On the Sofa with Women in Design

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked 3 leading female interior designers why they started their studios, the lessons they’ve learnt in their careers and the secrets to work-life balance. 

Tiffany Duggan, Studio Duggan
Founded by Tiffany Duggan in 2011, Studio Duggan is a leading design studio creating distinctive and well-considered interiors for high-end residential and boutique commercial projects.

Charlotte Crosland, Charlotte Crosland Interiors
Founded in 2000 and located in Notting Hill, Charlotte Crosland's team is known for creating lavish country homes, London houses and apartments, commercial properties and music studios.

Natalia Miyar, Natalia Miyar Atelier
Founded by Natalia Miyar in 2016, Natalia Miyar Atelier acts as a conduit for creativity to design one-of-a-kind liveable homes that blend comfort, glamour and style.

1. What made you choose to become an Interior Designer and ultimately, start your own studio?
Tiffany Duggan : It all started when I bought my first home in my early twenties – a tiny little one bedroom flat in Hampstead. I became obsessed with moving the furniture around and playing around with different ideas and paint colours. I was working full-time as a stylist and also a scenic artist, so this was something of a night time sport, and I soon realised it was where my heart was. Starting my own Studio, however, was something of a happy accident – it morphed very quickly from working as a one-woman band to having an amazing team of five the following year. I was very lucky that word spread quickly through word of mouth, and the growth of the Studio was very much an organic response to demand.

Crosland : I grew up surrounded by beautiful interiors created by my mother, she was a huge influence on my passion for also creating beautiful interiors. I have always been quite independent so starting my own studio was a natural step.

Natalia Miyar : I have always been fascinated by beautiful spaces. As a child I loved visiting homes and museums that offered an insight into someone's life, a moment in history, a place in time. That led to a degree in art history, followed by a master's in architecture. I practiced architecture in Miami for a few years before moving to London and, inevitably, turning to interiors.

2. What is the most important ‘design lesson/s’ you’ve learned in your career, which may help the next generation of designers? 

Tiffany Duggan : Do try not to rush the process - no matter how hard you are pushed! It takes time to get to know a client’s taste and sometimes a journey of discovery is required to establish what this is for both parties. Good interior design should have longevity and a little more time spent at the beginning will minimise problems (and therefore time) later on. Stay clear of fads and source from different eras, styles and suppliers to create unique and timeless designs which are a true reflection of your design ethos and you client’s taste.

Crosland : Always work with your clients as well as for them because it is their home you are creating, not yours. Always follow your instinct on difficult choices and make sure you always check things thoroughly before they get processed.

Natalia Miyar : To follow your intuition when it comes to putting together a scheme, be playful and don’t be afraid to make bold statements. I love making unexpected choices, especially when it comes to pairing strong patterns - they work beautifully when applied with conviction, in the context of a space that is grounded in strong proportions and is pulled together with the little details.

3. Can work-life balance be successfully achieved, if so, what is the key?
Tiffany Duggan : I think the key to being a successful working mother is realising that the perfect balance is an unrealistic goal! As women, we put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves to try to be the best mother/wife/daughter/businesswoman/designer/friend. The chances are that the balance will be thrown out of whack every now and then, and when this happens, I think it’s important to remember Superwoman doesn’t exist and you can only do the best you can! We need to take it a little easier on ourselves and each other – perfection (both in life and interiors) is both overrated and unattainable.

Charlotte Crosland : I try very hard to be strict about the working day being an 8 hour day and 5 day week. So no work is to be carried out over weekends or out of office hours. This is important because everyone needs to switch off and have a break otherwise the end result of each project suffers.

Natalia Miyar : When you are motivated by the love of your job it inevitably becomes your life but in a stimulating, creative way. I find inspiration everywhere - often by a work of art, an exquisite piece of jewellery or a stylish piece of film-making that has left a lasting impression on me.

4. How do you & your team continue to achieve original designs and where do you turn to for inspiration? 

Tiffany Duggan : No space, brief or client is ever the same, and it’s a combination of these elements which provide the basis for every design we undertake. When it comes to inspiration, it’s more of a constant process than a purposeful thing. Magazines, Pinterest, Instagram etc. all play their part, but they are no substitute for getting out there, whether that be to travel or to find new and exciting suppliers, places and products. Looking back to the past has always been a big inspiration for me and I like to reinterpret what has gone before in new and exciting ways.

Charlotte Crosland : I don’t look for inspiration but it does sometimes catch my eye and I will then use it in some of my designs. However, if I am struggling on an off day, I will refer to my library of beautiful books.

Natalia Miyar : Maintaining fresh eyes and avoiding developing tunnel vision is key for us to continue to be inspired and produce work that excites our clients. It is amazing how quickly we can now source inspiration and beautiful things through social-media channels such as Instagram. I'm inspired by art, nature, fashion, architecture and film – it would be impossible for me to keep track of these topics without social media.
However, there is no contest to experiencing these things first-hand so I encourage my team to visit galleries, fairs, museums and to always keep their eyes open to the world around them, as I do in my day to day life.

5. What is your approach to growing your team?
Tiffany Duggan : I look for creative, enthusiastic staff who are eager to learn and unflappable. It goes without saying that an understanding and appreciation of our design ethos is also essential, and I like people who are able to take their own initiative. Of course, experience is important too – but the right qualities can’t be taught. There is an easy-going vibe in the studio – we have a fantastic team who love what they do and have total respect for each other. There is no room for big egos or any drama.

Charlotte Crosland : Stamina, flexibility & a good sense of humour is very important in my team because we all work very closely together through times of stress as well as times of laughter.

Natalia Miyar : A strong, talented and committed team is key to the success of a business. Of course, I look for people with a great grounding in training and previous experience but for me, the most important characteristics are creativity, enthusiasm, dedication and someone who is not afraid of hard work!