- Karen Livingstone Welstead left Goldman Sachs in 2008, feeling like things weren’t working there.
- She started remodeling homes and apartments for fun and eventually caught the eye of realtors.
- Here’s her story of becoming an interior designer, as told to writer Claire Turrell.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Karen Livingstone Welstead, the 44-year-old founder of Interiør, about her career. It has been edited for length and clarity.
When I left Goldman Sachs in 2008, it was a case of “It’s not you, it’s me.”
When everyone else was reading The Financial Times in the office, I was reading Elle Décor. I loved my time there and was given a lot of opportunities, but there comes a point where you realize, This isn’t working. When that time comes, you need to do something about it rather than kick it down the line for another six months.
For me, this came after my honeymoon in Malaysia, where I had some ‘me time’ to think
I decided to focus on finishing my master of arts degree in creative writing and figure out what I wanted to do next.
My husband, Matt, who sat next to me at Goldman Sachs, and I decided to leave London and return to my home in Scotland. I set up a financial-services recruitment desk for my family’s recruitment business, and in the evenings and on weekends, I refurbished a couple of apartments in Glasgow, which Matt and I would rent out for a passive income.
This wasn’t the first time I’d given a house a makeover
When I met Matt, we both had apartments in London, so Matt sold his and we used the money to buy a cottage in the Wiltshire countryside. I would design the interiors when I wasn’t at the office.
After completing that project, I’d gathered enough experience to work on the apartments in Glasgow. While I was trying to catch the attention of potential renters, the apartments also caught the attention of realtors.
One day, I got a phone call from a rental agent I knew who was in a bit of a bind
He told me that he had a tenant who’d just moved into a large, luxury apartment and they weren’t happy with the furnishings. He was worried they would pull out of the deal.
He asked if I’d be interested in giving it a makeover and told me that he’d give me a budget to go and buy whatever I needed to make it look fabulous. Four hours later, he asked if I’d be able to furnish four other apartments from scratch.
I’d always put a professional foot forward when I had any interaction with anyone in business, but this happened just by chance. I decided to run with it and marketed myself as an interior designer in 2017. This was something I’d always wanted to do, and now I had the chance.
I learned at Goldman Sachs that you should do the job before you get the job
When I was an analyst, I wanted the team leader role, so I took on more responsibility without being told to do it.
With interiors, I didn’t wait to be asked. I called realtors and asked if I could show them the apartment I’d just refurbished. I’d ask them to value it and give me their feedback.
This is my advice for anyone: If you want something, don’t hang back — go and do it.
While my new business was proving successful, I started small
My pint-sized Mini Cooper became my work van. My husband would stop by on his lunch hour to build Ikea-style cupboards, and our children got used to seeing their sofas go missing when they were used to help stage a show apartment.
There were plenty of challenges, including when a property in Edinburgh installed a fire door after I’d measured it for the arrival of a sofa. It was also too windy to use a cherry picker to hoist it into the apartment, so I had to drive it 46 miles back to Glasgow and find another sofa.
My business has grown dramatically since then
I have contractors who help me complete the work. However, I still choose and track down all the items that feature in my designs — not only because this is the part I enjoy, but I think it’s important I do that because I’m the outward face of the business.
The projects that I work on have also grown. I was recently asked to buy art for a beautiful, high-end apartment in Edinburgh. For that project, I was able to work directly with artists and galleries in Scotland.
While I was looking for investment pieces that would increase in value, it was a real pleasure to be able to support and work with local artists. When I work on a project, I’ll take photographs of it to share on social media or send to magazines.
When my remodeled home, once owned by the tutor for Mary Queen of Scots, was featured in Homes & Interiors Scotland, I didn’t know a TV producer would see the article
When she called me and asked if we’d like to be included in Scotland’s “Home of the Year 2021” competition, I agreed. Everything had been a bit grim and boring during the lockdown, so I thought it would be a fun thing to do.
It took half a day of filming and three weeks of tidying. The judges pointed out techniques I didn’t know I was using. It was just something I did naturally. We were delighted when we found out we’d won.
I was also asked if I wanted to be considered for a role as a designer on a new BBC interior-design show called ‘Virtually Home‘
I decided to go for it. The show places homeowners in a 3D version of their own home, and other designers and I show them what it could look like after a makeover. I usually work with corporate clients, so I loved working with people on their own homes.
While I don’t work with a 3D set such as this on a day-to-day basis, I do work with 3D apps to show clients what I’m working on. It helps so much with communication, as I’m able to show people what’s going on inside my head.
When I was younger, no one ever said you can combine your passion with your career. Now I do just that.