Noisemaker: Amy Brandhorst, Interior Designer

Having studied together at Leeds University, we’d always been on the same trajectory as Amy. But, since graduating, she’s moved to Berlin and has forged a career in something far from the worlds most English Literature graduates work in. She’s now a freelance interior designer, with an enviable portfolio and an array of international clients to her name. How did she make that leap? It wasn’t with the usual design courses and diplomas… she did something a little different.

Landing in Berlin

Moving to Berlin straight from university, Amy got herself a copywriting job for a small property company. But it wasn’t long before she knew she could be doing a hell of a lot more than her job description required. ‘I basically ended up rebranding the whole company,’ she says. ‘I then moved into a lot more of a business development role, finding ways of making the company more money.’

Topology: Designing for the UK

Credit: Kasia Fiszer

It was at this time where Amy discovered an interior design blog called Topology, based back in the UK. Started by a friend of a friend, the blog provided Amy with a perfect jumping-off point to explore the world of interiors. ‘I couldn’t do interior design at this time but I could write, so I just wrote about interiors for a while,’ says Amy. ‘Athina — the founder — started to get more clients, and said that if I taught myself how to use the architectural software, I could take on clients too.’ So, a week or so and several dozen YouTube tutorials later, Amy had a a basic understanding of the software, and off she went.

The blog went from strength to strength, winning a handful of notable awards and blogging competitions. A few years into the process, and it’s now developed into something quite different. ‘Nowadays, we mainly run workshops and speaking events’, Amy tells us. ‘We do a few different workshops — we worked with an interior psychology expert, Eleftheria Karipidi, for a workshop about wellbeing in the home, and we also do a business booster workshop for interior designers who are wanting to push their business further.’

The journey to freelance

Credit: Donryoung Han

With a few clients under her belt from her work with Topology and an understanding of the necessary architectural software, Amy decided to make more use of the property company she worked for. She pitched to her boss the idea that the company should offer an interior design service to their clients, especially investors who would be letting their properties out. ‘I said I could run the whole thing myself — they wouldn’t have to do anything. I just did it within my normal pay and job description. I just wanted to have more work on my portfolio,’ says Amy.

Soon enough, she had a couple of apartments to her name, and she took the plunge to go freelance. We gawked when she told us how quickly she handed in her notice to work for herself. It seems, though, that Berlin is the place to do just that. ‘In my experience here, if you network well and are prepared to work hard for a low fee in the beginning, you’ll be ok. So I was doing a lot of work for barely any money.’

Two months’ rent saved and a few dozen emails sent out to various contacts in Berlin asking for any odd jobs, Amy was officially self-employed. ‘I did a bit of writing and branding work, and a little translation too, but I didn’t want to stay doing that for long. I was lucky, though — I only did that type of work for about three months, and then started getting interiors projects.’

A Partnership with Adidas

Credit: Ringo Paulusch

Despite only being a freelance designer for under a year now, Amy’s already worked on a few significant projects, from a series of micro-apartments to a Berlin-based café to, most impressively, a massive project for Adidas, which she says is her ‘proudest achievement so far’. And, in classic Amy style, it came about from a chance meeting with a stranger in a bar, who turned out to be in the market for an interior designer.

The job at hand was to design the interiors for an unusual space at Adidas’s high-intensity training centre in Berlin. ‘It was a cylindrical building that used to be a wheat mill, with only one round room inside,’ Amy tells us. ‘Adidas wanted to use it as a space where they could film interviews for social media, and somewhere they could bring Adidas associates from around the world for an upcoming Berlin-based summit.’

Taking inspiration from Bauhaus and Mondrian, the brief from Adidas was clear — create something completely different to the rest of the Adidas centre, which was black and industrial, with exposed brick and pipes. ‘They wanted to try something else, because that style is everywhere in Berlin now’, says Amy. ‘They wanted something colourful and different, so we came up with a concept with quite a colourful, timeless, playful aesthetic. We took inspiration from old-school gymnasiums and the structure of outdoor gyms.’

With a job as big as this, it was inevitable that imposter syndrome would strike at moments throughout the process. ‘There might have been other candidates that were more experienced than us, but knew I could get the job done. It was great going into a really male-dominated space, and we were the two women [Amy and the set designer] with all the power. It felt good project managing the whole thing.’

The Benefits of Berlin

We couldn’t help feeling, throughout our conversation with Amy, that her experiences in Berlin seem miles away from what could be possible for people our age in London with as few qualifications on paper as her. She agrees: ‘I think London would be a much tougher place to do what I did. They want you to be more established here. There’s always someone better than you, and everyone has a really fancy portfolio or website.’ She then scolds herself, still in disbelief that she’s managed to get as far as she has without a website. Go and grab that URL now, lady.

The Learning Process

In the UK, we are constantly bombarded with the idea that you need a degree to do anything. Thanks for that, Margaret Thatcher. Amy, however, learnt as she went along, studying the work of designers she admired and recreating what she liked from their designs.

But, as in all creative jobs nowadays, there’s a lot more to interior design than being able to choose a great fabric or design an incredible layout. ‘It’s a really creative job, but you need real business skills,’ says Amy. ‘20% of it is design and 80% is running a business. So much of it is about budgeting, logistics, optimising your service, finding good people and managing them well.’

Building a Community

Credit: Linda Pochinda

Learning on the job was essential practise for Amy. Working out how to charge clients and break down the fee is not something that comes naturally to a lot of creatives. Amy is now using the skills she’s learnt from this process, sharing her wisdom with others. ‘I’ve started a Facebook group for designers in Berlin, because previously there was no community for interior designers and it now has 200 members,’ she says. ‘Now I run monthly meet-ups for designers and architects in Berlin, as a form of networking.’

She plans to take this part of her business further, potentially branching out into creating a database or website, where users can pay a subscription fee to access trusted tradespeople and invaluable trade discounts.

If ever you needed to meet someone to prove that a get-up-and-go attitude and an ability to strike up a conversation with a stranger in a bar could get you far in life, we’d send you in the direction of Amy Brandhorst. Sure, Berlin’s provided her with an accessible freelance landscape, but there’s no denying that the career she’s forged for herself in the last few years is down to pure graft, paired with an enviable attitude to carving her own path and saying yes to whatever comes her way.

In the meantime, we’re relocating to Berlin. See you there, bitches.

To find out more about Amy’s projects, check out her Instagram here. For more information on Topology, visit topologyinteriors.com. If and when she gets round to making a website, we’ll be sure to hit you up. But, to be honest, we’re not sure she needs one.

Amy’s Read: Happy By Design by Ben Channon, which explores how tweaking architecture can improve our happiness, and The Sun and her Flowers by Rupi Kaur, a set of beautiful poetry laid bare about the modern relationship.

Amy’s Hear: The song On A Journey by Warm, which I’m listening to a lot at the moment. It’s got a nice, balearic sound.

Amy’s Think: How design and psychology/mental health and wellbeing intersect.

Amy’s Do: I’m working on creating a community of interior designers and architects in Berlin, organising meet-ups and events. Also, expanding my collection of vintage vases — I have over 30 now!

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A fortnightly newsletter devoted to sourcing the best cultural content in a world of white noise.