How one designer leapt from buzzy Soho to the tranquil Swedish countryside

Meet Kerry, she lives in a little wooden house on the edge of a forest in Sweden. Short of having blue-birds brush her hair in the morning she is essentially living in a Disney film. She is also a designer and loves nothing more than getting creative on her Mac overlooking the wood.

*Warning* this post may induce serious life envy.

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A coaching guru recently told me ‘It’s all about having a vision’. This vision can change but if you are embarking on a new chapter it helps to envisage where you want to be this time next year etc. Interestingly Kerry Owens, founder of KOHQ never really envisaged the life she now has until she had her first child and something had to shift. This gal is an amazing example of how where you live should never stand in the way of working for yourself. If anything her new tranquil surroundings have enhanced her creativity and work/life balance.

Here is a little peep into life in the forest…

Who you are you and what do you do?

I am Kerry Owens – the KO part of KOHQ. Buckinghamshire born and bred. Lover of all things colourful and creative. Mum of two. Honorary Swede residing in, and renovating, the old school-house of Säljesta, Järvsö – otherwise known as the (very beautiful) arse end of nowhere.

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“I conjured up my own “head quarters” – a place where I could work on a variety of different things that I love, as a freelancer.”

How did KOHQ come about? Is your background in design? 

My education background is actually fine art. After graduating from Goldsmiths University, I landed a job with a big London publisher and worked my way from events to design. After five amazing years, working on lots of different magazines and websites, I became a full-time mum and moved out to the Swedish countryside. Finding myself in need of a creative outlet and a way to earn money from a remote location, I conjured up my own “head quarters” – a place where I could work on a variety of different things that I love, as a freelancer.

What inspired you to make the move from the steaming metropolis that is London to the wilds of Sweden?

Johan, my Swedish partner, spent many years trying to persuade me that Järvsö was the place to be. I wasn’t buying it. Even though I agreed that it is beautiful, and we spent many happy holidays here, it wasn’t until our first child turned one and I was faced with redundancy from work, that I began warming to the idea of country life and a slower pace (as slow as life can be with small children!) 

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“When we first moved here the silence was deafening, but I appreciate the peace here now. My mind is less cluttered. I’m more contented and I can really focus.”

What are your experiences so far of working for yourself? Things you love and dislike?

Great experiences so far. I love to sit at the computer and draw, so when I’m getting paid to do just that I feel like a total winner. It’s been quite a slow process business wise, because I’m really still a full-time mum, although I now have a precious 15 nursery hours each week to spend working without interruption. But I have been lucky enough to work with some really talented individuals and small companies who have inspired me to go for it.

Oddly, I think many of the things I love and dislike end up being one and the same. Like I love being able to work curled up on my sofa, with a beautiful view of the forest outside the window. But I can miss the buzz of going out to work in the city. I love that it’s so peaceful here and I can think clearly, but I can miss the busyness of an office and a team to bounce ideas off. The one thing I dislike the most is the lack of dedicated tech support! 

What effect do your surroundings have on your working life and life in general? 

I did find London so inspirational. I loved the galleries, the architecture, the mix of cultures. I was in awe of the people around me when I lived there: amazing artists, designers and stylists. But now that I’m living much closer to nature and in a more isolated environment, I actually feel more personally creative.

When we first moved here the silence was deafening, but I appreciate the peace here now. My mind is less cluttered. I’m more contented and I can really focus.

What inspires you when you design?

It depends on the project, but inspiration comes from all over. I love searching for beautiful fonts and colour palettes online and I am often drawn to anything playful – from clothing prints or wallpapers, to classic picture books or childhood toys that I’m revisiting with my own kids now. And the kids themselves are a daily inspiration to be fearless and just go for it. I also love listening to successful creative people talking about their approach. Ilse Crawford is great, to give just one example.

I spent many holidays in the Swedish sun and snow before we actually moved here and I think it really helps to ‘try before you buy’.”

What do you think is the biggest challenge to working on the edge of a forest? (Squirrels?)

Lol 🙂 It’s not so much the squirrels as the ants taking over every summer. Keeping them at bay is not easy. But the heaving ant hills in the forest are mesmerizing and observing the little creatures in their relentless pursuits across great distances is awe-inspiring. 

What advice would you give someone considering a similar move in both location and free-lance design?

I spent many holidays in the Swedish sun and snow before we actually moved here and I think it really helps to “try before you buy”. If you’re moving somewhere remote, learn to drive first and try to avoid being pregnant while you do it: the morning sickness doesn’t help at all! With the freelancing, it’s comforting if you can create a support network around yourself. Befriend like-minded individuals, and seek out people who excel in the areas that you don’t, so that you have a team of sorts to turn to. Failing that, never underestimate the power of a YouTube tutorial when you feel a bit stuck.

