magazine | Dec 15, 2022 |
How this New York designer embraces the power of positive thinking

After stints in customer service and retail, New York–based designer Rayman Boozer found his creative calling in interiors. Once he reframed his perspective to see opportunities instead of obstacles, he saw big-time results—including a magazine feature that jump-started his career.

How this New York designer embraces the power of positive thinking
Rayman BoozerCourtesy of the designer

When you look back, what beliefs or practices were keeping you from reaching your goals?
People ask me all the time, “How did you get the money to start your business?” But it’s not really about the money, it’s about making the decision to do it and then following through. It sounds simple now, but I’ve had a lot of time to look back, and when you decide you’re going to do something, at some point it’s going to get hard. And when it gets hard, you can’t stop—that’s why people fail. They just stop trying. You have to go another way. If you can’t go through the door, you go through the window.

For a long time, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. At every roadblock, I thought, “Why does this always happen to me?” But I came to the realization that life isn’t happening to you, it’s happening for you. As I started thinking differently, things started to get better.

What are some of the surprising avenues you took?
When I first opened my store in 1994, I didn’t know what I was doing, so I did a lot of really weird stuff that most people probably wouldn’t do. For example, I wrote letters to every magazine—I just looked in the front of the magazine, found a name that I liked and wrote a letter to that editor. I sent out 27 letters to different magazines, and three people responded. One of them was Margaret Russell, who was at Elle Decor at the time, and she came to the store and really liked it. Another was Corky Pollan at New York. Their support and the constant press that followed is what kept things going—but if I had known that these people were important, I would not have written those letters. I had no idea what I was doing, but that’s what launched the retail part of my business.

When did you start actively reframing your life and your business as happening for you instead of to you?
I was living in Chelsea during Hurricane Sandy, and there was no power for eight days. There was nothing to do, so I was listening to Wayne Dyer’s books on tape and I realized that I was looking at everything all wrong. I was seeing everything as being against me when things were actually for me, even though I was convinced that they were not. Maybe things don’t always go my way, but they always work out [in one way or another]. You don’t really know what the universe has in store for you, but you have to be open to the possibility that things are going to be good. Sometimes I won’t get a project and I’m like, “I really wanted that,” but then something way better will come along and I wouldn’t have been able to do both.

One thing Oprah Winfrey always talked about was recognizing opportunity when it comes. I think about that all the time. I remember 20 years ago, Margaret Russell said to me, “What does your apartment look like?” And I said, “Oh, it’s cute. It’s fine.” I didn’t recognize that question as an opportunity—that she really was interested in my apartment. So a decade later, when an editor at Elle Decor asked about my apartment, I said, “It’s gorgeous.” It was still just fine, but I made it gorgeous, and they came to look at it, photographed it and put it on the cover. That was 2006. I was still just doing Apartment48, my retail store, but that cover of Elle Decor launched my design career and shifted the trajectory of my whole life. And that was just an opportunity—a little thing that I said yes to.

What happened after that?
People started calling and asking me to decorate their houses. Technically, I was already an interior designer because that’s what I had studied in school, but I had never really done it. I had always wanted to do retail because it felt more creative, expressive and public-facing. But as I started to decorate apartments, my business just took off.

Do you find designing interiors just as creatively rewarding now?
I do—though I wish design could be more democratic. The world has changed in that more people care about interior design and can do their own decorating now, but it’s still a largely business for wealthy people. I would like to do things that would reach more people and have more mass appeal because I feel that everybody cares about how things look. It makes you feel differently when you like where you live—like you have the potential to do more with your life. It just raises everything up. It raises your standards. I always say that life rises to your expectations, and I believe that when you change your expectations, life changes too. It certainly happened that way for me—I have different expectations for life now than I did before.

How did you apply that thinking to your business?
I decided that I was worth a certain amount of money. In the beginning, I thought I should just take any job because I was new to it, so I said yes to a lot of things that were a time suck. I was working hard for very little money. So I drew a line in the sand: If somebody can’t pay this amount of money, then we can’t work with them, and I just have to believe that somebody else is going to come along. And it has worked—even during recessions and tough periods, I would wait for the right thing for the right price, and it would work out.

After [I was on] the AD100 list that came out last year, I made a decision to do another price shift—to a substantially different level—and I attracted a different client as a result. So today I have fewer clients but much bigger projects.

Everyone always says they want those “bigger, better projects,” but it’s so hard to articulate the road map a designer should take to get there.
I think you have to open yourself up to the possibility that more is coming. My next big dream is to do restaurants and hotels, so I’m trying to make myself available for that. All I can do is keep doing what I do and adding better projects to my portfolio, and hopefully the right person will see it and say, “Hey, you could do this hotel.” Because I can.

I had always wanted to be on the AD100 list. I used to go to the parties and think, “This is really cool,” but I wasn’t there yet. I just kept thinking, “Someday I’ll be there, and then everything will feel different.” You always think [hitting that milestone is] going to change everything. But now that it’s happened, I know that things feel different because I believe differently. I mean, I could have decided to raise my prices at any point, but I didn’t always believe that people were going to be willing to pay.

What was it about being on the list that made you believe?
I think it was the fact that I’d already put in my mind that [being on the list] was going to mean something. We get lots of people reaching out to us, and made the decision that from that moment on, when we responded, we were going to say something different. I thought, “This is the time to set a new standard and ask for more for myself and from the clients.”

Did you feel the difference after making that decision?
Absolutely, and I’ll tell you why: I said, “I’m going to charge more money,” and then when we presented the quotes to the clients, and that first client said yes, it proved to me that I was able to do this. I always believed I could, but people love evidence. It’s an affirmation. And when the first person said yes, I knew I was on the right track. That was affirming enough for me to say, “Let’s keep doing this,” and we’ve been doing it for the past year. Since I started my business, I’ve always felt kind of like [I’m on] a roller coaster—up and down, up and down—but it doesn’t feel like there’s any down now.

The other thing that’s changed is that I’ve started taking work in new places. Before, I always thought of myself as a New York designer, and I wouldn’t leave Manhattan—except for Brooklyn sometimes. I always did a lot of downtown lofts, but now we’re working on Park Avenue, the Upper West Side and even projects in Chicago, Las Vegas and California. We’re doing a show house in London. I’m saying yes to a lot of things that are really outside my comfort zone, and I like it.

How do you stay inspired and open to change as an entrepreneur and CEO?
I am probably not the most open person because I’ve made up my mind on what the rules are and I haven’t really shifted in the past five to 10 years. I’ve had a business manager for 15 years now, and it’s hard for her to get me to focus on goals. I always say, “My goal is to be happy.” I think happiness leads to some level of success. My sister used to help me with my books, and she always wanted me to set financial goals, but that never worked
for me. I have to set goals that are more emotional because that’s what drives me.

A lot of times when people ask about goals and systems they get boilerplate answers about business: “Do this in the fourth quarter,” and stuff like that. But I don’t think that life works that way. I think it’s more organic, and it really is emotional because otherwise, why are we doing this? We’re doing it to be happy.

Homepage image: In a showhouse bedroom suite, New York–based Rayman Boozer created an immersive retreat inspired by the family at the center of the British comedy The Durrells | Courtesy of Marco Ricca

This article originally appeared in Fall 2022 issue of Business of Home. Subscribe or become a BOH Insider for more.

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