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The Storyteller Series: 7 stories with Isobel Star, Interior Designer

February's instalment of The Storyteller Series almost didn't happen.

Because not only did a bad bout of tonsillitis test my interviewing tekkers (and by tekkers, I mean, actual talking ability). But, thanks to patchy wi-fi I conducted this month's Storyteller interview noughties-style: over the phone.


And as I manually transcribed our interview like I was an intern at Time Out magazine all over again, I realised there was something so fitting about the nod to nostalgia, and a visit from the ghost of my career's past. Because not only does today's Storyteller toe the line between then and now in her work. But her business, the one she's built after 20+ years of letting it ruminate, is a reminder that it's never too late to listen and hold space for your past-self.


She's an interior designer with a unique eye for honouring the timestamp of a space with modern-day living and she gave me an insight into how she blends the old and new to create functional, cosy, homes.


Here's Seven Stories with Isobel Star.




 

Can't wait? Skip ahead to: 



 


 


Before we get started though… 


The prologue


Isobel Star is an interior designer based in Yorkshire helping people who want an authentic, refined, functional and joyful homes, with a narrative that truly reflects them and their unique property.  


Storytelling Style


She goes DEEP. Not only with her clients by finding out how they *actually* use the rooms in their home and what tingles their aesthetic tastebuds, but with her special interest in historical properties she preserves the story the walls whisper to her too. Her signature blend of old and new, functional and aesthetic, feels so homely and inviting it makes a welcome tonic to fleeting, social-media-made-me-do-it home trends.


 

The Origin story


"Can you share the story of how your business began?"


My business officially launched at the beginning of this year (2024), but I’d been leading up to it for a really long time. 


When I first started out in the working world, about 20 years ago now, I went into fashion but deep down, I always knew I wanted to go into interiors. They just didn’t even have the language or the education for it yet. I remember I did a BTEC in art and design and you had to pick a specialism, there was a choice between fashion and 3D (which was the closest thing to interior design). I remember feeling very torn, but everyone told me to do fashion because of my unique sense of style. So, I went along with it and had a great career, but I really could have gone the other way, even back then.


When I went into the fashion industry, fairly quickly I realised it wasn’t for me. I love fashion and textiles, but I think that it’s quite a fixed industry and hierarchical. It wasn’t good for my creativity and I knew I always wanted to do my own thing and work for myself.


Launching my own business was an idea that built up over a long period of time. It wasn’t a big “Aha!” moment. But, I think it’s something I’ve been working towards in the back of my mind. 


It gets to the point where you’re not answering your true purpose. There’s something niggling inside telling you this isn’t what I'm supposed to be doing. And it’s such a cliché, but I got to the age where if I don’t do it now I’m never going to!



The Storytelling Philosophy


"How does storytelling play a role in your business? Can you describe your philosophy or approach to using stories in your work?"


For me, it’s a huge part of what I do. The same way you [Elena] ask all these questions to write your words. I will ask a client many questions so I can design for them and stay true to their real story. 


The first stage is all about getting to know my clients and understanding everything about them: their lifestyle, what they like to do in their home, who else shares the space and how they use each of the rooms. This very first part is the most important - it’s when all the knowledge gets gathered and distilled into a concept.


I specialise in working with historical property, so the story of the property factors in as well. With historic homes, the craftsmanship and the feeling of “if these walls could talk”, often inspires my designs. My job is to weave together the client story, the property story, and then make those two things come together by making the home both functional and beautiful. 


Another key part to my philosophy is storytelling through objects. So in the same way we might want to preserve a historic window, I might have to work with special pieces that really mean something to the client: things like photos, artwork, decorative items, heirlooms that are not necessarily expensive, but that have been passed down and treasured. Sometimes it’s looking at that horrible vase your auntie gave you for your wedding and bringing it into a space in a way that works!



The Key Plot Point


"Can you share a key moment/experience in your business that led to a major change? How did this moment shape your business?"


My mentor urged me to stick to my style and be true to my instincts and that has really stayed with me. Because as a trained designer, I can design anything. If someone came to me and asked for something in particular, it’s so easy for me to execute that vision. But, I was encouraged to keep a sense of myself throughout designing and I have really carried this through. 


My style is a mix of old and new, high and low. To get the sense that, taking a very well made thing, which often comes with a big price tag to match, and maybe styling it next to something I’d find at a car boot - what some people call “tatt”, like a snow globe or something. I like to mix the snow globe with the venetian glass chandeliers. I like to make it work, it’s what I’m uniquely good at.


The Daily B Roll


"If I was a fly on the wall in your business what’s the one thing I’d see you do the most?"


You’d see me walking my dogs Pickle and Crumpet everyday. Usually at West Bank park or York racecourse. My dogs are quite lively, so they need a good walk!


I also spend a lot of time speaking to suppliers, trades, craftspeople, artists and architects. And when I'm building room schemes, you’ll find me in my studio surrounded by fabric swatches, tiles and flooring samples, wallpaper offcuts and colour charts.


The Rising Conflict


"Is there anything that’s got in the way of your business success? How did you overcome it?"


The biggest thing that’s got in my way is ME. It’s the usual… thinking I can’t do it, that it’s too big, that it’s not a good time, that I need another qualification, or more money saved. That thing of: yes, I will do that one day. But, it’s never a good time. 


Age snapped me out of it. When I turned 40, I thought “crikey how did that happen?” A decade goes by in a blink and I just suddenly thought, one minute I’m 30, next I’m 40. Will I turn 50 and still not have done anything? 


The Conversion Story


"What story about your own business or services resonates the most with your audience? Why do you think it has that impact?"


I think it’s mostly when people see my enthusiasm and passion. And also when I talk about incorporating second hand furniture and heirloom pieces into my designs, people tend to get quite excited. It signals that we’re on a similar wavelength.



The Story That Stuck


"What’s a piece of advice/lesson you’ve received that you’d happily share with other small business owners?"


It would be: there’s only one expert about your business and that’s YOU. Sure, get other people’s opinions and advice, and if you need something specific, get an expert to support that. But, have confidence in you and trust your instincts. 


Lots of people have told me that in lots of different ways. We all look to somebody for the answers and that’s the scary thing about being  a business owner, there’s no one to look to, the buck stops with you. If you’ve got a question the answer is probably you. It’s a scary thing and the most liberating thing.


 

Want to find out more about our Storyteller of the month?

Head to: Isobel Star's


 


Pssssst! Do you run your own business?

Do you want to share your story (or seven)?


Waitlist for Storyteller Series Season 2 now open 👇



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