The Projects That First Made Interior Designers Actually Feel Like Experts

published Jun 21, 2019
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You never forget your first time—decorating a room, that is. Though they might’ve designed dozens (and dozens!) of rooms since opening up their firms, many interior designers still remember the one project that made them feel like complete experts. Call it their “Design Lightbulb Moment,” if you will.

With that, we decided to take a trip down memory lane and asked a handful of experts about their first “aha” design moment. Who knows? Maybe these stories will inspire you to flex your interior design muscle.

Linda Hayslett, Owner of LH.Designs

“It was my first kitchen and bathroom project, which was in a condo. Kitchens and bathrooms have a lot of components and cabinetry—[and that] was new to me. It was stressful and I learned a lot. Once I finished the project, I was like, ‘That was it? I can do anything now! I’ve passed the test, I’m a true designer. There’s no limit now.’ And when the client eventually moved, the place sold over asking price and fetched the highest price out of any sale in the complex. It was the best feeling!”

Kristen Peña, Owner of K Interiors

“I pinch myself daily that I get to do this interior designer thing. The first moment I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got this,’ was when I successfully pulled off a five-story rooftop install with a crane. If dangling a large concrete fire pit over multi-million dollar homes doesn’t make you sweat, I don’t know what will.”

Alessandra Wood, Interior Design Expert and Vice President of Style at Modsy

“I felt like I made it when I developed the style quiz for the first e-design company I worked for. Watching an algorithm generate the same results that I would generate on my own blew me away! That project made me realize that my training in design history had an application in the modern tech world and my expertise could be used to help people identify their style at scale.”

Lauren Buxbaum Gordon, Design Director of Nate Berkus Associates

“While modest in scale, it was actually my own little condo where my mom, who herself is a tremendous design talent, observed I had ‘the gift of glitz.’ It took a couple of years to layer and perfect, but I couldn’t have been happier with it.  Every day I entered my home, I felt uplifted and fulfilled.”

Joy Cho, Founder and Creative Director of Oh Joy

“The first time I saw one of my company’s products in Target felt like a very big ‘made it’ moment for me. I had previously worked for a company and designed products for their line at Target, and I told myself that someday I would to have my own line at Target, too. And 10 years later, it was a goal and dream that came true. I love creating and designing, so when you have the opportunity to make your work available to more people… that really felt incredible.”

Liz Caan, Owner of Caan & Co

“I suddenly felt more confident when a client hired me to help with an extensive renovation on a historic home that had a lot of quirks. The client was also very interesting: well-traveled, well-read, fashionable, and fun. She let me run with my instinct and in the end, we think they worked out well. This home received a lot of attention but mostly the client loved it, which is really what matters.”

“One of our first paying gigs was for a friend who had bought a new condo with a soon-to-be ex-spouse. She insisted on paying me to help her make some crucial design changes that would make the same space feel like hers… and only hers. By the time we got done painting, rearranging, and shopping, I had two other design requests from friends who had seen the transformation. The cathartic experience proved to provide us a great sense of reward and the additional jobs just validated it might be time for a career change.”

Jade Joyner, Co-Founder and Principal Designer of Metal + Petal

“When I finish a project and my client is happy, that’s when I get goosebumps and know that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I’ve had clients hug me at reveals and even cry. I’ve had them scream and jump up and down in excitement upon seeing their space. Just this week, I received a thank you note from a client’s mother just to show her appreciation for the kitchen we renovated for her daughter. It’s in these powerful moments that I know I am truly happy I became a designer.”

Danielle Rollins, Interior Designer

“I’m not sure I will ever feel like I have made it. I had a rather different trajectory than a lot of other designers. I was a stay-at-home mother, corporate wife, and community volunteer for seventeen years and launched my own lifestyle design firm following my divorce and the release of my first book, Soirée Entertaining With Style. Being asked to participate in the prestigious Kips Bay Showhouse was a game-changer for me, and made me see myself as a very talented designer in my own eyes, being among the very best in the business, and has given me a sense of confidence that no matter how hard things seem I will always have the energy to create beautiful things in non-beautiful times.”