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Cecilia Corda, Freelance Interior Designer

After reassessing her life during the pandemic, Cecilia Corda decided to leave the corporate world, and follow her passions into freelancing. She talks to The Industry Leaders about applying the lessons she has learnt in design to the way she now chooses to live her life.

How did you end up sitting where you are today?

It’s a combination of many factors, but I like to believe that it has been mostly hard work, a bit of luck, and a good amount of stubbornness.

After leaving Italy with only a few years of experience in a small but international design studio, I have spent the past seven years working in Dubai for two of the best companies in the world, Hirsch-Bedner Associates and Gensler.

I have now decided to follow my passion for nature and the underwater world, and leave corporate life behind to freelance instead from a tiny island close to Bali, in Indonesia.

What kind of work does your role involve?

Anything design related, from concept to site supervision.

I take part in the entire process of a project, which is crucial in understanding how much work it takes to bring something to life from just an idea or a wobbly sketch. People too often think that interior design is only “fluffy pillows” and looking for images on Pinterest, and I am tired of trying to explain how much more than that it is.

For me, the most important part of being good at my role is being able to understand what the client wants - or, in many cases, lead them to understand what they need - and think about the final user of the space. Everything usually starts from an idea, or a brief, and evolves to space planning, furniture and finishes, and material selection, until it goes into construction and site supervision.

There is so much to do that clients sometimes don’t see in between design phases: from the early research of the location to the final user; the operator brand standards, and the regulation that each place has for a project to be able to tick all the boxes and come to life.

What gets you excited about your industry?

The people, really. The interaction with others and the exchange of ideas to develop a shared common vision has always been what fascinates me the most about the design industry.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

“Don’t get too attached to your first idea”.

Things change; ideas do too. We need to be able to mould our ideas into what the project requires, adapt and, sometimes, completely change them. Very rarely the first idea I had about a project was what came to life at the end of it. And that’s the beauty of design: it evolves.

What's the best way to support aspiring leaders in your field?

I applaud good design. I love seeing what others in the industry create, and I often look up to them. I am encouraged to simply share, comment, and congratulate when something amazing is created - this is what design is all about; supporting good design and other colleagues’ achievements is crucial.

How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?

I am always trying to be up to date on everything that’s happening. I do my best to read magazines or articles, and continuously research design websites, as well as stay inspired by travelling and talking to friends and colleagues in the industry - even scrolling through Instagram can be helpful sometimes: design is everywhere right now.

What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?

Understanding my needs and realising that corporate life wasn’t working for me anymore was the most challenging situation: finding myself and my inspiration again, by leaving everything I was used to, to try to live a more balanced life.

Having spent some time away from the corporate world, coming back after the pandemic made me realise that I had to make a big shift in my life, and this required putting myself before my career. There have been a lot of ups and downs, and I still find myself searching for my balance from time to time, but it’s been a great journey so far.

You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?

Finally upgrading my IKEA furniture! I have some iconic design pieces I would love to tick off my “Dream List” without looking at the price tag and crying.

What do you see as the key ingredients for failure?

Too often I believe we want to love the project we do, and this often leads to us designing for ourselves instead of for our final user. Specifically, when working in the hospitality industry, a designer must create a product that aligns the client’s requests with the operator’s requirements while keeping the final user in mind - this may not always be representative of our own personal taste.

If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?

Trust the design process and the designer. Give them the time that a well-thought-out project requires, and trust them to create what you’ve asked them for. Nowadays, it seems everything “was due yesterday”.

What book or podcast should everyone know about?

This isn’t a book or a podcast, but I loved the Frank Gehry Masterclass - a must-watch for everyone that loves design and architecture.

How should people connect with you?

Or they can send me an email at:

Get in touch; I would love to hear from you!

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