My love for interior design started with my first career at Laura Ashley Inc. in Boston, MA. I was the Marketing and Visual Merchandising Coordinator for both apparel and home furnishings and I was always drawn to decorating over fashion. LA was the first place I realized that I could actually make a career out of designing windows with beautiful home furnishings and of course, a prop or two. I never looked at a storefront window the same after this job because I knew how much went into it. We would start with a general window concept which then had to be mocked up, staged with props and photographed for further discussion. If the first concept was a home run we were lucky, and the actual window would go into production. Everything had to be just right, and each window told a story so that it would catch the attention of the people passing by, and more importantly, get them to come in and buy! I knew I liked what I was doing but I also knew there was more out there to decorating and design than just windows.
Classic Laura Ashley bedding that brings me back to my childhood. I grew up in Laura Ashley dresses and jumpers so this was a company and a job that was near and dear to my heart.
When I moved to New York in 2005 I was hired by Markham Roberts (a renowned decorator who was mentored by the legendary decorator Mark Hampton) where I began to learn the basics in decorating, like: What’s the difference between gimp trim and tape trim? What does C.O.M mean? What’s a side mark? It was here where I learned the ins and outs of the business and was able to get a good taste of the decorating and design world. I would spend days in the office making important phone calls, following up with vendors, tracking orders, placing orders, discussing schemes and concepts for each project with Markham and meeting with each client. There were days I’d spend shopping at the D&D building (Decorating & Design building with hundreds of showrooms for the trade), looking for new fabrics and fun schemes with Markham’s direction and style/taste in mind. Then there were days where we’d leave at 6a for the Hamptons (only way to beat the traffic) to head to a clients for a meeting, stage a house for a photo shoot or be there for an entire installation. This was the best part. you actually saw all your hard work pay off when it all came together and even better than that – you saw the smiles on your client’s face when it was done. I’d have to say that’s the best part of being in the business – knowing you’ve helped make a persons house their home.
A foyer by Markham Roberts with bold diagonal stripes on the walls, a custom faux horn console table, turquoise lamps, a colorful area rug, an antique drawing table and a luxurious chocolate velvet settee painted in an antique white. Markham has a gift when it comes to mixing the old with the new as proven in this photo
In 2009 (not the best year to start a business) I decided to go for it and start my own business with the few small clients I had on the side. While financially I knew it would be a struggle, it ended up being a good year to get things in order and all my ducks in a row, as they say. I knew that most people were struggling financially, so not only did it take the pressure off to succeed immediately, but it gave me time to think about how I wanted to build my business. I knew it wasn’t going to be an extremely profitable year, but you have to start somewhere and you have to believe that you can make anything happen if you’re passionate enough about it. One key element to my business is Design Manager which is the design software we used at Markham Roberts Inc. No matter what, you need to keep track of everything that’s purchased and re-sold and keep it extremely organized so that when it comes time to file your taxes, you aren’t scrambling to figure it all out. For me, purchasing this software was a no brainer because I already knew how to use it. With DM, I was able to keep my finances in order and concentrate on what I loved to do.. which was create, decorate and inspire!
So how do I build a clientele and build a brand for myself when I don’t have much to show and I don’t have a lot to spend? I started to look into marketing options that were either cheap or free and thankfully these days there are a lot of free resources you can use to expose yourself. I created and sent out postcards and mailers (through www.vistaprint.com) by zip code, walked around specific neighborhoods in NYC and left fliers under doors. I started to network and talk to everyone I know about decorating and design so that I could “spread the word” about my new business. I’ll never forget the advice I was given by a good friend which was “no matter what you do, stay busy.” It sounds simple and somewhat useless but it made a lot of sense to me at the time. If you’re constantly busy and focused on your business, it will happen. If you put in the effort and the time, there’s no way you can fail. Staying busy was my saving grace.
One of my first mailers created through Vistaprint
Towards the end of 2009 I was told that House Beautiful was writing a story on new designers. I immediately contacted the editor to see what was needed to be considered for the article. When I realized I met the criteria, I was fast at work creating my bio, taking photos for my headshot and selecting the right photos to send in to display my work. At this point, I didn’t have much to choose from and I hadn’t photographed a lot of my projects so I was fairly limited with what I had to submit. So I gathered all my materials and sent them to the editor who was writing the story and knowing it was a long shot, I hoped and prayed and waited.
It was about 3 months later when I had officially given up (on this specific article) and moved onto plan B. This admittedly, was no plan at all. THIS WAS MY ONLY plan at the time. Just as I was throwing in the towel, I received an email from the editor saying she needed my contact information again. Two hours later a messenger showed up at my door with a letter in hand saying “congratulations, you’ve been selected as one of the next wave of designers to watch in 2010…” I was ecstatic! Not only was I selected for the article but I was going to be included amongst nineteen other designers across the country as one of the next wave of 20 designers to watch in 2010! It was an added bonus since they never specifically told us what the article was for.
The actual article from House Beautiful Dec/Jan 2010
With that, I still had a lot of work to do. I had to get a website up and I had to get involved in social media. These were things I still hadn’t done because I didn’t think I had the money to do it. I couldn’t wrap my head around spending money to make money but soon realized how important it was. I spoke to a friend of a friend who helped me create my website and began to work on my facebook page so that when the article printed, I would have somewhere for people to go and to see me and my work.
A month or so later, House Beautiful launched me and my business into a world I never saw coming. The minute it hit the newsstands, my phone was ringing off the hook and emails came flooding in. It was a very promising day and I felt extremely fortunate and inspired to work even harder!
Whatever you do in this business, you need to put some of your focus on getting published. It’s the best and fastest way to get your name out there and if you can get the attention of an editor at a national home magazine – even better! In the meantime, you need to put yourself out there on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, a blog — whatever you can do to spread the word and create a buzz about your business.
2010 was a great year for me thanks to House Beautiful and I was able to connect with a few great clients who I’m still working with today. In fact, I still receive phone calls and emails where people mention that article, and it was released over a year ago. The power of press!
2010 was also the year that I received a phone call from Emily Johnston (the founder, executive editor and Dallas contributor) of Material Girls asking me if I’d like to be her New York contributor. At the time, I had my own blog and was extremely focused on my own business, but the idea of writing for an already established blog with thousands of followers was extremely enticing. Emily had also mentioned that I’d be invited to events and parties in NYC so that I could mix and mingle with the best in the decorating world and write about my experiences on the blog. Yes Please! I gladly agreed to join the Material Girls and to this day, believe it was the best decision I’ve made so far. Not only am I a part of a wonderful group of girls (bloggers) across the country but I get invited to just about every event out there, so I’ve been able to connect with other bloggers, designers, editors, publishers and PR firms. The experience and the exposure has been amazing.
So here I am. I’m still concentrating on growing my business, building my clientele and getting the buzz out there. I’m extremely blessed to be a part of the Material Girls and enjoy all of the experiences that come along with it. I hope my story has inspired at least a few readers to start their own business and follow their dreams. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it. The feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction is like no other. Emily put the list of pros and cons perfectly. Unfortunately, there are cons to every job, but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, the pros always outweigh the cons.