We’re meeting the businesses in Bristol Pound’s network who are making the most of our Premium Business Services. We want to hear the stories about their business, about themselves and how being a part of a localised economy helps them.
Words | Bet Finch
Stepping off the bus at The HorseShoe bus stop in Downend, I find myself looking across the road at a unique and inviting stylish café called The Beehive. Only later, when I get talking to Inna about the stories of some of her earlier design projects, do I find out that this beehive-themed café interior was one of her’s!
I met Inna Hart, founder of Inna Hart Interiors, for a coffee and a chat about her passion in interior design and the journey of her local business. Within minutes of us introducing ourselves, we were deep in conversation about the importance of interior design for a business in creating an atmosphere, making people feel comfortable in a space and how it plays a vital part in differentiating it from other businesses.
Inna began indulging her creative spark for interiors when helping friends to refurbish their investment properties in Belarus and later in Lithuania, where her family has roots. However, at this time it was no more than a passionate hobby. Design felt natural and enjoyable to her and Inna did not realise that it could lead to any vocation or could be a serious profession.
Visiting trade shows for personal interest, Inna expanded her understanding of home decor and interior design. She was always curious to see the show homes of the new-builds around her.
When Inna first bought a house in Bristol with her Husband, she realised that for the first time she had complete creative freedom and control of her living space and could decorate it to her heart’s content.
With her growing interest in interior design and the encouragement of her friends and husband to recognise the value of her favourite hobby, she began to study and follow it as a potential career. Through a British Academy of Interior Design course and later a more technical builder’s compliance and structural engineering course, Inna started to build up the qualifications to turn her flair for design into a profession.
Throughout this course, Inna had projects to complete for her coursework. So, having already done up her own house, Inna turned to her local community and offered to redecorate people’s homes for free to practise her designing and support her coursework.
The response Inna was met with when she presented her designs to the families and home-owners of her neighbourhood was a great reward and encouragement to Inna. Her coursework projects covered living spaces, kitchens, bathrooms and even gardens and landscaping. Not only was this practical experience giving Inna a chance to get her teeth into designing a wide range of interior spaces, it was giving her a taste of what it’s like to work with a client and the thrill of making them happy. Learning how to communicate with clients is an invaluable part of becoming a great interior designer.
In the future, Inna wants to focus on working more with commercial companies to establish herself in the hospitality business. With previous experience working in hospitality herself, Inna “knows the business inside out” and understands the importance of visuals to help businesses be noticed. Atmosphere and vibe is vital in hospitality and “it must go hand in hand with the ethos of the business and why they want to create a certain atmosphere”, explains Inna. She believes that the values and ethos of a business “can be interpreted through interiors”.
I asked Inna the big question of what makes good interior design and as she answered, the personal focus of Inna’s work really started to shine out. Inna told me that “listening to your clients” and discussing ideas with them was of the highest importance. As a designer, Inna believes that you have to have the bravery to question your client’s decisions and assumptions. A great designer is truthful, open and honest in helping clients to consider all the options and find the one best for them. Inna will “never be afraid to sensitively suggest big changes, so that they get the best out of it”.
During the design process Inna tries to streamline narrowing down the options to give her clients the best choices, without the stress of complex and overwhelming decision-making. Sometimes she even schedules trade provisionally before the proposal is completed to make sure they get the best people and that it goes smoothly and efficiently. Inna describes how this is “so that when the contractor comes in, there are no hold ups”.
For residential design, reflecting the person’s personality and character is essential. Inna likes to “find something really important or that they love and center the design around that”. To achieve this, Inna explains that it’s important to “connect with the client on a personal level – not just what they like right now but their ideas and hopes for the future – what they want to use the space for, like kids or parties for example.” So, the atmosphere and functionality of the space are important starting points. Inna “starts with schematic design, including overall mood and colour schemes, then comes the furniture, fittings and equipment layout and then the fun parts like picking furniture and accessories”
Throughout her journey as a lover of interior design, Inna has had a passion for upcycling. At one point during her studies, she even helped to run a second-hand furniture shop upcycling and refurbishing furniture. This experience, and the network of local artisans and traders that it brought her into, has been important to her work in design ever since. This means that Inna is well equipped as an interior designer to steer people towards locally sourced furnishings and help them to find great quality local makers, craftsmen and artists/artisans.
Inna doesn’t like to throw away or waste items or furnishings. Instead of throwing them away, she keeps things to upcycle and use in other projects or pass on to the network of local upcyclers that she knows. Not only does this mean she has access to lots of unique and characterful furnishings, but it means she is supporting sustainability and reusing materials.
As part of the community of local business and the Bristol Pound network of members, Inna was pleasantly surprised by the environment of mutual support. Inna describes it as being “treated more as a network of traders rather than competitors ”. When someone comes to her with a project that is not in her field, Inna likes recommending or directing them to other local businesses.
Being a Bristol Pound Business member is important to Inna because it “means something to the clients.” It gives clients confidence that they are becoming involved in local causes and supporting local businesses and economy: “it makes them feel good because they know they are using a business who is part of local network.” And so, for Inna, “It’s about more than just a logo on your website”.
When choosing who to work with on a project, Inna prioritises local businesses: fitters and contractors, electricians, makers and plumbers. She says, “clients value these local connections and like to know where their furnishings came from and the story of the artwork and items.”
Rather than charging per hour like most larger interior design agencies, Inna uses a different and fairer pricing structure to make her services accessible to individuals and smaller businesses with a more limited budget. She charges by square meter, so that those with bigger properties pay more and smaller spaces can be done affordably. This means it’s up to Inna how long she spends on each part of the space and she doesn’t have to rush on small spaces, allowing her to focus on space efficiency and give all areas of the property, however small, the attention they deserve. Inna also offers different prices for commercial rather than residential, because commercial projects come with a different set of considerations including branding and regulations. Inna even offers 20% off for all Bristol Pound members.
As an interior designer, Inna can help people to find good quality materials, furnishing and supplies for trade prices. Not only ensuring they get great quality and reliable items, but they also get good deals. In this way, Inna is committed to breaking stereotypes of interior designers being over-expensive or exclusively for the rich. Instead, Inna believes in making it accessible to anyone, so she doesn’t add a mark-up on items that she sources and her clients get the trade prices.
I asked Inna about her favourite moments and she did not hesitate to answer: “When you show your very first option or design to a client and they shout ‘I love it’ it melts my heart.” The most gratifying feeling for Inna is “knowing that I got it right from the very start and that I’ve really understood their vision, style and desires”
She finds it very rewarding “to win over a sceptical client”. Inna’s mother-in-law was sceptical the whole way through, but trusted Inna anyway and when it all came together she couldn’t believe how much she loved it.
After finishing a project Inna gets a thrill from “when new project photographs arrive in my inbox”, usually from Jo Hounsome, a local photographer who Inna likes to work with.
We ended the conversation back at the same subject that had caught my eye when I left the bus: The Beehive café. Inna tells me the story of how, when dropping off leaflets to local businesses and first trying to get to know her new local area, she left a bunch of them with Phoebe, who owns the local café, Beehive. They got chatting. Phoebe was planning to expand the café and renovate the space, so Inna offered to help. It was a challenge with the tight budget, so Inna had to be resourceful and efficient, coming up with creative ideas like finding local connections for DIY work, repurposing second-hand items and using cross-promotion and non-monetary deals. This became not only a greatly successful early project for Inna’s design business, but a valuable local connection.