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How to Become an Interior Designer
Ever wondered how to become an interior designer?
(No? Just me?)
I don’t have a definitive guide or handy-dandy checklist for you, but I do have my story about how I became an interior designer, including what was the most useful part along the way – and spoiler alert: it wasn’t design school.
Your story might sound similar to mine.
I’ve always had a creative streak and a knack for the aesthetic. As young as age 5, I asked my dad to rearrange my bedroom furniture since I wasn’t strong enough to push it myself! I had a clear vision for what I wanted my room to look like, and as a teenager I loved to sponge paint my ceiling, cover the walls in colorful magazine ads and Spice Girls posters (hello, this was the 90s), and shop at IKEA for new bedding and pillows for inexpensive ways to change things up frequently on my part-time movie theatre employee’s salary.
Going to school for interior design was always my plan.
When I was in high school, the TLC show Trading Spaces launched and I was HOOKED. Genevieve Gorder, one of the show’s original designers, is still a major inspiration to me. Trading Spaces only fueled my desire and made me focus even more on the arts in high school.
I was a straight-A student, except in math, which I almost failed in grade 12 and had to repeat. (Whatever, Mr. Wozniak. I had better things to do than worry about solving your dumb equations.)
I started in the interior design program at Sheridan College in 2002 and loved it. I kicked ass academically and creatively. But where I struggled was with finding friends.
Don’t get me wrong – I was friends with girls in my program, but things never fully “clicked” and I never felt like I fit the mold of the “typical interior design student”. I was more at home with the creatives in animation, illustration, and other visual fields.
Looking back – hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it? – it was actually a blessing that I stood out. That I wasn’t the same as the others. Because nothing has served me better in my career than having a strong point of view and doing what’s true to me and my vision, instead of what’s expected. #truth
Here’s the thing about going to school for interior design.
Yes, it’s valuable to have a design degree or diploma behind you. Yes, I learned useful technical stuff that I didn’t know before. But interior design is more than just knowing the elements and principles of design. Interior design is a skill that can be honed, but I really don’t believe that it can be taught.
You either have that certain “je ne sais quoi”, or you don’t. You either have the knack for space planning, and choosing color palettes, and creating a vision for a completed space, or you don’t.
Having an interior design degree does not make you an interior designer.
If you have a passion for design, and a natural inclination towards it, you don’t need a piece of paper to tell the world you’re a good designer. You show up, you do good work, you share what you’re doing, you learn as you go, and you get better every day.
So what happened after design school?
I graduated from Sheridan with honors and was hired right out of college as a Junior Designer at Kimberley Seldon Design Group in Toronto, Canada. Working at a small design firm meant there was no hand-holding or busywork – I was thrown head-first into AutoCAD drawings, custom furniture sketches, TV set design, international trips, fabric sourcing, client meetings, and site visits. I FREAKING LOVED IT.
While the work itself was exactly what I wanted to be doing, the environment was a bit like The Devil Wears Prada. You know – high profile position, long hours, less-than-amazing pay, and a slightly demanding boss. I always knew I wanted to start my own business one day, and despite the demands of my Junior Design role I kept my eyes open and learned so much from Kimberley about how to run a business – but even more importantly, how I didn’t want to run my business one day.
It didn’t matter that I was the newest, greenest member of the team. I saw the opportunity to learn from those above me, and paid attention to the ins and outs of both interior design itself and running an interior design business.
This is the most valuable thing I can share about how to become an interior designer:
It’s not about a degree. It’s about developing your natural skills and learning from those who have come before you.
In case you’re curious,
There’s no bad juju between Kimberley and I! While professionally we had our challenges, personally she’s an awesome human and I’ve always enjoyed her company. I’m grateful for the trust she placed in me as a newbie designer and what I learned from her. In fact, I was interviewed on her podcast about what it was like to work with her “back in the day”. Check out the episode here.
So…have you been thinking about becoming an interior designer?
If you’ve just launched an interior design side hustle or have been wanting to take the plunge into running your own design business, I’d love to help. 14 years in the industry has taught me A LITERAL TON and I want to save you some of the frustrations and setbacks I encountered along the way, as well as provide you with invaluable business documents and systems you’ll need behind-the-scenes to run a kickass company.
You already have a knack for interior design –
Here’s how to turn your heart-pumping passion for interiors into a thriving design business. I’m launching a beta business coaching program for new interior designers and am accepting a limited number of one-on-one clients. Interested? Book a complimentary coaching discovery call to see if we’re a great fit.