Like many others in the field, Chicago-based designer Dan Rak’s early leanings towards home design (binders full of floor plans, parent-supervised trips to open houses) initially lost out to a more reliable career path. During his early professional years, Rak instead studied accounting, went to law school, and ultimately practiced tax law. In his off hours, however, he began cultivating a hobby that used his own home as a laboratory.
“To scratch that creative itch, I started renovating houses of my own,” Rak told host Kaitlin Petersen on the most recent episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “It wasn’t necessarily an intentional business model, at least to start, but as I did a few of those, it was like, Hey, maybe I just devote my energy to this and grow a development business rather than spending 70 or 80 hours in an office working through tax issues.”
Rak soon realized it was time to leave his day job in order to do each project justice. The transition wasn’t one his colleagues had witnessed before—in fact, seeing Rak’s home-flipping work was enough to prompt a few of them to tap the budding designer for projects in their own homes. Those coworkers-turned-clients acted as steppingstones for the designer to take on larger projects and eventually go all in on a career in interior design. Along the way, he’s infusing client interactions with some of the financial straight talk he picked up in his first career, allowing both parties to get the most out of each project.
“I’m very upfront and candid about money issues from the start. I always tell [clients], This is a fun process, but money can ruin it,” says Rak. “We need to know what’s comfortable to you so that as we move through pulling a complete design together, we’re not going to bring you something that’s half as good as you want it to be, or three or four times what you want it to cost. We need to be on the same page.”
In this episode, Rak shares how he navigates getting frank about finances, why adding an operations team transformed his business, and how he prioritizes a luxury client experience at every touch point.
Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode was sponsored by Gaggenau and Sidedoor.
Homepage image: Dan Rak | Courtesy of Dan Rak