We continue our Industry Professional video series this week to bring you expert advice regarding the Interior Design industry. With a wealth of knowledge and over 20 years Interior Design experience, we asked industry expert Susie Rumbold some important questions.
We interviewed award-winning Interior Designer Susie Rumbold the Creative Director and Owner of Tessuto Interiors to get her important portfolio tips and advice for our budding designers, we discuss the important skills every designer should have, the importance of being part of a professional design organisation and we talk about her team’s current Interior Design projects.
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Susie Rumbold: Tessuto Interiors Interview
My name is Susie Rumbold, I am the Creative Director of Tessuto Interiors Ltd. I set my business up nearly 22 years ago.
What specialist skills are most important within your team?
As time’s gone on, and I’ve taken on more staff and the projects we’ve taken on have become more complex, and also, as the industry has changed and become more technical, people are beginning to be more specialist in their roles. The job, I suppose, splits into 2 halves, there’s one half which is what’s called FF and E, and that basically means that’s sourcing and specifying, so it could be tiles, bathroom sanitary ware, taps, furniture, kitchen appliances. So you’ve got the specification side and then the costing and estimating side which goes with that.
And then on the other side of the coin, you’ve got the drawing which has become amazingly sophisticated, so you know not only are we doing computer aided drawings now but we are able to layer on all our lighting, we can put them into 3 dimensions and give clients models of their spaces so they can see exactly what they’re going to get. And it’s very hard to be a specialist in all of those areas, because you’ll naturally lean one way or the other, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day, in the working day. I always try and make sure that people are bought on to a level in all areas, because if they can keep a foot perhaps in both camps, even if they do perhaps lean more towards the CAD side, it means that they are promotable. So what I look for from the staff that I have is to then develop a series of team leaders that can then run their own projects.
What is your typical project workflow?
You start off with a survey of the building and then you kind of go ‘ok what can we do with this?’ So the team leader would maybe sit down and bounce some ideas around, that then gets passed to one of the CAD specialists who will actually draw that up and detail it out and they will flag up anything that isn’t working or any pinch points or anything that’s not sensible because sometimes something can look great in a sketch but it doesn’t actually work when you start to really look at the space.
So once that’s done, you probably have a couple of different goes at revising that, that’s what’s known as a GA or a general arrangement. So then, take the bathroom in the corner, you know you’ve got a shower, you know you’ve got a basin, you know you’ve got a loo, you then have to decide, what’s the style. And so the FF and E designer decides at that point works with the CAD person to come up with the items that are going to go into that room, the CAD person again puts those icons into the GA, makes sure that they work and there is space for them and it all kinds of hangs together and then we’ll produce the detailed elevations.
How do you decide on a final design concept?
So you’ve taken a brief, you’ve discussed with the client what it is they think they want, and then you come up with photographs and you kind of go ‘well, is this the sort of thing you had in mind?’ and they’ll say yes or no. We often get actually clients to set up Pinterest pages, that can work really well. So they do their own “pinning” and then they pass things to you, so it is collaborative so you know things go backwards-and-forwards, backwards-and-forwards and the team works together all the time.
What projects are your team currently working on?
Varying in size from an enormous job where we’re converting an office building into residential and we’re doing 198 studio apartments and 42 2-bedroom flats. And we’re doing this fabulous watermill which is a private client, we’re doing a development again converting an office building into 5 very high-end flats in St. James which is going to be gorgeous, and that’s the first of 3 buildings that we’re going to be doing for that client. And then we’re doing part of a palace in Jeddah, which is kind of exciting.
How do you maintain a positive work environment?
We’re very collaborative in the way we work and certainly when I’m recruiting that’s probably the key thing I look for; ‘is this person going to fit happily into the existing team.’ And actually we are a very popular practice, people actively want to come and work for us. I decided that when I set up my own business, I would set up a business that was the sort of business that I would like to work in.
How do you recruit new team members?
We take on interns and we take them on for typically 3 months and we pay them, we don’t expect them to work for nothing. If they fit, we know pretty quickly, usually within 4-6 weeks if they are going to sort of stay with us and you know I’ll then have a quiet word and sort of say ‘well, if you’re enjoying it then we invite them to stay on’ and normally we would put them on a 12 month contract and then at the end of that period they would then go permanent. So that’s how we’ve recruited I think pretty much everybody.
What are the most important skills for a designer?
They should have good CAD skills, that’s definitely important. Even if they don’t necessarily go on to develop them to a great level, they need to come in at least knowing their way around a drawing. And then they need to be methodical, and they need to demonstrate that in their portfolios. Above all, it’s about communication, so people that interview have to be able to show me that they can communicate. As interior designers we are in the business of selling and it’s all about selling so you need to be able to communicate and sell your ideas.
You might think that what you doing is actually designing gorgeous things and of course that’s a key part of it but what you’re really doing is taking those gorgeous things that you’ve designed and saying to someone ‘have this in your house or have this in your office or have this for your restaurant’. So you have to be able to sell the ideas, you have to be able to sell the solutions to their problems, you have to be able to sell your inspiration. So you need a whole raft of tools to enable you to paint pictures for the client so that they can see what it is they’re getting and allow them to understand how you are going to solve their problems.
What do you look for in a portfolio?
I would like to see some really nice creative concept stuff, I’d like to see how that then translates into a scheme, I would also like to see examples of their technical drawing, certainly a floor plan, probably some joinery or something like that as well or maybe a lighting plan or something just so that they can demonstrate that they’ve thought about all aspects of it.
And I would expect them to be able to talk fluently about their inspiration and who the client was and how they’d come to those conclusions and what the clients problem was and how they’d solved it. Because that’s what it is, its all about you know ‘I haven’t got the bedroom for the baby I’m about to have’ or ‘we’re a growing practice and we need to fit 10 more desks in, how do I do it?’
Is hand-drawing still an essential skill?
Whenever I’m explaining anything to anyone I’ve always got a pencil in my hand so I do think that that is kind of you know you’re always peppering whatever you’re doing, the margins of your book with diagrams of details or whatever it might be because it’s such a great way to explain things to people.
In terms of producing gorgeous drawings, some of the team here are really very good at it, and will sit and actually do a 3D sketch while they’re talking to the client which is very impressive as a skill. I don’t know that it’s that essential, I think it’s more that you have to be able to communicate your ideas.
Is your company associated with any professional design organisations?
Tessuto Interiors are very proud to be members of the British Institute of Interior Design, the premier professional body, it’s the institute for the industry. We are equally proud to be a design member practice, which means that all of my staff have to be qualified to a certain level, all the design staff.
And I make sure that I develop my staff at all times by doing things like insisting that they get 20 continuous professional development points under the British Institute every year. Because it’s terribly important, so continuing your development and continuing to learn. Because I’ve been doing this for 20 years and there is not a single day that goes past that I do not learn something.
What advice would you offer potential interior design students?
Don’t be put off, you know, it’s a great industry, it’s just getting your foot in the door. I would always recommend that you try and work, if at all possible, go and work in a practice for 5 years. And the reason that I say that is because it is such a complex industry and there’s just no way that you will know all the pitfalls, until you’ve seen a few of them first hand.
What are your thoughts on the National Design Academy?
I really admire the NDA students, because I think it must be quite tough for them to work and run houses, run homes, run families and work to the standards that they do to achieve the academic standard to get their qualifications through the NDA. I think probably, if you can do that, you can do anything.