"I love the challenge of commercial jobs—they’re fast and all-consuming."
Our interview with Ky Drury of By Ky Drury
Ky Drury is a successful interior designer based in Byron Bay, NSW. With a background in the building industry, Ky brings a unique approach to her projects that encompasses a more holistic understanding of the interplay between structural requirements of a building and aesthetic aspirations of her clients.
As a member of The Design Coach community, we love following Ky’s beautiful work on social media (see links below) and were fortunate to have her join our Bootcamp Program in April this year.
Ky spoke to us recently about managing her thriving business, some of the challenges she faces and where she sees herself heading in the future.
TDC: Thanks for taking time to speak with us today, Ky. It was great to get to know you over the Bootcamp program earlier this year and find out a bit about your growing design business. As you know, we love Byron Bay! Our annual Retreat is a highlight for us and our members. Have you always lived in the beautiful Northern Rivers of NSW?
KD: Thanks for inviting me to speak with you. I’m originally from Cronulla and I've been here in Byron Bay for around 13 years now. I wanted to move here my whole life—it just took 17 years to come to pass.
TDC: Your entry into the industry has been less traditional than most designers. Tell us a bit about how you established your interior design business, and how you transitioned from the building industry to interior design?
KD: My husband has been a builder for 25 years, and I’ve helped him out for much of that time. When I was at home with our babies—I’d always pick up the plans and make suggestions or attend meetings with him. He introduced me to the business early, and his clients essentially had two people working on their projects for the price of one.
Together we’d alter a kitchen’s layout, drop a wall out or make some other changes our clients’ draftsperson or architect wasn’t doing. Working on the flow of a layout—usually the kitchen—is where my passion started.
By Ky Drury began as a full-time, fully-fledged business three years ago, and we’re just about to rebrand to Studio House Co. I love structure and frameworks, so that’s where I focus my talents. I’ve created a team where everyone has their area of expertise, and we’re just constantly working together, talking across the office, adding our talents to the mix to create the spaces our clients love.
TDC: Have you always have a talent for design?
KD: Definitely! I studied graphic design after school, but I hated it—it felt frustrating, and I didn’t enjoy sitting in front of a computer all day, which is ironic because now I do just that and love it! But even when I wasn’t doing interior design, I’d find ways to be creative. I used to make our clothes and sell my own clothing designs. I created Christmas cards one year and sold them at a shop. Yeah, I’m happy doing anything creative, except cooking. I don’t cook.
TDC: Not only have you worked on beautiful residential projects. Your portfolio includes popular hospitality projects in Byron Bay, including The Loft, Mez Club and Fig Tree Restaurant. How did you find the process of working on restaurants and bars compared to working with clients to help them design their home?
KD: I have to say I love the challenge of commercial jobs—they’re fast and all-consuming. Such tight timelines mean you’re constantly working against the clock. I’ve also been really lucky with my clients—they’ve been open to most of my suggestions and understanding of the limitations that come with commercial jobs. Meeting all the health and safety rules can be quite frustrating, but the experience I gain from each project is so valuable. From the minute we start talking design, I know what is and isn’t possible.
Of course, the pressure and lack of sleep while I’m designing and project managing commercial fit outs makes it so lovely to return to the much calmer pace of residential projects! Making sanctuaries for my clients is what it’s all about for me. Taking information about exactly what they need from their home, then adding extra zones within their budget drives me. It’s such a privilege creating spaces where loved ones can enjoy each other’s company—I’m always aware how much my home sanctuary means to me and want my clients to feel the same way. Residential jobs are so personal and getting to know my clients is an essential part of facilitating this dream for them.
TDC: The iconic Fig Tree Restaurant was completely devastated by a fire in 2019. The new design seems to capture the essence of the original building beautifully! How did you create an interior that so cleverly references the building’s heritage?
KD: I find it’s just about having respect for the client and what they desire. You’re there for your client’s vision, not yours. And that’s a significant skill I’ve had to learn—how to drop my ego at the door and facilitate my client’s dreams. Of course, I’ll usually add to their vision and show them how to make it better than they could have imagined.
I’m not always super in love with every job I do because sometimes it’s just not my thing. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t created something the client absolutely loves. Being successful at what I do means being able to communicate and guide clients to make better decisions. So, yes, respect for the client means a lot to me.
