Successful self-made women reveal what’s really in their desks

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
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Woman's desk inspiration / home office ideas

Are you ready for some serious home office inspiration? Look this way…

If your desk is anything like ours, it’s filled with old magazines, sweet wrappers, chewed-up pens, and dirty coffee cups. However there are, believe it or not, some people out there who not only keep theirs impeccably clean, but make their work space look seriously beautiful.

Yell Business has introduced us to an incredible group of women just like this – each of whom has set up her own business for less than £2,000.

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From an online gardening gifts retailer, to an artist that paints her designs on to luxury compact mirrors, each woman’s desk contains both the essentials that helped her to set up her company– not to mention the tools that keep it running today.

And it’s definitely inspired us to give our own scruffy work-spaces a serious makeover…

Katia Sokolskaya - Nauteas

It cost Katia £600 to set up her own tea-making company in London.

Katia's desk
Home office inspiration: Katia's desk

“I began blending my own teas at home and bringing high quality leaves over from abroad, after feeling uninspired by options that were available to buy. For years, I have made teas out of really good quality ingredients to drink at home, at work and even on the plane (yes, I actually carry my own tea bags with me!) and then I decided to share a few of my discoveries with the world. 

“The inspiration for the Nauteas range comes from my travels, opening my mind up to new ideas and looking at things from a new perspective.”

What’s on my desk?

  1. Macbook
    “My tool for creating, collaborating and planning, I couldn’t run the business without it”
  2. Planner
    ”For all those to-do lists and for doodling concepts Inspiring books - especially centred around food/drink and design.”
  3. Books
    ”These are two of my favourites - ‘Indian contemporary design’ and ‘Craft cocktails’. Books like these always help me come up with a good idea.”
  4. Yellow tea pot
    ”From a market in Singapore and an Arts and Crafts wooden tray - two of the many objects that I love and use regularly for cosy tea rituals for colleagues and friends who drop by.”
  5. Never-ending cups of tea
    ”These are always on the go when I’m working and I often add fruit, herbs or honey to make each one even more special.”

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Lyndsey Haskell – What You Sow

It cost Lyndsey £1,810 to set up her own online gardening gift retailers in Brighton.

Lyndsey's desk
Home office inspiration: Lyndsey's desk

“I was always going to run my own business. As a child I was continually starting up small enterprises at school selling homemade crafts to my peers and family members. Then a few years ago, unhappy in my day job, I put pen to paper and seriously thought about what kind of business I would like to set up. It took a year of thinking up ideas, costing them, making business plans, then realising they weren’t financially feasible and going back to the drawing board. 

“During this time I began tending an allotment with a friend and not only did we spend all our own hard-earned cash on gardening bits and bobs, but all our friends and family began buying us gardening-themed presents for every special occasion. Here was a need – gardening was on trend and growing at a frenetic pace and people were after wonderful gifts for their green-fingered friends but didn’t have time to trawl the internet seeking the beautiful things out. There was my market and What You Sow was born. Well, almost. It took a while for inspiration to strike around what to call my business, until one perfect day Lou Reed appeared on TV singing it to me. 

“With a miniscule stock of garden-themed items from other small businesses piled up in my living room and help from a friend with my logo design, What You Sow launched a few weeks after that.”

What’s on my desk?

  1. My weekly planner
    As a small business owner my daily tasks can be very changeable, and there are plenty of distractions, so I need to have a clear idea of what I am doing each day to keep me focused.” 
  2. Plant-based inspiration
    “…in the form of gardening books.” 
  3. My trusty Canon 600D
    “I have this and lots of photos of plants and What You Sow products that I have taken with it.”
  4. Actual plants
    “We have over 50 (!) plants in the What You Sow studio - they provide a beautiful environment to work in as well as helping purify the air.” 
  5. Washi tape and stickers to decorate customer orders
    “We want everyone to be delighted with their post from What You Sow and this starts with the packaging.” A notepad and pencil “I use these to scribble, draw and write down ideas, make lists and work things out.” 
  6. Healthy snacks
    “I love plants so much they’re also the only thing I eat so I always have plenty of plant-based snacks on my desk to keep my energy levels up.”
  7.  A bag of my favourite coffee
    “I use this to give me a creative boost.” 