What 3 things can you not function without at work?

  • Builder’s tea (on tap). 
  • Adobe Illustrator.
  • My idol RuPaul playing on the stereo – “cause if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

What’s next for KOHQ? What are your plans?

This is just the beginning and there’s so much more to do. The HQ is buzzing right now on a project I’m loving, creating branding for an amazing yoga teacher. This year I need to overcome my aversion to social media, get connected and become more visible. I’m working with my daughter on a book of poetry for kids, which I hope to finish soon and share. The dream both Johan and I share is to build an uber-modern treehouse as an office. Fast forward a year and maybe we have a shed, but you have to start somewhere, right?

Kerry xx

 

Tree houses, social media and a poetry book for children written with her daughter, busy times in Järvsö! Can’t wait to see all this unfold. If you want to follow the further adventures of Kerry or commission her contact her here: KOHQ . AndSoSheDid will be keeping a beady eye on this one and will update you as and when we hear more of her adventures.

Just goes to show that you really can set up something special anywhere, city or country alike as long as you embrace the positives that each environment gives you and learn to see beauty and inspiration regardless (see Ant hill reference!)

 

 

A day in the life of a super-blogger and super-mum

Hooray for Holly Wood! The founder of WeBlogNorth takes us through a typical day (and unpredictable night!)

 

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Meet Holly, Queen of the North (well Northern bloggers at least). A move to Manchester from down south prompted the need for a new gang of friends and what better way to reach out than through the blogosphere. A redundancy and the arrival of a beautiful daughter the following year meant a re-think and what had started as a social sideline grew into the magnificence that is WeBlogNorth.

Holly’s love for blogging was her path into being a girl boss: a perfect example of how recognising what you love can lead you to your killer business idea. (It can be right under your nose, you just have to look…go on, dare you 👀)

Here’s a day in the life of this very busy but extremely focussed female founder….

Who are you?

I am a thirty-something blogger, mum and start-up business owner. I created and run WeBlogNorth and am founder of the annual event The Northern Blog Awards. I’ve been blogging for nearly 6 years now, focussing mainly on travel, food, interiors and parenting and have worked with brands including Silver Cross, Christy, Boden, La Belle Assiette, Malmaison, Vileda, EatWith and Festival Number 6.

I am a champion of micro-influencers and believe that quality engagement is just as strong (if not stronger) than quantity when it comes to collaborating with brands. I’m passionate about championing the North and the amazing content creators we have up here and encourage brands and agencies to do the same. Our ethos at WeBlogNorth is COMMUNITY – INSPIRE – COLLABORATE.

 

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“I just knew there was a demand for a community that brought together and championed content-creators here in the North”

What is WeBlogNorth and how did it all come about?

I started WeBlogNorth (formerly WeBlogMCR) back in 2014, as I’d not long moved to Manchester, was the only blogger I knew and essentially wanted to make some friends! I was sick of the blogging-scene being down in London and having to travel for events and inspiration and wanted to build my own community here in my hometown. I found that there were lots of others wanting that too and before I knew it, that little community was building. We’d meet-up, chat about blogging, share experiences and teach each other. I prided myself on being informal and approachable and open to all.

Within a couple of years, the meet-ups became more regular and turned into seminars and workshops and I was introducing brands and agencies to the mix too – but I was still doing all of this on the side of a full-time job.

 

 

 

Then, in 2015, having been made redundant on maternity leave and with a 6-month old baby, I decided to make a business out of my passion and WeBlogNorth grew and became something I focussed on with more vigour. I didn’t know how the business would look at that point, I just knew there was a demand for a community that brought together and championed content-creators here in the North, as well as offered platforms to learn, be inspired and collaborate. I also knew there was space to bridge the gaps between brands and agencies who just didn’t know who they should be working with here in the North.

Two and a half years later, I’m 7 months pregnant, the business is still forming, I’ve taken on a part-time partner and momentum is really building. I balance motherhood and working life by being at home with my daughter twice a week, and having 3 “office days” to get my work done. Around that, I squeeze in work each day when I can and try to maintain a good work-life balance.

 

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“I have a lot of different areas to my daily work – from writing blog posts, to filming vlogs, to organising my next event, to answering emails, to pitching to brands and agencies – and everything in between”

Here’s a day in the life of this very busy but extremely driven female founder…

Overnight – I co-sleep with my 2-year-old who doesn’t sleep through the night. Our nights are always interrupted, some worse than others, so I never quite know what we’ll be faced with when we go to sleep and how many hours I get. On a good day, I get 7 hours of broken sleep, on a bad day 4-5.

