Insider Knowledge: Meet Natalie Holden and Melinda Kiss – Interior Designers & Founders of Concept North

As part of Decor Blueprint’s vision, I want to let you gain inspiration from other interior designers and experts in the industry to help you launch, run & grow your own design businesses. As part of this journey, today I launch the first of the Insider Knowledge Series, which will form a collection of interviews with interior designers to give an insight into how they started their businesses, grew them to where they are today and the other activities they get up to within the industry.

To kick off the Insider Knowledge Series, we meet Natalie Holden and Melinda Kiss, both esteemed interior designers and founders of Concept North – a platform born out of the two Northern designer’s mutual passion for design and connecting individuals in the design and property industry.

Introduce yourselves and how you got into the design industry

Melinda: My name is Melinda and I run a small interior design studio in the heart of Lancashire. I had quite the journey and tried out a lot of different jobs I really didn’t like before finally deciding to follow my heart and become a designer. I grew up in a house with an architect dad and a mum who would constantly change the way our home looked so in a way design has always been in my life – I remember spending hours staring at my dad’s drawing table and flicking through Architectural Digest! Looking back I think it was inevitable for me to follow this path and as soon as I realised that, I started my degree in design and volunteered to work for a local design company. Things just followed their natural course from then on.

Natalie: My passion for art & design started from a very early age; I was always drawing and making things as a child and I was fascinated with all the home renovation and property programmes on TV. After studying interior design in university, the industry was only just recovering from the recession so it was a really challenging time.

There weren’t many opportunities available but luckily I managed to get my foot in the door working for a luxury furniture company as an in-house design consultant. After a good few years working for other companies, and a couple of years working in sponsored events for the property sector, I decided to set up my own interior business!

What is Concept North and how is it helping the design industry?

The best way of describing Concept North is to call it our passion project. When we first met we were both so eager to give advice and bounce ideas off each other. It wasn’t long (about 15 minutes to be precise) before we started talking about this theoretical place where people from all over the design and property industry can come together and support each other. We both attend London Design Festival every year and we have friends in the industry who work down South so we are aware of all the amazing events that happen there on a weekly basis. So we wanted to find a way to bring the same concept to the North of the UK and give people like us more opportunities to connect and collaborate. Things progressed very quickly from then on and we are now working on our next three events.

When’s your next Concept North event and what’s the topic?

Our next event is happening on Thursday 22nd November, in a beautifully designed restaurant in Cheshire called April’s Kitchen. We have an industry panel discussion talking about the topic of difficult clients, food tasting and competitions. Our aim was to create something that would inspire, support and allow industry professionals to connect with each other within a relaxed and friendly environment. We still have a few tickets available if any designers, architects, interior brands or interior bloggers in the area would like to join us!

What does the future hold for Concept North?

Photo Credit: EMCE Photo

We have a really clear vision for Concept North and we are planning lots of different events such as workshops, panel discussions and networking events. We also plan to hold a larger exhibition in future. The main thing for us at the moment is to try and raise as much awareness as possible about what we are doing and gain backing from businesses who support our vision for the industry in the North of the UK.

What would be your best tips for budding interior design students looking to start a career in the industry?

Melinda: Get yourself into a design studio and soak up all the knowledge you can. Offer your services as a volunteer or an intern – it is hands down the best way of getting to grips with what the job really entails! I loved studying and learning about interior design but it was working as a volunteer that prepared me to tackle real-life projects.

Natalie: My biggest piece of advice is to be persistent, gain as much experience as possible and attend lots of industry events like Concept North! Networking has been key for me. It’s really important for you to be able to sell yourself and your ideas when working as a designer, so getting out and meeting as many people as possible enables you to grow your confidence and pitching skills.

How have your interior design businesses grown – what do you put your success down to?

Both our companies are very young so at this point, we find it difficult to say we have reached the ‘successful’ point. But we have come very far since starting our companies and we are both proud of what we have achieved so far!

You obviously need a good eye and attention to detail, but you also have to learn how to be a salesperson, accountant, head of marketing and everything in between. It’s combining all those skills that will drive a company forward and make a designer stand out from the crowd. If there is a key to success we both agree it would have to be hard work, resilience and believing in that one thing that makes you different from other designers.

A massive thank you to Melinda and Natalie for taking the time to answer the questions and give an insight into their design world. If you are in the region, make sure you check out Concept North – it will definitely help to learn more about the design industry. You can also follow Concept North on Twitter & Instagram.