job, (me being one of them) suddenly becoming full time, getting promoted, living comfortably with the new found regular income. It is all too easy to take this route, which is fine if you’re happy of course! But for those (like me) who didn’t intend for it to happen, can feel stuck in their situation and unsure what to do next. If you have an idea of a plan of action once you graduate, even a loosely knitted together plan, you will have more chance of achieving what you always dreamed of!

I left university not really knowing what I wanted to do afterwards, I had ideas and ambitions but didn’t know what actions I should take to make them happen.

So that is my design history in a few short paragraphs..


Starting out in the Design World

My first experience in the real design world was through Tektura Wallcoverings. They had previously printed some of my work to show at the NEC Interiors UK show. Whilst I was at university and I managed to stay in touch with them. They are always very busy, but I managed to organise a few design projects with them for commercial design collections. There wasn’t a promise that they designs would be taken on, but I wanted to really go for this opportunity.

I adapted some of my final year degree work, to a less conceptual standard and created designs that were ready to sell to commercial clients. These were completed in between of working at my retail job, which was taking up more and more of my time.  Tektura took on the some of the designs and as a result I had work sold across the UK, and in America, which to me was such an incredible feeling.

 The above image is of one of my Geometric Wallpapers, designed for Tektura Wallcoverings and used by Red Frog Interior Design. A beautiful office redevelopment of the head offices at Victoria Plum UK.
*Image courtesy of Red Frog Design.

Leaving a Full Time Job to Start a Business

I managed to save as much money as I could from my two years of working. With the hope of eventually leaving start and run my own business, I just didn’t know when that might be. There came a point when I needed to make an important decision, either sign a management contract, or not progress any further within the company, (which I really didn’t want to do). I realised that this was my chance! Yes, the money would have been great if I chose to stay but by leaving I was going to get a chance to reconnect with the thing I was most passionate about, design.

Of course I chose the second option, but it wasn’t easy. I will tell you more about that now.

I was free of work for almost a year, trying to sort myself out and focusing hard on how I was going to make my passion work as a career. There were many moments when I felt like I had done the wrong thing, thinking I shouldn’t have left my job etc. But if you’re like me, when you have set your heart on making something work, you won’t be beaten until you’ve made it happen.

A Luxury Interiors Brand Was Born

I started by thinking long and hard about what sort of business I was going to create, there is SO much competition in the design world nowadays and trying to break through the noise was not going to be easy. I planned, plotted and designed my way through that year, trying to stay sane and positive that I was making progress all the time.

The most logical thing was to build the business around what I’m good at. I knew I wanted to sell a print product, with a particular market in mind. My design style isn’t particularly categorised or themed as a whole. I enjoy mixing ideas together and testing new concepts, over designing to trends. I also decided I wanted to focus on design for wallpaper, so that the of launch collection would be showcasing the print and surface design, not my product making skills. (Cushions for example).

It all started to come together in early 2016.

Business Name

It took a long time to decide on a business name, almost a year had gone by, I had been working on designs and business planning and research, but the name decision was really holding me back.

I needed to register the business, buy a domain name, set up a website, start social media accounts and design all of the branding and packaging!

For a while I entertained the idea of using my own name as many designers do, but there are already a number of Laura Harts already working under their own name so I ruled that out. I was filling a book with ever changing thoughts and lists of potential names, it is such an important decision. It’s not like you can just go back and change it if you change your mind! After much stress and very nearly calling the business ‘Flamingo Tree’, I eventually plucked ‘Surface House’ from somewhere in the back of my mind.

Why? What Next?

It just clicked, it had to be. It was a name that related to the subject matter of the business, (surface design for luxury interiors). The name was also impartial from any one particular style of design. Which allows me to have total creative freedom of the direction I took the brand and collections.

I raced to check the availablity of surfacehouse.com and it wasn’t taken. I checked around for any other businesses called Surface House or anything too closely related but it was unused. It was super exciting, once I had that name, within a couple of days I had registered as a sole trader, and made quick progress with other aspects of the business branding. Now I needed to spend some time working the name into all of the business stationary and templates etc that I created but were still sitting there, nameless and colourless.

Colour and Design

I tried to keep things super simple with the colour, theme, logo and style of branding. The greys give a softer more inviting look to text and there is only one other colour that I use hints of. A fresh, elegant green/grey which adds personality and distinctiveness.

