Rugby is a tough sport. You don’t get anywhere without sheer determination. Jake Henry has that in abundance. At the age of 30, Jake has 11 years as a professional rugby player behind him, and in the world of professional sports, that’s a long career. Most pro-rugby player’s careers last around 5-6 seasons before injury ends the dream so there always needs to be a fall-back plan. But when most people look towards planning a career change often it’s in a similar industry or discipline. Many pro-athletes feel safe remaining in the same world and go on to become coaches or personal trainers, but 5 years ago when Jake started planning for his ‘retirement’ he didn’t look to rugby for his next career move. He chose another long-standing passion – design.
All too aware that a career as an elite sportsman can be short-lived, Jake thought long and hard about what he’d do when his rugby career came to an end. When you’re embarking on a career change in your 30’s the best place to start is by looking at what you love.
Jake’s fascination with interior design has developed over time. What started as a love of limited edition streetwear and sneakers soon spread to all elements of lifestyle design and into interiors, furniture and architecture. Jake went from watching the popular home building and renovation shows like Grand Designs to seeing the intricacies of the interiors in every show he watched. He noticed the furniture, lighting, how layouts were organised, and spaces curated. This fascination led Jake to look at interior design courses.
The practicalities of studying a ‘normal’ degree would have meant taking 3-5 years off, something which is impossible when you have bills to pay. The life of a pro-athlete also means lots of travel. Jake was playing for a French rugby team which meant long periods of time on the road. The National Design Academy’s online interior design degree seemed to fit the bill.
Jake's Tips for Getting Freelance Work
Get Out & About
When you’re starting a new business venture or freelance career, networking is incredibly important. Go to events. I met so many interesting people at Clerkenwell Design Festival. Furniture makers, other designers, architects. Just talk to people.
Use Your Existing Network
Some of my work comes through previous connections within the world of rugby. For instance, Puresport is a business founded by ex-professional rugby player Grayson Hart. When Grayson was looking for someone to design his flagship retail store, he’d already heard about my career change on the grapevine. A few people have also read an article I wrote for Life After Professional Sport. This talked about my experiences as a pro athlete and not having a plan B for life afterwards – until I started my interior design course.
Research & Reach Out
I wouldn’t have won the Shard contract for Blis if I hadn’t been brave enough to reach out to the business owner on LinkedIn. Once I found out who the job was for, I did my research and found that we had some common ground – the owner was a rugby fan. So, I sent him a message. The worst anyone can say is no, but he said yes. If I hadn’t taken the time to message him I would just have been one of dozens of people who applied – it’s a great way of standing out but also you get the chance to prove you’re really passionate about the project.
Jake's Favourite Projects
A CBD sports brand, Puresport was a brilliant project to work on. It was a totally sustainable biophilic design and I was really pleased with the outcome.
This project was a competition advertised on the VLS for Building Society Beehive Money. The competition was to design a hospitality box for the brand at the Leicester Tigers Stadium – a perfect opportunity and something i had a unique insight into. I won the competition and the box was created exactly as I had designed it.
Blis: The Shard
I’ve just completed my biggest project to date – for Blis, at The Shard. I loved Blis’s branding and knew that it would be a fun project, if challenging. Again, there’s a biophilic theme which runs throughout the office space and brings some life into a steel and glass box. The views are pretty incredible and the space looks amazing as the sun goes down.
Jake’s next project will see him working with a new client with premises in Soho and New York. He also tends to take his love of furniture one step further. After a break from studying he intends on enrolling on a furniture design course to help him with his aim of designing, and eventually making, his own chair.
“I’m quite handy and have made some great connections in the business. I visited the workshop of a wonderful craftsman who made some beautiful furniture using steam bent woods. I’d love to work with him on my own creation.”