Setting up a business can be lonely.  Especially if you work from home without a sales team, business partner or life partner to bounce ideas off or tap for friendly advice.

There are good networking events out there but you need to do your home work. Avoid anything that claims an annual membership fee will mysteriously grow sales.  Try anything that allows you to attend on an event by event basis and has great guest speakers.  It’s up to you to make the most of networking opportunities as they present themselves by showing a genuine interest in others and thinking of ways to work productively either in partnership with them or at the very least leveraging their network and contacts to mutual advantage.  Expect to learn something, but don’t expect miracles.  You still need to apply yourself.

This morning’s breakfast briefing run by Fat Buzz and WeDO Scotland on blogging was well worth the £19.10 attendance fee.  I’ve been to these events before and they’re always well attended, great for networking (the central venue, Tiger Lilly, free coffee and bacon rolls ensures no one arrives late so there’s plenty of time to network with fellow attendees and talk to the speakers afterwards).

I blog because I enjoy it, but have also learnt that the process of blogging helps you learn about yourself, understand your audience and the industry you work in and disciplines you to keep up to date.  Blogging also unlocks hidden thoughts and ideas.

I’m no fan of interior design as an industry but I love creating interiors.  Where once I strived for perfection now I embrace doing things differently and going against the grain. If it doesn’t work it’s easy to fall back on standard design rules but often I come up with something unexpected, that’s better than anything I could have dreamed of.

I scour junk shops to find things I love because no ones making furniture or artwork that inspires or excites me.  I love classics because they lend themselves to experimentation.

So I was very excited when my Saudi Arabian lodger suggested I look up the American comic Fluffy on Youtube for his standup tour of Saudi Arabia, courtesy of a Saudi Prince.  Why? Because it inspired me to look at marketing my interior designs a little differently.

I’ve lost count of the number of times interior professionals and photographers have told me my interiors ideas would work well in London, Glasgow or anywhere but where I live in Edinburgh.  “Edinburgh only does timeless classics,” is something I hear all the time.  Georgian property lends itself to modern interior design, vintage classics and edgy, quirky touches so for me the timeless limitation is a missed opportunity.

I’m not sure whether a comic Youtube video on Edinburgh interior design would work.  But I’m willing to give it a try.  After all who needs another droll “How to make or solve an interior problem lecture”?  Far funnier to joke about the difficult business climate, the mistakes you’ve made long the way, the crazy things you’ve done to survive instead of an illusory perfection others struggle to relate to.

How we laughed when my friend opened her interiors shop, powder coated 6 reclaimed radiators only to discover there was no gas coming in.

How she cried when rectifying the problem cost several thousands of pounds leaving no money for stock.  The only reason she still has a business is because we literally raided our houses for items to sell until she made sufficient sales to place a decent Christmas order.  Small failings are the stuff of life.  Doing whatever it takes the new business reality.

Starting a business can be lonely.  Initial mistakes can be hilarious.   How better to gain an audience for your blog than sharing some of them? Everybody laughs at comic failures that make you who you are and somehow, in spite of everything, lead to well deserved success.

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I love glimpses into other people’s lives.  Especially their interiors.  So when yesterday my friend Eva and I spent an exhilarating day in London enjoying lunch with friends on board The World I was in heaven.

There’s no denying the beauty and buzz of London.  Especially when you spend much of it on water with fabulous hosts, glorious weather and a wonderful group of friends.

Fun, quirky interiors inspire me and trump timeless elegance and formality every time.  Our hosts’ apartment was packed full of quirky, contemporary art and sculpture that made the space feel large despite being compact.  By far my favourite ornament was a large wooden painted penguin so realistic I half expected it to waddle in amongst us as we chatted before diving off the balcony to swim with friends.

I can only imagine the freedom such a lifestyle brings but am glad to see that art, design and friendship play a vital part in a liberating approach to life and business that happily accommodates many months at sea.

It’s refreshing meeting successful people who’ve taken a different approach.  To friendship, to living harmoniously with their soul mate, to balancing motherhood with work commitments, to business and relationships in general.  Taking a different approach takes confidence, something women often lack, so meeting brilliant, confident women and the men confident enough to be married to and do business with them was an invigorating delight.

Perhaps secretly we’re all pirates stealing moments of pleasure with our children, seeking love, adventure and work related riches that are ours for the taking if only we were brave enough to fight for what we need in life and the people we believe in.

I’ve not figured out how I’m going to create an interior styling business based in Edinburgh that works with international London clients but I’m more inspired and determined to than ever.

