Julia Murray has lived in many different places, but endeavoured to turn each house she settled in into a home. Unfortunately, the finished projects never quite matched up to what Julia had envisioned. Instead of being deterred from the process, Julia simply thought, "How can I fix that?" In her quest to find the solution, Julia left the record industry behind to set up her own interior design business, The House Ministry. What Julia found is that homes were not built by materials alone, but with the help of emotions. Julia now recognises her work as part of the "emotions business" and understands how our surroundings affect our mental wellbeing.
Julia talks about balancing the school run with her own school work, why you should never assume anything and how an obsession with rearranging the furniture shaped her career...
Looking back, I realise that I’ve always been interested in houses and how people live in them, but just didn’t recognise it or even know that interior design was a possible career at the time. When I was about 14 or 15 I visited an exhibition of show homes which ignited my interest. After that, I remember sketching floor plans for my ideal house layout as a teenager and rearranging my bedroom furniture a lot.
Why she started
We moved house a lot with my husband’s job and renovated the properties we lived in. There were two issues that frequently cropped up: firstly, I discovered that trades-people I engaged to do the work didn’t always work well together, resulting in costly mistakes and delays. Secondly, the finished rooms didn’t look quite as I expected them to.
There was something missing and I didn’t know what. I decided to retrain in interior design to discover why.
Why she stays
Interior design is constantly inspiring. It’s an industry that is continually evolving and I never stop learning. Every day I challenge myself to be the best I can be. I’m lucky that I’m working in a field that I really enjoy.
Studies and motherhood
I found returning to study a really good experience, challenging but rewarding. My family and friends were all very encouraging. The tricky bit was finding childcare for my school-age children so I could do a face to face course, which gave me an understanding of design from the perspective of other students.
Defining your own success
It is so easy to compare your career beginnings to someone else’s middle or end. In the early days, I had to remind myself that those I was comparing myself to had many more years experience than me. With any training, there is still a lot to learn when putting the teachings into practice and I have literally spent hours and hours reading and researching to supplement my knowledge. I aim to be the best designer I can be and serve our clients in the most effective way.
It's not all cushion plumping and soft furnishings...
Interior design can be wrongly thought of as a frivolous pursuit—all cushion plumping and soft furnishings. In reality, it is so much more important than that.
By interpreting the feelings that people want to experience when they walk into a space, a designer will create a spatial layout and room design that delivers that for them. Think about entering a glamorous hotel, fancy restaurant or high-end store—somewhere you instinctively said "WOW!" when you walked in. You subconsciously recognised it as being a space that made you feel happy or inspired. That’s the direct effect of interior design. Conversely, a space that is gloomy, badly laid out with poor lighting can really lower your mood. Interior design directly affects the emotional well being of a space’s users.
Harnessing the power of colour
In my view, blues and greens are the most harmonious colours to promote balance and happiness. We see these colours in nature—countryside, the sea and sky—and most people love being outside. There are so many different shades and tones of both; there are endless possibilities for schemes using them. However, a colour scheme will always need other accent colours and finishes to really bring it to life.
Neutral colours such as cream, beige, sand, white and browns can also feel balanced but can become very bland unless you know how to create interest and use them together. Likewise grey has been very popular lately, but too much of it becomes oppressive.
As part of our CPD this year we are doing a course on colour psychology which explains the scientific reasons behind why certain colours make us feel particular emotions.
Wisdom from the music industry
1. Never assume anything!
2. Creativity still needs a process.
To avoid chaos and costly amendments, creative elements need to be underpinned by structure and a process to follow to take it from the first idea through to the completed result.
The reason for both these lessons being relevant is really that both industries involve creative elements being turned into a finished product with many moving parts and people involved along the way. Lots of detail means that many things can go wrong, and you have to be ‘on it’ to ensure that everything has been checked, thought about and communicated.
For example: if you don't put in writing that you want a braid added to the leading edge of the curtains exactly 2cm in from the edge, then the maker will just decide what the distance should be—and it probably won’t be what you want!
Both music and well-designed interiors have the ability to give us all an emotional boost—a pleasure that we can return to time and again. Working in the music industry introduced me to a wide range of different genres of music which kept my mind open to the fact that inspiration and enjoyment can come from many unexpected avenues.
Advice for a newbie
It is the start of a long journey, with many challenges along the route—most of them related to running a business, rather than design!
Let the music play on
I have definitely maintained my connection to the music industry. I’m still in touch with several good friends I made during my time at EMI, some of whom are still working in the industry. I listen to music a lot at home and love going to see live music when I can.
The only thing that has changed since leaving the industry is that once upon a time, I had no problem working in an office hearing two or three different artists' music playing at once—now I don’t think I’d be able to concentrate!