Design Divas: Karen Nairstone from British by Design and Design Event

What’s your name? Karen Nairstone

How many children and old are they? I have a little boy, Archie, who is 8 months old

What is the name of your business? Design Event and our online shop is British by Design

What is your business and when did you start it?

I founded Design Event in 2005 initially as an annual and now a bi-annual design festival across North East England taking place in October; and then developed the business to include professional development and support for designers; a regular London showcase of work by designers from the North of England; and the new addition of our British by Design online shop, showcasing beautiful design by up and coming designers from across the UK.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

I’ve always been passionate about design and about the North East of England, which is a great place to live.

My business grew out of a frustration that it was difficult to see high quality design without going to London, and also to buy interesting affordable design by up and coming designers.

Prior to setting up this business I ran a small design store in Newcastle and through this met some very talented local designers who I wanted to work with to showcase the creativity coming out of the region.

Having run my own business for 8 years now, I know how difficult setting up your own creative business can be, so being able to support the designers we work with to become established businesses and provide a platform to sell their work online, is hugely rewarding.

It’s also great researching new designers and sourcing products for British by Design, as the UK has a wealth of design talent. I’m currently coveting CUSTHOM’s Columbia Road cushions ( ), Ellen Thomas’s Mantle Piece clocks (  and Young And Battaglia’s new chesterfield wallpaper! (

Can you share 3 positive aspects about being a business mum?

Having recently returned to work it’s great coming back to the business with fresh eyes and at such an exciting time. British by Design is just starting to take off, and we’re currently planning our London showcase for Tent London this year, working with great designers with some really strong products, so it’s an inspiring time to be back at work.

Being my own boss means that I’m able to be flexible with my time if needed, which is a real bonus with having a young child, both from a family and a business perspective.  I’m currently working part time, so feel very fortunate that I’m able to get the best of both worlds – time with Archie, as a Mum; which is amazing, inspiring and challenging! and time to run my business which again is all of those things in different ways.

Any downsides?

The only downside is that you have to be super organised – fortunately I’m pretty well organised anyway, so it’s not been too much of a stretch!

How do you keep motivated?

Both my babies keep me motivated – Archie – and my business! I’m extremely fortunate that I love my job which brings different challenges and inspirations each day, and I have a great team to work with – so going to work in the morning is fun rather than a chore.  Days with Archie bring new excitement and achievements along with lots of  giggles!

 Would you change anything you’ve done in building and developing your business?

It may sound trite, but I don’t think so…. When I started my business I never imagined it would grow to such an extent, and If I had known, I might have been a bit daunted at the prospect!  At Design Event we are constantly reviewing what we do and looking for ways to improve the business which means we don’t get complacent; which I think is sometimes a danger for small businesses.

What tips would you give anyone wanting to start their own design/craft/interiors business?

Develop a good network of people that you can go to for support – with relevant knowledge and experience – not just your mates!  It’s amazing how discussing a business problem, issue, or idea over a coffee with someone can help you to step back, be objective and look at the bigger picture, rather than getting bogged down in the detail.

There’s also a lot of support and advice available online – Artquest, Cockpit Arts and Design Event’s Design Exchange site all have useful tips and case studies for creative businesses.

I would also get in touch with any creative networks in your area. Setting up your own business can be quite isolating and it’s always great to meet other people in similar situations for a bit of moral support! If you’re in the North of England then get in touch with us at Design Event! @BritishByDesign @DesignEventNE

T: 0191 265 3537  E:


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