A few weeks ago I started a new feature called ‘What I used to do’ I kicked the feature off by telling you all about my life as a fashion designer and dress maker. I really enjoyed going back and looking at old photos and telling you all about part of my past life before the world of weddings and blogging got hold of me.
From that feature I had lots of people contact me with their work stories, so today I have the first of many stories starting off with Claire Kemp, from Claire Kemp Cakes. She moved from a career in architecture to a career in cake design!
What I used to do
Until 2011 I worked as an architectural assistant at a small architectural practice in Sheffield and as a researcher in the School of Architecture at The University of Sheffield. My practice work mainly involved designing high-end domestic extensions and my research was based around the design of school buildings. I was studying for my final architectural exams, but with the impact of the recession on the construction industry and the loss of funding for my research work my husband and I faced a dilemma; move somewhere we could both find full time architectural jobs (ie London or abroad) or stay in Sheffield (where we had just bought our first home) and diversify our careers. We chose Sheffield!
What I do now
After leaving my architectural jobs I set up my own business ‘Claire Kemp Cake Studio’ to design and make contemporary cakes for weddings and events. I find it difficult to describe what I do, ‘cake maker’ sounds a bit trivial, ‘contemporary cake artist’ sounds a bit pretentious! Basically I set out to combine my professional design skills with my cake-making hobby and fill a gap in the market for truly modern cakes in particular for weddings. I also have a niche in creating scale architectural model cakes! The photos of my work are probably the best description of what I do….
Why the change
I’d studied architecture for over 6 years and after working for a few years was just months away from achieving the illusive title ‘architect’. Then, after I’d made wedding cakes for several friends, my husband bought me a masterclass with Mich Turner of Little Venice Cake Company. It really opened my eyes to the possibility of making my hobby a business, but it was still just a dream. Then when my architectural hours were reduced things changed. We were also thinking about starting a family and decided that the next few years could well be an ideal time to give setting up a cake business a shot. Before I knew it I was designing logos, sketching cake designs and getting business advice. We realised that the word cake was hidden in my name (claire kemp) and took it as a sign!
Making the change
We were part way through refurbishing and extending our house and decided I would hand in my notice so I could spend time finishing the house (which would also be my place of work) whilst doing background work on the business.
Determined this was going to be a business and not a glorified hobby I attended several government funded Business Link courses and a self-employment course run by the HMRC. In October 2011 I delivered my first cake, a 1:100 scale cake of The University of Sheffield’s Arts Tower building for a re-opening party. Then in Spring 2012 I launched my wedding cake collection assisted by a grant from The University of Sheffield Enterprise.
The most difficult bit
The most difficult part was handing in my notice and telling people (in particular colleagues and parents). Admitting that I was going to ‘give up’ a career I’d studied long and hard for wasn’t easy and of course there were questions and comments; ‘but after all this hard work?’, ‘aren’t you going to get bored making cakes?’, ‘ wow – that’s a big shift’. But it wasn’t a decision I’d made overnight, we’d thought hard about financial and other implications and we were really excited about the change.
Honestly? No. A lot of time, blood, sweat, tears and money went into my short architectural career, but I truly believe that if I hadn’t done it my business wouldn’t be what it is. I sure as hell wouldn’t have been able to design a cake using computer-aided design!
For more information on Clair’s cakes go to
So what about you? I’d love to hear your story. If you would like to share your career story then email me [email protected]
Image credits: Claire Kemp / Chris Harrop (Image 10) / Stancliffe Studios (Images 06, 11)