Award-winning interior designer builds next generation of talent

An award-winning interior designer is launching a dedicated creative hub and app to help up-and-coming designers start their own business, thanks to knowledge acquired through the Help to Grow: Management Course.

Duke of Design is a design and build company that specialises in creating bespoke interiors for luxury residential properties across the UK and abroad. Founded in 2016 by Ashish Chawla, the Marylebone-based business has designed and delivered more than 50 projects across three countries worldwide.

The business had been growing steadily until the COVID-19 pandemic hit when all live design jobs came to a halt, meaning Ashish needed to find new ways to grow the business. He discovered the 12-week Help to Grow: Management Course, which is designed to help business leaders and senior managers increase resilience, innovation, and growth within their organisations.

Delivered by Birkbeck Business School – a recipient of the Small Business Charter award that recognises institutions that support small businesses – the course furnished Ashish with the skills to implement a robust growth plan for Duke of Design. 

Since completing the course, Ashish has continued to win high-profile contracts and has recently won the Best Kitchen Award at the International Property Awards UK for Duke of Design’s involvement in Hyde Park Tower, a luxury development overlooking the iconic Hyde Park.

The programme inspired him to create a similar model for talented interior designers – Marylebone Design Collectif – which is opening in Marylebone, London in Summer 2024.

The concept for the creative hub emerged during conversations with his Help to Grow: Management Course mentor, Chandila Fernand, around ways to solve the operational issues designers face globally. The hub is designed to empower talented designers lacking business management training or knowledge to run their own design-focused businesses. 

In addition to the London showroom, Ashish is developing a complete tech stack app and website where all the elements required to run a successful interior design business can be found in one place. This will include a toolkit of information to support accounting, finance, investment, and working capital consultancy.

The website and app will launch in 2024, welcoming 40 London-based designers at a time to ensure each participant is given sufficient support. If successful, Ashish hopes to go global, expanding the business across more than 100 countries over the next ten years. 

Ashish Chawla, founder and CEO of Duke of Design, said: “Interior designers tend to either work for big companies or focus on freelancing. But I knew from early on that I wanted to start my own business. When I opened Duke of Design, we were kept busy, but I never had any formal training and didn’t have a forward-looking plan that would help me to grow my business strategically.

“When the pandemic hit, I found myself in a position where I didn’t know what was next for the business. Above the emotional toll it had, we had colleagues stuck in Europe, and all our projects stopped. That’s when I came across the Help to Grow: Management Course.

“Soon after enrolling, I realised that while I was great at the creative side of the business, I needed to learn more about day-to-day operations and forward planning. Being assigned a mentor during the course also meant that I could put more structure into the business straight away, helping boost the firm’s resilience against further headwinds. This way of learning allowed me to make the new skills I learned a habit and let me focus on building the business as opposed to being in the business. My experience was life-altering, I was learning new business concepts on a Monday and implementing them in my business by Friday. It has inspired me to empower others in similar situations.

Using the advice and skills gained from the Help to Grow: Management Course, Ashish is now focused on the future growth of his business and giving back to the next generation of designers.

Ashish explained: “I want to stop designers that dream of owning their own business making the same mistakes as I did. Without the Help to Grow: Management Course, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve been given the tools that have not only allowed me to add much-needed structure to my business, but I’ve also given myself the headspace to think outside of the box and focus on supporting the next generation of talent.”

Michael Hayman MBE, chair, small business charter, added: “The Help to Grow: Management Course not only provides the models and frameworks to help a business grow but also real-life examples and mentoring so participants can understand how to put what they’ve learned into practice immediately. Ashish is a brilliant example of how the expert-led learning and the mentoring work so well together, providing the experience, knowledge and support that are all essential to encouraging innovative business ideas.

“Ashish’s passion for interior design is clear to see. It’s inspiring to see Ashish not only taking his business to the next level but also giving back to others that are in a similar position he was once in himself.

“I look forward to seeing how Duke of Design and Ashish’s other business ventures evolve, and the impact he has on other designers starting out in their careers.”

Speaking at the recent Chartered Association of Business Schools annual conference in London, Minister Kevin Hollinrake said: “The key to solving the productivity puzzle in the UK is in the long tail of our SME sector. I have met with a number of alumni here today who have told me about the transformational effect that the Help to Grow: Management Course has had, business leaders like Ashish at Duke of Design who are using the knowledge that they have learnt to create more innovate and resilient SMEs.”

Business leaders can find out more about Help to Grow: Management and sign up for the course in their area by visiting: www.smallbusinesscharter.org/help-to-grow-management.  

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