x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Money and me: Dubai tutor has learnt to be brave

Sophie Johnson's passion for interior design means she often spends more than she saves because she likes to surround herself with nice things.

Sophie Johnson was aided by her parents’ work ethic and a gift from her grandfather. Antonie Robertson / The National
Sophie Johnson was aided by her parents’ work ethic and a gift from her grandfather. Antonie Robertson / The National

Sophie Johnson is a short-course tutor at the Chelsea College of Arts Dubai. The Briton, 36, qualified as an interior designer in 1998 and has more than 14 years of lecturing experience at many of London’s leading universities. The mother of three children – five, four and five months old – has lived in Dubai since September 2012 and will host her next course next month.

Describe your financial journey so far.

I would not be in the financial situation I am in today without a large financial gift given by my grandfather and the courage of my mother to be a guarantor to help me get my first mortgage at 19. I used that money as a deposit to buy my first property on the outskirts of London, then rented out the rooms to my student friends. This gave me the opportunity to move across London to Notting Hill to my own flat. I renovated and redesigned all the houses and sold them for considerably more each time until I finally owned my family home, and eventually made the move to the UAE. None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the courage and faith of my late mother.

Are you a spender or saver?

I like to think of myself as a saver but the reality might be different. I am much more conscious of saving/investing on behalf of my children for their futures, to allow them to possibly have a deposit for a flat or pay university fees.

What is your philosophy towards money?

Work hard. That is the only way. I have always had a good work ethic. I have worked in many different jobs from a young age to support myself. This was never stressed to me by my parents, but I guess watching my parents working rubbed off on me.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

Apart from more often than not spending more than I save, no major ones.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?

I would always invest in property. It’s a long-term investment and has its risks but it’s generally worth it. It also is a great way for me to express myself through my interior design. I have been lucky enough to have owned my home from an early age so I have always been free to decorate as I wish, change elements of the space, etc. However, living in Dubai is the first time I have rented. This brings challenges of how to make someone else’s house your home. My weakness is needing to surround myself with nice objects, so this would no doubt be a way I would spend some of my money. I would buy some key pieces of furniture such as an Eames lounger or George Nelson desk combined with local talents.

What has been your biggest financial lesson?

With money you have to be brave – take risks to make gains. These bravery lessons begin once you have children as your focus shifts to their future.

What do you enjoy spending money on?

Household goods, designer furniture and textiles. My spending habits have changed slightly since moving to the UAE. When I am looking at bits for the house they often have two functions – the here and present, and where they will go on my return back to the United Kingdom. So with that in mind, I find myself sourcing more local designs while I’m in Dubai so that my interior gives me a kind of history of myself and my family’s lives.


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