Name: Sarah Kay
Job title: Furniture Designer/Maker
Time in current role: 20 years
Sarah is a self-employed Furniture Designer and Maker. Visit her website sarah-kay.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @
Why did you decide to go freelance?
When I turned 30 it felt like a milestone and made me question what I was doing, drifting from job to job. When I unexpectedly inherited some money that year it felt like I’d been given a one-off opportunity to take stock and decide what I really wanted to do. It still amazes me how quickly I arrived at the idea of studying furniture design and making. So I applied to go to Parnham College in Dorset (the renowned school set up by John Makepeace, it closed 3 years after I left).
On leaving, I rented a shared workshop space in Hackney. In the beginning I managed to get enough work making furniture for other designers there and that was really important, it taught me that I had to work much faster and made me realise that I didn’t want to be a full-time maker. Today I have a workshop where I occasionally make pieces for private clients or exhibitions, but mostly I create prototypes.
What are the key functions of your role?
I work alone so I do everything with occasional part-time help depending on the type of job and workload. I design, sometimes make (but these days mostly sub-contract the making), do my own accounts and PR. It’s a blessing to have an online portfolio – in the early days I’d trudge all over the place to meet potential clients.
Talk us through your typical working day
There’s no such thing. It really depends on the job. At the beginning of a new job, whether it’s bespoke or design consultancy, there’s a lot of thinking time and sketching by hand. At some point I move onto drawing on the computer, or go straight to my workshop to mock something up and look at it full scale. In between there are always enquiries and meetings, quotes to prepare and images or text to supply to journalists. The day never seems long enough.
Your favourite part of the job?
It can be very frustrating when I begin a design and I’m wrestling with the concept, but I seem to enjoy it somehow – especially when I think I’ve found the right way forward. And at the end when the project is complete and I’ve captured what I set out to do, or better still, improved on it.
When I’m making, the best part is definitely when there’s no more sanding to do and the first coat of oil goes on. Delivering and seeing a happy customer is also very satisfying.
…and the part you could do without?
How would your clients describe you in three words?
Professional, creative, sensitive (I hope).
Plans for the future?
I love collaborating with other people as it always opens doors and takes me down paths I’d not normally have considered. It’s how I got into design consultancy. So I think as long as I keep getting those opportunities to work with different people from different professions my work will always be varied and interesting.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring freelancers?
I strongly recommend collaboration. It’s good to put your ego to one side sometimes and listen to others – whether fellow designers, makers or specifiers. It can really open your practice to new methods and ideas. LLY