‘Here’s how I started my own interior design business’

If you’re a fan of glamorous interiors, or addicted to DIY and crafts, you should consider a career in interior design.

Inspired by her seaside hometown of Margate, Zoe Murphy turned her passion for upcycling into a booming business.

At just 29, she runs her own self-titled design business by the sea and is taking the design world by storm. She restores mid-century modern pieces of furniture and combines them with colourful textile prints for a totally unique effect.

Her ethical philosophy revolves around the belief that a little loving attention can restore once-beautiful things (and places like Margate) to their glory days.

Zoe’s cheery designs were selected for the ‘New Designers’ showcase in Islington where she was one of five shortlisted for the ‘New Designer of the Year’ award. She also exhibits her work around the country, and sells from her studio in Margate and at Liberty in London, among other places.

We spoke with Zoe about passion, running a business and design inspiration.

zoe murphy

Image: Zoe Murphy

1. How did you first start out in interior design? What had you been doing before?

I studied printed textile design at university, and set up my business straight from graduation as there was a calling for work after people had seen my degree show.

Really I’ve always been a fan of decorating and improving, though. I would make furniture for my dolls house as a little girl, and would even scuff up my teddies in order to restore them again. I could always see the potential in un-improved products and got a buzz out of restoring and making things glamorous from a young age.

2. Aside from Margate, what inspires you? Who are your heroes?

My work has a lot more of a consumer politics motivation behind it than people expect. I like making work that shifts peoples observation of something or makes them buy in a different way. Particularly if those changes are made in a way that is subversive, or uses humour.

For that reason I love work of any change makers like William Morris, or defiant campaigners like Katharine Hamnett. I always look to the work of photographer Martin Parr for inspiration on how to *see* things. His photographs send up British seaside culture in a way that is both mocking, but also secretly adoring. He’s one of my favourite creatives and I get a boost looking at his brightly coloured photographs.

zoe murphy

Image: Zoe Murphy

3. What does a typical day look like for you? Walk us through it…

Often, and I swear this isn’t a cliché, I go for a beach walk to start the day. It’s at the end of the road from both my home and my work and it’s a great wake up half hour. I’ll make time for any urgent emails in the morning, and try and always fill the afternoons with making work in our downstairs studio.

I still print and paint nearly everything that goes out off the door, but there is a lot of ‘business running’ to do as well. Thankfully I often have a team of superb students who can help me with big projects in return for talking their ear off about design ethics.

Lunch is usually taken upstairs in the studio, or at one of Margate’s brilliant cafes. Apart from doing a few hours in the evening I always try to cook a bit of food at home and get out into the town to meet friends or visit any community events.

The day is always broken up with posts on social media and a lot of RnB on the radio. We love a bit of 60’s or 90’s music to work along to! It can be easy to sit on the computer all day sometimes, as emails can act like gremlins (you reply to one and four come back in).

It’s the making and printing of furniture and textiles that make the money though, and give me the most joy, so I try to always prioritise that and don’t let the running take over the making.

4. What’s been your proudest moment?

Every time I get to do a collaboration with a company I respect, I have a new feeling of achievement. I’m very realistic about how much work has gone into getting the business this far, and I don’t ever expect to be given opportunities without having to graciously work hard for them. So when companies like Dulux and Gplan – that I have grown up with – want to work with my designs, I’m always incredibly pleased and proud.

zoe murphy

Image: Zoe Murphy

5. What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Managing the workload is very hard, as not everyone is born organised AND creative – me especially. Keeping focussed on overall goals is something that I am constantly having to keep myself in check on.

Fun little jobs come up all the time, but if they mostly don’t pay, or get me ‘to my mountain’ then I have to remind myself I can do very little of them in order to keep the business going.

Having fun and sustaining business activity is a careful balance that takes a lot of brain power. I always feel it’s as important to be a human as it is to be a successful business. The rise of entrepreneurial activity in industries always seems to encourage people that they need to sacrifice everything and work all hours – I’ve come to learn that it’s no kind of life and again, a balance and healthy happiness is crucial.

6. What advice would you give to aspiring interior designers?

Be very good at what you do, and worry most about that. If you nurture your talent and practice with an active and enquiring mind, the answers to problems come a lot easier.

zoe murphy

Image: Zoe Murphy

7. What’s next for you and your business?

We’re just about to introduce everyone to a whole new range of products that were designed for a brand new themepark in Margate. Every year I book a stand at the fantastic Tent London during design week at the end of September, and set up a colourful display to show trade and public for a weekend.

Now what?