Introduction by Andrew Mitchell
The first thing that strikes you about Danielle Serpanchy is her outward beauty. She has such elegance and poise (characteristics she successfully translates into her interiors) and a unique sense of style. Her Sri Lankan heritage quietly informs both her personal and professional design choices, whether that be a beautifully patterned summer dress she wears or a fabric that adorns a beautiful bedroom chair for one of her clients.
When you get to know Danielle, however, you become acutely aware that her beauty runs far deeper than the surface, and that her sense of style is backed up by a great head for figures and a fierce determation to achieve great things whilst leaving a positive mark on the world.
I have the privelege of calling Danielle a client, a work colleague and good friend. She has been a supporter of The Design Coach from its inception and has helped inform my own journey of personal and professional development.
Coaching Danielle has always been a pleasure due to her willingness to learn, her diligence in doing the work needed to get results, and an unrelenting desire to be the best version of herself possible. There is no doubt that whatever she puts her mind to she will achieve.
INTERVIEW WITH DANIELLE SERPANCHY
Here we ask Danielle some questions about what it takes to succeed in the interior design industry, and how coaching has helped along the way.
TDC: Danielle, you easily fit in the category of ‘mid-career changer’ but I don’t believe that you could ever be that predictable. Tell us a bit about your background and your decision to become an interior designer.
DS: Well, my family and close friends know I wanted to be an Interior Designer since the age of about 12 (little did I know what the job might actually entail), but I never quite found my way into the industry. Instead, I took what I used to think of as a detour - moving through a variety of retail and finance roles until finally making the apparently risky decision to move into Interior Design. At some stage over the past few years it finally dawned on me how valuable my past roles in customer service and finance were in helping me run a client focussed business. I think this is an industry about people, so no matter what you have done before there is value you can take from your past and inject into your future.
I also once thought there would be some ‘final career destination,’ but as it turns out this career path is a winding one too and I think that’s part of what keeps me interested and on my toes. There are no two clients the same and that delivers so many opportunities for growing, adapting, developing and experimenting. I realise now that there is no ‘end point’ – just an ever changing adventure through which I can actually help people truly feel good, which is such a great purpose to have.
TDC: You’ve been on board with The Design Coach from the beginning, and we are truly grateful for your support. Your business Danielle Serpanchy Interior Design was launched in 2018. What have the first couple of years of business been like for you?
DS: I’m grateful for the Design Coach too! There’s nothing like someone giving you kind but firm advice as to what you’re doing (or not doing) and pushing you further, faster. I think generally speaking most people know what they need to do, but not necessarily how to do it, or when, or the real reasons why – or maybe they know all of those things and still don’t do it. Something as simple as having someone to bounce things off, to have to justify behaviours to and to keep me accountable for the actions I’ve promised to take became a highly valuable asset in making sure I kept moving forward. At a more grassroots level, Andrew became an important part of my network and community – something you can’t really progress without because we all help and contribute to each other. The introductions you make, the networks you build and the perspective you gain from connecting with people are all invaluable because at the crux of it, Interior Design is about people.
TDC: I’ve observed that most would try to ‘nut’ it out first and then after years of heartbreak they’d seek guidance. How did you identify the need for coaching so early in your career?
DS: I’ve always been a bit of a ‘nerd’ – I like going to classes, weekend courses, reading and learning in general. I suppose the Design Coach is an extension of that – finding someone who knows what they’re doing because they’ve done it before and asking them questions. I didn’t really go looking for the opportunity for coaching; it literally turned up on my door step but I did say ‘yes.’
I’ve always really liked being independent and not having to ask anyone for help, but I had some personal experiences that taught me the value of talking about things with another person. Then I realised that life is much easier when you shake off your pride, admit you don’t know and just ask for help. After all, that’s what clients are doing when they hire you, right? I like knowing I have a person I can ask my silly questions to without being judged, and to run something past for a second opinion; inevitably it’s those times I’m 99% sure of the answer that I am graced with an alternative perspective which opens my eyes a bit wider. I value that highly.
TDC: Congratulations on being a part of Como by Design in October last year. This would have been a massive decision for a long-established interior designer, let alone someone who has recently graduated and launched their career. Can you share what this was like for you?
DS: It was a whirlwind that I was lucky enough to be connected with through the Design Coach. Andrew has tentacles everywhere because he’s been in business so long and there’s a generosity of knowledge and experience that underpins everything he does. The Como experience was an example of that.
The whole process felt like this for me:
1. I have no idea how to do this – I probably can’t.
2. What’s the first thing I have to do to begin?
3. Busy, busy busy – Andrew, what do you think?
4. Oh, it’s over! Wow I did it after all.
What an amazing experience!
