Rachel Halvorson launched her design business at the most inopportune time in recent history—at least, that’s how it would seem to the outside eye. But Halvorson saw something different.
Newly graduated from an interior design program at the University of Georgia, she had only been in Nashville a few years, first working at a home retail store, then a local design firm, both as ways to break into the industry, when the 2008 recession delivered a major blow to business. By the following year, Halvorson’s employer had cut her schedule back to four days a week.
Sensing a silver lining, Halvorson decided to focus her suddenly open schedule on the start of something new and began taking on small projects of her own during the free workday she now had each week. For the budding designer, it was perfect timing: “Nashville was changing so much—there was a big shift in people not wanting to use their mom’s decorators,” Halvorson tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “They were like, ‘We need somebody fresh, somebody new.’”
It wasn’t long before Halvorson’s bet on the evolving design climate in Nashville paid off, allowing her to leave her job in order to focus full-time on launching her own firm. When project leads began to slow down in 2010, she simply got creative again. This time, that meant reaching out to a former customer—country music star Ronnie Dunn from her very first retail job. Back then, she recalled, he had been in the middle of a big renovation. “I was like, ‘Hey, do you still need help with your barn? Because I’m solo now,’” says Halvorson. “And he was like, ‘Hell, yeah, where have you been?’”
Halvorson’s career grew quickly after that, and one of those early projects soon landed her on the cover of Garden & Gun magazine. As new inquiries flooded in, she continued to make creative work and client relationships the key focuses of her firm. Pretty soon, however, it became clear that those factors alone, without sound business practices to support them, weren’t enough to keep her accelerating project pipeline on track.
To address the structural weaknesses, she started with administrative hires who could help clear out the “homework” left over at the end of each day. She then turned her attention to next steps, calling upon designers she’d met at High Point Market to help her strategize. Once the right systems were in place, her creative and client-focused work could take priority again.
“I actually had to claim time because people are going to steal it if you don’t,” says Halvorson. “If you don’t intentionally carve out time for yourself every day to be creative, your end product will suffer, you will burn out and then the whole jig is up.”
In this conversation, she shares how she deals with clients who simply don’t have a budget, what project pushed her to hire her own construction team, and why she leaned on community rather than competition to find her place in the industry.
Homepage image: Rachel Halvorson | Courtesy of Rachel Halvorson