Nicole Varga reinvented herself after moving to Germany from the USA. She went from the field of psychology to being an interior designer and is now her own boss, providing designs, consulting and styling for her clients, via face to face meetings but also as an online designer.
Designing a better life
After having studied psychology, Nicole Varga (42) moved to Germany in 2001 without being able to speak German or without any kind of German qualification, she quickly found her way onto the German labour market anyways. Nicole: “I started teaching business English in companies. Over the next few years I built up a little business offering seminars and lessons on language and cultural training.” She learned a lot about being self-employed and got an appetite for it, but Nicole knew she didn’t want to be a teacher for the rest of her career.
Career cross roads
“At the beginning of my 30s I settled down, got married and had two kids. When I was home with them during my maternity leave, I had the time to figure out what I really wanted to do and how to make that happen. I had always been obsessed with designing and decorating my own home and helping friends with their homes, and I realized that I could do that professionally. So I went back to school and got a degree in interior design.”
It took Nicole 4 years to complete her studies and that was the beginning of Nicole Varga Interior Design. Nicole has a clear vision of what she stands for: “As a designer, I work with clients to help them create beautiful spaces that work for them.
I don’t design to create a “look.” I design to improve the way you live. I truly believe that your home and how you treat that space matters. Our lives are busy, over-scheduled and sometimes overwhelming. We need a home to return to that promotes our well-being, inspires and re-energizes us.”
Nicole helps her clients obtaining their optimal home by providing design and space planning locally, and she also does e-design for clients who are farther away. Nicole: “What makes me different from a full-service designer is that I provide the designs, the consulting and the styling, but I don’t handle the ordering of products or manage the work to be done or installation. I get to focus on the design, which is what I love to do, and not on the project management. And because I don’t take a cut off the furniture and accessories, I am happy to work with any type of product, from Ikea to designer. This allows me to work with so many different types of clients, not just the very wealthy. I love working with clients, especially families, who really need help to pull their spaces together to create a welcoming, comforting space that really fits their needs.”
One of her most rewarding design processes was working with a family with 2-year-old twins, who’d moved into an apartment in a historical home, Nicole says. “They were overwhelmed with getting everything sorted out. They just didn’t have the time or energy to figure out what went where, what they needed or even to unpack all the boxes. We worked together on the entire home and it was so gratifying to see how their disorganized apartment, full of boxes and clutter, turned into a comfortable, organized space. Friends of theirs now come over and say “wow, it really feels like a home now.” And this project was in another city, so we did all the work online and it worked so fluidly. It was a big motivation for me to keep going with my business.”
One of the aspects of being an independent entrepreneur that Nicole sometimes struggles with is having to do all the jobs herself. “Sometimes I would just love to concentrate only on the design process, but I have to take care of the bookkeeping, updating the website, marketing, social media, etc.
My office is in my home and this can be a blessing as well as a curse. It’s difficult to separate business and personal life. It feels like you never finish work, especially when part of your work is to be on social media. It can feel isolating when you work by yourself, no colleagues to collaborate with or have a coffee break with. And there is no one but yourself to keep you accountable.”
However, she was never hesitant of becoming her own boss, once she’d finished her degree in interior design. Nicole says: “I have always been self-employed. My parents were also always self-employed and for many years had a coaching business working with entrepreneurs. My mom was a role model for me, she started the coaching business 25 years ago, way before coaching was the trend it is today, and worked specifically with women entrepreneurs. When I finished my degree in interior design I knew I wanted to be independent. I wanted to build something up that is my own and that allows me to be flexible so I can also concentrate on the other important parts of my life, like my family.”
Nicole has faced many challenges in decorating for her international clientele, which primarily exists of families and expats. Nicole: “I learned a lot from a client who, all on her own, purchased pop-art style banana wallpaper to put in her entryway. We had already completed the design on the adjoining living room when she sent me a photo of the wallpaper she had spontaneously purchased for the entryway. I had suggested we use yellow in that space so she went out and decided on bright yellow bananas. I didn’t think it was going to work at all, but she was insistent and well, the customer is always right! And do you know what? It looks fantastic! The client loves it and is happy every time she opens her front door.”
“I learned to trust a client’s instinct and to dig deeper when I first start working with someone to figure out just how bold or restrained the client is. I had known this particular client loved colour, but I hadn’t realized just how bold she really wanted to go. I’ve learned everyone has a comfort zone in terms of design and it’s important for me as the designer to really hone in on where on the spectrum that is.”
And designing for clients with small children is always a fun, yet sometimes challenging, Nicole says. “I have done multiple kids rooms and I love to do them! I get to use all my skills not only in decorating but also in organizing and small space planning. Coming from the US where you have built-in closets and often enough space for separate play rooms, it’s a much bigger challenge to design a kids room here in Germany where you are not just creating a Pinterest-worthy bed scenario but also attractive storage space for clothes and toys. I love trying to find the sweet spot where the kids are happy with the colours and decorating and the parents are too.”
Nicole is currently very pleased with her company, but, as she says, any independent entrepreneur should always be on the stake out for new opportunities. She says: “I would love to have an online shop selling art and homewares. I would also love to offer design retreats to help people find their style.” Until she moves onto the next phase of her career, we get to enjoy her impeccable sense of style and eye for detail.
Want to know more?
If you are curious about Nicole’s business then I recommend you take a look at her website: Nicole Varga Interior Design, where you can also find her blog All the little details, and/or her Instagram: @nicolevarga.interiors.
All pictures were made by Nicole Varga from Nicole Varga Interior Design , who has given me her kind permission to use them for this blog post.