Before becoming a nationally recognized interior designer, Corey Damen Jenkins knocked on a lot of doors—779, to be precise. “I launched my firm in 2008, right when the recession hit,” Jenkins tells BOH. “I realized that the opportunities were not going to come to me, I had to go to them. Young designers often feel like, ‘OK, I’ve got my degree in interior design, I’ve got my website up, so now I’ll sit back and wait for the blessings to come.’ And that’s not how it works.”
Not content to wait around hoping that his firm would get clients, Jenkins told himself he’d knock on 800 doors in affluent neighborhoods around Detroit, where he’s based, asking if the homeowner was interested in hiring a decorator. If he got to 800 with no clients, he’d call it quits. But, at the 779th door, a couple invited him in—and wound up hiring him. When the project was finished, Jenkins had it professionally photographed and put it on his website. Two weeks later, a producer from HGTV called, offering him a chance to appear on one of their shows. “If I hadn’t gotten off my butt and gotten out there, this success would never have come,” he says.
It’s this idea of work ethic and what Jenkins calls “sweat equity” that’s at the core of the talk he’ll give next week at the ninth-annual Black Interior Designers Network Conference, to be held in Atlanta later this month. Called “Has Change Really Come?”, Jenkins’s keynote will focus on the value of putting yourself out there, even when it may be uncomfortable to do so, and other ways that people of color can continue to advance in the design industry. “It’s going to be a very upbeat, positive talk,” he says. “We’re going to [discuss] ways to combat negativity and increase our profitability. Those are lessons that apply to everyone, no matter what your culture, heritage or skin color might be. I want to be realistic about ways we can make progress in this industry.”
Other topics Jenkins plans to cover include creating contracts and letters of agreement and considering how designers portray themselves on social media. “If we’re not taking ourselves seriously and posting pictures of ourselves hanging out and drinking a glass of wine, maybe that’s fine, but is it the image that you want to project to potential clients? Maybe it would be better to have a personal account and a professional account. People make judgment calls before they even make that call to talk about hiring you and, in some cases, they won’t make that call because of what they’re seeing online.”
With women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community making unprecedented progress across industries, Jenkins wants to advise attendees on how to keep pushing the needle forward. “All ships rise with the tide,” he says. “As a child growing up, I didn’t see anyone that looked like me in magazines. But that’s changing. I think now it’s less about asking for a place at the table and more about pulling up a chair and just sitting down. My goal for this talk it to discuss what to say when we pull up that chair.”
The 2019 Black Interior Designers Network Conference takes place July 25 to 27 in Atlanta, with programming at both the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center and AmericasMart—including a panel on how to make the most of industry events like High Point Market, with Rasheeda Gray, Cheryl Luckett, Veronica Solomon and Laura Thurman, moderated by BOH’s Kaitlin Petersen. Tickets are available here.