Tash South was born and raised in segregated Cape Town. After hearing how she worked her butt off to get to the UK, then buy her own home, then BUILD her own home and THEN change industry at the height of her career I just knew you guys would love her story. Tash is a perfect example of what applying yourself looks like! Here she is to tell you her story…
I was born and raised in Cape Town. It was a beautiful city and an amazing place to grow up in. Yet there were also some harsh political realities that made life difficult. I’m mixed race and my school was only desegregated when I hit high school. Kind of unbelievable to think this was still a reality all the way up until the 1990s.
My parents worked hard and gave us a nice home. But because of – let’s be blunt here – our race, restriction to the less attractive areas of the city was a problem. No tree-lined streets, or homes with beach and mountain views for us.
Despite the complicated political situation, things went ok for me. Once I hit high school I made friends of all colours. We hung out and enjoyed the laid-back beach lifestyle. For the first time I got invited into the homes I’d only ever admired from the outside. They were amazing. I loved these stunning properties. They were set on gorgeous large plots with swimming pools and amazing views.
I got a taste for it!
Cape Town’s post-colonial history and eclectic mix of architectural design influences, made it the perfect place to develop an obsession with homes and design. At that time it was an interest, it never occurred to me that interior design could be an actual career.
After graduating high school, I studied advertising and graphic design. I landed my first job working for a tiny print works studio. It was great. But after two years of intense learning on the job, I was ready to move on. I wanted to escape from the boxed-in, pre-conditioned segregated way of thinking. I wanted to travel and to see how people on the other side of the world worked, lived and thought.
At the time, the UK was still offering working-holiday visas. Albeit with many hoops to jump through. I worked hard, saved hard, did my TEFL course (as a back-up skill), waitressed, took weekend work, all on top of my day job. But it was worth it, and by April 2002, I was on a flight to the UK.
Arriving in London, I felt my eyes and the possibilities open. I loved the buzz, the diversity, and the cosmopolitan feel. The first few months in a new city were tough though – shared houses, endless bar jobs and diets of pot noodle. But I managed to land a design job in a small ad agency for travel and education, where I worked for over three years.
During this time I became obsessed with British property shows. Remember Sarah Beeny’s Property Ladder? And on my very low salary, I convinced myself that I too could own a home to renovate. So the intense saving started once again. A year later I had the keys to a one bedroom flat on a 80s estate in North London. Which I painted and preened and ‘put my stamp’ on, in true Property Ladder style.
When I met my husband he was on the same page. We made the decision to keep moving and to do up a few properties to increase the equity in our home every few years. As a result of this decision, both of our daughters have been born into chaos of a development in full swing.
Meanwhile, I decided to move on to a graphic design position at a small studio in the city. The hedonistic days of entertaining clients for lunch ran into dinners on most days of the week. It was an enjoyable job for the most part, but after having a child while working there things did change at the office, as most working mums will know.
I learnt on the job.
With our property projects, I learned more with each move, throwing myself in at the deep end, familiarising myself with planning and regulations. I taught myself how to do architect’s scaled drawings and elevations, creating the look I wanted on our micro budgets.
The third flat we bought and renovated was in an area of North London we loved. We wanted to stay but needed more space as we’d started our family by then. It was around 2013, the property market had exploded, but a family house was still way out of budget. I became convinced we could find a local plot and build our own family home. Long story short, we’d walk around all the local streets every weekend. We’d then look up any suitable plots on the land registry site and ask if they were looking to sell. Finally someone said yes.
About a year into the planning application process for the house, I hit a real low. I hurt my back and had to have a few weeks off work. I was sofa-bound and bored out of my mind for most of the day, so I started research for the interior of the house. This is when I discovered interiors blogs, and I loved them! The more I read, the more I thought, ‘I could write one of these’.
People were always so interested when I talked about what I was doing with the house, so an informative blog about the ups and downs about building my own house could work. A few days later, I’d purchased the domain and made a start on some content.
Back at work, things took a turn for the worst, so I decided to leave a job I had loved for years. I was on my own.
I thought it would be easy to get a shop assistant job while I sorted things out. But that proved tricky and I needed a rethink.
I invested in me.
I dug out my blog and started to look at it all a bit more. I had some money saved up so I made the decision to invest in myself. I signed up for a great short course in Interior Styling at UAL. I met some lovely people, and I found No Bull Business School online and got in touch for some one-to-one sessions.
I was also contacted by a PR company who found my blog online. They wanted me to write a piece on the new Zaha Hadid homeware collection at Maison et Objet. I knew that Maison. a huge interiors expo held in Paris twice a year, was a big deal in the interiors world I was trying to break into. So I went for it, I accepted the offer and used the opportunity while I was there to immerse myself and research for this new career I was creating.
I found ways to magic up extra time.
I came back from Paris with a renewed energy and threw myself into it. I’d wake up early most mornings and started writing. I’d write content, lists of ideas, schedules and plans – I even started writing a book.
I’d visit every trade show, event and exhibition going, and chat to as many people as I could which was hard. I’m not one of those gregarious chatty types for whom networking comes easy. Getting out of your comfort zone is a cliché for a reason!
I emailed PR agencies and brands about working together, meeting them for coffee in the short time I had while my daughter was at nursery. All the while my house build was going on in the background.
It all started coming together. My Instagram numbers started growing and I started getting some paid blog work. The house build was well underway. To my complete surprise, I even landed an interior design project! The client had found my blog and socials and liked what I was showing. Actually getting paid for work after months of creating content for free was an amazing feeling.
I just kept going…
At the beginning of December 2017, I found out I was pregnant again! A pleasant surprise, but the timing could have been better (couldn’t it always). In the early days it was deepest, darkest winter time. The morning sickness was awful. I had to deal with daily site visits on two projects. Managing builders. Looking after our 5 year old. Frantic decorating at the house. Organising a move from our flat into an unfinished house during one of the hottest Summers on record. I felt exhausted, but at every opportunity I had, I would muster up the energy to put out a quick Instagram post or story.
Our second daughter arrived in July 2018. We took a much needed 5 week pause from the house build. I’m now finally starting to reveal the rooms in my home one by one on my blog when I am ready.
I took the risk.
Today, over two years since starting my blog, my life is different. Things are busier, but I’m a lot more fulfilled.
I have a pride for having started my own business and taken control of my own path. All before the ripe old age of (ahem), 40. I’ve taken many risks the past 4 years.
I still don’t know for sure if things will work out. My business is still so new and I have a long way to go yet. But I’m a hard worker and investing in myself has given me so much new knowledge and experience. I’m so glad I shook things up and made the changes.
Once piece of advice though. If you can avoid building a house and having a baby at the same time… then do!