I met a very interesting gentlemen doing something different and exciting in high end property.  At the heart of his business model was putting client’s interest first and doing everything he could to satisfy clients’ commercial goals whilst surpassing the service offering of the traditional estate agency model.

It’s amazing how few businesses put client service at the heart of their business.  Those that do soon realize this not only leads to happy clients, but managed carefully, is a recipe for success.

Once lost, trust can rarely be recovered.  This is as true in business as it is in personal relationships.  Financial services learnt this the hard way, so it’s always interesting to meet people intelligent enough to seek reward for clients by eschewing outdated business models and doing things very differently.

As a child my mother always instilled the importance of writing thank you cards.  I had a truly wonderful time in London but as I sit here choosing a card to send my hosts, I can’t help wondering. “How do you send a thank you note to friends who live on board a boat?”

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I started Nordic Black with a clear vision.  To be a simple lifestyle alternative to the White Company beloved of my peers.  I wanted to be online only and wholesale. Gillian Tett’s article in the Weekend FT magazine on how J Brand started out with the sole intention of designing flattering jeans reminds me how far I’ve gone adrift.

My intention was always to be small with 6-10 good products so I could find my creative niche.  I didn’t want to run a business where I’d be managing lots of people.  I wanted to collaborate with others.  Me doing my thing to the best of my ability and them doing theirs.  This is proving much more difficult than I thought.

Despite starting with a strong brand identity and tagline, my best intentions have been hijacked by the business priorities of others and it’s all my own fault. It’s time to stop the rot and get firmly back on track.

This morning I unwittingly annoyed the woman who inspired me.  No one wants to listen to the agnostic who’s lost faith so I accept her advice has reached the limit of it’s usefulness, apologise for causing offence and unsubscribe from further posts.

It’s sad when what once inspired and made you happy abruptly comes to an end, but in life as with interiors you have to brush up and get on with it.

My kids are currently obsessed with Minecraft which has a creative and survivor mode of play.  The last of these involves fighting zombies, spiders and bowmen from the home that you create and I can’t help thinking this is what my life has become.  “On creative mode,” my daughter explains, “you just get everything given to you on a plate.”

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Awoke this morning and read my favourite blog.  I have a love hate relationship with Abigail Ahern’s design advice.  I love her because her ‘go for it’ advice is the reason my once magnolia home now looks AMAZING – and more importantly made the cover of Scotland on Sunday magazine.

But the more I read her addictive style of decorating the more I want to buy and embellish a home that (as I’m downsizing) doesn’t need more stuff. She’s the interior equivalent to Carrie Bradshaw – who led a completely fabricated existence of consumption gone wild. It doesn’t help that like Carrie/SJP Abigail also has curly hair.

I hate shopping and am not a natural spender.  When it comes to clothing I hate change and could happily live in 5 pairs of identical black leggings and hoodies over grey or white t shirts and a simple black designer dress for dressier occasions.

I only shop when I’m avoiding something – reality, work, my children – the disturbing fact that right now my daughter’s lying in a bath full of water in the mermaid tail costume I bought her wishing she could swim away.

I love painting because it demands I wear my favourite dress code (leggings).  I dislike working in an office because office attire requires tights.

When I found myself single overnight I took in lodgers, got myself a job in London, rented my home out for film, TV and advertising shoots and promptly made a fortune.  Only to find myself panic buying the very lifestyle my cohabiting self had just rejected.

I’m all for moving on, firmly focused on the future.  But if you don’t address your shortcomings, how will changing your address leave you anywhere but firmly back where you started? At some point don’t we have to evaluate our priorities, stop buying things and pay off all our debts? I couldn’t help but wonder,  “can you really change your future without reflecting on your past?”

The married me bought a lot of stuff happy me would never look at twice. Sometimes when you lose your bearings what you really lose is who you are. Working me was like Miranda. But mother-to-be me became enthralled to a witty, pretty writer who spent her way to happiness.  Like Carrie, I couldn’t secure the undivided attention of the man I planned to marry.  There were always other women – at dinner, at airport check-ins, in hotel lobbies, by the pool and at the office.

I fear without reflection my life will come full circle.  Once again I’ll be adrift in the very place I’m trying to escape.

