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My life as an Interior Design Intern

By Toni-Ann Malcolm, Interior Architecture & Design Student, London UK.

My name is Toni-Ann Malcolm, and I am 23 years old. I am currently an Interior Designer Intern at ATI Studio owned by the fabulous Aurelie Tshiama. I would describe myself as a creative person and believe that we create the world we live in and can change the narrative or lifestyle that we were brought up by. I see Interior as art; an empty room as a blank canvas and when I design it you step into an art masterpiece the same way an artist would use a blank canvas to paint the perfect picture. I get a reaction from everyone whether it is good or bad. I affect your mood using colour theory. It is all psychological.

However, funnily enough, I didn't always know what I wanted to do at university or if I wanted to go. And if I did, what would I study?... as in, I had no clue. Like I said, I’ve always been a creative person and good with my hands. Because of my background and culture, the obvious careers that came to mind were Hairdresser, Tailor, or Fashion Designer. Not to say these careers are bad, but my mind was extremely limited to these paths, and I had no clue about branching out. For example, careers like Editorial Hairstylist, or working with big brands for magazine shoots or even Fashion Week were beyond me. To cut the story short, I went to university to study Interior Architecture and Design for about 2 and a half years but didn’t complete my degree. Sounds sad right? To be fair I was pretty upset with myself and disappointed and was very ashamed to tell anyone that was around me. But I’m over it now. I realised that I had to be true to myself and self-evaluate. What’s the best why for me to learn? Is this really what I want to do? Its okay to have moments like this. IT IS NORMAL OK!

Toni-Ann project work: Instagram @t.malcolm_

What I did know is that I wanted to be more and do more than what my mother ever was and did. She’s got a Big heart don’t get me wrong but… I already knew that I was different from my peers (not because I was spoilt or anything haha) it was something within and always used to shy away from that. I also knew that I wanted to do more but didn’t know what or where to start. there was just something; something that I just couldn’t pinpoint. Have you ever felt like that? One thing is for sure: having a limited mindset was never going to get me far.

Anyways…… One day I just thought of becoming an Architect because I thought the name was so cool and thought to myself ‘if I tell someone that I’m an architect, they will think I’m cool too’. And shocked. Why? Because there aren’t many black architects out there, and if there are, I don't know about them, FACTS. It hurts but that’s the truth.

So straightaway I saw a gap in the industry that I could fill. There aren't many role models for black girls like me, which was a problem;

I wanted to be a solution to that problem. Unfortunately, when I attended university insight days around the Architecture course, I was so bored and kept falling asleep. At that point, I figured becoming an architect wasn't for me. I carried on going to insight days thinking I would change my mind, but it was the same… until one day I accidentally went into a different class, and I enjoyed it so much. When the lesson had ended, I realised I was in an Interior Architecture class, not Architecture, which was weird to me. I ultimately changed my remaining insight days to Interior Architecture and that’s how I ended up studying the course. But it wasn’t for long...

As an Interior Architecture and Design student, a typical day for me used to involve getting briefed before the day has even begun. My days can vary; I can spend half of the day in a studio, which includes model making and concept development. The next half can consist of Architecture History and context knowledge. One challenge I personally face is never asking for help when I need it. I always think ‘the lecturer should just come to me’, but the reality is that you need to seek, and they will provide that’s what teachers are there for.

Another challenge I face is as a 'retaker'. I transferred to another university in my 2nd year, and it was challenging because I felt like everyone had already made friendship groups and I was just behind as the newbie. I found it hard to settle in and - as someone that used to overthink and assume most of the time - I didn’t know how to ask questions or speak out when I needed help. I struggled to make friends, so one of the things I hated was group work. Presenting a pitch in front of people was my biggest fear. I was so bad that, even if the audience was as little as 4-5 people, I would be shaking ridiculously. This all stemmed from experiences I had growing up, which scarred me for an awfully long time. Thankfully, having a Mentor that teaches on growth and Leadership. Everything starts with leadership in obscurity; the state of being unknown. Personally, with leadership and mentorship it helps to form my path in a way I would never imagine myself. It is the little things that count. You sure can’t grow in a place of comfortability.

Still Probably wondering why I didn’t finish uni…. Let me just say now

Well, I did enjoy my course, but I just thought that style of learning wasn’t for me. Like I mentioned in the beginning I am very hands on and very practical and I felt like I wasn’t really getting that at uni, well maybe It was just the university I went to. With mentorship I was advised to try something else - An internship and see how it goes (which I am currently doing) & I must say I am enjoying every bit of it haha… From our weekly meetings with the whole ATI team to our workshops and very hands on with the project that I was assign to. Even with that client meetings, site visits, given deadlines. I am very much involved and really learning as I go. Plus, I get to learn the business side of being an Interior Designer; whether it is the best places to source materials, how to even source materials, mood board layouts, the though process of designing a client’s space. Even 1-1 lessons on the 2 different software’s the studio uses for renovations. And on top of that dealing with the different clients you may face. Some are easier to work with that others.

Toni-Ann project work: Instagram @t.malcolm_

Being a beautiful, young black female studying Interior Architecture and Design already doesn’t make sense to many.

I say this because pretty dark skinned girls would mainly have an interest in Fashion or Beauty like I mentioned before. I, on the other hand, wanted to step away from that. I absolutely love my course; I may complain, I may have dropped out of university, to then return to continue studying the same course, I may have retaken modules, but none of this has stopped me. “You are not a failure until you quit”- That’s the advice I would give to any other young girl; do not put a cap on what you can achieve or belittle yourself because of your culture.

To many people, it’s a real shock when I tell them what I do, as I don't “look” like an interior designer… but what does that mean? What does an interior designer look like? Or an architect?

She looks just like me.

LinkedIn: Toni Ann Malcom

Instagram: @t.malcolm_

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