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Shanahan Studio Session with Interior Designer Simona Marsibilio

Simona Marsibilio was born in Italy and started dancing at the age of 6.

At the age of 14 she began her professional training at the prestigious ballet

school of Teatro alla Scala in Milan directed by Anna Maria Prina.

At the age of 17 she trained at the Ecole superior de danse Rossela Hightower in

Cannes directed by Monique Loudieres. At the age of 19th she moved back to Italy at Teatro Nuovo di Torino to study with Niurka De Saa and Ramona De Saa from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba where she graduate in 2006.

In the same year she won 3rd place at Ribarroja de Turia’s competition in

Valencia (Spain). Upon graduation Simona worked with Compagnia Teatro Nuovo di Torino

dancing in the choreographies of Robert North and Luciano Cannito. In 2009 she attended the New York International Ballet Competition where she performed Raymonda gran pas, Paquita gran pas and Aureole by Paul Taylor, arriving in the final.

In the following years she worked as soloist at Peter Schaufuss Ballet in London;

at Royal Ballet of Flanders, as a member of the corp de ballet, dancing Bayadere

choreographed by Cynthia Harvey and Tyll by Alexander Hekman. In June 2014 she performed for the Teatre Principal de Palma in Mallorca in the production of Romeo and Juliet at the side of the former Royal Ballet principal dancer Ivan Putrov.

She then joined English National Ballet, directed by Tamara Rojo, as a

member of corp de ballet for the productions of Nutcracker and Dereck Dean’s

Swan Lake at London Coliseum. Today, Simona has started her own interior designing business and she is still dancing. In this weeks Shanahan Studio Session we speak about finding your passion, interior design, starting your own business and career advice with Simona.

How old were you, when you decided to become an interior designer?

I was 30 years old when I decided that I wanted to start a career in interior design alongside my ballet career. At that time,my mum and I had acquired from my grandparents, who passed away 1 year earlier, the family holiday home in the south of Italy, Puglia, which was in a desperate need of being brought back to life after 10 years of neglect.

I've spent my whole childhood in that house so for me it was like bringing back to life all these memories and precious moments I've spent with them through its renovation, and to be able to continue having those precious moments with my husband and a future family.

That is really inspiring. It is never too late to learn something new, change careers and to start your own business. Is there anyone in your family working as an interior designer?

No one in my family is an interior designer. My parents have very normal jobs. but I was definitely influenced by my mum and grandma because they always loved beautiful interiors. They would always rearrange and redecorate their house. I also think I’ve got my creativity from my mum, when I was young I would help her to arrange flower garlands or to restore and paint an old chair! She definitely passed that creativity on to me.

Where did you study interior designing?

I have studied interior design at UAL Chelsea in London with a very special and inspiring tutor, also interior designer, Lyndall Fernie.

What made you decide to start your own business?

It all started during the Covid Pandemic back in April 2020, back then I was dancing with Birmingham Royal Ballet, I had just started my contract with the company in January 2020 when the pandemic hit. I was touring Swan Lake with the company when we suddenly, it was announced to pack our things and not to come into work the next day. For all of us it was a shock, almost surreal.

After that we all thought that this pandemic would have finished after a couple of months of lockdown but unfortunately one year later here we are still facing it. Since April 2020 theatres have been closed, artists and staff have been put on furlough and freelance dancers like myself that rely on fixed term contract work with companies have fallen in the gap…. at home unemployed with a very uncertain future.

It was then that I decided that I had to create something for myself, my own future, my own project to make me wake up in the morning with the purpose of working towards something I love and with the hope that things will eventually go back to normality.

What advice would you give anyone who is starting their own business?

I would say to invest in a business course related to the kind of business you are into, it is very helpful for you to understand how to run a business.

What advice would you give anyone who is pursuing their passion?

I would say that if you have an idea or a dream you should follow it. It is not going to be easy to start from scratch, to retrain, the challenge of learning new skills, but you have to be determined, and if you have the passion for it, you’ll get the strength to go through it. Never give up on your dreams!

Absolutely, I couldn't agree more, for anyone reading this, do not give up on your dreams!! What is your biggest inspiration as a designer?

As a designer my biggest inspiration is nature, it's colours and textures, but also the country of my origins, Italy. I was born in Puglia, located in the southern peninsular section of the country, that back in history got colonised by the Greeks, Saracens, Barbary pirates from north Africa, Turks and Venitians, this region has so much history and culture and I definitely get my inspirations from that, sun, colours, smells, people, what they wear and what they eat.

Nature is my biggest inspiration too when it came to designing my looks. Who is your favourite interior designer?

I don’t have one favourite designer but I follow many Californian designers like Studio Mc Gee on Instagram cause I love their style, the textures and colours reflect my personal taste.

Can I afford an interior designer?

I think interior design is not seen anymore as a service for the wealthy like it used to be, it is not anymore about how much gold or crystal a designer uses in a scheme, it's definitely more about making people feel comfortable in their homes, it is about creating more space and improving a property.

So I am not saying that it is cheap because in order to create the perfect bespoke design for a client, we invest loads of our time designing and researching, but it all depends on how much work you want to get done to your property. Investing in an interior designer can really change and improve the way you live and save you money, time and loads of stress, we will deal with it ourselves! Also it's our job to be able to find the right solution to adapt to different budgets.

What interior design services should I expect from my designer?

