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 enlisted the help of a business coach to identify her personal values and use them to chart her firm’s path to growth.
San Francisco–based designer Katie Monkhouse is the first to admit it: She has never been a planner. That’s how, more than a decade into her career in fashion, she ended up pivoting to interior design following a casual conversation with a colleague. The shift wasn’t entirely out of the blue—Monkhouse had poured time and attention into the design of her own home. Her inclination for interiors had crept into her professional life too as her career branched out from buyer to merchandiser, then store and window design.
One day, a store owner suggested Monkhouse try residential design—specifically, her kids’ rooms. Though Monkhouse demurred at first, it became the perfect starter opportunity. After being given carte blanche with the spaces, Monkhouse took the job and ran with it. “I was like, ‘This is so fun, what can we come up with?’ I was putting together random mood boards, sending her links of things to buy herself—there was no process whatsoever, but somehow we did it, and the rooms were adorable,” Monkhouse tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “It definitely lit that fire and made me realize this was what I wanted to do.”
She took the leap quickly, launching her own business in 2016 after completing a six-month internship at a friend’s design firm. At first, she was a powerhouse team of one, teaching herself how to structure the back end of her business (with the help of a “podcast education,” she says) and starting out with clients whose budget and lifestyles looked a lot like her own.
Within a few years, Monkhouse’s firm was well on its way to the next phase of growth. By late 2021, she’d brought on several new team members, had a steady stream of new projects and even signed a lease on a building down the block from her office, which she planned to convert into a design shop. The firm was tackling so many new plans, but Monkhouse couldn’t answer one glaring question: Where exactly was the firm headed? To figure it out, she enlisted the help of a business coach—which not only clarified her firm’s next steps logistically, but also prompted Monkhouse to look inward and identify the core values that mattered most, in life and in business.
“When you work for yourself and you don’t have a boss or someone holding you accountable, I found that I would do things—like signing a second lease and opening a store—and no one is going, ‘What’s the plan? What’s the process? What do the financials look like?’” says Monkhouse. “I needed someone to help me navigate that. How do we grow sustainably? That was the main question.”
Homepage image: Katie Monkhouse | Courtesy of Katie Monkhouse