Celia Sawyer will be a familiar face to fans of Channel 4 television programme Four Rooms. A self-made entrepreneur and television personality, Celia's journey has seen her go from working as a dental nurse to designing beautiful homes for the rich and famous, with a few other ventures on the way! Here's how she made it.

Celia Sawyer - How I Made It

To give you some background to how I got to where I am today, let me introduce myself. I have an interior design business, designing homes, yachts and private aviation for the super-rich, which include high net-worth individuals, sporting personalities, and celebrities. I am currently working on an affordable luxury range of home accessories, which will be coming to the market early next year.

This year will be my fourth year on National Prime time TV on Channel 4’s Four Rooms, and I have also had my own prime time interior design show on BBC1. I also write regular columns for Hello Magazine, The Mail Online and also the Huffington Post, and this year was voted in the top 100 Most Influential Business Entrepreneurs in the UK and in the top 250 Women Leaders in the World. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and this is my business journey.

Starting out

My love for houses has been with my all my life. My parents had a modest home but used to drive me around looking at big impressive properties in the upmarket areas close to where we lived, and I used to wonder what it would be like to live in a house like that. My imagination used to run riot, and I believe this has been the key to my success so far, inspiring me from an early age.

I started out as a dental nurse from school, but it was never a career I wanted to stay in for the duration of my working life. I didn’t do well at school, and was extremely shy, but working in this type of environment helped my confidence and taught me the ability to talk to people. I was still dreaming about those houses, but also dreaming that there must be more out there - and that if someone could have one of those big houses, then why couldn’t I? So I decided to take a chance, and try my hand at running my own business - I had nothing to lose.

The importance of persistence

My first venture was a photography agency, purely because I knew one photographer who told me he couldn’t get any work. I decided that as I had garnered some good people skills, I may be able to help. Never being a lazy person or one to rest on my laurels, I worked hard to make this business a success - going out day after day, filling each hour full of meetings at advertising agencies, seeing everyone I could. I soon had other photographers on my books and went out relentlessly with heavy cases, trying to find work.

There was a point, around the six-month mark, where I felt my efforts just weren’t working, I would keep picking the phone up to see if it was even still connected, because it wasn’t ringing! And it was just at the point where I was questioning myself, wondering whether my mother was right to say “But how can you do that job when you know nothing about it?” the call came that changed my perception of business for good. Saatchi and Saatchi offered my photographer a huge advertising campaign - and from then on I never looked back!

Always trying new things

Success was not a walk in the park. There were ups and downs, as you find in every business, but this lesson was the game-changer for me. It taught me to never give up even when you feel nothing is changing. You need to keep believing in yourself, and know that if you are out there working as hard as you can and doing all the right things, it will happen.

This experience also gave me courage - I wasn’t afraid anymore of trying things I only ever imagined I could do. I started working with commercials directors, and I became successful in this too. Soon I had saved enough money to buy a property and developed this, adding value and making the interior a statement that people noticed and liked.

Although I had no previous training in design, it was something I enjoyed, and very quickly I was running a business in this too! I read hundreds of books, looked at many visuals to try and find designs that I liked, and nurtured all of this into my own personal style. 

I was determined, as with all the businesses I have worked in, to make a success of this and not to fail. I worked on very small projects at the beginning, doing everything myself, staying up all night if I had to, either to finish or until I got the design right, worrying through many sleepless nights. I couldn’t let anyone down. As time went on, I started getting offers of much higher-level work, which was scary, but being mentally challenged meant growth. Eventually I was working in a circle of high net-worth clients and celebrities, and I have not looked back.

Taking opportunities

As I was now buying valuable items for my clients’ collections, when I saw an advert online about a show called Four Rooms, which was about interesting items people owned and which expert dealers would value, I thought it could be the perfect fit. Although the advert was asking for photos of interesting objects for the show, I decided to send a photo in of myself and asked “Why not put me on as a dealer?” The next day they called me, and now the show (with me as a long-term dealer) is in its fifth series, and has a cult following. It shows the power of asking: if you don’t try, you won’t get!

This show led to other TV offers, and these have led me to my columns where I write about luxury for Hello Magazine, The Mail Online and The Huffington Post. I receive offers weekly for collaborations in the interiors business, and have joined forces with a luxury jewellery company to design a home range (affordable luxury) which is currently being finalised for introduction into the retail market next year. I also receive hundreds of e-mails from people asking for business advice, and so decided to start my mentoring business to offer help in this field, which is growing fast.

At the heart of my career has been imagination, persistence, hard work, courage, and the curiosity to take opportunities - because who knows where they could lead? I’ve come a long way since those days looking at my dream houses through car windows. I do hope that if you’re reading this you feel inspired to use your imagination too, and follow your own dreams.


Get the Virgin StartUp Business plan