Rose Meechan recently opened her own interior design company. Previously she worked in the fast food and homecare industries. She made a career change in order to pursue her interests. Rose exemplifies seeking out the work that inspires her. Are you inspired? If not go forth and strive.
CCB: You worked as a fast food manager and also as a staffing coordinator in a homecare agency. Did these jobs help prepare you at all for your current profession in interior design?
RM: Surprisingly, yes. Working in a fast food restaurant was a challenging, nonstop pace where you were rarely permitted to sit down or eat during a nine hour day. That type of environment demands a strong work ethic that employers and clients respond to. Working as a staffing coordinator required me to be constantly fielding different types of problems and emergencies. It meant finding home health aides and pairing them up with cases where people were not able to care for themselves at home due to illness or age. The issues that came up ranged from telling an aide that their patient passed away, dealing when someone claimed that their aide had robbed them, or finding a caregiver for a patient who couldn’t keep his hands to himself. This was good practice for when things go wrong with furniture orders or construction issues, since there are a lot of people involved along the way and things sometimes go wrong.
The most important thing I learned from these two jobs was that I had to pursue my passion. I had no interest in a long term career in either of these fields, but I’ll always be interested in decorating.
CCB: Can you explain what interior design entails?
RM: People or companies hire designers for a number of reasons: either they are too busy to get their space to look and function the way they want and need it to, or are just unsure of how to move forward to achieve their aesthetic goals prior to making a financial investment. Decorating can be an expensive endeavor, so it’s smart to bring in an expert before throwing money away on the wrong furnishings.
CCB: What does residential interior design refer to? Does that mean you are designing homes as opposed to offices or business environments?
RM: I work on houses and apartments. Nonresidential projects are typically called commercial design, and that covers offices, hospitals, restaurants, casinos, apartment building lobbies, and cruise ships, to name a few. One of my teachers in design school had a special niche and was sought after for designing dialysis centers.
CCB: When did you realize you wanted to work as an interior designer?
RM: I’d always had a remote interest in it, and even as a kid was always moving my furniture around to find the best way for it to work. While working in a fast food restaurant, a designer presented the scheme for a remodel and I knew I could do better! I looked into it some more and eventually took a class at a community college. I knew the first night that I wanted to stick with it.
CCB: Is there a typical day on the job?
RM: Not really, because there are so many different things that go on. Interviews with new clients can take you out of the office to see where they live and what they are looking for. Shopping for furnishings means spending time in antique shops and trade showrooms. Site visits can mean anything from being at a dusty construction project to verifying the dimensions for a custom window treatment. There are also days in the office following up on orders, tracking down fabrics, or scheduling deliveries. At the end of a project, there are days spent styling with accessories and then photo shoots, which are fun because I love seeing a completed project, but requires a lot of scrambling around to find last minute things like flowers or candles and then moving heavy furniture around for the shot to work.
CCB: How did you break into the industry?
RM: After attending a community college for interior design, and leaving my secure position at the homecare agency for a part time job in a fabric store, I transferred to F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology) At school, many of my instructors said that we wouldn't have time to work, but that wasn't an option for me. I was 29 and had to have a job, so I answered an ad for a part time administrative position in a small residential architecture and design firm. The office manager said that she called me because of my experience in the fabric store. I learned far more at work than at school, since it was so hands-on and with real clients.
I stayed for seven years until the business dissolved. In the beginning, it was not the glamorous job I’d envisioned, but it was with great people who made an investment in me and taught me everything.
CCB: How did you learn about interior design? Was it mostly on the job training?
RM: I learned everything at the small firm I started with. Eventually the partners at the firm trusted me to handle things like meeting with clients, billing, attending photo shoots, and on and on until I basically saw every aspect of how they ran their business. It was the best start I could ask for, and it began as a part time job doing something I wasn’t even interested in doing!
CCB: How does the collaborative process develop with clients? Is it hard sometimes coming up with a vision for people who aren’t sure what they want their homes to look like?
RM: Ideally, clients come to you after having done some homework. Many will have saved pictures from magazines and books which demonstrate their likes and dislikes. Some clients are very hands on and need to be convinced of every detail, others will trust my judgment on an expensive piece of furniture based on seeing it in a blurry Polaroid.
