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"I have learnt how important it is to lead by example" says IKEA interior design manager Clotilde Passalacqua

How I got my job: Clotilde Passalacqua oversees the interior design of all IKEA stores across the UK and Ireland, guiding a team of specialists to adapt each store to its location. She told Dezeen Jobs how she got there.

Name: Clotilde Passalacqua
Job title: Interior design manager
Company: IKEA
Location: London

Dezeen Jobs: When did you realise you wanted to pursue a career in design?

Clotilde Passalacqua: When deciding on a university course, I wasn't entirely sure what route I wanted to go down. After studying Ancient Greek and Latin in secondary school I wanted to choose something that challenged me in more of an artistic way. In the end I chose to study architecture, which really helped me make the decision to pursue a career in this field.

Dezeen Jobs: Where and what did you study?

Clotilde Passalacqua: I have a masters degree in architecture. I studied in Rome at La Sapienza University – it was in a beautiful old building near Villa Borghese.

Dezeen Jobs: You studied architecture, but now work in interior design – what prompted this transition?

Clotilde Passalacqua: I think it came naturally when I joined IKEA. At the beginning, I was working part-time as an architect and part-time as an interior designer at IKEA. I loved elements of both jobs, but I soon understood that IKEA offered many opportunities to develop and grow. I also loved the fact that if at some point I wanted to go back to working in architecture, it was always a possibility whilst working at IKEA.

Dezeen Jobs: What does your role as interior design manager entail?

Clotilde Passalacqua: My role covers a broad range of tasks. I support IKEA stores to make sure we inspire customers with our room sets, making sure that they capture everyday life. I coach interior designers to help them develop their knowledge and expertise.

I am also responsible for securing continuity of our interior-design focus across other channels, whether this be through PR and marketing activities such as our TV adverts and photoshoots.

Dezeen Jobs: Describe some of the projects you work on.

Clotilde Passalacqua: I am working on a number of different projects at the moment, but I think the most interesting is an event we are organising for our SYMFONISK range in collaboration with Sonos. This is going to be a full theatrical experience where people can immerse themselves in the sound and beauty of the range.

This is very different from anything that I have worked on in the past and I am really curious to see how people will react.

Dezeen Jobs: You joined IKEA for many years now, explain your career progression since you started.

Clotilde Passalacqua: I joined IKEA nearly 20 years ago in a store in Rome. At first I worked part-time so that I could complete my masters degree in architecture and then worked part-time as an architect.

In 2005, I moved to another store in Rome where I decided to pursue a full-time career at IKEA. By 2007 it was time for me to take my next steps within the business as an interior design manager and in 2010, I moved to the UK to carry out the same role at IKEA Wembley.

During my time in-store, I learnt a lot about the cultural differences of interior trends between Italy and the UK.

After two years in the Wembley store, I moved to head office where I still work as an interior design manager today. During my time at head office, I have been able to help stores improve their planning and more recently I have been working with PR and marketing on a variety of activities, from advertising campaigns to media events.

The IKEA planning studio on London's Tottenham Court Road

Dezeen Jobs: What first attracted you to working at IKEA?

Clotilde Passalacqua: Before I joined IKEA I didn't know much about the company but had always been attracted to the brand. I loved the fact that IKEA had such a strong focus on the everyday life and needs of the many people.

Dezeen Jobs: What has kept you there for almost 20 years?

Clotilde Passalacqua: The people, our values and the possibility to grow and develop. IKEA gives you the opportunity to take on new challenges and learn from them. At IKEA we dare to be different and this has helped me to achieve great results in my work.

Dezeen Jobs: How has the company's design department changed since you first started working there?

Clotilde Passalacqua: When I first started at IKEA we were still drawing our designs by hand, but now we draw our designs with the use of new technology.

Of course, it is not just the technical part of my role that has changed. In a fast-changing retail environment, we now meet our customers in a number of different ways, not only in our stores but also through other channels such as our website and social media. With this in mind, we are constantly evolving and looking at new ways to meet the needs of our customers.

Dezeen Jobs: What do you enjoy the most about working for a global company?

Clotilde Passalacqua: I like that I am given the opportunity to work in such a diverse environment. There are many people from a wide array of cultural backgrounds, with different experiences and opinions.

I also love how working for a global company like IKEA gives you the opportunity to move nationally and internationally. For me personally, moving to the UK was not an easy decision at first, but it was definitely one of the best moves I have ever made.