I didn’t know or understand what to expect from it, but quickly realised I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. I think the best thing about it was actually getting to watch all the amazing designers around me operate in all their different ways; talking to them, watching their spaces unfold and just being part of the whole process. It was a heavy undertaking and being in a central zone meant I had to be super efficient / organised as almost every other room had to be accessed through my space. The nice thing about that was I got to interact with and meet everyone there. I hoped that having the intention to lighten their load, lighten the mood under the stress of it all and help others where possible really contributed some value. Once the exhibition started I also really enjoyed interacting with people in the space – encouraging everyone to touch the upholstered walls was fun.
Everything we do, particularly in this industry, tends to be so Instagram and Image focussed and sometimes that forgets the element of being human; of touching, hearing and feeling. I actually really enjoyed watching peoples’ reactions and changes in behaviour when they moved into my zone as they transitioned from the loud entrance into my quiet hallway with its acoustic properties. I also learned an incredible amount – I thought I didn’t know what I was doing because I was new at this – turns out some of the most established designers didn’t know what to do either – we were all working it out together, feeling the same emotions, working out the same issues and sharing knowledge, support and energy to get this huge thing done. Again – people. I was grateful for such great people – Tigger Hall for creating the opportunity in the first place, my wonderful trades and suppliers, all the other incredible designers, assistance from wonderful Mercer students and the Design Coach for forcing me to understand and believe that I could actually pull it off in the first place.
TDC: Working alone can sometimes feel isolating. What sort of challenges did you face in the early stages of setting up your business?
DS: The constant voice inside my head saying ‘Hang on, why are you doing this again? Do you actually know what you are doing? Shouldn’t you know all of this already?’ And not having anyone to ask. Eventually you realise that everyone has that voice, and that it’s there to protect you but doesn’t necessarily help you get anywhere worthwhile if you constantly listen to it. The Design Coach was one of the first ways I could replace that voice with another, more powerful, experienced, positive and encouraging voice, and start to leave that other well-meaning but dis-empowering one behind.
TDC: Tell us a bit about how working with The Design Coach has impacted your business.
DS: There are lots I could say to answer this question but I might zoom in on two things. The first is that The Design Coach gives me accountability. I historically haven’t been very good at keeping the promises I make to myself. However, when I have someone else I’m accountable to such as a client or a boss I find it much easier to do what I say I’m going to do. If I have a coaching meeting and have some homework to get done by our next meeting in 2 weeks’ time, best believe that work will get done.
The second thing I love is being allowed to have big goals. When it’s just you, it’s easy to stay small and safe – for some reason it’s not that easy to give yourself permission to play big. Again, it’s having that positive voice in your ear instead of the negative one telling you that you can’t. I found that having someone allow me to dream big meant I could allow myself to do it, and then gave me some structure to follow in order to execute on getting to those big dreams. It’s not just my business that it’s impacted; it’s my whole life because the wholistic coaching approach has allowed me to structure my business to help achieve all my goals, not just the ones I have for my business.
TDC: You’ve now been in business for almost 2 years and completed many beautifully designed projects. What tips do you have for designers starting a new business?
DS: Thank you! I’ve actually been in business for almost 5 years now; Danielle Serpanchy Interior Design was a re-branding exercise I decided to undertake when I started coaching sessions as an investment in ‘levelling up.’ It forced me to get a little more serious about what I was doing and not hide in the shadows anymore. That’s not to say that I knew what I was doing; I think when you work for yourself you are forever learning and growing – which is a great thing.
One tip would be to remember that you will never ever be in a situation or make a mistake that no one else has made before; talk, talk, talk about it. Another tip is to be transparent; it’s perfectly ok to say ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.’ You’re not actually supposed to know everything – it’s literally impossible. I have found that being transparent with clients that I actually don’t know everything seems to make them trust me more because they know I’m not going to pretend – I will get the right people in who do know and that’s the part that matters to them.
TDC: What exciting projects are you working on at the moment?
DS: I’m just finishing up a renovation for an almost retired couple which has been such a joy to help them eventuate. Every little moment and the ‘wow, wow, wow’ messages are the moments I live for because I know I have genuinely made a lasting impact in their lives that really matters. I also have a few other projects on the go including a new build/reno, a decoration project and some plant styling plus security doors and screens. A few things I haven’t done before in the mix there but it’s another opportunity to learn, build connections, operate in a different area of expertise and collaborate with great suppliers to combine my perspective with theirs to get the right outcome for a client.
TDC: And, finally, how do you see yourself and Danielle Serpanchy Interior Design in 10 year’s time?
DS: Ooooh, great question! So much has changed in the first few years that it’s hard to project that far – but I’ve learned from Andrew to always have an intention, and that it’s ok for that intention to change over time. Currently for the longer term I see potential for operating in some other countries, perhaps Europe. In the medium term I envisage expanding my skills into boutique hospitality spaces, given my partner is a Chef and we might eventually open a restaurant together. Now I’ve put that out into the universe it’s just a matter of time!
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Danielle Serpanchy portfolio - photo credits: Tess Kelly