Laura Gray - Founder, Laura Gray Interiors
Describe yourself in three words ...
Trust-worthy. Perfectionist. Night Owl.
What makes you happy?
My home. Everyone and everything in it.
If you could share a bottle of wine with anyone, anywhere who would it be with and where would you be?
I know I’m supposed to think of someone famous and inspiring here, but genuinely that would be my husband - my rock! We would escape to our favourite gastro pub in the Cotswolds, preferably in the autumn so we could sit by a roaring fire, and would idle away the evening together.
A book or podcast you're currently obsessing over?
I stumbled across a lovely book a few weeks ago - Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce. Set in 1940’s London in the height of the Blitz, a wannabe war correspondent finds herself typing letters for a formidable agony aunt after a mix up with a job application. This is such a charming book and beautifully written, I couldn’t put it down. Really funny in places, but also quite humbling as it really makes you feel for those who lived through the war. It reminded me of my grandparents and made me wish I’d asked more about their experiences when I had the chance.
Best way to unwind?
An annual spa day with my best friend always does the trick! But in the interim period, being curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea and a copy of LivingEtc magazine. Preferably while both children are elsewhere so I get some peace and quiet!
When did you realise you wanted to create a change or do something different in your work life? What was the trigger for this?
If I’m honest I had always hankered after a different career. I fell into my previous job (as a Tax Adviser) after university. I think I panicked about finding a job and earning some much needed cash, so followed my housemate into the finance industry with a three year plan to qualify, save some money and then escape to my dream job (whatever that was!). Twelve years later I was still trudging away. After having my two boys and changing my working hours to part-time, unfortunately the gender divide in my workplace became increasingly apparent and I was continually frustrated at being judged for being a mum, having to leave the office on time to do the nursery run, and being overlooked for pay-rises and promotions. I started to question why I was spending so many hours of my week doing something that I had never particularly enjoyed and felt no longer valued for.
Thinking back to then, how were you feeling?
I was petrified, but really excited too. Luckily my husband was incredibly supportive and convinced me to go for it. We worked out we could pay the mortgage and feed the kids without my income, but would have to forego the nice holidays and treats we had always enjoyed until I found my feet. I could always go back into the tax profession if I really needed to, but deep down I knew that was never really an option. Once I took the plunge there was no going back. The fear was overtaken by how liberating it felt to walk out of the office on my final day at work.
How did you figure out what you wanted to do?
I’ve always been interested in interior design and have loved decorating and furnishing my own home. I’d helped countless friends over the years too, and had lots of encouragement from friends and family to follow my dreams and become a ‘real’ interior designer, so it was a no brainer in terms of my new career choice. The only other option was to become a florist, but I’m really not a morning person so I think the flower markets would have been shut by the time I dragged myself out of bed each day!!
What first steps did you take?
The interior design industry is very competitive. There are lots of people giving it a go and I wanted to make sure I had an edge, as well as the confidence to help me to succeed. With that in mind I researched the various design courses on offer and enrolled with KLC School of Interior Design in London, who offer a diploma qualification via distance learning. This gave me the initial skills I needed to start working with clients, but more importantly enrolling on the course gave me the courage to take the plunge and give up my previous job.
Looking back with the knowledge and experience you have now, what advice would you have given to yourself?
I spent a lot of time worrying about what other people would think about my choices and whether I should or shouldn’t give up a successful career to follow a different path. Life is too short for ‘what if’s’ and I would tell myself to stop worrying and go for it (preferably 10 years earlier!).
How do you maintain your Creative Confidence (your ability to have ideas, think creatively and do things differently)?
I’m still studying, which helps me to challenge myself creatively. I also get loads of inspiration from books, magazines and social media. I try to follow instagram accounts who do things a bit differently and push the boundaries. I’ve also recently started working alongside another designer and it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off each other and get encouragement to try new things. At times I’ve found it quite lonely working on my own, particularly on the occasions when I’ve hit a creative block and haven’t had anyone to chat to, so it’s been great to join forces with a like-minded friend and colleague to develop our businesses together.
What advice would you give to another woman who's considering making a change in her working life?
Research your chosen path as much as you can, so you understand what you’re getting yourself into. If you are setting up your own business, it can take a while to build up contacts and for the work to come in, and it can be somewhat sporadic at first. Don’t be disheartened though - it all falls into place with time! Also, don’t be afraid to ask for advice from friends and family, or even from any random contacts you meet along the way. I’ve emailed the odd interiors ‘influencer’ for hints and tips along the way and it’s been great to find everyone so open and willing to give advice to those of us starting out. I’ve come to realise that most of us feel like we’re just winging it through life, and the more we can help each other out the better!
Best piece of advice for looking after yourself physically and mentally?
Make sure you schedule some time out for yourself. I most definitely work more hours now than I ever did when I was employed. As well as my ‘day job’ I also have the school run and various after school activities to contend with too, and often have meetings in the evenings to fit around my client’s busy schedules (hamster in a wheel springs to mind!). It’s really important to make sure I don’t burn out, so I diarise a bit of me time each week. Usually this is a 45 minute exercise class that I go to with a friend. Some weeks it’s a coffee with another friend, or I might have sneaky manicure. That time out is so important and keeps me sane!
Having pivoted (created a change in your work life), what are you most proud of?
I’m really proud I took a chance on myself. After almost four years I have a thriving and growing business and I absolutely love going to work very day. I’m also proud that I can tell my two boys with complete confidence to follow their dreams, because that’s exactly what I did.
An intention for 2018?
Go to bed earlier and read more books. I’m winning on the book thing, but tend to still be reading past midnight! Oh, and of course drink less, eat less, exercise more......