We all sometimes wish we had a time machine, so we asked eight designers—Christopher Boutlier, Margarita Bravo, Angela Hamwey, Linda Hayslett, Shannon Kadwell, Ashley June McClendon-Reese, Tracy Morris and Alina Wolhardt—what tips they would share with their younger selves to help inspire the next generation of designers.
Trust the Journey
“Be patient and embrace the learning process! Mistakes and experiences are necessary for growth and development. Over time, you will gain the confidence and expertise to be more selective with clients and projects. I would tell myself that each step along the way, each project and each decision contributes to your journey and leads you to where you want to be. Stay open-minded, continue learning, and trust in yourself and your abilities.” —Margarita Bravo, Denver
It’s All About Balance
“Learn the power of balance. I started in the industry when I was 22, but I didn’t take the traditional path of getting an interior design degree and then working with a senior designer and starting my own company. I studied business communication and interior design in school, but I was on a course to be an event planner. As a result of this unusual path, [after I launched my firm] I felt I always needed to prove myself to clients and other designers by working unsustainable hours. I did this for two decades until my body said stop. I had heard this story over and over from many business owners but never thought it would happen to me. Well, it did. Now I understand the power of work-life balance. For all of you out there trying to do it all, give yourself moments of quiet and time to think about something other than work. It will benefit you in the long run!” —Tracy Morris, Tracy Morris Design, McLean, Virginia
“I would tell any new designer that most of what you need for your business you will learn ‘in the field.’ Take every opportunity, because you’ll learn a lesson that can be applied to your business later on. I’ve worked for many different types of designers and furniture and material showrooms. I’ve managed social media and marketing. I have been a project manager, a technical drafter and a lead designer. This has made me extremely effective in my own business because I have firsthand experience with all of the roles required to build a successful firm.” —Ashley June McClendon-Reese, House of June Interiors, Houston
“Set up systems for those bigger dream projects now. Understand how the processes work, get organized, and start using them. When starting out, you’re focused on getting any job to show your work, but then when you start getting experience and tackling bigger jobs, you realize that you need better systems to help you, and then you have no time to figure them out.” —Linda Hayslett, LH.Designs, Los Angeles
Learn From Your Mistakes
“In my career, it’s rarely been the ‘good’ decisions that really advanced me as a designer and small-business owner. When I look back, it’s been the failures and missteps that forced me to grow and reevaluate my assumptions, gain new skill sets, and emerge better equipped to handle the curveballs that a career and life throw at you. When I have the chance to talk with young designers, I always encourage them to get rid of the notion that success is an upward curve and to embrace the mistakes and messiness that forging your own path entails.” —Christopher Boutlier, Christopher Boutlier Interiors, Washington, D.C.
Find a Mentor
“Find a designer you admire and learn as much as you can from him or her. Your senior peers have a wealth of knowledge that many are willing to share to help you avoid heartache and mistakes, and they can connect you to other designers, trade partners and products that would take years to bring together on your own.” —Shannon Kadwell, Anthony Wilder Design/Build, Cabin John, Maryland
Know What’s Right for You“At the beginning [of my career], I was basically taking on any project for fear that I wouldn’t get another good project, even when it didn’t feel right or I saw some red flags. Those projects did not go well, and they took much more effort and time without a good end result. Now when I see red flags and potential issues, I listen to my gut and understand that some projects are just not the right fit for my company.” —Alina Wolhardt, Wolf in Sheep Design, Boston and Los Angeles
Honor Your Intuition
“If I could journey back in time and impart one invaluable piece of advice to my younger self, it would be to always follow my intuition. Throughout my career in interior design, I’ve encountered numerous situations where my gut feelings offered valuable insights that I may have ignored or second-guessed. Intuition is a powerful tool that stems from a combination of experience, knowledge and innate instincts. By learning to listen to and honor my intuition, I could have navigated design challenges with more confidence and clarity. Whether it’s making decisions about color schemes, furniture arrangements or client interactions, tapping into my intuition would have guided me toward solutions that aligned more closely with my vision and values.” —Angela Hamwey, Mackenzie & Company, Cape Cod, Massachusetts