Ingrid Corbett is one of those creatives who has worked across so many fields, and continues to do so, that it's really hard to define "what she does". So let's start from the beginning. She was born in Chile, and has lived in Colombia, Venezuela, Germany, Portugal and Thailand, but now calls South Africa home. She has worked on magazines such as Elle Decoration South Africa, and was editor of that country's Real Simple. Now she runs a design business, Quirky.Me, whereby she thinks up great ideas, and works with local designers and craftspeople to bring them to life. But she continues to work in magazine publishing and help people decorate their homes.
Which five words best describe you? Stubborn. Stubborn. Stubborn. Stubborn. Stubborn.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since?
I've had a few different careers. Don't they say in modern times we'll all have five? I started out as a journalist, working for an online news agency in my native Santiago, Chile. I'm talking 1995, before the internet really boomed globally. It's interesting to reflect on that because we were harping on then about a concept that is so everyday now, but no one was listening yet. I then spent a few years in PR before finding my niche in publishing, where I worked first as a book editor and then in magazines, through titles such as Femina, Cosmopolitan, and Elle Decoration, ending up as editor of the South African edition of best-selling US magazine, Real Simple. When the magazine was shut down as a result of the global recession I wasn't sure what I would do next. Magazines had been my life for so long, I couldn't really see myself in any other role. My husband, bless his generous heart, packed me off to London for 10 days to visit my brother and have time to reflect. I spent days trawling the streets, soaking up inspiration and just overloading my brain, in a good way. I'd had this idea niggling, to start up a decor business, and my trip to London gave me the nudge I needed to look into it more seriously. My brother and I came up with the name Quirky.Me while looking for a domain name on the train, on our way to a show in the West End. It seems funny now, because I didn't put that much thought into it at the time, but on reflection it does encompass so perfectly not only my personality but also what the shop has become known for, namely off-beat decor that's pretty unique.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? That I couldn't do what I do now if I hadn't arrived here in such a roundabout fashion. I draw on everything I've learnt along the way. My time in PR taught me to value good communication and the importance of a strong corporate identity. Time spent in book publishing helped me develop the patience and determination to see a long-term project through. A solid grasp of what goes into putting a magazine together, including time spent concepting and writing decor features, brain storming with stylists and keeping a handle on budgets means I was perfectly placed to begin putting my own ideas into production. I think the best lesson I've learned is that it's important to work with people you trust, people you like and people who have the same work ethic as you. If your suppliers or the people who execute your ideas can't live up to your expectations it invariably leads to disappointment. I've got pretty high standards and expect a lot from myself and others, which means I've pissed a lot of people off along the way! But there are two things I won't compromise on: quality and attention to detail, and I'm lucky now to have found a group of people that share this approach and we work incredibly well together.
What’s your proudest career achievement? Being editor of Real Simple magazine felt like the culmination of my career at the time. I had worked hard to get there, and it felt like a solid acknowledgement. I think it was particularly important to me because I was so passionate about the content and the reader. But having put that chapter behind me now, I'd have to say that growing Quirky.Me from a speck of an idea to a viable business concern in less than a year, single-handedly, gives me a real sense of satisfaction.
What’s been your best decision? To take the plunge into retail with my partner, Michelle Petrie of Abode Design. We met by complete coincidence – she rang my doorbell one morning because she liked my house number, a customised light by local artist Brett Murray. We got chatting, turned out we were near neighbours, and I discovered she had a business designing cane lighting and furniture and was looking into a retail space but nervous to go it alone. My interest was piqued immediately – I had been so tempted to get into retail but was also nervous of overheads and being stuck with the rent if things moved slower than expected. Together, we found the confidence to take the next step and a few weeks later we were signing a contract for a 60m2 space at a small but trendy centre called The Old Biscuit Mill, in Salt River. We never really discussed how it would all hang together, we just dove straight in and were lucky that our products complemented each other, as well as our personalities. Michelle is super laid back and stresses about very little, she's also a great sounding board for new ideas and we share thoughts and contacts as well as the rent! It's been such a seamless progression, I pinch myself on a regular basis.
Who inspires you? I travelled to Tokyo two years ago and was awe-struck by the Japanese. It was so inspirational, they are really into detail and pattern and making even the simplest thing beautiful. Amongst many other things, I bought a box of paperclips that are shaped like ducks - they had others - pigs, cows, dogs - and I would happily have taken each one but my suitcase was already bursting at the seams. I find it amazing that this sort of thought can go into such an everyday item, transforming something as mundane as paperwork into something more enjoyable. Locally, I'm inspired by my neighbours at The Old Biscuit Mill: Eve Collett and Henry du Rand of Casamento, they make the most beautiful furniture pieces, with a noticeable emphasis on quality. Uhm... who else? Adriaan Huge of Dokter and Misses, Gregor Jenkin, Heather Moore of Skinnylaminx, lateral thinkers like Neville Tricket, my fabulously creative friends and stylists, Tara Sloggett and Mari Groenewald. My mother, Ana-Maria, and my friend Ilse, who have this amazing sense of inner peace... it's like an aura, you feel calm just being in their presence. Quite the opposite of me!
What are you passionate about? My business, my kids, sadly sometimes in that order! I've realised that as much as I love my three boys, I'm not cut out for full-time motherhood. Having a job makes me a better mother. I find a certain satisfaction and validation in my work that I don't get at home. I know, colour me weird... I'm one of those moms. Oh, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. I'm pretty passionate about those.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? Brad Pitt. Okay, no, seriously? Not sure, there are so many people I think are interesting, but I kind of like just meeting regular folk, people on the street, and hearing their stories.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? Hmm, there are a few: an overland trip across Africa, trekking the Annapurna Circuit, spending a few months on one of the Mercy Ships. But I think the most immediate is probably just finding the perfect balance between work and the needs of my family.
What are you reading? Gawd, I fall asleep with a different book on my face just about every night. What I miss the most about a life before kids is the time to read without being too tired to take it all in. I've currently got LOTS of different books on my bedside table, including The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, Saying No by Asha Philips, This if For You by Rob Ryan, Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, Tripwire by Lee Child (I'm secretly in love with Jack Reacher), The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers.
images courtesy of ingrid corbett; photography warren heath