How this Irish graduate became an interior designer for America’s top women-focused co-working space
The Wing, a professional community for women, has garnered countless press for its concept.
Since 2016, thousands of women have flocked to join, thanks to incentives like workshops led by inspirational female powerhouses, ‘pump rooms’ for new moms, beauty rooms and showers. Of course, they’re also galvanised by the phenomenally photogenic interiors — think inviting colour tones like peach and baby pink, plush, comfortable seating and retro finishes. All, naturally, designed with women in mind.
One of the people with her thinking cap permanently in overdrive — everything from the best seat-to-table height for women is thought out in painstaking detail — is interior designer Nicola Kehoe.
Despite having little to no experience in interior design, she persevered to make her mark when she moved to New York. Her determination paid off, as the 24-year-old became Interior Design Coordinator at The Wing in 2018. Now based in London, where she is overseeing a new opening, the Wexford-native let IMAGE in on some of her pointers for getting yourself noticed, the importance of finding a mentor, and how much planning goes into a new project.
Did you always know you wanted to get into interior design?
No, I didn’t really have a huge interest in interior design growing up. I was always primarily interested in architecture; being an architect was my dream job. I had so many lined copy books filled with drawings of houses as a child. My childhood babysitter still reminds me of them every Christmas! I was always intrigued by interiors but hadn’t had enough exposure to it during my college years. After moving to New York, my career aspirations shifted towards Interior Design once I saw the possibilities and I haven’t looked back.
What undergraduate did you study?
Bachelors of Science in Architecture at University College Dublin.
Did you always know you would emigrate?
Growing up, I was always taught that the possibilities were endless if you worked hard enough. I always knew my ambition would stretch to horizons beyond my hometown and may even take me somewhere international. I saw the move to New York as more of a temporary thing. But as is often the case, plans change.
What was your first ‘real job’?
Au pairing for an Italian family in a small village outside Milan one summer during college. Thinking back, it was a bit of a wild card move! I landed in Milan without a word of the language, to live with complete strangers in their home. I learned how to think on my feet and to trust my own instincts, which has definitely helped in my work so far. And picked up a few words of Italian!
How did you get your start working for The Wing?
I first began working with Chiara de Rege in New York. She had just completed the first Wing design in Flatiron before I joined. A few months later, The Wing approached Chiara about a new flagship Wing, three times the size of the original, to open in SoHo. We worked on the design and execution for months. Shortly after the opening in October 2017, I moved to The Wing to work as part of their new in-house design team. Transitioning in-house was an extremely exciting opportunity due to The Wing’s incredible pipeline and expansion plans. It has allowed me to work on beautiful designs for locations across America and internationally. To date, I’ve worked on 15 Wing projects including new locations, expansions, Wing designed pump rooms for other businesses, outdoor additions, and helped organize The Wing’s experiential events outside of our spaces.
What was the most valuable thing you learned early on in your career?
Not all advice is of the same value, and one person’s opinion isn’t necessarily fact. Early in my career, I was underestimated due to my age and “lack of experience”, but I found that sheer grit and determination, along with a good work ethic can outweigh age and experience when it comes to managing design projects. The Wing is an extremely young company – only two and a half years old – and moving at lightning speed. We are doing something brand new and are made up of hardworking, ambitious and (mostly) young women so this mentality has been invaluable to me in this role.
Could you describe an average workday?
I religiously start my day early at my favourite coffee shop near our office. The workday could begin in a meeting with the co-founders planning new designs for our upcoming locations, or tracking the progress on a project in construction. No two days are ever the same, and I just live for that variety.
What’s a common misconception about what you do?
It’s not just about picking furniture from a catalogue or matching paint colours to fabrics. The design team is there around the table at all points of the project. The creative process is very intricate and interacts with construction work at multiple levels — from conception of the design all the way up to screwing in lightbulbs mere minutes before we open the doors. An added layer that is unique to The Wing, is the fact that we are designing spaces specifically for women. This means thinking about everything from how a fabric will feel on bare legs to the table to seat height ratio. Every detail is thought through with our members in mind.
What’s your main responsibility at The Wing?
I work on all of our new location designs from concept to completion with the interiors team. Right now, I’m based in London working on our first international location set to open later this year. I work on a lean, but extremely talented interiors team consisting of three incredible women. As the team is small, it’s really all hands on deck with the design and project management. At any given time I could be working across six projects.
Where do you seek inspiration for interiors from?
I believe you can find inspiration everywhere. From Pinterest and Instagram to city streets, art and landscapes. I’m also very inspired by other designers’ work and find social media provides great exposure to multiple styles and influences.
How stressful would you rate your line of work? What do you do to de-stress after a long work week?
It’s definitely not the easiest line of work! Deadlines can be difficult, with numerous projects running at one time. Months of detailed planning culminate in a busy period on-site overseeing the final construction and installation in the days before a Wing opens. Our team start early in the morning and can work well into the night, making sure everything is perfect for the opening. We have quite a busy timeline for new Wing locations, both nationally and internationally, over the next two years. I’ve actually become quite accustomed to the fast pace of New York life, even though initially I found it to be a major shock. I never believed I would crave the excitement of project deadlines and new openings, but there is a certain thrill involved. Not to mention the satisfaction once you complete a project you’re very proud of. To de-stress, I usually spend my time relaxing with my friends. I had quite a close group of Irish friends in New York. We usually explored Brooklyn most weekends and would occasionally take a much-needed trip to upstate New York to get away from the craziness of the city. As I’m new to London, I’m just exploring all the city has to offer at every free moment.
Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to?
Definitely, Chiara de Rege. She was instrumental in shifting my career aspirations towards interior design. Working with Chiara, I learned the ways of an industry that I was previously unfamiliar with. She took a chance on me when I first arrived in New York, when others might have dismissed my lack of experience.