At BIID we take great pride not only on the calibre of speakers who appear at our annual conference, but also the collective experience and expertise that defines our board of directors as leading voices in the world of design The differing journeys that each has taken is what ensures that their perspectives, objectives and opinions are valuable and relevant when making major manoeuvres as an industry institution.

Susie Rumbold is first and foremost an interior designer. She is also a businesswoman, creative director and (for the last year) BIID president. Following in the footsteps of Sue Timney and Daniel Hopwood, Susie uses her vast experience in both fashion and interior design — particularly as head of residential and commercial practice Tessuto Interiors — to support our board of directors as they make decisions that continue to move BIID and the UK’s rapidly developing interior design industry in the right direction.

Ahead of BIID’s Inside Knowledge conference on 8 June, where she will join a discussion on the ethics of mark-ups and handling fees, we caught up with Susie to talk about her fashion background, the role of finance in design and why professional bodies are key to industry growth.

You’ll find the full conference programme here.

Susie, you are the current president of BIID and an experienced interior designer, but you’ve said previously that you started off in fashion buying an industry defined and dictated by brands. Has branding and marketing changed people’s perceptions of interior designers, and the industry, in recent years?

Before starting in interior design, I spent seven years in the buying office at Topshop, who in the early 1990s, were in the vanguard of modern branding. The focus on their target customer was unwavering, and answering the customer’s needs was fundamental to every decision that was taken in that business.

Fast forward 25 years and branding and marketing is now all pervasive in every corner of human activity. Commercial interior design practices these days are far more “branded” than they used to be, and many have practiced what they preach by becoming branding agencies in their own right, helping their commercial clients to communicate seamlessly with their customers. Public perception of interior designers on the other hand is still limited to a few big “brand” names who have associated themselves with homeware products.

You will be discussing the ethics of mark-ups and handling fees at the conference in June. How did you learn to structure your fees and procurement costs?

In the early years of my company, we used many different ways of charging, and to a large degree it was a matter of trial and error. Clients however, always preferred a fixed fee so that they could control their costs. Consequently, for many years now we have prepared detailed document lists for each project we quote for, calculated how long we think it will take us to complete the work and therefore what the fee should be. Design has concrete value and it is important that we educate our clients to understand that it is the originality of the design that they are paying for.

Tessuto has a diverse range of commercial, development and residential projects in its portfolio. What are the financial implications of running a practice that works in both commercial and private fields?

Commercial projects depending on their size, tend to command larger fees, but the business is much harder to win in the first place, and you risk starvation sometimes waiting for projects to get going. We have one project currently that has been in gestation for over two years because of planning and legal issues. Private clients by contrast usually want you to start straight away which is good for cashflow, although generally the fees are smaller for the amount of work you end up doing. Personally, I enjoy the challenge of both commercial and private client projects as they each require a different skill set. Having a foot in both camps also has the advantage of shielding us against cold economic winds. If one sector is down, the other is generally up.

As an interior designer and a creative director, when you are choosing fabrics, colours, fittings and furniture for a new project, how much are you thinking about your brand?

When I am choosing things for clients I am only thinking about their preferences and needs. At the same time though, I am always thinking about my brand, and as part of that brand, we deliberately do not have a house style. Instead, we create every project for every client with fresh new eyes. We are client led, and this is very much part of who we are at Tessuto and our brand DNA.

Interior design is an industry full of small practices and individuals working independently. This means many creatives are also taking on business and finance management roles. How can interior designers acquire and develop their business skills?

By joining BIID and taking advantage of all the continuing professional development training, and the mentoring that is on offer there. Interior design is a really complex “left brain/right brain” job. It’s not like selling widgets from a market stall, and it’s incredibly tough to take on the running of a labyrinthine business and all its financial pressures in addition to satisfying your clients. Many creatives really struggle with this aspect of their working lives, and it’s interesting to note that many highly successful interior businesses are partnerships where one partner is the creative and the other is a business management person.

This year’s conference will focus on the business of interior design. As BIID president, Why was it important to you for this subject to be discussed and dissected?

We have been noticing for some time that the most popular BIID courses have been the ones that tackle the practical problems inherent in running an interior design practice. This got us thinking that there might be a need for a forum where people could step outside their busy working lives for a day, and really focus on how they could make those lives easier by improving the way they run their businesses. We have some amazing industry experts speaking at the conference this year who will be focusing on a group of business subjects that the BIID membership has told us they would like to know more about.

An understanding of the financial complexities of interior design, as well as mark-ups and handling fees, create a unique working relationship between interior designers and their suppliers. As a designer working with a team and a diverse range of clients, what are you looking for in a supplier?

We are lucky to have a huge range of suppliers that we have worked with for many years. The ones we really enjoy working with are the ones that can see what we are trying to achieve and bring their creative problem solving skills into play to make it happen. Suppliers need to suit a client’s budget of course, but it’s really not about the cost. The suppliers you return to time after time are the ones that are 100% reliable, will go the extra mile for you and your client, and solve, not create difficulties.

Before you were president you were CPD director at BIID. What were your main aims and objectives in that role and how did you achieved them?

As CPD Director my main aim was to broaden the range of CPDs on offer and try to make the program more engaging and relevant for the membership. As designers, we are constantly beset by changes in legislation that impact on how we run our businesses, and CPD is an essential tool for communicating these changes to the membership. By way of example, new health and safety requirements were introduced during my period as director, and we held a series of special seminars to try and ensure every member was aware of their new obligations under the regulations, and could approach them with confidence.

Why is it important for people to connect with and utilise their industry’s professional bodies?

A good professional membership organisation like the BIID allows people to network with their peers and be part of a supportive professional community. So many designers work in small practices or are sole traders, and it can be a great comfort to realise that everyone is coping with the same issues and problems in their working lives as you are. We all help each other out with support and advice, and have formed a lot of strong friendships in the process. It’s also a route that enables us to give something back to our industry by mentoring students and junior designers, and helping them to reach the high professional standard that will allow them in time to become full Institute members and BIID Registered Interior Designers.

As you prepare to hand over your presidential title to Charles Leon, what would you like to see him address in his year of presidency?

The BIID has come such a long way since we achieved institute status in 2009, and this is mostly down to the calibre of past presidents and directors. I inherited an already strong organisation, which seems to have grown even further in confidence and maturity in the last year. We have been working hard to find out exactly what the membership wants from their institute, and Charles I am sure will take this information and use it during his presidency to refine our goals and further strengthen our design community. Onwards and upwards!

Learn more about Susie’s session and book tickets for the BIID Inside Knowledge conference here.

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