Every interior designer has their own way of working, some create fix packages for their clients, some others work around the client's needs and what has to be done to a property, I am one of those! Every project is different every house is different so I like to work around that. The typical services and phases a client can expect from an interior designer are:

CONCEPT DESIGN: Which is the creative stage of a project, is when the designer provides to the client a mood board, samples, new layout of the floor plan and sketches. This will help the client to visualise how the property will roughly look like and to get the feel of it.

DRAWING PACKAGE: Contains all the technical drawings, for the builders, carpenters, decorators etc to transform into reality what has been drawn, and it's where I actually start to design in every little detail.

SOURCING & SHOPPING LIST: A service that provides sourcing of items and a detailed shopping list to the client, sometimes we get asked to purchase the items on their behalf some other times the client wants to be more involved in this stage and source and shop themselves, they won’t get the benefit of our trade discount though!

STYLING: The final stage of the project and the most fun I would say. When all the decorations, plants, flowers, candles, vases, rugs, blankets, cushions, get put in the right place and make the place come alive, It's like a blow dry after your haircut!

What is the most important factor when designing a room?

It’s to understand the real use of it and how and for what purpose the client uses that room for, I usually ask very specific and detailed questions about their daily routine.

Should I have anything prepared before I meet with an interior designer?

Not really, sometimes some clients have a very clear idea of what they want and some others don’t at all! And it's ok it’s our job as designers to understand what they would like to change and improve and to use our creativity to deliver that!

How do you make a small room look bigger?

I would install mirrors, a light floor, possibly large wood planks or tiles that gives to the eye a better sense of spaciousness, I wouldn't use patterns on walls or patterned tiles as it makes it look smaller.

Tell us about your personal projects you are currently working on?

At the moment I am working on a few renovation projects in central London and I am finishing an apartment in Milan and I am in the initial stage of starting designing a luxury boutique resort in Greece, I am very excited about this project!

Wow that sounds amazing. What else has influenced you in personal and professional development?

Definitely travelling for work and for leisure, seeing different cultures and the way people live in other countries. Also my previous career as a ballet dancer has influenced my creativity, my attention to details, I am a perfectionist when it comes to work.

Is there any woman designer you particularly admire and why?

Yes, Kelly Hoppen, she is amazing, very tenacious and full of life. She started her career at the age of 16 years old and with her passion and determination she is now the most established and influential interior designer in the world.

How do you begin the design process?

I begin with a consultation where I get to know my client's, interests, job, hobbies and lifestyle.

Do you have any inexpensive tricks for updating a room?

Yes, I think that a cost effective way of renovating a room could be to paint the walls, change the curtains, place a nice inexpensive rug, some nice plants and a couple of nice framed art work.

These are really usefull tips and I love plants. You are also a ballerina, tell us more about this.

Yes I have been a ballerina since the age of 6. I started ballet because my friend from school asked me to go with her to the afternoon ballet classes so that we could spend more time together other than playtime, she had become my best friend for almost 30 years now!

At the age of 14 years old I decided to study ballet professionally and after an audition I got admitted to the prestigious academy of ballet at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. After two years I went to study ballet in Cannes and then I finished my studies and graduated as ballet dancer at Teatro Nuovo di Torino affiliated with the Escuela Nacional de Cuba in Havana.

Straight after I began my career as a professional ballet dancer and I danced in world renown theatres in the UK and Europe.

What is a good way of using lights in your room?

It is good to have a main bright light, preferable dimmable, so that you can properly see when you choose your clothes, then you want few ambient lights, I would install at least 2 by each side of your bed and another one in a corner maybe by a drawer so you can have a relaxing vibe when bedtime. Then if you like to read in bed you might want to install a directional light by your bedside. More light you install in a bedroom the nicer it is to play with them to achieve different moods!

As an interior designer, what are the types of questions you ask a client?

I always ask what their daily routine and needs are, what feelings they expect from the new design and the most important and uncomfortable question is…what budget they have!

Mention what tools an interior designer uses?

Pencil, tape measure and your phone to take pictures of inspirations and of the property you are going to redesign.

Mention some of the popular and widely used software for interior designing?

There are many software programs you can use to design, some of them are Vector works, Auto cad and Sketch up, those are specific for technical drawings. For the creative side of the design I use In Design and photoshop for mood and sample boards.

List out some of the best apps available in the market for interior designing and magazines which can be helpful for interior designer professionals?

Elle decoration, AD, Worlds of Interiors, House and Garden and Open House.

What are the things you have to take care of while designing?

You have to think about so many things when designing, from your client brief to the structural and architectural side of it for example where the waist pipes run and if you can move them, if you are asked to knock down walls you need to take in considerations what’s on top of that floor, what is the ceiling made of… and ask permission to the council if is a listed building before making any structural change.

What advice would you tell your younger self?

Don’t be afraid of starting something new.

What advice would you give anyone who is pursuing a career as an interior designer?

Don’t hesitate to start a job or your own business if you feel that you don’t have enough experience. You always learn as you go!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

My achievement in 5 years time would be to be more established as I am now and to have my own studio and perhaps run a small practice and be able to take projects in Europe other than the UK.

Where can people find you online?

On Instagram at @simonainteriors or on my super new website. I have just launched my website

Thank you so much for your time Simona, it was great to learn about your ballet career and to speak with you about your new business Simona Interiors. You have given us some really great and useful interior designing tips and tricks for our home. I wish you the best for your future. Hannah x


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