I'm wearing tracksuit bottoms whilst breaking in Malone Soulier heels for my Post-CoronaV Party!

Hear from Velvet Interiors, Shauna Stewart.

"When Lizzo belts out I’m 100% that bitch. I want to inhabit all of that. But honestly, being 53% any level of normal grumpy bitch is exhausting when balancing being a half decent partner, mother and business woman. I so want that level of Lizzo sass in my everyday life. Strutting to my Volvo shouting ‘hell yeah’ to the bin man.

A Derry woman. A wife. A mum. An art college drop out. A one-time air hostess (five stone ago), an interior designer and brand development agent. An extrovert non-stop talker with an unfilled notion of communicating in the written word and being in the Sunday Times magazine. You know-the back page where you’re invited to give tips and advice on what you wish you’d known? That page. I’m all over that page. I left art college for love and anxiety. The love didn’t work out and the anxiety is well hidden. Post drop out I trained as an interior designer for a small company. I had always dreamed of being a fashion designer, but interior design seemed a better fit. At twenty-five I went back to the School of Architecture in Belfast. I knew I wanted more from my career and my own business but knew I needed the assurance of a qualification behind me.

Once I ticked that box, I was off. Left my job at twenty-seven with no money to start a design practice. I still have the stub of the first deposit lodged for £763. That was all I had. But it was the height of the boom in Ireland and before I knew it, I was managing huge projects and enjoying incredible success. Then two things happened.

The 2008 property bubble burst, and Motherhood. The crash I navigated. Motherhood was not my most natural fit. I went back to work eleven days after my first child was born. I call the early years of my two boys The Fog. Somewhere in those years I lost my sense of identity as a woman and person. I was lonely and struggled to adjust to the new normal. My identity and value were so connected to my career that even my son called me by my first name. Not mum. Add to the mix a child diagnosed with Aspergers. I was a woman on the edge; waiting for 5pm to drink white wine. Allowing my husband to pursue his career hard in Dublin, I stayed home in Northern Ireland with an au pair, two small boys and a busy interior design practice. By the time he came back with his career intact, I felt lost and my passion for interior design had faded. I needed new people. I needed out in the wider world and stretched beyond what I thought stretched even was. The obvious step was to get a job. Trying to find a job after running a seemingly successful business is easier said than done. One interviewer told me bluntly, he would not be a stop-gap for my failed business. Even my mother suggested I was unemployable having my own way for a very long time. But an opportunity presented itself to interview as an Irish brand manager for a Scottish textile and home brand. They considered having me the guts to run a company and my experience, the right package. So, with oodles of confidence and fabulous shoes, I set sail managing a portfolio of four hundred customers. Amongst them, some of the biggest names in retail in Ireland. And as it happens, I was good at it. More than good. I developed the fastest growing and most successful territory for the brand. Consumer culture, brand, retail success, understanding the client and relationship with customer was when I came alive. Travel, the constantly evolving nature of retail and the challenges of keeping a brand plugged in and relevant to the market was the catalyst for change in my life. I was happier professionally and personally and have remained so. But with forty licking at my heels, the entrepreneur in me reared its head. But to do what? Fortunately, I am surrounded by a posse of intelligent razor-sharp women who I can be my most vulnerable with. They challenged me, poked me and forced me to think big, then bigger. Lots of weeping and ‘what the hell am I doing?!’ was part of the process. One weekend after lots of chatting and thinking I had a breakthrough and decided to form an agency offering management to brands coupled with an interior design practice. All within my specialism of home and interiors. The agency now has a portfolio of European interior brands who we manage and develop in Ireland. I travel extensively throughout Europe and Ireland and work with Irish retailers who share my values and love what we offer. It’s been an exciting rollercoaster with some serious mistakes and learning. I really care about the commercial success of my unique and innovative independent traders, and they know this. I think Mary Porta’s is spot on when she says, the days of mediocre retail are over. Those who foster a deeper connection with their consumer, create a unique and covetable shopping experience will flourish. Home design is my first love and, as we are currently in them all day every day, it has made me reflect even more on the impact of interior design on well-being. As an interior designer, I am invited into the most private area of my client’s life-their home. It is a privilege I never take for granted. I have seen first-hand a client’s quality of life improved with changes we have made to their home. The couple who could never finish anything after the suicide of their son, the gentleman making the family home his own after his wife died from cancer, the postnatally depressed mum who couldn’t move ahead with life, the lady overwhelmed by shopping addiction and no storage. Not all projects are Instagram images for public consumption and praise. It’s not just cushions. It’s a strange special emotive relationship, some have spanned twenty years. I am not the designer with a signature style, an influencer of fashion or hashtag anything. Yes, I am a brand in my own right, but this isn’t the focus, I am about amazing homes and understanding the people in them and how they want to live. A very unexpected development in my business has been moving into office design. But not grey desk territory. Exciting and diverse collaborations with innovative organisations. Great office spaces create an amazing culture and morale within a company and office design now commands the same level of comfort as home. When I started I had not one single notion about the technical details of how long one should be in a particular chair, light, acoustics or air circulation but I’m well versed now! My team and I have created some spaces to be proud of. When the staff in these offices high five me when I’m there, it’s measure of the success of the space and extremely rewarding. Today sees all I do in my business in a completely different light. First up, I’m sitting at my desk at home as I write this. I’m wearing stretchy pants but with Malone Soulier heels that I’m breaking in for life after Corona.

I am conscious that how people live and what they value will have changed in a few short weeks. And that I will need to adapt. How will that look and are the days of rabid consumerism gone? Will people value their home more and demand an improved work environment?

Who knows?

What I know for sure is, I have finally found a level of equilibrium with family and career, I have reinvented and weathered change many times before, I’ve got this. We’ve got this. And if I can be even 70% that bitch on a good day (with my nails and eyebrows sorted) I’ll be doing well."

Follow Shauna on social 💕

Instagram: @Velvetinteriors_ireland 

Facebook: Velvet Ireland

*Shauna pictured with her mid life crisis, Rosie the dachshund 🐶

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