Claire Douglas is a local interiors and DIY expert who has seen her passion for decorating on
a budget develop into a successful full-time career. Here she tells Eileen Leahy all about her unique styling secrets and how you too can have a beautiful bespoke decorated home without spending a fortune…
Can you start by telling us how you got into the interior design and DIY domain?
I’ve always been obsessed with home interiors and DIY. Even as a child, I would rearrange my bedroom furniture at every opportunity and loved making experimental artwork. In my late teens, I became interested in property and dreamed of owning a home that I could renovate, so I started saving like mad and bought my first flat (in Tunbridge Wells, of course!) aged 24.
What was your first home like?
All I could afford was a tiny basement flat with damp, no heating and it needed a lot of TLC. I was single at the time and had a practically non-existent budget so I set about learning everything I could about DIY and interior decorating and completed much of the work needed myself in between working full-time in London, learning as I went.
How quickly did you acquire all those essential DIY skills?
Within a couple of years, I’d taught myself tiling, wallpapering, painting, repairs and making good, fitting skirting boards and putting up shelves etc. It was the most empowering and rewarding experience. Each new skill I learnt spurred me on to try something else, it was completely addictive!
When did you start posting about your interiors projects online?
I started my social media journey in 2019 by setting up my interiors-related Instagram account. By the time I started my business, I was fortunate to have a good platform with an engaged following on Instagram, Tiktok and through my blog, ClaireDouglasStyling.co.uk. I started writing for well-known interiors titles which helped me reach an even larger audience and was fortunate enough to have my DIY projects featured regularly in newspapers and magazines. I regularly write for RealHomes and Woman&Home and have contributed to Home Builder & Renovator, The Daily Express, The Sun, Yahoo News and Hello! My projects have been featured in lots of national and global titles, including Livingetc, Apartment Therapy, Stylist, Ideal Home and Metro.
Your DIY work is very creative and unique. How did you push the boundaries?
As I developed creatively, I became braver and more experimental with the tools and materials for DIY & styling projects. These bold ideas helped me to carve out a niche as there weren’t any other interior stylists and content creators using the likes of micro cement and postal tubes for their makeover projects! I quickly became known for foraging flowers and foliage in my designs which were popular for their sustainability benefits, as well as the obvious money-saving advantages.
Are you professionally trained or has your career developed from a personal passion?
It’s a bit of a mixture and the answer varies across the different areas of my business. The pandemic provided me with much more time to reflect and reassess life and priorities. In October 2021, I was made redundant so I took this as a sign from the universe that I should follow my heart and completely change my career. I started training as an interior stylist and, at the same time, invested lots of time in developing my social media content creation which by then I was doing as a hobby for a couple of years. I’ve taken several training courses and completed lots of on-the-job training, assisting interior stylists on commercial shoots. The content creation, website and blogging are all self-taught and my skills have been honed over a long process of trial and error!
Were you doing something different before launching your eponymous business?
I worked for over 15 years in corporate roles within banking and global Bureaux de Change. Much of this time was spent in project management, where I enjoyed the daily challenges of a fast-paced and ever-changing environment, but lacked the opportunity to use my creative skills, so I spent my free time immersed in DIY and interior styling projects. In 2019, I set up my @Instahome_uk, Instagram account, where I shared home reno progress and DIY and home styling projects. Unexpectedly, my account started to grow as people were clearly interested in the creative and resourceful techniques I employed to transform my home on a budget! Since changing careers I have found so many transferable skills from my time spent as a project manager that have helped with being a freelance creative and running a business.
You specialise in offering clever and cost-effective interior hacks. How do you get your ideas?
As the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and this is true for lots of my hacks. I love a challenge and the process often starts when I’ve identified a need or a goal with a limited budget forcing me to look for creative solutions. For example, my tester pot bedroom wall mural came about because I was trying to find an alternative to expensive mural wallpaper and only ended up costing £24.
The micro cement kitchen upgrade happened because I was researching cost-effective alternatives to marble and quartz. One of my main objectives is to prove that you don’t need a big budget to make a big impact on your home’s interior, so, to this end, I spend a lot of time researching and sourcing affordable materials and techniques to review and recommend. Sometimes I’ll see an expensive statement piece of furniture and will think of ways to create a cost-effective version using upcycling or DIY like my marble tile side table. My brain never really switches off, so I’ll often have a lightbulb moment when I’m least expecting it, like when I’m just going off to sleep or I’m in the shower!
Your followers can now invest in your new online courses – can you tell us how these work?
I recently launched a beginners’ DIY & Home Styling course that’s self-paced and accessed via my website. It’s based on the six-step ‘bespoke on a budget’ approach to home interiors that I’ve developed over the years. The course is comprised of four easy-to-follow modules covering; creative home styling on a budget, upcycling, basic DIY and using flowers and foliage to style your home. It is aimed at beginners who want to be more hands-on with their home interiors but feel a bit daunted and don’t know where to start. I also share my strategies for approaching home interior projects creatively and my go-to sources for preloved or affordable homeware and DIY materials. Mindful of the fact that people are likely on a budget, I’ve kept the price extremely affordable.
How important is your online following to you and is it constantly growing?
Great question! Social media is a funny old thing. On the whole, I try not to think too much about follower numbers as it’s a bit of a vanity metric and can be distracting. Instead, I try to focus on creating content that will be useful to people rather than trying to guess what the algorithms are looking for on that particular day. It’s the best feeling when someone messages to say that they watched one of my videos or read one of my blog posts and it gave them the confidence to try some DIY or home styling for the first time and they are so proud of what they’ve achieved. I’m very fortunate that both my Instagram and Tiktok accounts continue to grow, and I must admit to having a bit of a ‘pinch-me’ moment when they both exceeded 25k followers this year!
Do you have any particular favourite style of interior/home design?
I love a neutral colour palette with a touch of green, natural materials and lots of texture in a room – especially reeding, fluting and curves. I also love statement chairs and lighting and antique brass finishes, as well as upcycling things. Therefore I am always on the lookout for projects to give a new lease of life to and I think it’s really important to include a mix of old and new in your interior schemes. At the moment, we live in a fairly unremarkable 1960s-built house so I have to rein in my grand designs a bit. Finding your signature style and understanding how to adapt the styles you love to the house you live in is an area I look at in my course – including how to pick colour palettes and room layouts to highlight the positive features and distract from the negatives.
Do you like working with local companies on your projects?
I love supporting local businesses and have run several ‘shop small’ campaigns on my Instagram to shine a light on the amazing talents of our local business owners and it’s an area I hope to focus more on in the future. I try to source shoot props and flowers from local businesses where I can. Last week, for example, I used material from World of Sewing and foliage from the Colonnade Florist for a magazine shoot.
What would be your dream commission to work on and why?
To be honest, I already feel pretty lucky as I spend most workdays doing what I love. That said, there are a few items on my vision board that I’m yet to tick off and would love to one day write and style a book filled with inspiring bespoke on a budget interiors. Another dream project would be to run a location house that I’ve renovated and filled with creative DIY projects of course!