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Sarah colbon and marie solimon photoshoot for bergman design house.

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By Ina Yulo Stuve on 17th August 2022

To work in the design world, you need a relentless work ethic and the ability to spot and create new trends.

The design industry is captivating to many primarily because it doesn't sit still and is constantly in a state of transformation. "Design is the reflection of the era we live in, and with more conscious choices and well-travelled individuals, we are seeing—and getting asked to design—more sustainable and meaningful luxurious spaces," shares Marie Soliman, Founder and Creative Director of Bergman Design House, the luxury design studio that lists BXR London and the Hilton Hotel Brussels as some of its clients. Soliman tells me that the pandemic has dramatically influenced this transformation with a significant focus on sustainability, vintage pieces, and an ethos of meaningful luxury.

It was also in 2020 that the team saw their clients spending more time out at sea on their yachts in a bid to get more privacy and stay away from crowds—superyachts had turned into a home away from home, and clients were on the lookout to put their stamp on these floating mansions.

Thus Njord by Bergman Design House was born, a specialist design studio that delivers bespoke interior design services for superyachts.

Sarah Colbon, one of the most influential women in the yachting world, was brought in as a co-founder and worked with Soliman and Bergman Design House co-founder Albin Berglund to provide a 360-degree design approach for their discerning clientele.

"Marie and I first met sometime in 2016. I had seen a design of a hotel spa and wellness retreat in Norway and instantly saw something so pure but different. I loved Bergman Design Studios' ethos, and the drive in the design, projects and brands they were working with spoke volumes," explains Colbon. "Sarah had invited me as a guest on The Luxury Channel for a podcast, and we just clicked! I asked her after the podcast if she would like to be our partner in a new company Albin. I was launching—remember that we had never met in person, and that was the first time I had spoken to her, but I know an awesome person when I meet one, and Sarah is the best. We couldn't be more proud of having Sarah as our partner in Njord by Bergman Design House," adds Soliman.

 In this issue of Women Who Launch, I speak with Soliman and Colbon about how to stay ahead of the game in a competitive landscape and what they find most difficult about being a founder.


Marie, the luxury hospitality space is insanely competitive. So how do you ensure you're always one step ahead of the curve and provide your clients with cutting-edge design ideas?

 I believe my work is highly diverse, embracing cross-cultural nuances that are playful and always forward-thinking. We don't go for the normal or expected; we don't do vanilla. Our clients see that passion. Some of the words we live by are: research, connect, network, and build a meaningful relationship with artisans, manufacturers and clients.

 I am a massive believer in identifying the competition's advantages to tailor our work—the match is good, it's thrilling!—it creates an open mind to find new ideas, new materials, and new use of friendly technology, and it helps us celebrate change and get out of our comfort zone. Mirroring your competitors' strategies won't win the battle, so be the flamingo and own it!

 Sarah, how did you first get started in the super yacht industry?

I've been immersed in the world of superyachts for over 12 years, rooted in my background being brought up on the water on the south coast of England in Emsworth, a small sailing village. Travelling the world gave me experiences like running businesses in fishing charters and chartering sailing yachts in Australia-never as a crew but only in the business, marketing and PR sectors. Following a passion and a dream became a career journey in this small, family-like niche industry, working alongside top shipyards, yacht management companies, brokerage and design sectors. This gave me the foundations and experience to see an opportunity to develop a new approach, specifically in the design sector of the industry. Partnering with Marie and Albin Berglund from the award-winning Bergman Design House to create Njord by Bergman Design House, the superyacht design arm of the business, with a whole new approach to clients and experiences, has allowed us to produce the best designs the world has ever seen. 

 Sarah, why is mentorship so important to you?

I've always surrounded myself with mentors who are leaders in the industry and are the best at what they do but are also brilliant, genuine people. Mentors can raise your confidence and problem-solving abilities and introduce you to the right people in your career path. Along with developing leadership skills, having a mentor to advise and guide you can increase your confidence and help you develop problem-solving skills. Regarding belief, research has tied having a mentor to an overall increase in emotional health, which can benefit many people in many ways.

 What is the most challenging aspect of being a founder?

(Marie) Always be enthusiastic every day, regardless of how difficult the day, the work, the project, or the client may be. Never lose sight of why you started. Get used to hearing NO and not letting it get to your heart. You have to love what you are creating, and I always believe we need to be our number one fan before anyone else.

 (Sarah)  I think it's the work/life balance. As entrepreneurs, we are driven to achieve and willing to spend any time to get there. But money or success can't buy back the time we don't pay with our loved ones—I'm very conscious of this having two small children, but we have such an incredible team and support system, we build this into our culture, and we are finding this to be a great success so far. That time could be worth more than we know.

 What do you look for when you decide to work with a particular client?

(Marie) I stalk them on Instagram and their social media! Yes, I am guilty!

I do remember when we started Bergman. We were directly approaching the clients and operators we liked working with. I believe that people do business with people and not just with a brand—it's not the 90s anymore—it's all about how you connect with people and what value you add. I like working with clients who are not scared to push boundaries and own them.

 (Sarah) It may seem obvious, but if you enjoy working with someone, the process is often much more accessible, and the results are often much better. It would be best if you were excited about who you work with. Does the project excite you? I always ask that question to myself and our team. We are a very personable company, we care, and we always strive to overachieve—it's a natural habit, and our clients enjoy the experience. That's what speaks volumes to us. 

 Hindsight is always a blessing. So what's the one mistake you've made as a business owner that you wish you could take back?

(Marie) I priced a job wrong because I was given a tight deadline to send our fee in a few hours. I now have learnt never to act again under pressure, always to take reasonable time before taking decisions, and never to hire without asking for a reference.

 (Sarah) I never look back and regret it. It's something I've had to teach myself as we grow. We are a team who makes decisions and support each other to do this.  

 What is the one task you always do yourself and the task you recommend outsourcing?

(Marie) I love writing the story of each project, and creating the mood and fabric boards. I still connect on all areas but writing the story is my thing.

(Sarah) Gosh, it's a balance of delegation, trust, and performance. We have grown a fantastic team to do this with. My delegation that I'm always happy to pass on finances to our finance director Nitun—this is his directorship, and he is very good at it.

With the summer months in full swing, where are you headed for your next holiday?

(Marie) As it's my 40th this year, Albin, my husband and business partner, is taking me to Venice—I always wanted to be on the Orient Express Belmond. I can't be happier that he is taking me on this experience before we go to Portofino.

(Sarah) The Bahamas—for me, it's about following the sun and yachts, staying with the children, and being present as a family. That's an actual holiday for me. 

https://bergmandesignhouse.com/

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