How We Leveraged Our 20 Years Of Experience To Start A $15K/Month Furniture And Interior Design Studio

Published: December 27th, 2022
Amy McKenzie and Kirsten Dodds
Founder, House of Kook
House of Kook
from Johannesburg, South Africa
started September 2021
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello! We are Amy McKenzie and Kirsten Dodds. We live in South Africa, and are best friends who have studied, lived, and worked together. We’ve spent a combined 20 years in the interior design space, which culminated in our studio, House of Kook.

The elevator pitch - we are furniture and interior designers. Our mission is to create spaces and furniture that are unique and interesting, staying true to our core values - honest design and authentic materials.

We founded this business just over a year ago, in August 2021. In that short space of time, we have completed more than 10 successful projects, all of which were through word of mouth. We have also launched our first of many furniture ranges, our second being released in early 2023.


If starting your own business was easy, everyone would be doing it.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

After many years of earning our stripes in the working world, we felt like well-seasoned tigers ready for something more. Owning our own business had been a lifelong dream for both of us, and it felt like a natural next step.

With a couple of decades of experience and hundreds of completed projects, one gets to know the interior industry intimately. We became bored and underwhelmed by what was on offer. Both from a product offering, and an interior aesthetic point of view.

As daunting as it was to take the proverbial leap, we decided to launch our business with a single goal in mind - shake up the industry.

We started House of Kook at a - should we say interesting time. We were in the middle of Covid lockdown restrictions, Amy had just had her second child, and Kirsten had recently resigned from her job, uncertain of what to do next but knowing she couldn’t work a corporate job one minute longer! (I'm sure many of you can relate)

Is there ever a right time to start a business? Probably not, but we certainly made things challenging for ourselves.

What we had on our side, though, were three key things, without which we doubt we would have survived the first year.

#1. We found our ‘why’

Simon Sinek’s infamous book Start with Why speaks to finding the purpose, belief, or cause, the very reason your business exists. Knowing our own personal ‘why’ is what kept us going through many a dark hour.

#2. Financial flexibility

We were in the extremely fortunate position of having a financial buffer when we started our business. Few entrepreneurs are afforded this freedom and it’s not something we take for granted. This allowed us to make decisions and take risks that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.

#3. We dreaded the alternative

We were both unemployed when we started House of Kook. The very thought of getting a job, being an employee, and having a boss was so off-putting that we had no choice but to make our business work!

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Our first furniture range, called Kook Me Up, is inspired by tubular-shaped and bold profiles. We were bored with what was currently on offer in South Africa, we wanted to dust off the cobwebs of monochrome and minimalism and introduce an aesthetic that is otherwise lacking.

Our extensive experience showed us what’s missing from the industry, but it also connected us with the best craftsmen who turn the highest quality materials into exceptional furniture pieces. It felt natural to combine our design skills with the skills of these artisans to create furniture that stands the test of time, both in style and quality.

Our understanding of furniture was born out of deep design knowledge and empathy for our clients and their process of finding their voice. This was developed through hours and hours of consultation with numerous interior design clients. This, together with the invaluable knowledge and experience of our suppliers, was a winning formula.

Prototyping our first collection was hit-and-miss. Out of seven items, two were a dud.

It took us longer than expected to prototype our pieces, we had originally thought we could design our first range, and launch within 6 months. It took us twice as long!


We hired a social media expert, who handles our accounts for us. This was game-changing.

Describe the process of launching the business.

When we started House of Kook, we adamantly wanted to step away from interior design, and focus purely on designing and creating furniture pieces. We were burnt out and disillusioned.

We had a small amount of funding from family members, R80k ($4.5K) to be exact, this was used to begin the prototyping of our first range, but it was not enough for the growing expenses. We quickly realized that we needed a cash injection.

What feels serendipitous in hindsight, at the time was a begrudging next step in our journey. We were approached to undertake an interior design job through a word-of-mouth referral. Knowing we needed the money, we took it on, even though we were so vehement about no longer doing interior design work.

Working on a project as your own ‘boss’ vs being an employee is an entirely different experience. The autonomy and independence that comes with it were refreshing for us, and we quickly felt the passion for interiors come back.

As the months ticked on, we managed to secure more projects, mostly through word of mouth, and some through Facebook groups relating to renovations.

With a steady flow of money coming in, we were able to plan the launch of our first furniture range. We worked closely with Digital Butter, who was instrumental in making House of Kook what it is today. They are the digital marketing gurus who not only built our website but helped us with brand strategy messaging and collateral, visual guidelines, and SEO setup. They were an invaluable part of our launch and continue to assist us today.

After what felt like years (it was only a few months), our first furniture range was made and photographed and the website was ready to go. Time to launch. We planned it for the 3rd of October, nearly exactly a year since we started the business.

When we refer to our launch, it’s nothing fancy or grand. It was the website going live. We simply didn’t have the money for anything more than this.

