This Creative Director is proof you don’t have to follow one set career path

This Creative Director is proof you don’t have to follow one set career path

How Julie Ockerby went from nurse to award-winning interior designer

BY Business Chicks, 10 min READ

A recent study showed that 75% of Millennials will leave their jobs within two years, but for anyone of a certain age or level of experience it’s a much harder decision to try something new. Particularly if you’re well established, the money is good, or you’re the primary breadwinner in the family.  We sat down with Premium member Julie Ockerby for her interesting perspective on career paths, taking risks, and why failing is the often the ‘mother of success’.

Why did you decide to transition from being a nurse to a boutique hotel marketer to being an interior designer? And what pushed you to make the switch?

To be very honest, it was not something I had set out to do in a strategic way. What I did know when I was younger, was that I was not going to be someone who was just going to have one career path. I didn’t envisage that in some way it would all tie-in with each other and then also make some sense!

Making the switches were more organic than strategic. A mix of ‘right time and place’, and I was ready to start a new book – a new chapter wasn’t enough.

How has your nursing background helped you as an interior designer?

It has allowed me to see things beyond design. Good design doesn’t always encompass functional design.

When designing for our aged care homes, there is a general architectural formula that works. We try to push the boundaries so that the spaces can be more sophisticated but also functional. Doing the same thing all the time is not innovation.

What went into the decision of focusing on the senior interior design market as opposed to just interior design in general?

It has been a very long time since I worked as a nurse. And in that time, I had hope that some of our aged care homes would have advanced. At a time when my family and I were looking for an aged care home for our father, it was evident to me that the homes had not advanced at all. Lots of people in small spaces, cold, sterile, smelly – just a place where old people go and live. Not a home nor a destination.

“Engaging an Interior Designer may be considered a luxury; but for seniors living, I see it as the key to paving the way to making a change in a part of our lives that deserves innovation in design and care.”

Together with some very innovative operators, Meli Studio was lucky to be able to team up with these operators who were not scared to use colour, to turn these institutions into ‘homes’, to bring warmth and move away from being sterile.

Designing seniors living gives me and the firm a purpose and I feel that it is meeting a social need. Engaging an Interior Designer may be considered a luxury item in the residential and some parts of the commercial sector; but for seniors living, I see it as the key to paving the way to making a change in a part of our lives that deserves innovation in design and care. Not just for residents and families, but also for all the carers who work hard in an industry which is still striving for positive recognition.

To be given the talents to make a difference, why wouldn’t you use it?

What are the most important aspects of a home that actually make it feel like a home?

The ambiance. You can have great design, but if you don’t have the right ambiance, then it’s pretty ordinary.

How would you describe your design style?

Personally, my design style is structured, sophisticated and pretty minimal to be honest; but in designing aged care, I like to be bolder and use lots of texture and textiles.

What is The Bespoke Collection and what was the inspiration behind it?

The Bespoke Collection was created back in 2005 to represent a specially curated collection of products, brands and services. It did have a very long gestation period, to be honest. I have always loved the brand and what it represented; but it took me a long time to finesse. To be fair, I have two kids, had two broken marriages and a business to grow. So, I was busy!

Like I said before, I was never going to have one career path. Most of my energy is used up with wanting to learn, and create things that I see missing all the time all around me.

Creating the fabric line was to meet a need and a frustration. There is one creative rule we have at Meli Studio, and that is we don’t replicate design, which is great; but the downside is that each time we use a fabric design, we need new ones to bring into the next project. The Bespoke Collection fabric range did take eight years to bring to fruition, making sure that it would have a market presence and carefully curating colours that will hold the designs and carry through changes in trends. Ultimately, it is designed with quality, compliance, texture, colour and tactility in mind.

What are you hoping to achieve with the collection?

The collection is designed to be used in the commercial space including aged care and healthcare; but there is no reason why it can’t be used in residential settings. What I’d really like to achieve is for other designers to have another choice of fabrics to use to bring more life into spaces. The Signature Plains collection has an extensive colour selection.


What support did you get when starting Meli Studios?

Not a lot! I have this saying, ‘Sink or Swim’. Not sure it works for everyone and not sure that it is the healthiest approach, but for me it was the only approach. I took a risk, and I wanted to make it work. So, the choice was always to swim. Starting your own business, no matter what size, is a risk and involves lots of hard work, including huge learning curves.

Who did you look to for advice and guidance when starting out?

I really learned as I went; there were not that many networking groups that I felt a synergy with back then. I learned a lot from our suppliers and clients. I troubleshooted myself a lot of things, failed in many things… and did well in others.

I also have an incredible partner, and a crew of entrepreneurial friends who are empathetic to the trials and jubilations of being a business owner and they keep me pretty grounded.

What did opening your own business teach you?

It taught me that failing is the mother of success, and to celebrate each win no matter how small.

Nowadays, the lesson is, never lose sight of how much has been achieved and to keep things into perspective.

Beyond launching the Bespoke Collection, what is your proudest working moment?

This year, it really has to be winning the International Business Awards Gold Stevie for Entrepreneur of the Year and the Silver Stevie for Woman of the Year.

I feel very humbled with this honour; but it really is a testament of decades of hard work and looking at life as the biggest learning curve. Chapters of successes and failures!

Julie Ockerby is a Premium member and the Principal Creative Director of Meli Studio. You can view the full range of her Bespoke Collection here. 

Connect with Julie here.

Images: supplied 


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