Karen Howes, 45, is an interior designer. Her company, Taylor Howes Designs, is based in Chelsea in London
What do you actually do?
We work from the inside out, planning every single element of the interior of a building. It's everything from designing the physical lay-out of a room, to picking the exact shade of paint for the walls and choosing light fittings. It's not just about decorating – we're involved from the start of the planning process. About half our business is working with property developers, designing new buildings and show flats and houses, and we also design the interiors of hotels and private homes.
What's a typical day like?
No two days are ever the same. I might start work in the office, brainstorming on a particular project with our design team. Then I could meet with a new client, or deal with some PR and marketing. Later, I might head down to a building site in a hard hat and boots, to check that the technical planning of a new project is going smoothly. We source everything for our interiors so I often have to go shopping, or visit an auction or gallery for some inspiration.
What do you love about it?
Interior design is taken very seriously now. People know it's about much more than paper and paint. We have to get into a client's mindset and interpret how they live. You've got to predict trends in home design two to three years ahead of the market, so I'm always thinking whether the next look is going to be luxurious and plush, or minimalist and sleek. When I walk around a beautiful room with a client, and they burst into tears because they love their new home so much, it's the icing on the cake.
What's not so great about it?
Dealing with builders and suppliers while trying to keep to tight deadlines can be very stressful. You have to store a lot of information in your head, and if a piece of furniture hasn't arrived in time, you need to source an alternative.
What skills do you need to do the job well?
You've got to have vision – to be able to walk into the shell of a house and visualise what it should look like. Then you've got to be able to convey that strong vision to your client and team. You need to communicate, so there are no surprises at the end of a project. When you're working out what a client wants, you have to be intuitive and able to listen. You also need a thorough knowledge of how buildings are constructed: the lighting, audiovisual and technical elements. The key to a successful interior is having a place for everything, so you need a clear idea of how to plan space and storage solutions.
What advice would you give someone with their eye on your job?
When I started in interior design, there were very few courses. Now there are some excellent courses at places like the KLC School of Design and Inchbald School of Design in London. A year's course would give you a good grounding in skills like drawing and putting together design boards. If you're going to embark on a career in interior design, you must have passion. Visit showrooms, be open to inspiration, and keep persevering. It's a lifelong learning curve.
What's the salary and career path like?
A design assistant in an interior design firm would start out on around £20,000 a year. People often start working for friends and build experience. If you're going to work freelance, you need a good stable of clients and contacts. I think the best place to start is working for an interior design practice. Your career progression is down to talent.
For more information on training and careers in interior design, visit www.klc.co.uk; www.inchbald.co.uk; www.bida.org; www.csd.org.uk; or www.designcouncil.org.uk