Julie Kilgallon is a qualified interior designer based on the French Riviera. She grew up in Manchester and was inspired by her mother’s soft furnishing business to pursue a career in interior design. Julie worked on commercial and office designs before moving on to residential projects, which she continues to do since leaving the UK for France. Here she tells FrenchEntrée what it’s like to be an interior designer in such a glamorous part of the world…
I more or less wrote my business plan with a friend on the beach in St Jean Cap Ferrat whilst our children played. Every day during the summer I listened to people who had bought properties along the Côte d’Azur and then felt that they were left somewhat alone and hanging on to ill-informed advice of what to do next. They had so many questions and so many recommendations to wade through, to say nothing of the lack of linguistics in order to express how they wished to design their dream home!
After a number of years holidaying on the Côte d’Azur, I decided to buy a property here – an apartment in St Jean Cap Ferrat. My then husband would fly out each weekend. I came here to work full-time in the early 2000s. My son was happy in his boarding school and came out as normal for all his holidays. My daughter went into the French education system here and has never looked back. Within three months of moving here, I had two projects in Cap Ferrat and the rest is history. All my clients have come from recommendations.
I love my work and wake up each morning eager and excited. The day starts at 6am and sees me with my local freshly squeezed lemon juice and (my downfall) a large pot of strong, fresh coffee. I listen to both the English and French news and go over all my emails. I have three email addresses, including one just for my clients. My typical client is an English speaker from anywhere in the world, successful and works very hard in his or her own career each day. Most thoughts of property, interior design or refurbishment are dealt with late in the day or at weekends. To be successful in this business you have to be available all the time, even on holiday.
I work along the Cote d’Azur so I try to combine meetings in the same area on the same day. These can be with developers, architects, builders, kitchen or bathroom suppliers, artisans and general product research. I believe I have a very good vision for how to plan each floor level, room and the ability to maximise usefully and aesthetically. Colour schemes, soft furnishings and furniture are always interesting, especially if two or more people are involved in the decision. I am tactful but honest.
I now have many excellent kitchen suppliers from French, Italian, English to Irish all from off the shelf to bespoke and all at special budgets to me! Using Julie Kilgallon Interiors you will achieve a far better quality, solution and price, including my fee, than you would by going kitchen hunting for yourself. I work closely with designers from all over the world. One of my clients had some bespoke sofas made in the USA (to the cm in every way) which are beautiful. Taking into account all the taxes paid, we could not have achieved this quality here for the same price but this is about knowledge. I am always learning.
France is exquisite for antiques. Some days I travel to Paris to search for what I hope to find, sometimes it can be Provence, sometimes Nice but wherever I journey here the people are always the best. I love to go to Italy also. A week in Milan is for me like a child spending a week in a sweet shop!
Everyone has a budget now, even the richest clients looks towards cheaper labour costs. A lot of my clients are buying homes for their dream holiday home or as an investment to rent out. Each one is interesting and a challenge in terms of budget. I believe that a budget to install kitchens, bathrooms, furnish and decorate should reflect the purchase price of the property.
I recently bought an old ‘maison de village’ – a typical village house on three floors. The majority of the projects I work on tend to be modern or contemporary and I had a yearning to produce something Provençal. The estate agent’s jaw dropped when she saw what I had achieved. I know that if I sell, I have a profit I can be proud of. I like to achieve this for my clients.
New builds can also be daunting for my clients. Purchasing a new build here is slightly different than in other countries. The kitchen is not normally included in the purchase price, the bathrooms can be a must or an option. The fixtures and fittings can be low and often it is good to negotiate a discount and purchase better quality. I project manage from the minute the foundations are laid to the end of the snagging period. At each stage the client receives up-to-date information, photographs and reports on the laying of the electrics and plumbing.
I love people and I love my clients. High budget or low budget, all get the same degree of attention. My clients are always interesting and they educate me in their variable styles and tastes. My clients come back time and time again. I started working for one client in 2005 and not only have I worked on all his subsequent properties but I now work for his family. I try to make my clients obtain my services ultimately for ‘free’ in that by using my independent knowledge, I can save them time and money by obtaining them better prices and better service.