In My Shoes – With Rebecca Leivars

I can’t believe it’s been a year already since I started my humble blog as so much has happened in such a short space of time. As you all know I’m very much an Interior Design Geek and have always wanted to pick the brains of my favourite interior designers. So I’m extremely excited to finally share my new column with you entitled In My Shoes. My new column allows us to virtually step into the shoes of some the most renowned and creative interior designers and ask those questions we’ve all been dying to know but just never had the opportunity to ask. Over the next year, each month I’ll be interviewing a different designer, asking them about breaking into design, business start ups and everything in between.

This month kicks off with Rebecca Leivars, an incredibly talented Interior Designer. I completely adore her career journey as like me, Rebecca changed her career path and is a fellow alumni of design school KLC. Based in Brighton, Rebecca has created some eye poppingly beautiful spaces.



HOP: Did you always know that you wanted to become an Interior Designer
RL: Absolutely not no! I always had a passion for design and spent hours as a child re-arranging my bedroom and banning anyone from sitting on my freshly arranged bed and dislodging my pillows. As the years passed by I developed a love for moving home, I loved the prospect of having a new space to arrange, configure and new colours to experiment with and I guess that is when it came to light to others around me that design was the career path I should follow rather than Human Resources which was my vocation at the time.
HOP: You are also a fellow KLC alumni, so how did you go about making the transition to designer
RL: It was my then boyfriend who made the suggestion to me. At the time it still didn’t seem feasible to quit a well paid job that I had worked hard to climb the career ladder in to follow a dream or what felt like my hobby. He however had recently started his own business, which was in fact his hobby and he was doing well, so it was with his support and encouragement that I took the plunge, though I was terrified but excited at the same time.
HOP: How did you find learning about interior design from your chosen course
RL: Initially I opted for distance learning local to where I was living, I didn’t know too much about the industry and the course looked relatively okay and reasonably priced, however after one month of this, I decided there wasn’t enough content and I didn’t feel the course would equip me to start a business and learn a broad range of skills required. Therefore, I started to read the small print at the back of House & Gardens, Living etc and KLC School of Design kept coming up. Coincidentally at that time Living etc announced their first one day seminar in Interior Design to be held in conjunction with KLC School of Design.  Excited by this I snapped up a place and the rest is history. The day was amazing, being in Chelsea right next to the infamous Design Centre at Chelsea Harbour with views over looking the Thames and the London Eye, I was sold, the school had such an energy about it, also is flooded with light, inspirational work adorns every wall from past students, the tutors (practising Interior Designers) were full of passion and it was then, that very day that I decided no matter the cost, this is where I want to start my new career and I owed it myself to put myself in the strongest position to re-train at KLC School of Design. I approached the school regarding their one year diploma, fortunately passed the interview and embarked on a life changing year a few months later.
HOP: What has been your biggest challenge thus far in relation to design within a project
RL: My biggest challenge to date has been working on a project in St Johns Wood, internal design work and development of a roof terrace and construction of a roof pod building, it should have been a simple project and fun!  What I didn’t know when I took on the project was the party wall hell that would follow.  Both neighbours to the property also decided to undertake structural work, and on one side, completely knock their house down, two basement levels so our house was being propped up by industrial steels, causing continual movement throughout our internal works and causing huge safety issues for my team trying to construct a roof pod building and new balustrade.  It was a constant battle and delays trying to get agreement between 3 sets of neighbours, 3 sets of chartered surveyors, 3 party wall agreements, 3 conflicting contractors…and it continued! In fact we have final sign off on 26th March, the bubbles will well and truly flow!
HOP: Where do you draw your inspiration from for each project
RL: Each project is completely different. I have no in house style and it is so important to listen and listen carefully to the clients, their wishes and hopes for their home.  No one knows it better than they do, their daily routine often dictates how a space will function and ultimately be designed. Inspiration is taken from their experiences, local architecture, key features that exist within the home, views, it can come from many directions, the important thing to always remember is to keep an open mind at all times.
HOP: So describe what a typical 24hours is like at the Leivars studio in Brighton
RL: As any Interior Designer will explain that there is not one typical day. My days are normally start at 5 am, walk my dog, shower and then I’m in the car for 6.30. I live on Hove seafront and my projects are North London based at present, so I have had to bond with the M25, gather items from the office for the day (files, wiring/lighting plans, anything I may need) not forgetting to grab a coffee on route.  Making phones calls after 8 am to suppliers, clients, thank god for bluetooth, makes my car a working office and allows me to reduce lost time from travelling. Generally I arrive on site around 8.30 a.m. I always take time to walk the site/project alone to see what has been carried out and check details before meeting with the contractor where we do a second walk around. We discuss and agree work to be done and any areas not up to scratch (always better to highlight and rectify as early as possible to reduce costs later down the line).  I then meet with the clients if they are around to discuss progress and any key decisions. It’s then a mad dash in to central London to suppliers which means it’s normally around 4 pm at this stage, I try and leave London between 4 and 5 though this seldom happens, often the client meetings don’t happen until mid afternoon which means I leave them around 7 arriving home late evening. Some days are spent purely sourcing and driving around with clients or hop footing around seeing what is new and fresh. I try and have two office days per week to catch up on drawing revisions, paperwork, endless paperwork, chasing orders, processing orders, updating supply lists and payment schedules, the things you’re never taught but actually makes up 80% of the business.  This times 3 – 4 projects that I work on at any one time.
HOP: So many of my readers including myself are keen to break into the industry. What advice would you give to those either hoping to start their own studio or hoping to land their first role a designer
RL: Never stop believing in yourself, never stop trying and if you’re starting alone, DO TRY and get some experience and cut your teeth working for another design practice, ideally 18 months but if you have some experience of doing your own properties then a minimum of 6 months, not only will you quickly see how intense days are, you will learn processes and practices which will be invaluable whilst also picking up key suppliers and contacts which would normally take you several years to gather.  Don’t take on too large a project for the first two years, start small, one or a few rooms, or a kitchen and then gradually build this up and always, always, always, if in doubt ask, if in doubt hire a professional, such as a chartered or structural engineer or even an architect, yes your profit may be reduced (if your clients aren’t paying that is!) but not only will you learn from them, you will have peace of mind and will massively reduce any nasty fall outs with clients.  Cover yourself and always make sure you have the relevant insurance at all times.
HOP: What do you look for in a new recruit and likewise in their digital portfolio
RL: I generally look for confident individuals that I can let fly pretty early on. I am a big believer in trust and delegation, I am not egotistical and I am more than happy to have design in put by others.  But I need honesty at all times, if mistakes are made (and I make them still) I need to know about it so it can be controlled and rectified swiftly. A digital port folio needs to be a visual delight of technical know how and design and always about the detail!



HOP: What are your top three items you couldn’t live without

RL: My 10 month old Cockapoo Harry, I am utterly in love with him, so he’s a definite one, secondly my Blackberry, I can’t operate without it and I can’t decide for my third, coffee/ tea/ chocolate/ wine/ sunshine/ friends to made a few.
HOP: Who is your design inspiration or icon
RL: An Italian Architect/Designer Gio Ponti such an iconic and distinctive designer and you can see his influence in so many modern day pieces.  His use of colour, space and bold pattern is striking, some of his best work can be found at Parco Dei Principi Hotel in Sorrento, Italy, a hotel he designed right down to the diving board!


All images credited & supplied by Leivars

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