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Jennifer Earle – Chocolate Ecstasy Tours

Jennifer set up Chocolate Ecstasy Tours – a company she runs from locations in London and Brighton – for just £500.

Jennifer's desk
Home office inspiration: Jennifer's desk

“I started Chocolate Ecstasy Tours because I loved chocolate. I was afraid turning it into a job would make me fall out of love with it, but instead I’m more obsessed than before I started. I don’t go a day without chocolate and so there’s always chocolate to hand – on my desk, in my handbag, whenever I travel. I’ll usually have at least one hot chocolate a day – either on the tour with the guests or at home.  When I make my own they’re a blend of hot water and a high cocoa percentage chocolate so they actually give me energy and focus the way a coffee does for others.”

What’s on my desk?

  1. Cocoa beans and cocoa pod
    “I visited my first cocoa plantation in 2010 and brought these back and I dried out myself at home. I take them along to tours and tastings to show people how their chocolate bars and truffles begin.”
  2. Chocolate bar necklace
    “I bought this on my first visit to the largest chocolate exhibition in the world in Paris. I wear it on some tours (I have other chocolate-themed jewellery!) and when I lead tastings, with kids I usually tell them it’s real and I had a bite on my way there.  Its fun watching their eyes widen.”
  3. Cocoa bean earrings
    “These were a handmade gift from one of my wonderful, equally cocoa-obsessed team of tour guides and I wear them whenever it works with my outfit. The chocolate coaster is from Paris, too. I have a lot of chocolate-themed things in my house!”
  4. Mobile phone:
    “This is vital as I run my business from that as much as my laptop as I’m often outside; taking calls, checking in guests, sharing our fun on social media.”
  5. London Chocolate Map:
    “I collaborated on the physical map last year, plotting the places you can get wonderful chocolate in London. We get to almost all of them on at least one of the six tours I designed in London.  It’s amazing to see how many there are compared to when I started. I’ve benefited from the growing interest in fine chocolate and food in general over the past 11 years. It’s still a pleasure to help people discover new chocolate loves.”

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Claire Favier-Tilston – Me&i

It cost Claire just £140 to set up her own online store selling ethical Scandi clothes from Sweden.

Claire's desk
Home office inspiration: Claire's desk

“I was made redundant from my job in a large corporation whilst on maternity leave with my second son. Unsure of what direction to take and needing something to fit around my young family I started to investigate my options. I fell in love with the Scandi craze that was sweeping the nation and was particularly drawn to the bright, unisex, ethically made children clothes.

“I’d not seen anything like the clothes before, believing others wouldn’t have either, so I decided to take a leap of faith and set up my business selling me&i clothes. Best of all, I had the perfect little model and could take my kids with me to work. To start up, the first things that I needed was the collection from Sweden - rented at a cost of £100 and two £20 rails to display the clothes on. It has all grown from there. With my friends proving to be invaluable, informing me of events where I could go and show off the clothes and hosting girly shopping evenings, in addition to sharing my social media posts so that I could get established.”

What’s on my desk?

  1. Child’s art work
    “The right work/life balance is important to me, especially since having kids. These are reminders of that and make sure I run my work around my family, rather than the other way around.”
  2. The clothes
    “A child and a ladies item. These are the focus of what I do, selling items that I feel passionate about.”
  3. A latte
    “I love a latte, and being a working Mum sometimes I need the caffeine to keep me going…”
  4. A candle
    “I find being surrounded by the glow and scent of candles helps when I am working. I’m all over hygge this winter (well it is Scandi after all!)”
  5. Our look books
    “I always keep these in my bag, as you never know where me&i might come up in conversation, so can show someone our collection right away.” 
  6. Prosecco
    “A perk of working for yourself: what normal job allows you to drink Prosecco whilst working? Quite often I sell clothes to groups of ladies, have a glass of fizz, a giggle and look at some clothes with them.”
  7. Stationery
    “Stationery should be a joy to use. Whether I am dealing with orders, making notes, or posting parcels - why should I use boring stationary? Make it something enjoyable.” 
  8. Motivational postcard and mug
    “Working for yourself can be a bit lonely at times, so this is a ‘pick me up’ to reflect on how far I’ve come, but also make myself accountable to keep moving forward.” 