What we could do was small but powerful. We sent out a carefully curated and beautifully wrapped box, containing marketing collateral and a cocktail-making kit to several social media influencers. Overnight our following started to grow. This, combined with our website, legitimized our brand and the wheels started to turn.


Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Two words. Social media. And by that, we mean Instagram and Facebook. With little money and resources, our lean business has to rely on this to grow. We hired a social media expert, who handles our accounts for us. This was game-changing. Creating value-adding content is relentless and time-consuming.

We have to focus our time on our interior projects, and our e-commerce business, so hiring someone else to do this was money well spent!


Another focus of ours is PR. We had a contact list of 30+ magazines, newspapers, and publications which we dutifully emailed. Not one response.

What worked? Trawling websites, blogs, and online magazines, finding articles that resonated with our brand and us, and contacting the author directly. By creating a personal connection with these journalists, we were able to get featured in three different publications, with more in the pipeline.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

As many of you will find, the first couple of months or years after starting your business seem to fly by in a surreal blur. Keep reminding yourselves how far you’ve come and that each win, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is bringing you closer to achieving your goals.

As mentioned before, we were lucky enough to have dual arms within House of Kook, one that has been feeding the development of the other, all while allowing us to be profitable in a very short amount of time. We also pulled on our experiences in working in the corporate world to make sure we have multiple avenues of income on any given project, depending on the scope and client budget. This ensures that any change in scope won’t lead to a project becoming unprofitable.

This has been incredibly important in keeping our cash flow healthy, as it takes time and dedication to convert potential clients into tangible sales while they become acquainted with our brand and products.

Now that we have launched we have used the initial hype to collaborate with various retailers in our market who we feel are most aligned with our ethos and end goals. This will hopefully bump up our reach and allow us to get our product into retail showrooms and aggregator websites without having to incur increased costs or risk during these early stages of our business journey.

Our long-term goal is to grow the sales of our products to offset the quantity of (oftentimes) grueling interior projects we need to take on. Work smarter, not harder, right?

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Nothing makes you grow like living through your own mistakes. Two of the major lessons we’ve learned this past year are:

Don’t leave your project timelines open ended.

Whether it's an internal project or an external service/product you’re working on, putting timelines firmly into place will help both your team and/or your client in the long run by keeping costs lower on both sides and will prevent project burnout. It might feel too “corporate” or stifling at first but trust us, it will save you irritation and money at the end of the day.

No amount of money is worth your sanity.

If a client is not a good fit, rather walk away and leave the door open for better opportunities to come through. Walking away from potential income takes some serious guts, however, part of the reason we both left corporate design and build in the first place was being trapped in projects with clients from hell. This is another reason to revisit the “why” in starting your business. You need to decipher what your boundaries are and stick to them.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We are huge fans of Canva for all our creative work. It is such an easy tool to use, and the premium version is not expensive.

What is expensive, sadly, is Photoshop. A free, almost replica is an online version called Photopea.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

As already mentioned, Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why is a critical read to identify the driving force behind the business.

Gay Hendricks’ book The big leap addresses one’s hidden fears and self-sabotaging tendencies that stand in the way of your success.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The first couple of months in particular are going to feel like a baptism by fire but these are some of the pieces of advice we can give:

If starting your own business was easy, everyone would be doing it. Being resilient is going to be a necessity. Not every idea is going to pan out and not every client is going to be your dream client so having a goal to keep driving you forward through those tough times and disappointments is going to help keep your passion alive. It’s through these mistakes and failures that the most growth will take place and that will be more valuable long term than any losses incurred as a result.

You do not have to be a Jack-of-all-trades to be successful in starting your own business. Hiring a professional to help you with branding and/or business strategy is worth the upfront costs. We know firsthand how daunting it can be when looking at all the aspects of getting your new venture off the ground, and it can stifle your creative process very quickly. If you cannot hire a professional from the get-go, do yourself a favor and reach out to other entrepreneurs and peers in your industry. You’ll be surprised how many pearls of wisdom come out of these interactions and how supportive this network of people can be.

You’ll have times when you feel bogged down by the admin of what it takes to run your show and you may even be surprised how little you get to focus on the core “passion” driving the idea of the business. This is where that skill of resilience comes in handy. You need to dig deep at these times and remind yourself of the “why”. If that reason is strong enough from the outset you will find it in you to keep going.

Lastly, if the pandemic taught us anything in terms of business, it has taught us that you need to be able to pivot… and pivot quickly! Don’t get stuck on one idea or concept. Feel it out, see if it’s got wings and if not let it lead you to your next picture with the lessons learned.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Not right now. Although we hope to grow the business to a place in the near future to bring on a few team members to handle some of the day-to-day administration we are currently doing ourselves, we are cognizant through past experiences that exponential growth has its challenges which we want to avoid at this stage in our journey.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!