Business Chicks members Deb Achhorner and Emilia Harrison are Two Design Lovers putting life and soul back into shopping for home furniture. They connect buyers and sellers with a love of interior decorating and design in a simple, safe and convenient online marketplace.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your careers to date?
Deb: It’s a scary thing to be approaching 50 without a solid career behind you (or, as in my case, even a job!). I’m sure there are many mums who can relate. I have two degrees from UTS in Business and Law and have spent more than 15 years in Asia and Europe as an expat stay-at-home mum. By the time we returned to Australia and I was ready to go back to work, it was clear my skills were way out of date. I’d been contemplating starting my own business for a while and finally in 2018 everything came together – including most importantly an idea to get started on.
Emilia: I have loved beautiful objects and interiors for as long as I can remember. I had the opportunity to travel and live overseas with my husband and three children and this resulted in this love being indulged! Returning back home to reality meant going back into the workforce. Prior to leaving Australia, I had a varied career path that is reflective of my need for change and variety. I had worked in law, advertising, publishing and the pharmaceutical industry before launching Two Design Lovers with Deb.
How did Two Design Lovers come about?
Emilia: They say you should never go into business with friends, but having known Deb for over 30 years, that concern never really entered my mind. When we were young we studied and lived together in America and then again in Sydney. I guess it would be fair to say we know each other ‘warts and all’. When the opportunity arose to go into business together we both jumped at it. Deb had arrived back from Switzerland and she was keen to start something. I was working at the time and she would ring me every second day with a new idea but it wasn’t until she came up with the second hand designer furniture marketplace that we knew she’d hit the spot. It fitted perfectly with our views on environmental sustainability and our aim to encourage the circular economy and greater consumer consciousness when making a purchasing decision.
Deb: The learning curve has been absolutely huge and I think we’re probably still at the very beginning! I think ignorance is bliss sometimes, as you might not put your toe in the water if you could see how deep it gets. We’re taking it one step at a time, absorbing advice from our development team, listening to our customers, and trying to keep it fun.
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Social enterprise is important to you both, with a percentage of all sales going to The Freedom Hub. Can you tell us a bit more about this organisation and why you choose to support them?
Deb: Right from the start, we knew we wanted our business to contribute to a social enterprise, and when we met Sally Irwin, founder of The Freedom Hub, it was an easy decision to lend our support. Sally is such a strong and determined person, working tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of modern slavery survivors with her Freedom Hub Survivor School.
Emilia: For me, this organisation is important as I have witnessed first-hand how easily vulnerable people in the workplace can be taken advantage of in this country. We all have a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen and work towards highlighting such behaviour so that those responsible are held accountable for their actions.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in business and how have you overcome them?
Deb: I think one of the greatest learnings in any business is to observe, but not to obsess, over competitors. Stay in your lane and formulate your own goals.
Emilia: Like any small business, one of the greatest challenges is knowing where and when to spend the finite budget that you have. We have never had external investment so we think very carefully, and hopefully strategically, about where we spend our money. This has inevitably meant that the business has had to grow organically over the last two years.
Now to homewares! What styles or individual pieces always catch your eye?
Deb: I can’t seem to go past Mid Century Modern furniture designs. They tend to be minimalist, functional, and iconic. One piece in a room is enough to add soul and style.
Emilia: This is actually the hardest question! I like so many different styles and pieces, I am attracted to eclectic interiors. I love beautiful artwork and accessories. I recently missed out on a Pierre Disderot Table lamp c.1950 that was heartbreaking! It was black enamel spun aluminum and brass, simple but so elegant and timeless.
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For those with a limited budget, where should you spend your money?
Deb: Second hand, of course! Invest in a couple of pre-owned iconic designer pieces. They anchor a room, look amazing, and are more likely to be re-sellable should your needs change in the future.
Emilia: Save and always buy the best quality piece you can afford. It’s far better to have a few really nice pieces rather than a lot of average, poorly made items.
And finally, what are you both excited about right now for the year ahead?
Emilia: We are really excited about adding new features to our website and offering our customers access to a very comprehensive interior designer/stylist directory. Being able to add value for both our sellers and buyers is always a priority for us and it means most days we also get to speak with creative and interesting professionals!
Deb: Move over Houzz, we’re planning a directory of local interior designers and stylists and to showcase their work.