Because at the end of yet another failed relationship, when all I have want is my kids happiness, my own wealth health, and to eradicate my lingering self-doubt “I couldn’t help but wonder, no matter how far you travel or how much you run from it, can you ever really escape your past?” (SATC Episode thirteen, “Escape from New York”)

 

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Scotlnad on Sunday At Home Magazine

Last week I had dinner with a friend who used to work in advertising.  Keen for her reaction to my redesigned homepage I was nervous but excited. The accompanying flyer contained some of the best copy I’ve written. For 2 weeks I’d wake up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning and scribble down thoughts or hone ideas that needed work.

The result is being finalised by Juliana my graphic designer but there’s a sneek peek below.

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There’s so much to do when you’re creating a brand.  The trick is to continually ask yourself “does my brand image ring true to my original idea . . . to what I’m actually selling?”  If the answer to that is “no” then you need a major rethink.  But if like me you feel your brand resonates with people then the trick is to always be doing something, even if you suspect it could be better.  Blogging, networking, creating leads, following them up, distributing flyers, refining marketing material, photographing your service, products, events and generally letting people know that you exist.  Websites can always be relaunched – postcards and flyers redesigned.

My strategy has always been to work with friends and artisans with similar creative passions and a “let’s build something profitable where everyone benefits” approach (as opposed to the “make me rich or get out of here” mentality that permeated every other place I’ve ever worked).

I haven’t watched Glengarry Glen Ross in years but I remember the the tag line on the video cover was “A story for anyone who works” .  Ultimately it was the daily grind and verbal abuse permeating every financial services property company throughout those aspirational decades that led me and others like me to finally quit the industry for good and create my own brand.

I’m tired of making other people rich.  I’m smart, articulate and hard working and whilst I’m happy to “Always Be Closing” for people I genuinely like, my ABC for NordicBLACK is:

About being who I am

Blogging dark interior thoughts that help inspire others

Collaborating with designers, artisans and creative business individuals

Shortly before re-entering the world of financial services two years ago I wrote some scenes for my own play “Work”.  It had a reading at the Traverse Theatre Words, Words, Words event in Edinburgh.  But I couldn’t bear didn’t have time to finish it.  Like Glengarry’s sorry salesmen, I too had to work. To pay off never ending bills and debts that still refuse to go away.

I can’t even think about the scary cost of raising children who spend each day demanding everything when all they really want is more of me.

Every day I write this blog.  Some days I write marketing material and on good days I write songs.  I help friends develop marketing strategies and critique their visual brand development.  The thing about dreams is . . . sometimes you have to wake up.

This morning as I get my children ready I confront the chaos that refuses to become a planned routine no matter what I do to orchestrate this.  My daughter sits fully dressed waiting patiently for me to polish her shoes, while my son is nowhere to be seen half dressed in his Pyjamas wondering why we ever have to leave let alone go to school.

Listening to alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch’s The Healing, my kids remind me of musicians in a jazz ensemble that wander off all over the place in improvised creative flourishes, a homage to their individual style and musical temperament, effortlessly reunited in a blitz of harmony after bars of competitive jarring and occasional discord.  Showing glimpses of the genius in their solo careers that are yet to come.

We always make it to school on time.  Somehow. And enjoy the chaos of each other’s madness company and excitement about meeting again at the end of the day.

I am late writing this blog.  And late for a photoshoot.  But not too late to watch my children flourish.

There are other similarities.  To Jazz.  And I realise my style of decorating interiors and vision for Nordic Black are rife with the duality that is everyone’s dichotomy of being.

We are one individual, of two parents, different cultures and ethnicities, seeking different ends to our beginnings, different paths to make our journey, alternating our partners in crime to best reflect and nurture the competitive genius in all of us that comes from lack of confidence.  Be it creative, technical, or financial success or failure that awaits us or the abyss of knowing we had every opportunity and yet did nothing with our lives.

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Five years standing at my kitchen bar whilst kids or guests perch opposite me on stools and I’ve finally given in and bought a sofa.  It wasn’t cheap and looks magnificent.  I rearranged a sofa in my living room to test the space before ordering this Whytock & Reid reupholstered vintage beauty having convinced myself the kids and I deserve a treat after the upheaval we’ve endured.

It’s been a joy to watch them play or read curled up beside me as I cook or work from home.  Hard to believe 2 years ago I commuted weekly to London to work in the City to escape a partner who didn’t want me but was scared to let me go.

I’m often reminded of the Mary J Blige song “No More Drama”.  Sometimes women need to separate themselves from the chaos in their lives.  To move on.  Get perspective.  Devise a better long term plan from the ashes of their lives.

It isn’t easy building a business in a recession.  But doing anything creative that allows me to watch over my children and enjoy their childhood is the best reward there is.

