Most interior designers have stories of decorating and redecorating their teenage bedrooms. Victoria Hagan’s appreciation for decor goes back a little further: “It sounds a bit unbelievable, but I do have vivid recollections of wanting to do this from the time I could walk and [climb] out of my crib. I looked around and I remember thinking: I would change a few things,” she tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast.
Conviction wasn’t Hagan’s problem. She always knew she wanted to be a designer (when she was a young woman, the famed designer Albert Hadley moved to her Hudson Valley town and she plotted and schemed to get a peek through the windows). The challenge was catching the world up to her vision. Despite her considerable ambition, she only secured an internship out of Parsons after a watercolor she made of an iris caught the eye of Simone Feldman—the designer flipped through Hagan’s portfolio and, ignoring the interiors, landed on the flower. “She said, ‘Well, actually, that is very pretty. I think you could do some renderings for me,’” says Hagan. “Mind you, I was terrible.”
She flourished under Feldman’s tutelage, and the two quickly formalized their partnership as Feldman-Hagan Interiors, renting an office and landing crucial showhouse projects. When Feldman tragically died of leukemia in 1991, Hagan was heartbroken. Still, she vowed to press on, against considerable odds.
“There was a little leeriness when I was out on my own. I think all of a sudden, vendors were changing their payment terms—and I think one vendor verbalized, ‘Well, we’re not sure you’re going to be in business in a few months.’” she says. “And I was like, ‘Well, let me explain something to you: I will not only be in business, but my business is going to grow and be quite successful, so I suggest you deliver what you promised to deliver.”
Hagan, of course, was right. She went on to become quite successful (she’s in the Interior Design Hall of Fame, and an AD100 regular), known for a kind of “restrained elegance” that never quite ventures into minimalism. In this episode of the podcast, she shares principles that helped get her through adversity, and offers a look at a changing business.
“Now everything is ‘I want it done in a few months.’ Everything’s become much quicker,” she says. “I always used to call design my sport—well, now I’m really getting a workout.”