Soon-to-be interior design graduate and mother-of-three Tonga Robertson leads a busy life, but she knows exactly what she wants to achieve, and believes her family plays a big part in motivating her to strive for success.
I caught up with Tonga in her home to chat about what’s driven her to pursue a career in the Media Arts industry, and the exciting projects she’s been working on as an intern. Tonga shares a few pearls of wisdom about keeping both eyes on the prize, as a student and mother with a dream to collaborate and create.
What inspired you to pursue a career in interior design?
I wanted to do something creative, but I’m also a real people person – I love working with people. A few years back I initially thought I’d get into something like midwifery or nursing, but I kind of knew I always wanted to do something creative on the side. Interior design has that good combination of working with people – clients, tradies, and others in the industry – as well as having that creative outlet. I wanted to do something creative, but I’m also a real people person – I love working with people
For those who know little about the industry, what exactly does interior design involve?
Traditionally, a lot of people thought that interior designers would just go in and make someone’s house really pretty – which makes me cringe because we do way more than that!
An interior designer will work alongside say a client or a builder, or maybe an architect or engineer, and an architect will do a drawing for a new house, for instance. As an interior designer, I will design the interior space of it all – what the kitchen will look like, what sort of benches will go in the kitchen, what the cupboards will look like – I will also design the flooring, the furniture and where things are placed inside the house. You can also get into other aspects of styling, joinery, textile and commercial design. It’s such a varied job, and that makes it really fun, because you can find something that might be your niche and you can do that and make money. I think that’s why I love interior design so much; it’s such a varied field. It’s an awesome career.
I think that’s why I love interior design so much – it’s such a varied field.
When you graduate and enter the industry do you see yourself working for a company or on your own as a freelancer?
Once I finish studying full-time, for me the dream is to be my own boss and start up my own interior design company. In saying that, I still feel like I’ve got so much more to learn – so my ideal outcome once I’ve finished studying is to work for somebody part-time, and still be able to build up my own design business on the side. I’m getting so many opportunities at the moment that it’s really promising.
Can you tell me about the projects you’re currently interning for?
At the moment, I’m working for a local builder here in Hamilton, and his business has exploded. The current job I’m working for with him is a new build out in Greenhill. The house is about 300 sq. m, it’s a relatively big house. I’m designing this cabin-log house inspired home, and the client has some really interesting quirks. He has a statue he’s made of his deceased wife, which he’s asked me to design a stand for,
and it’s located in a special area in the house. That’s really cool, you don’t often get to build a shrine for somebody.
I’m working on another project for a client in Whatawhata. They’ve got a garage that was converted into a flat and they’re wanting to turn it into a B&B. It’s a full interior fit-out – new kitchen, new bathroom, new flooring and walls – and then for the main house for the same client, we’re looking at putting in a new kitchen, new bathroom, new floors and slightly changing the floor-plan so we can put in doors that open up to a deck.
Also, the builder I’m working with has a container house project, which is really cool because I’m into sustainable living. I also love the idea of living in a small space because it really challenges you to live with just what you need, and it helps you get rid of the excess that we can often consume in this time. So, I’m working on a container house project where I guess the challenge is trying to fit what you need into such a small, narrow space. That’s really fun, I’m really loving that at the moment.
What has it been like studying full-time with a young family?
Studying full-time with a young family is a lot of work. I’m really grateful that I’ve got an amazing husband who’s very supportive. Often on crazy end of the semester, I’d pick up the kids, drop them off, my husband would feed them and bathe them and I’d be going straight back to school to keep working on assignments. The great thing is that I know what I want to do and I haven’t got time to muck around. I’ve got a family that relies on me, so it ends up becoming my motivation, and it gives me the perseverance to get it done.
If you could give a piece of advice to someone who’s in a similar position to yours, with a young family and a creative ambition, what would that be?
I think it’s essential to understand what it is that you want because that gives you so much more motivation and conviction to go out and get it. When you’re in-between it’s tough to focus on something and get it done, especially when pressure and deadlines come at you. I think you should find something that you’re passionate about, find something that you’re gonna love, and do it. There’s always going to be sacrifices, but just understand that the dream – if it is a dream – is worth chasing.
I think it’s vital to understand what it is that you want because that gives you so much more motivation and conviction to go out and get it.
The studying time is only a short season, and there is an end to it. The end opens up a wide range of possibilities. To me, that’s the dream – finishing this course and looking at my options. Keeping that dream in your mind while you’re going through the assignments, the deadlines, the expectations, and the pressure – keep reminding yourself of that dream, and that will hopefully push you toward the finish line.
A big thank you to Tonga, for sharing her time and thoughts. Find more information about Wintec’s Diploma in Interior Design here.