Beautiful Homes in the North: Celebrating Women with photographer Katie Lee

Redundancy can seem like the end of the world, but it can also be a door to a fantastic new career you love, as today’s Celebrating Women shows.

When journalist Karen Wilson (above, left) and photographer Katie Lee found themselves hit by the slowdown after the financial crisis, they turned to their strengths and founded Beautiful Homes in the North.

Property and interiors have always been an interest for them. Karen, 45, spent 13 years as a features writer at her local newspapers in Newcastle, while 46-year-old Katie has photographed home for the likes of The Sunday Times and The FT Magazine.

As for what they do – have you ever looked at the interiors pages in the Sunday papers and wondered how they got featured? That’s what Beautiful Homes in the North does. Karen and Katie find real-life beautiful homes – family homes – and write and photograph them for the likes of Ideal Home and Homestyle magazines, among many others.

“It was very hard in the first couple of years and quite stressful,” Katie, who lives in Whitley Bay with her husband, nine-year-old old twin girls and their dog Baxter, tells me. “I didn’t think we were 100 per cent going to manage.

“But I’ve had the chance to work with and meet a lot of other inspiring, creative woman and this wouldn’t have happened if I was employed. I find it so exciting.”

Here, Katie tells us more about their business, learning to work as a team and why you shouldn’t be scared of competition…

How did you and Karen meet?

When I left The Sunday Times in 2006 and moved home to the North-East, I went freelance. I spent the first few months meeting people and trying to find work and that’s when I met Karen at the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle. They had just launched a new magazine called City Living and I did a lot of their photography, mainly shooting interiors, portraits and fashion. I only met Karen on a couple of occasions and then the magazine stopped when the recession hit.

Beautiful Homes in the North magazine spread

Why did you start Beautiful Homes in the North?

In 2013, I got a phone call out of the blue from Karen. She’d just taken redundancy and was thinking of trying to crack the national interiors magazine market and did I fancy coming along for the ride? She’d remembered me from the City Living days and thought she’d be able to work with me. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

I’d always looked at the interiors mags and wondered how you got into that kind of work and this sounded very exciting.

We didn’t have a clue what we were doing but Karen had a contact who worked in the industry and she got some advice and that’s how it all started. Also Karen had worked on the home section of her newspaper and had a few stunning homes that she knew of and off we went!

Was it difficult?

Yes and no.

We got our first commission very quickly and we were extremely excited. I think we came along just at the right time. There was no one covering this kind of work in the North-East and the magazines were really keen to show interiors from this area. We were effectively showcasing what the region had to offer and we were the only ones doing it.

One of the main difficulties was finding houses. When we started in 2013, Facebook was very popular. We’d look through interior feeds and contact people, but it was hard and there were a lot of houses that just didn’t quite make the grade. We even used to leaflet streets and houses we thought looked good from the outside and got the odd person contacting us.

Then we discovered Instagram and Beautiful Homes in the North has taken off since then. We now travel all over the North and sometimes further south. We’ve built up a following on Insta and because of this, we have built really good relationships with most of the magazines. We now find homes on Instagram and a lot of people contact us.

How do you work as a team?

Really well, but it wasn’t always like that. When we first started, we lacked confidence. We were so worried about failing and not making it work that shoots took forever. We’d disagree about a lot of things and it was quite stressful. I think we both wondered if it could work.

But I think a mixture of things made us persevere: we both desperately wanted it to work as we love interiors and our respective professions; we could see there was so much potential, and we both knew we could do the work well. Before we knew it things just started to get easier.

It hasn’t been easy but I think we’re at a place now were we understand each other. We know each other’s strengths, we respect each other’s opinion and we work well as team. Perseverance is definitely the buzzword.

Beautiful Homes in the North magazine photoshoot

We have jobs that one person is more responsible for. I do Instagram as I have all the images for posting and also my home is more Insta-ready (Karen won’t mind me saying that). Karen is the one that pitches homes to magazines and is much more organised when it comes to diaries, timings etc – I’m bloody useless!!

I think things work well because we are always open about everything. We talk things through and make sure we’re both happy with everything. It works well now and I think I can speak for Karen, we both love what we do. 

What are the pros and cons of having your own business?

The cons – to be honest I don’t think there are many. There’s only two of you for a Christmas party?

Joking apart, you’re always working because work doesn’t stop at 5pm. I can be editing at 9pm at night. If the work needs doing, it has to be done no matter what time of day.

It’s like you can’t just relax and let things happen, you always have to be on your toes thinking about what you could do next to ensure the longevity of your business. But that’s not always a con, I like this side of running of your business too.

The pro are that your destiny is in your own hands. If your business is going well, it’s because of you and I love being my own boss. It can be so exciting when an idea works or you know you’ve made a good decision. Plus no two days are the same.

I also get to travel and meet some amazing people and even though I might have to work evenings and sometimes weekends, I feel like I get to spend more quality time with my children. 

What do you enjoy most about your job – and least?

Doing a job I love and meeting so many amazing, creative and inspiring people (usually women). And being my own boss. I’m not good with authority.

Least? Admin!!! And sometimes, very rarely, I’ll have a crisis of confidence or motivation and those times are hard, but they never last. There’s no time for that when you run your own business.

Do you think being older has been an advantage?

Obviously we like to think were wiser when we’re older, so if that’s the case then yes.

I think with age comes a certain kind of confidence and more self-belief. I’ve managed to get this far so I must have been doing something right. So I keep doing what I’ve always done, but bring a bit more knowledge and expertise to the table.

Beautiful Homes in the North magazine photoshoot

What advice would you give to women thinking about setting up a business?

It’s about the impression you leave with people – you never know when you might meet that person again. Karen would never have phoned me in 2013 if I hadn’t made an impression on her, however large or small.

A lot of woman I work with often complain about other photographers being negative or miserable and that’s not the kind of impression you want to make. I don’t go out of my way to impress or try too hard, I just do my job well. I’m always positive but realistic when dealing with clients. I’m pleasant and easy to work with and give clients exactly what they want and more.

Also, never sit still (I don’t mean this literally). If you sit still when things are good and think that nothing’s ever going to change, then you’ll get a shock. Life changes, business changes, clients change and you’ve always got to be ready to be flexible and accept this and think about what you could do next. It’s like an insurance policy to safeguard your business and hopefully give it some longevity.

Don’t ignore social media. For me, it has been a big and annoying thing. I really didn’t want to embrace it as I didn’t really like it, but our business wouldn’t be where it is without it. If you don’t’ have time to do it yourself then seek help.

Finally, talk. Make contacts with other businesses, talk to other women in business. Don’t hold on to things for fear of competition – competition is healthy and you should embrace others in business even if it’s the same as yours. I honestly think the more open you are the more successful you’ll be. Don’t be scared of the competition, embrace it. There’s only one you and what you offer and that’s what people buy into.

 Click here to follow Beautiful Homes in the North on Instagram and here on Facebook. And they’re always looking for beautiful homes to feature – fancy it?

 What did you think of Katie and Karen’s story? Leave me a comment below. And don’t forget to share their stories with your friends and subscribe to get more inspirational women sent straight to your inbox.