Dezeen Jobs: Tell us something we might not know about IKEA.

Clotilde Passalacqua: Every year we spend a lot of time visiting people in their houses, flats or shared accommodation so that we can better understand the way they live, their daily challenges and the changing needs they have in their homes.

We ask them a lot of questions, from how many times per week they do their grocery shopping and where they usually iron their clothes, to how many shoes they have. We open their drawers and cabinets and check under the stairs; all of this helps us better understand the everyday needs of the customer and makes our room sets as realistic as possible!

Dezeen Jobs: How many people work in IKEA's interior design department? What other types of roles are available?

Clotilde Passalacqua: We have more than 400 co-workers that work in the home furnishing and retail design department at IKEA UK and Ireland. There are many different roles available, including interior designer, shop designer, graphic designer and carpenter.

Dezeen Jobs: Does IKEA offer internships? How would a candidate come across this type of opportunity?

Clotilde Passalacqua: At this moment in time we don't offer formal internships, but if we are contacted by an enthusiastic individual with a passion and keen eye for interior design then we will certainly consider them for some work experience and give them the opportunity to shadow co-workers within the home furnishing and retail design team.

Dezeen Jobs: What qualities does IKEA look for in its prospective employees?

Clotilde Passalacqua: We look for curious people that challenge the way things have always been done and can think outside the box to reach our goal. We look for people that are happy to give and take responsibility, that have a passion for design and want to discover more about how people live.

When I look at a portfolio I always search for things that surprise and inspire me, something unexpected that I haven't seen before.

The IKEA planning studio on London's Tottenham Court Road

Dezeen Jobs: Does the UK design team guide the interior design of all IKEA stores internationally? Or is each store designed individually?

Clotilde Passalacqua: The home furnishing and retail design team in our head office leads all stores in the UK and Ireland. Each store works independently and designs its room sets with the local market in mind.

When it comes to bigger changes, such as new or exclusive range launches, we develop interior design solutions for the whole of the UK and Ireland and work with the stores to adapt them for their local customer.

Dezeen Jobs: Tell us about some memorable projects you've worked on. Describe what your involvement was.

Clotilde Passalacqua: Many years ago I worked on an experiential project for our catalogue launch. We created a floating market on Regent's Canal in east London, which highlighted IKEA's product and interior design expertise.

A couple of years ago I supported with the opening of IKEA Exeter, which was a project that I really enjoyed. I helped the store team make sure that their room sets really represented the local market and supported them with a pop-up event in Exeter city centre prior to opening.

Most recently, I worked on a really exciting media event for the launch of our new speaker range, SYMFONISK, in collaboration with Sonos. We took an empty space in central London and transformed it into a studio apartment. It was my job to design the room so that it was not only a fully functional modern home, but also displayed the sound quality and capabilities of our new product.

Dezeen Jobs: How do you manage to stay motivated?

Clotilde Passalacqua: The people I work with everyday keep me motivated. I have the opportunity to help people to develop and grow which really spurs me on to help others achieve their goals.

Dezeen Jobs: What has been the most important lesson you've taken from your career so far?

Clotilde Passalacqua: I have learnt how important it is to lead by example. Over the years I have worked with many people from different backgrounds and experiences, I have also been lucky enough to have had great leaders. Each one of them has inspired me in my job in some way and helped me to become the leader that I am today.

When a large network of interior designers throughout the country are looking to you for direction, they need someone who will inspire them and make them feel passionate about the role that they are doing. I am constantly looking for new ways to improve my leadership so that I can continue to help others develop and grow.

Dezeen Jobs: What excites you most about working in the interior design industry?

Clotilde Passalacqua: The interior design industry is constantly evolving, so it's important to always keep up-to-speed with any changing trends, such as the needs of our customers. At IKEA, we use home visits and other tools to make sure that we stay focused on the everyday needs of the customer. It is really exciting to be a part of this.

Dezeen Jobs: What advice you would give to young designers looking to pursue a similar career path?

Clotilde Passalacqua: I would start by saying that it's an amazing career! But it can take a lot of time and energy to really learn the skills required, so it is essential that you are really passionate about wanting to pursue a career in design.

For me, wherever you choose to start out your career, I think it's crucial to take the time to understand the culture that you are in and the approach that is being asked of you. This will help you to have a clearer understanding of your next steps.

IKEA: view company profile
Locations: Worldwide
Number of employees: 500+