A CUP OF TEA WITH: SOPHIE ROBINSON, INTERIOR STYLIST AND PRESENTER
When the Great Interior Design Challenge first appeared on our screens I was transfixed. All of the bubbling in my head about moving into a career in interiors all came to a very sharp point of realness - I needed to do this as my job. And I need to quit my current job! 2 years later I'm here. Working as a stylist (albeit at the very start of the journey) and meeting new and exciting people all the time.
I met Sophie in person at the Amara Interior Blog awards as she was presenting, and we got to chat a little after the ceremony and connected fast as two creative women with crazy kids to keep us busy most of the time! I knew that Sophie would have so much insight to the world of being an interior stylist and being a 'working mum' (cringy term, why don't we ever hear about working dads?!), so I sat down with her to chat all things interiors.
Where did you start out in your career?
I studied 3D Design at university and had aspirations to be a furniture or product designer. After graduating in 1997 I moved to London and got a workshop in the acclaimed Cockpit Arts but was struggling to pay the rent so I began assisting an Interiors stylist as a way to make ends meet. My first job was working for Jacky Boase who is the mum of a mate of mine from university. Back then I don’t think I would have known this career even existed without this introduction. I then started doing shopping pages for various magazines which led into my first full time job on BBC Good Homes magazine as an in-house Stylist.
You are one of the judges for the very brilliant Great Interior Design Challenge. How did that come about?
The casting team were looking for top interior designers to judge the contestants. Because my career has been built helping people design their own homes on an achievable budget, incorporating high street buys, bargains and upcyling, they felt I’d be the perfect choice to compliment a more conventional professional Interior Designer like Daniel (Sophie's co-presenter). Daniel Hopwood and I together represent the full spectrum of interior design.
We both agree that Interior Design isn’t just something for the rich and famous and good design can be enjoyed and achieved by everyone. However if you want a career in Interior Design both Daniel and I are strong advocates of getting the proper training. If you are going into someone else’s home, suggesting structural changes and managing large budgets, you seriously need to know what you are doing. Interior design is so much more than picking out a pretty paint colour.
Interior styling is becoming more and more of an ideal job choice for people. Do you think it’s a hard industry to crack without the right contacts?
You have to make your own contacts but it’s a very ‘word of mouth’ industry. The jobs don’t get advertised. My advice is to assist and learn from the best. Be good, work hard, watch and learn. Always strive to make a good impression as that way people remember you. All my jobs, including roles in TV have been referrals from people who have worked with me before and have found me to be hardworking, dedicated and someone they can rely on to deliver the goods. In this industry you’re only ever as good as your last job. Your reputation goes before you, so you must ensure you always do a great job, on time, on brief, on budget and that you get on well with everyone on the shoot.
Do you think interior styling can be learnt or is it a natural gift?
I think people have a natural creative gift for styling, I see it in both professional and non- professional people, the innate ability to make things hang together and look stylish, interesting and unique. But being a successful Interior stylist is only one part creative. You have to be a great people pleaser, liaising with tricky clients, pernickety editors, whilst getting the most out of PR’s and suppliers. You have to be supremely organised as pulling together a shoot is a huge logistical operation. You also have to be a great collaborator as producing jaw-dropping images is very much a team effort with both the client and the photographer. You can learn all these things through plenty of experience but you’ll only go far if you have these attributes.
What is the funniest / weirdest thing you’ve ever had to do for a styling job?
It has to be a commission for Madame Tussauds for The Ideal Home Show. I had to design 5 bathrooms for 5 wax figure celebrities. So I had Jennifer Lopez, Simon Cowell, Shirley Bassey, George Clooney and Leonardo Di Caprio and I had to imagine what style bathrooms they’d have and then design and execute them for the show. It was a heap of fun and really most surreal.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?
My favourite part is firstly getting the brief and pulling together the ideas and inspiration. I also totally love the end result, be it the final image or the finished project, it’s so satisfying. My least favourite part is packing it all away again at the end. Especially if things get returned to the wrong shop!
How do you find balance between having a successful career and being wifey and mama?
Balancing my working life with my family life is my biggest challenge of my life so far. I took some precious time out from my career when my son was born. I breastfed him for the first year, so that was limited travel and working away from home. However, I filmed 2 episodes of 60 Minute makeover during this time, the first one when Arthur was just 3 months old (talk about baby brain!). I took my Mum and our motor home to location, and popped in and out throughout the days filming! It was exhausting, but it worked.
When I'm filming GIDC it takes four months and I’m away from home three nights a week. It puts pressure on my husband and Arthur misses me, but it works for us because it’s not all year round. I’d really struggle to do it without the support of my family. When I’m not filming I like to dedicate more time to being at home. Now Arthur has just started school I’m relishing the available time I now have, which is why I’ve decided now is the time to start my blog. I wouldn’t have found the time to give it the dedication it needed to before.
One advice I’d give new Mums who want to get into blogging or a new career is ‘Chill out’! Be good to yourself, focus on your baby, and trust me, before you know it they’re at school, you’re getting 8 hours sleep every night and you have a sense of your life back! I pinned the poem ‘Slow Down Mummy’ by R.Knight above my desk, and it was the best reminder to savour each moment.
What would your tips be for someone wanting to break into the industry of styling, how can they get that initial foot in the door?
My in road into the industry was to assist accomplished stylists. I then worked with photographer’s assistants to do test shoots, so I could practice styling my own images. This gave me confidence and helped me grow a portfolio. If I were starting out now I’d be blogging and Instagram-ing for sure.
In your opinion what is the one single most valuable lesson that you have learnt in this field that has helped your career?
That’ll it’ll be all right on the night. Organising a huge interiors shoot is daunting and you’re relying on so many people to get it right. It used to keep me up at night but one thing that experience has taught me is that it always comes together.
What’s next for you Sophie?
I’m going to be focusing on my own Blog www.sophierobinson.co.uk in 2016 and working on sharing my advice and experience of interior design with the hope to inspire people to have more individual and colourful homes! For an insight into my colourful world follow me on Instagram.
You can learn more about my professional styling work on my website www.sophierobinsoninteriors.co.uk.
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