I am very excited to share Tara’s story with you today. I think you’ll agree that her demonstration of determination, passion and hard work is truly inspirational. Tara has her own interior design studio in Brisbane, TD Creative Agency which I would recommend you have a look at for your next project. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did.
My Trade Story with Tara Dennis
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved property. It probably has something to do with being raised in a family that runs a property development business, but that exposure only stretches so far. Construction sites, multi residential buildings, old warehouses, small spaces – anything related to property, I loved it. Which meant I should have known what industry to work in when I finished high school and was looking towards University, but I figured that the love I had for property was something I had grown accustomed to, rather than something that was natural. So instead, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Business degree, majoring in Management and International Business, and graduated four years later disenchanted and a little lost as to my next step. So I went back to what I knew – property – and starting working as a receptionist at a big international property company.
After a few months in the Receptionist role I moved into the Sales team as an assistant, and had my future mentally mapped out as a real estate agent selling commercial property. However very quickly I realised that I didn’t want to spend every day on the phone, and that I loved the creative side of the role such as designing client invitations and redesigning templates and found myself scouring interior blogs when the monotony of excel spreadsheets got to be too much. I had never considered interior design as a profession before, yet after years of loving building structures and exterior envelopes, I found myself looking towards the interior, and became fascinated with spaces, atmosphere, lighting and mood. When I stumbled upon the UK interior designer Abigail Ahern who favours dark interiors, I realised that a profession in interior design didn’t mean I had to like white and bright – that I could stay true to myself and design dark, moody and masculine interiors. So after two years in the real estate industry I quit my full time job, enrolled in a Bachelor of design degree at QUT, majoring in Interior Design, and became a full time, unemployed student all over again. I was 22 and had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The first year of design was tough. All the creativity I had built up inside me was trying to spill out, but I had little idea of what I was doing, or how I should be doing it. I was burning through my savings with not a care in the world, had just moved out of home for the first time, and was trying to work out my place in the world. From day one, we had been warned of the difficulty of getting a job once graduating – the statistic was 1/3 of the class find employment – or something dauntingly similar. I decided I didn’t want to be one of those students who graduate without a job, so I started looking around for a job in the design industry. Which was no easy feat. The industry is incredibly insular, so finding available positions was impossible. I knew no one in the industry – literally – and sat on job sites for weeks without anything popping up. I was inexperienced, unfamiliar and had no design portfolio whatsoever. So, again, I went back to what I knew and became a receptionist at an urban design/landscape design firm, vowing to work my way into the industry.
Luckily, through some personal connections, I was eventually able to secure a work experience role at a design firm. At the same time, I started posting on my Instagram page interiors I like that I came across in my daily travels. I was studying full time, working two days a week as a receptionist, and one day a week in work experience. I was just making enough to cover my minimal expenses, and it was tough. I disliked the work experience role – I was so keen to work hard, and deeply in the industry, that I found it incredibly difficult to limit my experience to one day a week as it meant I couldn’t sink my teeth into a job properly. Fortunately, friends and family had started to notice my obsession with interiors through my Instagram posts, and at the beginning of my third year of studies I took on my first official client and my first official paid job – the fitout of a 24sqm jewellery store in the city. I was terrified, and freaking out as to how I was going to manage uni, two jobs AND a private client. It seemed like too much, but I said yes and decided to work it all out later.
Over the next 6 months, I picked up further private work and was beside myself with excitement – I was learning more with these projects than I was at the design studios and uni. I was also exhausted. It came to a pinnacle in October of my third year of studies. I was full time uni, spending three days at work, and in every second of my spare time either studying or working on client projects. Working 12 hour days every single day – including weekends – is not sustainable – something had to give. And it wasn’t going to be my private clients. So I quit everything except uni, and became fully self-employed. I was 25, in my third year of uni so still officially unqualified, had very minimal savings, and had around 18months of 1 days a week practical experience as an interior design. But I knew it could do it. So I jumped in.
I wish I could say that things got easier. They didn’t. in fact, it got harder. The 12 hour days did not end when I became self-employed. If anything, they became longer, and more intense, and with far greater responsibility. To top it off, we were scheduled to attend 10 weddings in 8 months – none of which were in our home city. So in an attempt to have a life on the side of work and uni I was trying to fit in 7 days of work in 5. Work had taken off – I had 10+ jobs open at once, so I hired a uni student to help with the workload. Which seemed like a great idea until I realised I was charging too little to afford her, and didn’t have any experience at all with accounts, tax, HR and legal. I was using up all and every resource that I could find – researching contracts, educating myself on the legalities of a business, watched online programs and videos and basically closed my eyes and made sure I got through each day, one day at a time. And somehow, I came out the other end. I graduated fully intact in December last year.
Since then, work has been great. Busy. Too busy. I’m back to working 12 hour days, and all weekends, and I’m over it. I love my job, and the industry, but I want my life back. My brain needs some downtime. So I’m in the tough position now of taking the business to the next step, and accepting growth and moving with it. Which is completely and entirely what I want, but the decision and the acknowledgment is incredibly daunting. It is also mind-numbingly exciting. I have the same uni student back working for me casually, and I’m looking at bringing in an industry colleague into the business to essentially hand over half my projects, segmenting projects by scope and requirements, and allowing my clients to receive a full service. I’m expanding into events, and am adding property staging to our services – two industries that I have no prior experience in, but feel are closely related enough that I can adapt my skills. This next step of expansion will be my biggest obstacle to date, but I am ready, and willing, and will do what comes naturally – taking one day at a time and always, always, hoping for the best. So my advice to you is this – say yes and work the rest out later. We are surrounded by endless resources to help us find our way. Just because you don’t know it now, doesn’t mean you can’t work it out in the future. Have faith in your abilities and others will believe you.
Isn’t that an inspirational story? I love that Tara never gave up and still remained true to herself. Even after completing her first degree, she still realised that she needed to pursue her passion in Interior Design and went back to university again to follow her dream. If you would like to know more about Tara, visit her webpage or find her on Instagram. Thank you for sharing your story Tara.
Is there a trade story you are interested in hearing? Do you have a story to share? I’d love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org