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Retraining in her 50s brings Sue-Ellen’s interior design career to life

by Jessica Hamilton

Sue-Ellen Mitchell is proof it’s never too late to rediscover your passion and start a new career.

In her 50’s and working in her hometown of Orange, NSW on and off as a Decorator, doing small jobs selling furnishings and dressing windows, Sue-Ellen realised something was missing. She wanted to do more.

She decided to study the Certificate IV in Interior Decoration, as a way to expand her skillset, and in the process, secured a prominent contract to decorate a 70-room retirement village and started her own successful boutique interior design business!

Sue-Ellen in her studio (Credit: Andrew Murray)

Starting over

With 25 years of industry experience behind her, Sue-Ellen was ready to take the next step in her career. She wanted to open her own business. So, she set about finding the perfect online course that would give her the skills and knowledge she needed to take her passion for interior decorating to the next level.

The Certificate IV in Interior Decoration fit the bill. However, she got more than she bargained for when she realised her technical skills were not quite up to scratch and she had to re-learn how to use a computer at the same time as studying!

“I didn’t even know how to create a Word document or change it to a PDF before I started the course. So not only did I have to learn how to study online, but go back to basics and learn how to use a computer too!”

She confesses to being self-taught and determined to succeed at all costs. “I didn’t ask questions. I just taught myself, because I figured that was the best way to do it.”

Challenging herself to do more

Sue-Ellen really enjoyed the course and was amazed at the confidence it gave her, not only to experiment with colours and to be more bold with her design, but to approach companies to offer up her decorating services.

“I learnt so much about myself while doing the course, and what I am capable of. My knowledge just kept growing and with each subject I did, I gained more confidence in my abilities. I started off getting credits for my assessments, but soon was getting distinctions and high distinctions. I wouldn’t settle for anything less!”

In the course, students learn how to interpret and respond to client briefs to design and decorate an interior space that is both functional and beautiful. Students also get access to SketchUp, a program that helps them put together 3D modelling of interior spaces to bring their designs to life.

“I spent hours and hours using SketchUp,” said Sue-Ellen. “It was really enjoyable. I can already see vast improvements in my work from when I first started the course to now.”

Making her mark in the industry  

All of her hard work soon paid off. Upon finishing her course, Sue-Ellen secured a prominent contract with the Royal Freemasons, re-designing a brand new 70-bed nursing home in Dubbo. Word soon got out, and more job offers came flooding in!

“After the Dubbo project, the same company asked me to put in a proposal for their Nursing Home at Croydon. It will be a complete refurbishment and I’m going to be coming in on the ground level, responsible for all of the flooring design, wall colours and wall art.”

Buoyed by her new-found confidence, Sue-Ellen approached a company in Newcastle – Hunter Valley Care. She was hired to be their in-house designer, procuring and sourcing products for their new builds.

But, even with this tremendous success, Sue-Ellen never lost sight of the end goal – to open her own interior design business. She soon made her dream a reality, launching Hourglass Interiors.

Living her business dream

Sue-Ellen always knew she wanted to open her own business. The Certificate IV in Interior Decoration gave her the perfect stepping stone to realise her long-held dream.

“I love having the freedom to work from anywhere, set my own goals, and work with amazing people, while living my passion for interior design.”

Sue-Ellen is already getting good reviews for her work, and will continue to build her business. As she puts it, she wants to: “keep up the momentum I’ve already started!”

Never believing she would be where she is today, Sue-Ellen puts her success down to hard-work and determination.

“I only ever went to start of year nine [at school], so I didn’t ever think that I would be able to further my education. But I did, and my husband and grandchildren are just so proud of me. I’ve set them an example that even in your 50s you can achieve anything!”

Design your way to a new future

Turn your passion for interior design and decoration into a rewarding career. Enrol in the Certificate IV in Interior Decoration and get the skills you need to make your mark as a professional decorator.

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