Is the switch from a high-flying career in finance to a design role in your 40s too much of a stretch? Not for Londoner Sanam Zanjani, who took a leap of faith and followed her intuition enrolling at the Inchbald School of Design.
“I didn’t think a change was possible as I assumed my skills could not really transfer and it was too late for a completely new career. This is until I attended an open day at Inchbald,” she says. Zanjani had majored in graphic design and art history some years back, but eventually found herself in finance and strategy consulting after attending a business school.
Having an art background certainly helped the Master of Arts Architectural Interior Design student, who discovered that all her skills and experiences were easily transferable at Inchbald . Adjusting to student life as a working adult wasn’t an easy transition at first, but thanks to the warm and collaborative attitude at Inchbald, Zanjani is finding her footing in a world that she’s always wanted to be a part of.
“Every time I have asked for help and advice, I was always offered it even though the tutors are busy. They always made time. I had support putting my portfolio together, received advice on internships and potential roles, and even how to balance career after school,” she remarks.
Study at Britain’s pioneering design school
Nestled within London’s historic Chelsea neighbourhood and close to the Pimlico Design Quarter, Inchbald’s reputation as one of Britain’s preeminent design schools has stood for over six decades, offering specialist training in high-end interior and garden design. It pioneered the professionalisation of design practice in the UK, and played a crucial role in the establishment of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID), the only professional body for interior designers in the UK.
No more than 100 students are admitted at one time, creating an intimate and collaborative atmosphere that ensures that all students receive undivided attention throughout their studies. The 8:1 student-to-instructor ratio guarantees higher teacher-student interaction for better understanding of the design process at each level of education. This tutorial system encourages individual creative talent allowing students to hold on to their unique view of design and take this forward throughout working life.
The opportunity to learn from experts in the field in a close-knit environment was also what drew Zoe Claymore to Inchbald. “I chose to study at Inchbald as I decided that if I was going to make this career shift, I wanted to go to the best place I could,” says the Diploma in Garden Design student.
After a decade of working in the education sector, Claymore thought it was high time for a career change after discovering her love of gardening when she had to work from home during the pandemic. What began as a passion project bloomed into a calling to be closer to nature.
Choosing Inchbald was a no-brainer for Claymore , as the school needed no introduction as a leading professional educator in garden design. “The alumni and reputation was long established and international, the class sizes were small, and the amount of face-to-face teaching offered was far above that of the other courses,” she adds.
Claymore credits her personal growth in her newfound vocation to Inchbald’s welcoming attitude towards bold ideas. “At Inchbald, I have always felt like I have been treated as an individual and not as part of some wider group. They don’t try to mould you to be a certain way but allow you the freedom to find a design mechanism that works for you.”
Define your own design
The experiential element of design is crucial to all courses at Inchbald. It forms a cornerstone of the interior design programmes, where students experiment with the design process through different mediums. Students undertaking the BA (Hons) Architectural Interior Design will learn to tackle design as a problem-solving exercise to find harmony between form, function, and aesthetics. Architectural Interior Design Masters students examine the same practical aspects of design and additionally focus on the sensory understanding of space, again from their own point of view.
A similar approach is employed in garden design courses, where regular site visits go hand-in-hand with knowledge of spatial configuration and all aspects involved in landscaping. Students of the BA (Hons) Garden Design and its subsequent master’s programme will go in-depth into a sensory exploration of the garden and the psychological aspects of spatial design with plants.
Understanding design is a complex process; developing your own style and practice is doubly challenging. That’s why Inchbald affords freedom for students to explore their own ideas, where projects are used as springboards to interrogate conventional ideas around design.
Students benefit from first-hand observations and placements during their studies, which help them synthesise theory and practice as they personally witness how design concepts are applied in the professional arena. Through analysis and interpretation, Inchbald students gain creative confidence in using their talents to launch their own ventures.
The numbers speak for themselves: 75% of Inchbald graduates are employed or get internships within a year of graduation. The school has no shortage of successful alumni either, such as garden designer Kamelia Bin Zaal, whose work includes Al Barari, the United Arab Emirates’s most prominent green residential hub. The Tollgard Design Group launched by Staffan and Monique Tollgard, both Interior Design graduates, has enjoyed spectacular success both in the UK and internationally. The school’s career advisory team is on hand to help each graduate to transition into the local and international design profession.
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