The most difficult projects are the ones where the clients don’t have a clear idea of what they like, or if it’s a couple with very different visions and aren’t willing to compromise. I worked on a project once where the husband basically said he would need a 2nd home for them both to get what they wanted out of the design. It was impossible because every time a piece of furniture arrived, we got a phone call because one of them loved it and the other hated it. (That was awhile ago, but if I had to guess I’d say they’re probably living in two separate homes by now)
CCB: Can you provide a quick overview of a project you might work on and how that process unfolds from beginning to end?
RM: During an interview, I show my portfolio to a client and they explain (verbally and/or with pictures from magazines) what they need from the space and how they’d like it to look. Ideally they will have a realistic budget, and if it is a good fit, I’m hired.
To begin, I’ll measure the space and come up with a floor plan and suggestions for each of the pieces, fabric samples, suggestions for window treatments, etc. I’ll present that to a client and if we’re on the same page, they like at least a majority of what I’ve presented or the overall look. It’s always a good idea to have the client try out the seating in person, so we’re sure they’re comfortable in it. Then we begin finalizing the pieces, colors, and fabrics and the ordering process begins.
Some furniture takes about six months to make, so I order those pieces first. When pieces begin coming in, they are either delivered one at a time or sometimes, it’s all warehoused for an “installation” which means in one day, everything gets delivered. Those days are always really fun. The transformation is fun to watch, as is the client’s reaction when they walk in the door at the end of the day!
CCB: What qualities do you need to succeed as an interior designer?
RM: I think that being professional, organized, confident, and having the ability to sell your ideas are at least as important as being artistic or creative.
A knowledge of furniture styles and art history are important because it’s going to be how most clients describe what they want, and how you explain why a piece is right for them. This is an area where you can never know everything, though, and early on I would get discouraged if I had to do some research or admit that I didn’t know something.
Depending on where you want to work, other talents such as a technical skill in computerized drafting or being able to generate beautiful freehand sketches are highly valued (neither of these are strengths that I possess).
You have to be able to mix well with a variety of personalities and people. Some clients are people you’d never want to be friends with or who you have absolutely nothing in common with, but having the ability to work with them and get them to trust you means it’s not a problem.
CCB: When did you decide to start your own business? What are the benefits and drawbacks of that?
RM: It was something I wanted to do for a long time, and when I was laid off due to a slow season, the decision was made for me! The only drawback is the lack of a regular paycheck, unless you have another source of income. It is a precarious way to live since projects don’t always start and end on a perfect schedule. The benefits I enjoy the most are having a flexible schedule and being the person who decides what to present to clients.
CCB: Do you have any advice for people interested in becoming interior designers?
RM: Take a job where you can learn about some capacity of the industry, even if it’s not your dream job. Working in a fabric showroom, assisting a designer, or as a tile salesperson all provide exposure to the industry, contacts in places that you’ll someday be qualified to work for, and experience that people who work straight out of school won’t have. Read magazines and books to stay current with the trends, but also learn the background on furniture styles and history.
CCB: What is the most difficult part of your job?
RM: There are lots of people involved along the way, and sometimes things go wrong. It’s never fun to call someone and say that their dining room table is going to be six weeks late, or that their sofa was upholstered in the wrong fabric. I’ve done a lot of apologizing to for other people’s mistakes, and the reactions from disappointed clients can be upsetting. But I’ve found that if I let them vent, express concern, and promise to do my best to correct the mistake, the relationship doesn’t have to suffer. At my last job, I worked for someone whose style was one that I didn’t really like. It was difficult to have to talk clients into buying something that I would never want, which is another benefit to now being on my own.
CCB: What has been the most rewarding thing about the job so far?
RM: I am always pleased to see someone buy something that I suggested, since it’s validating to know they like my ideas. I’ve also learned that the clients who appreciate me the most are not always the most lucrative projects and I’d rather have a nice client who appreciated me than a rude one with a huge budget.
CCB: What are your career aspirations?
RM: I never had a great interest in writing, but at my first job, I was relied heavily on for generating written communication with vendors, clients, and shelter publications. My employers were always complimenting me on my writing skills, which led me to pursuing work as a freelance writer. Right now I’m working on two books, a novel pertaining to the decorating industry as well as a memoir concerning an unrelated topic. In addition to that, I'd love for my business to continue to grow as I meet interesting people who want beautiful homes.
Coming soon: rosemeechan.com