Interior designer Julia Kendell, best known for her work on BBC’s ‘DIY SOS’ and ITV’s ’60 Minute Makeover’, forged a successful career whilst raising two young daughters as a single mum. Enthusiastic about DIY and emotionally connected to her designs, Julia shares her top decorating tips and tells us how she turned her business dreams into a reality.
How did you get into interior design?
I’ve always had an interest in interiors. I would decorate and rearrange my bedroom from the age of 7 regularly, much to the bemusement of my parents. I fell into Interior Design at the age of 14 when the only place I could find a Saturday job was at a local soft furnishings showroom. I loved every minute and would spend all of my school holidays learning how to make hand-made curtains with the ladies in the workroom and designing window displays. My interest became a passion and I decided at 19 to train in interiors.
You describe yourself as the Nigella of DIY on your website – is that because you’re a strong woman working in a male-dominated environment?
It is certainly true that the industry is still male-dominated, although I’m pleased to say I am seeing a significant increase in the number of females working in the trades. The Nigella comment came about because I don’t tend to take myself too seriously. I can be cheeky and I am very comfortable having the lads on site ‘take the mickey’. It goes with the territory! I can stand my ground, I know what I’m talking about, and the lads tend to respect that.
We understand you started your own business as a single mum in 1997, this must have been really tough?
Yes it was a massive leap of faith, but to be honest I had little choice. I was struggling to drop my daughters off in the mornings at the right times, one at nursery, the other at school to then be at work 10 miles away on time. At the end of the day I would often be caught by a client and stressed beyond speech to get back to the school and nursery before they closed for pick-up. I was the mother all teachers hated! It wasn’t fair on the girls, or the teachers, and I decided I needed to be in charge of my own time. I was fortunate to have a couple of large projects straight off and I never looked back.
Was there ever a time where you felt like giving up on your business?
There were many! I specialised in kitchen design and supply for many years and had a difficult relationship with my first cabinet maker who would ‘surprise me’ with hefty additions on invoices not previously discussed. I also learned fairly early on not to try to install kitchens throughout December following a harrowing install that wasn’t finished by Christmas for a client whose first baby was due on Boxing Day. Had I been able to fit granite myself I would have done. It was awful and I was tempted then to give up. But I had the financial responsibility for my girls and there is nothing more focusing than knowing you have bills to pay! 95% of the time was smooth-running and I thoroughly enjoyed creating beautiful homes for my clients. Keeping perspective through the tough times is probably key to success.
How old are your children now?
My girls are now 23 and 20. It has been a magical journey watching them grow from little girls to beautiful, confident young ladies. I now have a granddaughter too, Winter Lily, who is my absolute joy.
Have you found new love?
I’m very happy to say that I have! I am dating a wonderful man, James, a keynote speaker and leadership coach, who I have actually known for many years. We had a ‘thunderbolt’ moment, all very romantic, and we are extremely happy and excited about the future.
What advice would you like to share with our community when it comes to designing a nursery/child’s bedroom?
Eagerly anticipating the baby’s arrival and the joy of creating a safe place to spend time together, designing and decorating a nursery is the most exciting project in the home. Choosing the right colour scheme is paramount to producing a calm atmosphere. Colour psychology is an interesting subject and it is important to be aware of the impact different colours can have on your state of mind and well-being. Be careful not to over-stimulate within this environment, but don’t be afraid to bring in contrast of light and shade. The lighting in the room should be flexible to allow plenty of light for practical matters and a dimmable option or very low-light lamp for night-feeds. A blackout blind is a great choice to encourage longer sleeps through the dawn hours.
Use decorating an older child’s bedroom as an opportunity to really bond with them. Chat through their likes and dislikes, interests and passions. Encourage them to budget and help draw up a scheme, layout and mood board. Research ideas online, make a scrapbook, discuss storage ideas and turn it into a project they feel they have had a real involvement in. You might even be rewarded with a tidy bedroom!
Try to choose paints and products from eco ranges where possible. Off-gassing, where new products give out noxious fumes often for months after the manufacturing process, can be a real problem for children’s lungs and general health. This is particularly the case with paint, carpets and stain or flame retardant treated fabrics.
What advice would you give someone who is decorating on a tight budget?
Always consider up-cycling or re-purposing of ‘vintage’ furniture or second-hand furnishings. With a little creativity and skill it’s amazing the beautiful and unique items you can make for very little cost. I particularly enjoy using old comics to decoupage chests of drawers. It’s a very easy project and can look stunning. Making cushions from old jumpers and customising plain blinds with pompom fringing, for example, is another way to produce a ‘designed look’ without the price tag. Pinterest is a great resource for up cycling ideas.
What would you say to someone who has never decorated before?
Plan carefully! Spend time collecting ideas and photographs and collate a mood board (an A3 piece of card) with all of the elements you intend using; carpet or flooring samples, wall coverings, pics of furniture, fabrics etc. Use the mood board to ensure the paint choice is correct and that you have achieved a good balance of colour, texture and pattern before you commit to purchasing anything. Basically, if the room scheme works for you on the board, it will likely be successful in reality.
If you are decorating for the first time, don’t take on anything that will be too testing of your skills. Keep it simple for best results, and call in the professionals for any jobs that require it. Ensure you have enough time to complete the job without rushing it and purchase or hire good quality tools and equipment.
Are there any projects you’re particularly proud of?
My favourite child’s room I have decorated was for a beautiful little lad, Benny, the son of good friends of mine, who sadly passed away from a brain tumour at the age of 9. His family wanted him to be at home with them throughout his illness so I was enlisted to create the room of his dreams. He was an avid artist so I had some of his sketches scaled up and printed onto wallpaper to fill a wall. A carpenter made a massive oversized pencil for me that was suspended from the ceiling as if in ‘mid-draw’. We had a ‘big reveal’, just as on my programmes, and it was the most extraordinary and emotional experience for me.
Julia Kendell is a spokesperson for The London Homebuilding & Renovating and Home Improvement Show 26 – 28 September 2014 www.homebuildingshow.co.uk/london
She is also the interior designer on BBC’s ‘DIY SOS’ and ITV’s ’60 Minute Makeover’, and will be running interior design master classes at One Aldywch, London. Click here for more: http://www.juliakendell.com/courses