7.30am (ish) – Wake-up when my daughter nudges me and start our morning routine.

7.30-8.00am – Rush around like a zombie, brushing my teeth and hers and scrambling through drawers for something to wear. Make sure we’ve both had a drink, packed our bags and pile into the car to head to nursery. (Unless I’m really running behind, I like her to have breakfast at nursery, so I can get home in time to start my working day ay 9am).

8.30am – Daughter successfully dropped at nursery in time for breakfast and me heading back home for work.

8.45am – Breakfast (usually toast or cereal) in front of the news (or Lorraine!)

9.00am – Sat at my home office desk, ready to start the day. I work from my “Best-self journal” and Asana task list to keep me organised and productive. I have a lot of different areas to my daily work – from writing blog posts, to filming vlogs, to organising my next event, to answering emails, to pitching to brands and agencies – and everything in between. So mapping out the day ahead of me is vital (I try to spend 20 minutes doing this the night before, but if not, I’ll spend the first 20 minutes of my day doing this).

9.30-11.00am – This will usually be admin, emails and desk-time. I’ll check in on my instagram, film a couple of insta-stories as I go and check my twitter feed too.

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This feels like my adult time, where I get to be an adult and have adult conversations and not think about toddler snacks and CBeebies”

11.00am – Off for a meeting at a local coffee shop – could be with a brand I’m hoping will sponsor one of our events like The Northern Blog Awards, or an event supplier or even a fellow blogger who is interested in being a part of the WeBlogNorth network. This feels like my adult time, where I get to be an adult and have adult conversations and not think about toddler snacks and CBeebies. I also feel energised after a good meeting!

12.30pm – Home for lunch, which I make myself and is usually pasta-based. I tend to eat at my desk and skim my emails and social media, but occasionally will sit in front of the telly to give my brain a rest, depending on how I feel.

1.15pm – Back to work and getting stuck into the logistics and marketing of my next big event. I’ll work through my various project lists which are broken down into tasks falling into the following areas: social media and marketing, sponsorship, venue and logistics, suppliers, ticket sales, PR, Goody bags and Other. I have to outline everything I need to do, or else I’ll forget and get distracted. So having check-lists for me is vital!

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“I’ll tie-up all loose ends for the day and make notes for anything urgent to tackle tomorrow…then off to do the nursery pick-up”

 

3.30pm – I’ll be mindful that my day is running away with me and will move on to any other urgent tasks for that day, check my emails again and make sure there’s nothing out-standing I need to move on to.

4.00-4.30pm – I’ll touch base with Kat Horrocks, who is a fellow blogger, a life-long member of WeBlogNorth and who has recently come on board part-time to help me grow and develop the business (and to cover a short maternity leave in the Summer). We’ll bounce some ideas off each other and engage on social media with our members, plot and plan for what else we can do.

4.30-5.00pm – I’ll tie-up all loose ends for the day and make notes for anything urgent to tackle tomorrow.

5.00pm – Off to do the nursery pick-up – I like this time, as I get to listen to the radio on the way and always get greeted with an excited face, and a huge hug from my daughter when I arrive.

5.30-6.30pm – Home with my daughter and into mum-mode. We usually grab her a snack (hummus and breadsticks for example), have a cuddle on the couch and either watch her favourite cartoons for half an hour, or read a book before I attempt to make dinner whilst keeping her entertained.

6.30pm – Husband home and takes over parenting, whilst I finish dinner. He usually does bath and bedtime routine and I usually do dinner. We try to eat before she goes to bed and she sometimes has dinner with us too (depending on how hungry she is).

7.00-8.00pm – Bedtime is either a success and happens within 20-30 minutes, or it’s tougher and takes the hubby an hour. I usually take this time to chill, catch-up on some trashy TV or indulge in a bit of instagram.

8.00pm – Both on the couch and in honesty, usually looking at our emails or social media and working. But we do try to watch our latest Netflix binge and have a couple of hours to ourselves too, before the inevitable wake-up from our daughter at approx 10pm.

10.00-11.00pm – off to bed and it all starts again!

Holly x

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Sounds a lot more productive than my standard office work day (*hastily downloads Asana). And all that done on a night of broken sleep. Well done that girl!

If you are a northern blogger, fancy having a go or want to hear more about Holly’s adventures check her out…

Twitter: @Hollynicol @WeBlogNorth @northernblogawards

Instagram: @_hollygoeslightly @weblognorth  @northernblogawards

Youtube: Holly Wood

And yes her name really is Holly Wood.