Four Skills Every Interior Designer Must Have

Starting a new design business is scary. In fact, starting any business is scary. It takes skills in a variety of areas. Some of which are pertinent to the design industry.  There are skills that every interior designer must have of course but first, let’s look at the interior design industry itself.

It’s a service industry

It’s a service industry. You’re going to get difficult clients, strange hours, asked to do strange things.

It’s Personal

It’s personal. Of course it is. It’s someone’s home. Why would it not be personal? You’re going into people’s lives for a protracted period of time. You’ll meet their families, their pets, their friends..

If you don’t want to know that aspect of people’s lives you’re in the wrong profession. For those of you seeking an interior designer, it’s worth noting that your life will be open to your designer  – it works the other way around too!

But what is an interior design business? Put simply, it’s helping someone else. Your skills are guiding them to the right design, layout and style for them..

Notice I said THEM, not you. This is such a common misconception. Years ago I was a stylist and I met so many other stylists who styled their client the same way each time.  I’ve met designers who do the same thing and only do their own designs; no client involvement and they won’t change, budge or make alterations. Not only is it self limiting, but it’s short sighted business-wise.

You have to be able to design in all sorts of ways – not just your signature style. The essence of being a good designer is being able to design different styles – not just one way – be it fusion, minimalistic, neutrals, retro, shabby chic or whatever.

interior designer must have

interior designer must have

interior designer must have

interior designer must have

I’m different in that I work collaboratively.  It’s a team design. The client and me.  Yes, it’s great to be left alone sometimes and get really creative, but in my experience, when they client says “I don’t want to make any decisions”, that means “I want you to come up with solutions to all the problems I give you at the start and then some more problems I create later when I’ve spoken to all my friends and looked through a few expensive magazines and completely blown my budget”!

Most clients have ideas and themes they want to use. Again, be prepared that this is going to happen. Remember – it’s THEIR property – not yours.

So, once you know it’s the right industry for you and you accept that it’s a service for others, you can decide whether you want to be part of a larger firm to get your grounding OR you want to set up on your own.  Today we’re going to focus on ‘Your Own Business’

What skills must an interior designer have?


And self belief!  When I say this, I mean the confidence in your team and your tools to do this. I also mean the ‘time’ to do it. You cannot rush the process of design. Things take longer than you think – you are relying on other workmen and suppliers. Things sometimes take more money and you need to be able to communicate these changes to the client professionally.  All this takes confidence in your abilities and your teams.


Are you neat and tidy?

interior designer must have


Are you organised? How is your diary? Organised? Do you know what the plan for the week is? Do you know how you’re getting to certain place?

Do you know what’s coming up in two weeks? Do you plan ahead?

Futuristic and strategic – scary words maybe, but you need to develop these if you are going to plan an entire project.  Being a designer isn’t just designing. It’s Project Management. You need to convey what you want to a builder, soft furnishing makers, carpenters, electricians, roofers, delivery men and installers.

Plus you’ll need to keep the client informed (to a degree!), happy and excited.

Problem Solving

Things will go wrong. Unexpected items will come up. I completed an Edwardian House a few years ago and a random steel beam appeared in a very ancient extension that was being rebuilt. The architects missed it and so did the structural surveyors. Even the previous owners didn’t know it was there. Here are two pictures of the site during work.

interior designer must have

interior designer must have

That steel beam had to be removed. That cost extra time and money and the client had to pay for both. There are no ways around something like that. Other problems are more commonplace.


These are the most common hold up. This wouldn’t be a problem in most people’s lives, normally, but when a delivery of lights are promised (and they don’t turn up) and the electricians are due on another job, you can have issues.


Issues with workmen are few and far between thank goodness. But other ‘one man band’ suppliers can suddenly fall ill or have to take time off for a variety of reasons. Contingency planning is vital. If someone can’t make a delivery and installation of curtains, do you rearrange? Can you rearrange?!

All these things have to be thought out and you need to give yourself extra leeway to cover yourself. Clients won’t be interested if a workman or supplier can’t get to you because of a strike that they’ve known weeks about or even a funeral that they have to attend (which they’ve also known about previously).

You need to jump in and save the schedule.

Trucks breaking down, gas leaks from adjoining properties, police blocking roads due to flash mob protesters – I’ve had it all.

Sometimes there really is nothing you can do.

In these cases you have to re-route plans to another day and make sure everything and everyone has been told and they know the change of plans. You cannot just shrug your shoulders – this is where the practice of giving yourself plenty of time comes into it’s own.

Marketing/PR/Business Acumen

Where are you placing yourself? High end? Families? Commercial?

What is your USP (unique selling point). What do you want to become known for? What are you and what are you not? Knowing this and sticking to it is crucial. Do not send mixed messages. Being a jack of all trades and master of none is often an issue.

In our quest to help anyone and everyone, especially at the beginning, we tend to take on everything. I know as I’ve done it. I get asked all the time “do you do XYZ?” And I invariably say “yes, I don’t think there’s much that I don’t do”. It’s the truth, but when you’re starting out, be careful not to take on too much.

I specialise in three things; designing family properties, rental property renovation and heritage building refurbishment,often into luxury apartments – but keeping the heritage aspects intact.

You need to ask yourself and establish why you’re different.  I’m more relaxed than highbrow and crucially, I look after those properties going forward. My marketing USP is that I work with my clients – I don’t dictate what they should like, feel or have. You’d be amazed how many designers says they do this but don’t actually do it.

So there you have it. Four skill that every interior designer must have – or at least nail down!

  1. Confidence
  2. Organisation
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Business Acumen

If you concentrate with these, your design business will thrive. There are lots of good reasons to be an interior designer and a love of design is one of them.  Good design is inherent and will be recognised. But if you don’t convince your client on your ideas, you don’t organise in a timely manner, you can’t fix a problem quickly and you don’t market yourself clearly, you’ll be floundering around and not travel in any one direction but around in circles.

This is true of any business of course but it is very relevant in such a visual industry. For more information on what an interior designer must have, subscribe to my YouTube channel, where you can see me out and about, designing the homes of London.

So that’s all for this time. if you have learned anything from this video, like it, share it and subscribe to my channel for my next words of wisdom!

Happy Designing!