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How She Does It: Jojo Barr

In our How She Does It column, we talk to mothers about work-life balance, their favourite travel destinations, travelling with children, and how they really do it.

This month, we sat down with Jojo Barr, interior designer and founder of House Nine Design, who tells us about building her business, how she thinks travel benefits her children, her favourite places to stay, and why mums need to be kinder to themselves. 

Tell us a bit about yourself: 

I am the owner and lead creative of House Nine Design, a London based interior design studio who service clients across all sectors – from high-end residential and commercial developments to restaurants, hotels and spas. My husband Brad and I live in the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside with our two little girls Ziggy and Rocket and – though I’m slightly mortified to say – also with four cats!

And tell us about your work? 

I’m really proud to have built a business that is home to some highly creative and passionate individuals. I say home because I really do feel like my work is an extension of my home. I always dreamt of owning a business that felt like a big family; a place to create and design for our clients but also – no matter how busy or stressful it gets – a place that we can talk, laugh and have fun. The business would not be what it is today without the hardworking and dedicated team around me and it’s my duty to ensure that they love their work and can be open with me about anything.

We usually have around 10 projects on at any one time and it’s a very busy design studio. I make sure to be in the studio every Monday as that’s when we have our weekly meeting. I spread the rest of my time between our various full-service projects that are dotted around the country. I will then always secure a day a week working from home too.

Right now I am taking a business course and learning so many ways that I can improve on certain things within the business. I’m working to put these changes into practice which means new systems and paperwork – I am all about improvement and innovation and am always striving to find ways to provide a better service for our clients. I believe that you need obsessiveness to succeed! My day starts at 6AM and it doesn’t really end until I go to sleep. My mind is always on work and the business but I choose for it to be that way.

What inspires you in your career?

I live and breathe design so seeing how people use it to create in so many different ways always inspires me. I really take inspiration from anywhere I go and everything I see, sometimes even unconsciously. There is probably no greater inspiration than nature. I am hugely inspired by nature and how it makes you feel and I try to emulate that in my interiors. I’m always so drawn to natural textures and earthy calm colours. Travel will always be a big inspiration for me too; experiencing new cultures, different architecture, design styles and local crafts. I love to be innovative and try new things in our designs, even if they are just very subtle changes.

Which three items help you juggle everything?

My mobile phone – that might be an obvious one, but it has all the apps that help me to keep on top of all the flying balls. Slightly more obscure one, but my gratitude journal. I use an app called Intelligent Change and every morning and night, I will write what I am grateful for and my affirmations. It helps ground me and remind me of the things that matter. And finally my trusty notebook. Actually, I have about three notebooks, for various things.

If you could give your past self one piece of advice about being a working mother what would it be? 

Be proud of yourself every damn day! Running a business is exhausting and mentally challenging, every day being different from the last. Being a mother is exhausting in a whole other way. It can be frustrating, unforgiving and, at times, extremely monotonous. But each job somehow helps balance out the other. Be kind to yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Have your career goals and aspirations altered since becoming a working mum?

I would say that when you become a mother you become a whole lot more resilient. You feel more focussed and there are less distractions, because your home life and children become your priority.

If you had the power to change one thing for working mothers, what would you change? 

The introduction of free spa treatments and weekly therapy sessions for life?! I actually think working mothers’ rights are fairly well protected here in the UK, from maternity cover, protection against discrimination, time off work to care for our children in an emergency and flexible working options. I feel there is a shift in perceptions and behaviours towards working mothers. Us mums now want careers, and we are having babies later in life to accommodate for our ambitions.

Tell us about the best holiday you’ve taken with your children:

My littlies are only two and four so I don’t think we have found ‘our place’ yet, but this summer we are going to Puglia for two weeks. Brad and I have been together before. We are staying in a traditional trullo which we thought the kids would love. The villa has beautiful private gardens and a pool with lots of flat land around it for them to run wild and free. We are particularly excited for this holiday as a family. I love Puglia for its friendly and local vibe, small intimate beaches, family run restaurants and delicious food.

How do you think travel benefits your children? 

In so many ways! It helps to expand their little learning minds. They experience different cultures, languages and other ways of life, meet new people, try new food, develop a sense of adventure and curiosity about the world around them. And just as importantly, have quality time with us to bond and create lasting memories.

Favourite hotel ever – with or without children? 

In the UK, it has to be Babington House. It’s amazing with or without kids. When abroad, we will try and seek out a Soho House as we are both members and love the interiors and facilities offered. The Mykonos Blu in Greece will always hold a special place for us and we hope to one day revisit there.

Travel essentials with kids?

I’m ashamed to say, it’s their iPads. What on earth did our own parents do without iPads?! But they are packed with amazing apps and educational games – as well as a load of mindless rubbish that kids love for when the going gets real tough and you need to give your fellow passengers a break. Other essentials would be colouring books and pens. Anything arty will usually keep them well occupied in any restaurant.

Your own travel essentials? 

My AirPods. I always have a podcast or a playlist in my ear. I used to be an avid book reader but until the kids are a little older there is no chance I will have an opportunity to bury my head for longer than 30 seconds. Also, I always pack my favourite black bikini from Cossie and Co. I love their designs. They’re so flattering and so comfortable when you are running around after kids on the beach.

If you have a day to yourself, what do you do?

A day to myself? That would be a rare thing. If I can make time, I will head to Soho Farmhouse to work, it’s about a 40 minute drive from our house. I will make time for an hour in the gym and quick sauna and if time, a massage or facial. When I turned 40 I promised myself I would have a facial every month – 11 months in and so far this has not happened.

Heading ‘out out’ – where is your favourite spot? 

Our ‘out out’ is usually at one of our local pubs these days. Brad and I love to get dressed up and head to town for dinner. Usually for some old-fashioneds at Chiltern Firehouse or Scarfes bar then to dinner – often Italian. I have to say I miss dancing – I used to love going out dancing. But where do 40 year olds go to dance these days?!

The best advice you would give to other mothers?   

Just be kind to yourself. Take the pressure off and most importantly, don’t try and be the perfect mother because it just doesn’t exist. I sometimes see mums dressing their kids in perfect little outfits and then getting frustrated when they get dirty. I just think ‘let them be’. Let them wear what they want and be messy and explore and have fun. Also speak to your children on a level and gain their trust so they will always be able to talk to you and communicate through any challenges that might occur.

How do you do it? 

Oh my goodness I don’t know! But really I think because I just love it all. I love my work and I love my kids and I love getting out of bed in the morning for both of them. To be an entrepreneur or business owner you have to have tenacity, thick skin and a passion for what you do. You need an obsessiveness to succeed. There is no such thing as work-life balance, it’s a constant juggle but I wouldn’t have it any other way… apart from maybe a few more facials.

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