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 left the safety of a builder partnership to let her firm’s true identity flourish.
Despite graduating with a design degree and several promising years at an internship-turned-postgrad-gig, Bria Hammel soon found herself starting over when a move back to her native Minnesota left her without professional connections or community. Luckily, she secured a position as an interior designer at Ethan Allen, where she got a crash course in the job’s back-end mechanics: meeting sales goals, managing a team and making a commission. It might not seem glamorous, but it’s a role that changed the course of her career.
“Money was a big conversation for us all the time, and I don’t think in the design world that’s brought up enough. I hear people say, ‘I wanted to be an interior designer, but my parents said I wouldn’t make any money,’” Hammel tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “That’s not true—you can make money in this business, but you have to be trained on how to sell and how to be smart with finances.”
Hammel stayed at Ethan Allen for five years, climbing to a management position before departing to join a local designer who was launching a firm. The process was a master class in how to start a business, and Hammel got a firsthand look at everything from obtaining a business license to designing a website and creating branding materials—tips she would soon apply to a venture of her own, when her growing family prompted a desire for more control over her work-life balance. Her budding business swelled quickly thanks to a partnership with a construction company that sent all of its jobs her way, offering a steady stream of incoming projects that helped Hammel refine her business’s back end. But as her firm found its footing, she began to realize that she had her own distinct design vision—one that was getting lost amid the lack of control over her firm’s existing project pipeline.
“We do all styles of homes, but we have a feeling we put into all of our projects. If a client wants really formal, high-contrast rooms that you don’t walk into, you just look at—we’re not the designer for that,” says Hammel. “I would rather do a home that’s less square footage and more detail. … I care about the mudroom as much as the living room—every room should be important in function and beauty.”
Hammel realized it was time to let go of her construction partnership in pursuit of something bigger: the chance to choose her clients and more clearly define her firm’s identity. The decision proved to fuel the firm’s growth in years to follow—leading to a well-honed portfolio, an avid online following, an e-commerce operation and expanded team, and a bigger vision for the future.
In this episode, Hammel also shares more about how she learned to sell her vision, how she gave up on perfection when posting online, and why she’s turning to TikTok as a peer resource rather than a new business generator.
Homepage image: Bria Hammel | Aimée Mazzenga