podcast | Apr 8, 2024 |
For Vicky Charles, a waitressing gig was the perfect training for design

Vicky Charles’s design career started with waiting tables. After growing up in Gloucestershire, England, she went on to study fine art and English at the University of Exeter, but remained at a loss for what to do for work. “The whole time, I worked in the catering industry,” she tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “I needed to earn money to buy all the shoes I wanted and terrible fashion decisions I needed to make.”

Charles moved to Oxford and started waitressing at a new restaurant called Café Boheme, owned by Nick Jones, the founder of Soho House, a members-only club in London that ended up launching outposts across Europe and the United States. She worked her way up the ranks, eventually moving to New York to become the manager of the Manhattan location and plan events all over the country, including Academy Awards viewing parties at Los Angeles houses that required whole-home renovations. “A large part of design is about logistics and budget. It was amazing training to create a house on a temporary basis,” she says. “You can’t be late: ‘I’m so sorry, my sofa’s stuck. Can you move the Oscars party?’ You know, you just had to make it happen.”

At the time, most of the Soho House locations were designed by Ilse Crawford, until Miami, when Charles was tasked with designing the bedrooms. “It was very casual and accidental,” she says. “Nick is phenomenal at rewarding people for hard work. You want to do something, you do it.” Success led to new opportunities: The designer’s first residential project happened to be the home of George and Amal Clooney, who had stayed at an apartment in Soho House Berlin and loved it. Shortly after that job, she decided to go off on her own to launch Charles & Co. with co-founder Julia Corden. The firm has since earned a spot on the AD100.

Elsewhere in the episode, she talks about how she embraces her clients’ Pinterest boards, how she builds relationships with architects and landscape designers, and why slow periods can help strengthen a firm.

Crucial insight: For Charles, the best job to prepare anyone for the design industry is bartending. She attributes the interpersonal skills she gained while moving up the ranks of Soho House as key to her career success. She urges the young designers in her office to get as much face time with others in the industry as possible to help build those skills—and their Rolodex.

Key quote: “The best work can actually be the [projects] that are like, Oh my God. I always know it’s not going well when I start dreaming about a project, like, Jesus, it’s coming in and invading my sleep. It is the best work, in the end, because it was hard. Everybody did care and everyone was pushed to the limits, and at the end of the day, it’s great work.”

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode is sponsored by The Shade Store and Hartmann&Forbes.

Thursday Show

BOH executive editor Fred Nicolaus and host Dennis Scully discuss the biggest news in the industry, including an update on troubled design brands Burke Decor and Pirch, surprising renovation numbers from Houzz, and a list of the most iconic furniture from the last century. Later, lawyer David Adler joins the show to break down the Judd Foundation’s lawsuit against Kim Kardashian and her designers.

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode is sponsored by Loloi and Annie Selke.

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