Vintage sofa, Acanthus styled by Nordic Black.

Vintage desk and light available at Casa Morada

Barcelona chairs and light, Casa Morada

Whyte & Reid vintage sofa

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It’s no coincidence that vintage furniture is a huge trend in interiors right now alongside geometric soft furnishing patterns like honeycomb.  Just as vintage distracts us from the turbulence and disorder of the financial crisis (and this weeks freak weather) so geometrics look to restore order at a time when the present feels beyond our control.

Geometrical forms are here to stay for as long as the world is in chaos.  Farrow and Ball’s spring wallpaper collection is full of geometrics.  Damask just doesn’t resonate right now.

Similarly Zoffany’s most poignant upholstery fabrics are linear patterns in dark dramatic colours with a vintage twist that helps  make them timeless.

I tend to avoid trends (my one exception being vintage) because geometrics feel to too uptight for me and instead add whimsical lighting to prevent rooms resembling cages which can feel prison-like in winter.

In the midst of a Siberian cold snap there’s all the more reason to decorate with added warmth by choosing golden hues to contrast with ink black lines in preference to stark black and white.

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  • This week has been a crazy week of painting, painting and photoshoots.  After months of trying to convince an interior design friend to paint her hated north facing kitchen dark grey she finally got a call for a magazine photoshoot. Not only did they want to feature her at home, they wanted to shoot later that week. Having recently had my own home featured in the same magazine I knew they’d make a feature of the kitchen whether she liked it or not.  I offered one last time to paint her kitchen dark grey and repaint it if she hated it.  This time she took the bait. The thing about dark colours is that they camouflage tatty things like furniture that needs reupholstering or large expensive to replace things like my friend’s tired navy chip board kitchen.   Rich, dark colours not only mask a kitchen’s age they add intrigue to dark pokey spaces, inject large rooms with warmth and give north facing rooms depth by accentuating features lost in lighter versions of the interior.  In my friend’s case dark grey accentuated her reflective silver ceiling lights, brushed aluminium handles and now directs your gaze to the gorgeous north facing Georgian window that overlooks her garden.

    Taking risks with your interiors is never easy.  Even for seasoned interior stylists and designers who know exactly why an unusually dark colour will work.  Even when you’ve nothing to lose but lacklustre beige walls and everything to gain (walls that look and feel like velvet, gorgeously framed original period features and a knockout photoshoot to boot) it’s still tempting NOT to take the plunge.  I laughed as my friend spent the morning standing nonchalantly around her kitchen offering me endless cups of coffee in a failed attempt to distract me from opening a paint tin.  I could feel her wince as the first roller of paint swept across her kitchen.

    Of course she loved it.  We were both secretly screaming with delight and couldn’t finish the project fast enough.  She then ditched her plan to paint the adjacent room off white and we continued painting her living dark grey too.  The finished effect is amazing, drawing the eye to the outside garden which was lost before amidst a sea of boring, beige nothingness.  Although we’ve barely rearranged the furniture, suddenly focal points that were lost before jump out.  Ceiling lights look bigger and brighter.  A white Georgian fireplace looks divine and the Georgian window and door leading to the garden looks like something from Alice in Wonderland or Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Suddenly the room envelopes you with it’s warmth, you want to curl up on the sofa and most amazingly of all both rooms feel bigger.

    I’ve long been a convert of Abigail Ahern’s call to paint rooms dark and painting out my friend’s kitchen and living room reminds me exactly why this luxe, masculine style of decorating is the only way to go when you want to transform a space on a budget.

    I cant show a photo of the finished room so instead, here’s a shot from Abigail Ahern’s new website.  I love this American tin wallpaper and distressed leather chair.  The thing about the distressed industrial vintage look is that it adds layers to a space more effectively than using shiny new things that look flat in daylight and dull at night.

    The other photoshoot I had this week was for a Huggies commercial.  A location agency suggested my dark grey bathroom and kitchen be used for website product shots so on Tuesday I had a house full of toddlers in tutus being photographed by an amazingly professional photographer.

    One final thing before I go. I’m adding more regular dates to Nordic Black’s Style School – the last Thursday and Sunday of every month.  Other dates are available on request but for now confirmed dates in March and April are:

    Thursday 28th March

    Sunday     31st March.

    Thursday 25th April

    Sunday     28th April.

    Have a great weekend.  And if you find yourself looking at your kitchen over Sunday brunch thinking it could do with a bit of a revamp, you know what to do!