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Jane Vanroe - Vanroe

It cost Jane £500 to set up her luxury compact mirror business, which she runs from an office in West Yorkshire.

What's on Jane's desk
Home office inspiration: Jane's desk

“When my closest friend turned 30 I searched for a beautiful, luxury compact mirror she could keep. After looking for months, I realised that glamorous compact mirrors just weren’t being made anymore. So I used £500 to buy vintage mirrors from the Fifties and Sixties, and sold them at fairs and online. Within four months, they were spotted by glossy magazines and couldn’t keep up with demand - so I knew there was a real niche! The bank agreed and with its help (and an overdraft!) I began to manufacture my own collection. We’re now the leading British designer of luxury compact mirrors, each beautifully gift-boxed and presented as that magical keepsake gift.”

What’s on my desk?

  1. Fresh inspiration from my garden:
    “Anything green on these autumn days!”
  2. Favourite oil colours
    “I used to paint my designs.”
  3. Postcards and magazine clippings
    “They’re great for ideas.”
  4. Brushes
    “These are pound shop ‘nail art’ brushes that I paint with.”
  5. Compact mirrors
    “These are samples from my latest collection, decorated with my illustrations.”
  6. Hair pins
    “…because my fringe is usually in my eyes!”
  7. Lipstick
    “In case I have a meeting.”
  8. Nibs and block ink
    “I’m learning calligraphy.”
  9. Lavender oil
    “This stuff solves everything.”
  10. Mobile Phone
    “I use my ancient, trusted Nokia as it gets the best reception for client chats and it’s healthier for me than a smartphone. Far less email, more books on long train journeys. I find I take fewer photos too, which helps me keep in the moment, rather than oversharing on FB and Instagram.”

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Melanie Auld – Spice Pots

Melanie Auld spent £1600 setting up her dream business, which sees her sell spice kits for curries from her office in Scotland.

Melanie's desk
Home office inspiration: Melanie's desk

“I am the founder of a business called Spice Pots.  We make Indian spice blends and sell them with simple, quick and healthy recipes for curries and Indian Food.  I started the business 3 years ago after my Gran left me a small amount of money. After a life-changing trip to India in 1993, I learnt to cook amazing Indian food from scratch.  However, when my three sons arrived (within three years!) I no longer had the time to roast and blend the spices to make my favourite curries. 

“I then started to blend the spices in batches so that they were ready for me to use at the end of a long day looking after toddlers. I started by giving these to friends and family but when I decided to start it up as a business, I asked my sister-in-law to design my logo and branding and we were off.”

What’s on my desk?

  1. Diary
    “I use a good old fashioned diary to organise my life and my family’s.”
  2. Headbands
    “It’s a rare day when I don’t wear one of my headbands.”
  3. Lemongrass scented candle
    “I always have some sort of scented candle burning in my home - spice aroma is awesome, but can be overpowering!”
  4. Cook books / reference books
    “I’ve got my nose in these all day every day - coming up with new ideas and recipes.”
  5. Picture of my three sons
    “The reason I love working for myself and from home, so that I can be around for them (they are also my guinea pigs for recipes)…”
  6. Ribbon
    “My mum brought back from Far East and I can’t quite bring myself to use it as so pretty.”
  7. Spoons
    “These are my favourite spoons to cook with - I love colour!”
  8. Spices
    “My two favourite spices for making the Bhuna and Korma blends. The Korma blend is the one I use the most as it is so versatile and not like the Korma curries you find in takeaways.”
  9. Indian goddess statue
    “I brought back this from India in 1993.  She inspires me and reminds me how this journey started”

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Please note: this article was originally published in 2016, and has been re-purposed with permission from Yell Business.

Main image: Arnel Hasanovik/Unsplash

Desk images: provided by Yell Business


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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