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Women of Influence – Bethany James


In our series celebrating Women of Influence in Architecture and Interior Design, Australian Design Review caught up with Bethany James, the unstoppable force, CEO and founder of Australia’s leading iconic name in luxurious interiors — James Said.

Bethany James catches up with ADR over Google Meet from her stunning showroom in Armadale, Melbourne. In a crisp white shirt, she’s the picture of composed business, but behind her there’s a smattering of coloured post-it notes on a mood board, signifying the creative process isn’t always a neat affair. 

As we settle into the conversation, she remarks on the early days of setting up James Said, working from a spare room in her house in Perth. 

Looking after a young child with severe Tourette’s syndrome as a single parent was hard. “A normal job wasn’t really on the cards,” James reflects.  

She found herself at a crossroads in her career, yet amidst the uncertainty, her entrepreneurial spirit ignited.

“I was working as an interior designer at the time and I had a very specific style that I was really passionate about, which was the Hollywood Regency aesthetic,” James says.

“In Australia that just simply wasn’t available. Everything was very Scandinavian, it was all timber, and there was no metal or colour. I was struggling to be able to do my design jobs, and I would be looking overseas to source furniture. I noticed that there was a little bit of a niche in the market, and that got my entrepreneurial spirit going.

Wholesale distribution was something James was already familiar with. “I had my range of cosmetics, which I created and sold in David Jones, Myer, Selfridges in the UK and department stores in Japan,” she says. “I set up a distribution business and originally it was just wholesale to the design industry. I just started it in my spare room.”

Night after night, baby on her lap, James scoured the Yellow Pages, reaching out to designers and introducing them to her vision. 

“Every night I would email over a hundred people,” she recalls.

In the infancy of her business, she received support and partnership opportunities with kindred creatives like Greg Natale who also championed the Hollywood Regency aesthetic. 

“It was the start of a new wave of this look,” James explains. “We introduced it to Australia. It was at the same time that Greg Natale was just starting to gain some notoriety. He was creating all these designs, which were hitting the magazines, and I was the one that was bringing in this furniture for the styling.”

As James Said grew from a wholesale distribution business into a retail and interior design consultancy, James’ approach to design evolved. She realised early on the transformative power of creating spaces that resonate with individuals on a personal level.

“Of course, only a couple of months after moving here, we went into lockdown,” she recalls. “So that was challenging, and very scary for the first year. And then the second year, everyone was obsessed with their homes, so that was amazing.”

James Said made $1 million in its first year of business and was “instantly successful”. 

During lockdown, James Said became more than a store; it transformed into a sanctuary where clients could see their dream spaces come to life. 

“When you are renovating a home or buying a new home, it’s almost like an announcement to everybody around you that signals where you are in your life,” James says.

“Imagine furnishing your house from scratch. We dream of doing that, but I would see customers having that experience and not enjoying it at all. They would be completely stressed out because it’s so important to them. They’ve built a new home or they’re renovating their new home. It’s a massive financial and emotional process for them.

“Because we can design a home from start to finish, you could see this overwhelming relief come from them and the gratitude that they felt.” 

This ability to listen and learn from her clients’ experiences has shaped James’ philosophy, where the goal is not just to sell concepts and products but to transform houses into homes that tell a story.  

“I started to understand how important it was to listen to clients’ needs because over the course of the decade, the loyalty that customers have to you and the trust that it builds is phenomenal,” James says.

Looking ahead, James envisions the business evolving beyond interior design. 

“The brand will become something much more than an Australian furniture brand. It will become an international lifestyle brand,” she says, outlining an ambitious future that promises to redefine luxury living.

She ends the conversation with a reflection on her career trajectory and how she pushes herself to excel as an entrepreneur.

“I’m much more comfortable outside of my comfort zone than in my comfort zone,” she says. “Moving to Melbourne just felt like the right thing. And the minute I got here, I just found that I was meeting all these new and exciting people. 

“If things become too comfortable, I’m immediately striving for the next thing. I don’t think I’ll ever get to where I want to go because I’m always planning five steps ahead. I feel like I’ve got so far to go.” 

James has been quoted about the inequality faced by successful women in the industry. She feels the key to success is a solid support network. 

 “As a woman, when I’m running a thriving business and I’m away from my boy, people are quick to whisper that it’s self-indulgent, almost a guilty pleasure,” she says. 

“A man in his 40s working hard for his family is a great provider and has great integrity. There’s something seriously wrong with that. I believe, as women, we need to stop stomping on each other and start supporting each other.”

As James Said continues to shape the contours of Australian design, Bethany James’ journey as a design entrepreneur stands as a testament to the power of self-belief, risk-taking and pushing boundaries. 

During Australian Design Review’s spotlight month focusing on Women of Influence in Architecture and Interior Design, we’ll celebrate women who are game changers and innovators in the industry. We’ll also lean into discussing the very real, yet often not discussed realities of working in an industry that still holds onto some traditional modes of working that aren’t always inclusive or supportive of women and those identifying as women. While we’re shining a spotlight on the achievements of women in March, in recognition of International Women’s Day, at ADR, we champion women every day. 


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