I can tell you that my first meeting at the Fig wasn’t what I expected. I walked in there with a grand plan—it was going to be amazing, with a big A-frame of glass facing the lighthouse and so forth. But what I found was an owner so heartbroken that he’d lost a dream created over 40 years. That was a big lesson for me. I pushed my grand plans to the background very quickly and just said, “Okay, how can I help?”
TDC: Byron Bay is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, with stunning coastal and hinterland properties of a world-class standard. What are some of the advantages and challenges you face as a designer working in a rural area?
KD: This is a good question! Because I guess the advantage is that while it may be a relatively quiet country town, there’s money here. People are still willing to build amazing homes, so I get my cake and can eat it, too. I get to live in a beautiful rural area and play here, too.
The limitations are always freight. Everything takes a long time to get here, and sometimes it’s difficult not being able to go ‘scratch and sniff’ materials. Sometimes we breathe a sigh of relief when materials arrive because photos don’t always translate well, and digital colours can differ from the final product.
TDC: You shared with us that, since its inception, your business has grown quite quickly, and you’ve had to learn a lot “on the go”. What prompted you to join our DesignLab Bootcamp Business Program earlier this year, and has it helped manage this growth?
KD: I knew my systems weren’t fantastic. I ran everything on the smell of an oily rag, and I was constantly chasing my tail. So when I saw an ad for the Bootcamp that mentioned establishing better business systems, I didn’t hesitate. I knew I needed it. I paid for the whole thing immediately without even questioning it.
TDC: What was the highlight of the program for you, and what have you changed about your business since completing the Bootcamp Program?
KD: The first two days on systems were really vital for me. It’s changed how I operate—I now have all these templates to streamline my processes. We probably have the same heavy workload, but our new systems make everything so much quicker. The info on spreadsheets was somewhat overwhelming, though—I haven’t nailed them yet, but I’m working on it!
It was also amazing how transparent everyone was. It’s so rare to find industry peers willing to share how they do things, and it led to a lot of aha moments for me. That was worth the admission price right there.
TDC: We were very grateful that you were so open to sharing during the Bootcamp program. Our Bootcamp students find that the program pushes them in many ways and reminds them about how much they already know. What did you learn about yourself and your capabilities during the Bootcamp Program?
KD: I learned I had a lot to learn! There was no enormous shock, really—I knew what I wanted to get out of the Bootcamp, and it delivered. And I also discovered I was getting a lot of things right, which boosts my confidence.
I’m still working on spreadsheets and budgeting. I haven’t got them down yet, but it’s the next area I’ll focus my energy on. I’m also going to revisit old projects to see if I can apply any knowledge learned to future planning or budgeting and further streamline my processes.
TDC: What exciting things are coming up for you in 2021/2 and beyond?
KD: The next year is super exciting for us. We’re embarking on our own developments—that’s been in the works for a long time, but we wanted to concentrate on building the business first to take advantage of maximum borrowing power. Finally, the client who agrees with everything I say!
As a love project, we’re also creating a bespoke store on the side, featuring collaborative works and our own products. It won’t be big, but it’ll feature really unique pieces. I’m so excited to get it underway.
We love learning more about our TDC members. As Ky expressed so well in our interview, we all benefit when we openly share our successes and challenges.
If you want to find out more about Ky, you can follow her on Instagram @by_kydrury
Later this month Ky will be launching the rebrand of her interior design business as StudioCo. We can't wait to watch her business continue to grow!
If, like Ky, you want to reinvent your business, join our transformational Business Bootcamp this September. You can sign up for one class, a few classes, or save 20% and sign up to the full 6 day program. To find out more, simply click HERE.
Day 1 - The Initial Consultation Thursday 9th September 2021 4pm – 6pm
Day 2 - Systems for Success Friday 10th September 2021 9am – 4.30pm
Day 3 - Fees & Margins Saturday 11th September 2021 9am – 4.30pm Day 4 - Managing Project Finances Friday 17th September 2021 9am – 4.30pm Day 5 - Kitchen Design Saturday 18th September 2021 9am – 4.30pm Day 6 - Group Coaching Monday 20th September 2021 4pm – 6pm
Presented live online via Zoom.