Ottoline de Vries is originally from the Netherlands, and has oodles of the famed Dutch style! Her prints and wallpapers are inspired by everything from surrealist art to city scapes to (ahem) our own shop. She made a new print inspired by the shapes and colour palettes in our London store – a very creative lady! We caught up to chat business and talk through her design story.
What led you to start your own business?
When it comes to design, I’m definitely a late bloomer. Originally, I took a very safe path, did a masters in tax law, and became a tax lawyer. I was proud of my job, but never passionate about it.
My love of design started with a search for original things for our family home. I was hunting for unique vintage or antique furniture, and kept on collecting. I particularly wanted to make my children’s rooms beautiful – I wanted to create a wonderful world for my little ones!
Being creative made me so happy. From treasure hunting, I started upcycling and transforming my finds, and before I knew it, it had all snowballed a bit until I was just unstoppable. Every spare moment was kept busy by design projects. At one point, I collected a dozen of cabinets that I was going to transform into real statement pieces, by wallpapering them with high end wallpaper – this led to my own wallpaper designs!
Clearly, my hobby had become pretty time consuming. Going to work actually felt like a distraction from what I dreamt of doing. I started showing my work to friends and people in interior design business and the reactions were overwhelming. From here, things all followed quickly, and I quit my job and started Ottoline in 2010. So no going back now!
What has been most difficult?
Maybe the hardest thing for me is making the right choices. I am working flat-out all the time, the ideas are everywhere, and I want to do everything I can to make this business work. There are so many ways to develop a brand. My ideas keep coming, and if it was left to me I would try to make everything happen at once!
I really need my husband to keep me focused. He’s very supportive, but also realistic and checks up on me when I start talking about a new product or design, while other work is still left unfinished. At first this was such a pain, but now I do appreciate his interference, and listen to his advice more and more. But sometimes you do just have to take a risk or do the unexpected thing. Finding the right balance here has been very challenging for me.
It took a lot of time to become capable of doing this too. I have spent so many evenings, nights and weekends in my studio. I went to study again, in evening classes, in order to develop my design skills with computer software. I spent hours working to improve. I didn’t quit my law job for an average hobby. I wanted to stand out, and had to really make it work.
How do you get your work seen by customers or retailers?
I was very lucky to begin with, and starting the business was extremely promising. I wasn’t even online yet, and only had two pieces of furniture when my first big media interview took place.
You can’t create a business just from goodwill from the press though. Now I’m mostly discovered online, through my website and other retailers and webshops.
I think social media is god’s gift to retailers, especially for start-ups without marketing budgets! You can generate a lot of traffic to your website through social media, and work to boost your online audience.
Any advice to people starting out?
If you want to be a creative entrepreneur, go for it. Everybody can! But be aware it will never be the easy option. Whatever you were doing before, whichever job you left to start your own business, will almost certainly have been easier.
My advice would be:
- Define your own signature. If your ideas are truly yours, they will keep coming and you will become more sophisticated and experienced as a designer. It’s hard work to stand out but your effort will be rewarded and it’s a gift to do something you like. Give yourself completely.
- Find your focus. Think big, but start small.
- Think in possibilities! There are opportunities everywhere, but you do have to believe in your business to make it happen.
What has been most successful about the business?
For me, the most successful things have been the custom-made projects I’ve done. For example, a custom made room for a Willet Holthuysen, a family owned museum in Amsterdam. These are what I enjoy doing the most, and also have generated the most attention and new work afterwards.
In terms of sales, my wallpaper, lampshade and cushion collection have done so well. I was nominated for a Dutch Rijksmuseum design award for this range, so I’m very proud of them. And currently, my inside- and outside-printed lampshades are my best sellers.
Discover Ottoline online at www.ottoline.nl