Home run: Jo Hamilton

The interior designer on the importance of communication, growing her business at the right pace and finding balance as a working mum

People 8 Jan 2019

Interior designer Jo Hamilton

At the age of 13, I attended a Christening reception at a house in Kensington, and it had been decorated so beautifully it took my breath away; the detailing was so ornate, elaborate and intricate. This discovery of how a space can impact how you feel awakened an excitement in me. It woke me up to the idea that you could create something that can give people an experience they weren’t expecting.

It was having children and wanting to work from home that made me turn this interest into a career. One of my sons has a major heart problem, so I didn’t want to be away from him. I wanted to do something creative, so I studied interior design. Then, before I was about to complete my training, the owners of a local pub in Chichester who I know well said: ‘We need a bit of a renovation, I don’t suppose you fancy doing it?’ I had to learn very quickly, but I was over the moon. Looking back now, I think I overdesigned the pub, but it was such a brilliant thing for me to do because the press wrote about it. Sussex Life magazine then asked me to start writing for them so I ended up with a column, and some visibility, early in my career.

The column really gave weight to my business and I ended up growing very quickly. An early client of mine gave me some advice that has always stuck in my mind. He said: ‘I can see how your business is growing, and it’s really exciting, but keep your feet on the ground and don’t expand too quickly.’ It’s something that I’ve really held on to. I don’t allow the business to grow too fast, because the core of it is the quality, and I never want to sacrifice that.

I think learning to say no is one of the biggest challenges in business. It’s a nice one to have because it’s such a privilege to be in that position. If a client has come to us but I sense we’re not right for them, then it’s better to not take on the work. I always ask my team to start every job with a completely blank canvas, to listen to the client’s wants and needs, and to fit in with that as much as we can. We want the journey to be lovely for our clients. They are not going to love their home if they look around and think, ‘This is a beautiful house, but what a horrible experience it’s been’.

Recommendations are the best way to expand and get work. If somebody has come to me through a happy client, they’ve probably had a conversation with that client about what the process was like from their perspective, rather than from my perspective, which is really helpful.

I couldn’t have grown my business without paying attention to my work/life balance. When my kids were young, I spent the whole time feeling guilty because I wanted to be a perfect mum, but at the same time I was working 20-hour days. What I’ve learnt is that the key to both work life and home life is communication. As long as everybody knows where they stand, and don’t feel you’re neglecting them, it’s usually OK. Clients are lovely, they understand and are very respectful of the fact that I have a life outside of work.

Understanding a client’s budget is vital, as is making sure we don’t overspend. I think a lot of interior designers can go over budget, which can be really frustrating for clients. We never do. If a client tells me ‘This is the budget, I don’t want you to go over it,’ we simply will not go over it. Again, it’s just about being really open and honest and ensuring that the client’s boundaries are respected and everyone knows where they stand. I think that’s the recipe for a happy relationship at work, and also home too.