For the third season of Trade Tales, the show will feature stories of business pivots—large or small—that fundamentally transformed a firm. This week, the show covers a designer who overhauled her process to protect the mental wellness of herself and her clients.
When Christine Vroom was 11 years old, she met her first interior designer—her dad’s girlfriend at the time—and everything changed. Vroom knew immediately that it would be her future career and spent the evening researching the profession (despite misspelling “interior” with an “e” on the first try). By the time she turned 16, her dream was well underway: Although the couple had parted ways, the woman hired Vroom as her assistant, in a job that soon eclipsed anything she might hope to learn in high school classes.
“Here I am in this creative job for a few hours after school, and then I go to school and I’m not thriving at all,” Vroom tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “I couldn’t have cared less about trying to get into calculus. I was like, ‘I just need to know the square footage of this wall.’”
Vroom kept the part-time gig at the firm while attending design school. But soon, she tapped into her entrepreneurial spirit and left her first job to launch her own design business, which she launched from a makeshift office space in a shed in her mom’s backyard. But as she kept saying yes to small jobs—a sofa here, paint colors there—she started to wonder whether the career she’d been chasing all her life was really what she wanted. Discomfited by the thought, she took a brief career detour as a makeup artist, working on runways and for photo shoots. Realizing that the work wasn’t her calling, she boomeranged right back to design and relaunched her firm in 2012.
Vroom partnered with a design-build group that helped her expand her portfolio and attract bigger, better projects. From the outside, she seemed to be operating on all cylinders: fielding new clients, new collaborators and an expanding project pipeline that kept her constantly busy. What many couldn’t see was that she was quickly approaching a mental health crisis—an experience that would require her to embark on a road to healing. The result was not only a personal transformation, but a business transformation as well, with benefits that reverberated through her design process, her client interactions and her work-life boundaries.
She emerged with a new abundance of creative energy, along with a new mental capacity and emotional tool kit to help her better understand and meet her clients’ needs. “When I got healthy, I not only started to change the way I spoke to clients, but the way that I was working,” says Vroom. “I realized that spinning my wheels and working myself into oblivion was not necessarily beneficial for me.”
Homepage image: Christine Vroom | Viby Creative