 

Creating the Website

I had planned out all of the page and content layouts prior to even naming the business. With the intention of making the website from scratch with the help of a family member. We worked so hard on bringing it all together, but something just wasn’t right with the finished product. Trying to create a website without up to date website design knowledge was a mistake and a waste of time.

We still launched it after all the effort we had put it but after about a week we decided we should go back to the drawing board and start again! This time, after more research into website design, we realised the joys of SquareSpace and other similar sites. They have very advanced templates and guides to help you create something wonderful with little website making experience. We chose SquareSpace, bought a years subscription and got on with reinventing the whole Surface House site to achieve our ‘luxury interiors’ branded website. Using the SquareSpace technology was a dream and so much easier than trying to do it all yourself.

Everything works seamlessly together, I will be writing more about the development of the website in a blog post coming soon, showing our first attempts and learning curves. Subscribe to my newsletter and you will be the first to know when it is posted!

 

Print Designs And Photography

I eventually finalised the Surface House printed wallpaper launch collection, alongside setting up the business itself. Everything was test printed to make sure the colours and scales were all as good as could be. The launch collection has a variety of design styles. From a New York Cityscape geometric print to hand drawn florals and birds with an element of abstract.

I now had to get some lifestyle images of the wallpaper in situ. To give customers a sense of scale and environment stye. My first instinct, as I had done previously at university, was to take photographs of real interiors and super impose my wallpaper onto the wall using Photoshop. This created some okay images and some not so great; I tried using my own house, family and friends’ houses and contacted hotels to ask permission to photograph their interiors too.

After much trialling I figured that the best way to get a great picture of the wallpaper was to photograph the wallpaper itself, which can prove difficult when you only have a couple of sample metres of each print. I will be sharing some of photography experiences in a blog post coming soon, I’ll discuss props, ideas, issues and share some behind the scenes imagery. Join the mailing list to be notified when it launches!

Marketing Strategy

I had created a business set up. Most aspects of the business online presence. Finished the designs for the launch collection and photographed them ready for sale.. Now what??

It’s all about marketing.

I would have never guessed how much of my time was going to be spent on marketing, when I first started the business. It is a never ending beast that grows and grows, and can be overwhelming. It can be especially difficult when things like money are working against you.

 

Use social media to develop contacts and spread updates about the business. It’s so important to maximise the online presence, supporting the website and brand reputation.

 

Advertising: Surface House featured in the World of Interiors, has launched Google Adwords campaigns and held stands at craft / art shows. To show off the new collections and meet potential clients face to face. (Read more about planning, organising and running a craft fair soon in an upcoming blog post!)

 

Not on the High Street

I became a partner with Not on the High Street to help to increase the visibility of my products. It was absolutely the right thing to do and has been a great few months with them so far. Selling through my sellers page and always learning about market trends and sales patterns. If you would like to read a blog post about the application process for Not on the high street, leave your comment below.

You can view the Surface House Not On The High Street storefront by clicking the image below.

 


Summary (The long story short)

  •  I have always been in love with art, design and creativity. After graduating I was able to work on projects for Tektura Wallcoverings. (In between of my non design related retail job.) I saved up my wages and chose to leave work. Used my savings to live and to set up my own business.
  • Starting my own business proved to be a lot harder than I could of ever imagined. It has been a surreal and rewarding experience at the same time. Everyday I continue to feel the pressures of trying to make the business successful. To prove to myself that I can do it.
  • It has been a rollercoaster year of ups and downs. After a lot of hard work I am now seeing some success for Surface House. I sometimes have to tell myself that it has only been a year and that I have achieved a lot of great things. I just always want more.
  • Onwards and upwards, I have recently launched a new Geometrics print collection for Surface House. Quite a stark contrast to the original collection. I have also expanded into soft furnishing fabrics.

 

Tropical palm leaf trellis design, avocado green wallpaper. Bold wallpaper for living room wallpaper ideas.

 New Surface House Collection of Home Accessories

 

To find out more about Surface House luxury interiors click the images above or here.

 

 

I really hope you enjoyed finding out more about me and how I started the business. For more detailed insights into specific areas of the business, join the newsletter and check out the upcoming blog posts!

Please do leave your questions or comments below and I will reply to everyone.

Thanks for reading,

Laura Hart

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *