Stephanie Sabbe didn’t have to go looking for a career in interiors—it came to her instead.
“When I was in second grade, I went to a school carnival, and my teacher had a fortune teller booth. I sat down and said, ‘What am I going to be when I grow up?’” Sabbe tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “She said, ‘An interior designer,’... and I legit have not changed my story since.”
For the Nashville, Tennessee–based Sabbe, finding her way into residential design took a bit longer, as her first few jobs after getting her design degree were in the commercial realm. The opportunity came by chance, soon after her husband’s job took the pair to Boston amid the recession in 2009. After blanketing the city with resumes and finding little work, she took a short-term contract position with a designer whose firm was completing breathtaking work—all without a bookkeeper or even permanent employees. The realization that a design business didn’t have to run as smoothly as the top-down corporations she had experienced in order to thrive was revelatory for Sabbe, and gave her the push to go it alone.
“It was kind of eye-opening for me, because I was like, Oh, you don’t have to have an accounting department or a 401K,” she says. “As soon as my stint there was done, I went downtown and got a business license, and I was like, I own my own firm now!”
Since then, Sabbe has returned to the Nashville area and grown her business into a full-service firm. While the creative side was clearly written in the stars for her, the business side has been more challenging—especially building a team. Along the way, she has gotten comfortable breaking the rules when it comes to things like social media (which she turns off every summer) and marketing (which she doesn’t do), and she has gained the confidence and experience to know what projects will move the needle for her firm. “I would rather do a project with no budget and no prestige and have full creative freedom, over a project that came with some of the most famous architects in the country and the biggest budgets,” she says. “If there’s a death grip on creative freedom, it’s not my project.”
In this episode of the podcast, she shares how she’s navigating her role as an employer and a boss, why she has decided to stay true to herself on social media, and how she has gotten more comfortable saying yes to only the right things.