What brought you to this career?
I changed my major in college from Nutrition to Interior Design largely in part because of my desire to have art and creation or creativity in my life on a daily basis. I could pursue a career in a branch of art and design that for me didn’t mean a Fine Arts degree. Also, a friend in the major was making models of homes out of balsa wood for a design project and that looked fun to me!
What is your most memorable experience in your career?
The one that stands out among many cherished client memories is when a “walk –in” or someone that didn’t have an appointment came in to talk about her and her husband’s kitchen remodel.
After 30 plus years they were ready to knock out some walls and enlarge not only the kitchen but the dining room and sun room.
Their to-date experience with another local cabinet or design place left them less than enthused and as I later found out downright devastated. The client was in tears as she talked about her project and her current experience with the other shop. As she talked and I listened for a long time she and I hit it off and began their remodel journey. She shared later with me that the reason she chose to work with me is because I just really listened to her.
Rather than try to fill in the conversation or tell her what she wanted to hear I let her “let it out”. That really clicked with me because I started to get a lot of feedback that my clients felt heard and not steamrolled or pushed into their decisions. It felt great to know that the collaboration is part of the experience of the remodel and to encourage or lead as needed but most of all to be as excited as they are!
What is a typical day like for you?
My day usually starts right at 8am because most contractors or builders are starting early (earlier than that most times) and need a question answered or to meet in the field during framing of a new home.
This might mean to bring my tape measurer, set of plans and to be ready to take a lot of notes or take measurements to transfer to my computer program.
I am a full time designer and have the responsibility of being the showroom coordinator so I split my week with those tasks.
When I arrive at the office I start with answering emails or voicemails for about ½ hour.
In the morning I am with appointments in the showroom either presenting or showing a new client around the showroom and discussing their project. Or I am sitting with one new design. Around lunchtime I usually eat at my desk only because I might be on a deadline to get an estimate done. I have been trying to set more boundaries to allow myself that time to eat away from my desk and move around to clear and re-set my brain space as I sit with designs in the afternoon.
After lunchtime I sit down with another new design in the between of those appointment times. There are usually one or two more appointments.
About once or twice a week there is a full staff meeting to review sales and how things are going during the week as well as vendor or product training from specialists.
Once a week I compile news on design, new products, product promotions, inspirational design or competitions coming up and email out to the staff a product update to keep informed.
I am finding that the average is working on 2 new designs or revisions on a current design and needs to be blocked on my day.
I usually leave the office around 5:30-6pm and twice a month I have an evening meeting starting after 5pm or on a Saturday morning for clients that work a lot or come from out of town.
What do you like most about your job; what motivates you throughout the day?
Sitting with a design and figuring out the design puzzle is my favorite. When I am able to present my design recommendations to a client and pull the color palette together for them is such a joy. Even if they don’t immediately like ALL of it, we work together to tweak and change it to their desire and we are all excited by the end of the appointment. The relationship building is fun and getting to know the client and they get to know me as well.
What advice would you give for someone looking to pursue a similar career?
(What education/certifications, skills or experiences would they need, what salary could they expect to make?)
Interior Design or more specifically Kitchen and Bath Design does mean computer work, the desire to figure out problems and come up with solutions, working with fractions, math, quick sketching and a lot of that on the fly if you are with a client. When at the computer you can really move things around to see what will work best on your own time.
Confidence to talk and chat with people is a must. I am not extraverted, but I do enjoy delivering information that I know well and giving suggestions on how to solve a problem. Most of all to work together well with others to find the best solution to a problem.
Sales is a part of the Kitchen and Bath design career so you do need to be able to make the client comfortable and make sure it is all about them. This is vastly learned as you go but the desire needs to be there to network to gain more sales opportunities and track your sales through organization and follow up and really asking for the sale.
Certification and continuing education is a major part of this career. For me, following the National Kitchen and Bath Association tools and training has been so beneficial to stay up to date, know people in the design community, and pursue further certifications to let my potential clients know I am educated in the field rather than taking my word for it through the years of experience. Especially when starting out you can learn valuable industry systems, product, and guidelines that can avoid mistakes in the field. Some sort of higher education is very helpful to have to land the job and after that specific NAHB (National Home Builders Association ) or NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) certification and training really helps to move up.
You can expect as a Junior Designer or Design Assistant to make anywhere from $25K-$35K and as a Senior Designer $45K-$65K. This does of course depend on where you live and work in the country but also on if you are paid just straight commission, Salary plus commission, or Draw.
Salary is the best way to plan your finances and what you will make because commission only or draw can come sporadically. It is not uncommon to start with a client and 4-6 months later the job is completed and completely paid at which time you get the commission. By achieving certain certifications not soon after starting you will be able to negotiate more on the salary based upon education and experience.
What I love about this field is the satisfaction to have a really neat design that works well and your clients are happy. The competition with myself to keep my sales up and be the top sales person is also something I like. Sometimes things can go wrong or a client isn’t happy but you have a learning opportunity or chance to make things right or better and it can explode into more opportunities because they will sing your praises and send friends and family your way because you took care of them and their experience.
I would give the advice to shadow or intern or become a design assistant to decide if the pace and sales part of it appeals. Most people entering into this field also look at the art or design part of it of the interior designers they see on HGTV as inspiration. Some are surprised by how much is about sales and intense deadlines on returning pricing to clients and builders.
A love of creativity, fast-paced environment, learning, meeting people and solving problems sums up the design industry for me.