Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Getting Personal

Okay, I'm having a cranky day.  Just in a bad mood.  And I'm rarely in a bad mood.  I'm always optimistic.....devastatingly so.  By that, I mean I'm so optimistic that I plunge into things thinking everything is going to be fine and wonderful and sometimes they're not. And I'm always surprised about that.

I'm not much of a look before you leap kind of person.  

Well, I've leaped and haven't landed yet and now I'm scared up here in mid-air.

I'm going to be honest here. I've been working in interior design for over 20 years.  In my life BK, before kids, I worked at three different design/architectural firms.  My first job was a one person office, I was an assistant to a designer.  I learned a lot from her. She was a good designer, but busy with her growing family and finally stopped working to have another baby.  

My second job was at a large architectural firm.  We did large corporate, hospitality, and high-end residential projects.  It was extremely competitive and demanding....for very little money.  I spent nights at the office getting presentations ready.  It was like Mad Men....without the booze. (and in the 80's, not the 60's) It was so stimulating though. Lots of really great design was produced there.  I had so many opportunities to do some really great work and interact with the most creative people.  I worked on projects in Florida, California, even a house in Saudi.  I was flown on a private jet to a furniture manufacturer's facility once.  This job was real and it was pretty big.....for a small town Texas girl.  

But it drove me a little crazy too.  When I was pregnant with my first child I remember seeing my OB and saying something like, "I can't wait to have this baby and move toward a less stressful life."  He actually burst out laughing right in my face!   Okay, 2 kids later now I know why.

I took my next job 2 months after my first baby was born, I didn't go back to the architects at that point.  I went to a smaller office that I thought would be less stressful.  It was good for awhile.  This was the 80's and things were going south fast with all the S and L crisis. I bounced back to the architectural firm after a year, then after another year, back to the small design firm again where I stayed until I had my second child. 

Then I took a break.  I only made enough to cover my child care, clothes, and gas money anyway.  I know many of you think designers make a lot of money.....but they don't.  Every designer I've EVER known has struggled with income at some point.  Unless you're a celebrity designer in this business, it's hard make a buck.  My husband then had the opportunity to work overseas and we ended up being gone 5 years total with a year back in the middle. Within 3 months of moving back, my husband's company merger began and we knew we would be moving again soon. It took about 2 years, but we finally moved to The Woodlands, north of Houston.  

I opened a business about a year after I was here.  Very small.  I was kind of scared.  I'd been out of this business awhile, 10 years out of it by then.  I worked with my mother-in-law, Shirley, the fearless decorator from Brenham.  Honestly, she'll do anything.  She's totally unflappable.  We went around rearranging people's furniture in a day and did some window treatments and reupholstered some furniture for "clients".  Very small.  I was still very involved with my kids, teenagers, who really didn't want me around much.

I longed to do more and Shirley didn't want to work much anymore, so I proceeded on my own.  I wasn't getting much business though. I felt like more of a mom that just arranged furniture on the side. This is so sad.....okay, in my desperate need to do design I would go to Marshall's and rearrange their accessory shelves. :(  I did often wonder that eternal mom question....where I would have been if I hadn't taken the time off to be home with my children.  (Of course, I'm very grateful I was able to do that.)

Then I got a break.  My friend asked me to help her with her kitchen.  Unbelievably, when it was finally done, it was published.  Then I got another one, another and another.  

Now my life is a little like Mad Men again.  It's kinda crazy.  My projects are on the small side though, more medium range budget.  My business is kind of right on the edge, a one person office with interns.  I'm so busy I can't see straight and need more help, because I have to do all the busy work too, but I can't really afford it.  I feel like I'm constantly running on a wheel and can't get off.  I love what I do, but I need a better quality of  I need to be able to make more profit so that I can get the help I need so I can attend to the big picture stuff, not the deliveries.

So, if anyone is still reading this, (and if not, that's okay too....this is for me) here's the deal.  I can't seem to break into the high end luxury market.  I set my goals about 4 years ago.  I reached my first one, literally days before my goal date.  Yeah.....I'm fanatical about goals.  My second one is due in a little over a year.  I'm thinking that one isn't going to happen.  I'm not even going to voice my goals here because you'd laugh like my OB did.  I totally believe in them, but I know time wise that it's pretty unattainable right now.  You see, I know I need high end luxury projects to be able to get to the goals I set for myself. IF I can get one and IF it goes well and it's a good representation of my work, then it could take 1-2 years or maybe more to complete.  My time is up.  

I recently had a conversation with another designer of high-end luxury interiors.  She said that no one in the luxury market would hire me if I put pictures of my work/their projects out there and wrote about them on my blog.  Well, that's a problem.  I never reveal locations or names unless they are first names of my friends with their approval.  I always get a signature on all my contracts that allow me to publish photos of my work.  If someone requested I remain totally private about images and not release them anywhere, then I would oblige.  Of course, my fee would be higher, because I have to be able to market myself for the next job.

Nonetheless, I'm under a time crunch.  

When I went to my marketing guy, Brad, the Virtual Biographer, with my frustration, after listening to all my commentary and reading my notes and thinking about things he made this suggestion. I should ditch going for the luxury market.  He thinks I need to focus on what I'm doing now and exploit every avenue available within this market.  This group of possible customers who want to do more themselves, who don't have the money to spend on needless luxuries but want to spend their money wisely, who are internet shopping savvy, should be my focus.  He thought I should stay where I'm at with regard to level of project...but reach out further, beyond my backyard.  After all, I've already made some headway with this blog.  

So, I listened to him......not much at first.  I thought, hmmmm, I'm just gonna let him think he knows what he's talking about, but I'm still going to go for luxury, high-end jobs.  Just build the website.

After awhile though, I came around to his way of thinking.  It took a long time, but I do see the logic. So, here I am, redirecting my course.  I'm about to put myself out there in a big way.  There's no turning back.  I'm really nervous about it and I'm tired of thinking about it. If this doesn't work what am I going to do?  Sit in my studio and sulk and keep running on the wheel until I die? I don't want to even think about that.

So that's where I am today. Kinda out in mid-air...hanging here. Grouchy. 

I must say......I feel better already.  
Thanks for listening.  

I seriously can't believe I even wrote this.  Probably not good PR. :/

And yes, Brad, I KNOW it's too long.


Princess Kate said...

I absolutely love your work. Everything you show on your site is gorgeous. Let that lead the way. Best of luck and relax -- I have a feeling big things are coming your way.

Glamour Drops said...

Bravo to you Carla - both for putting these thoughts out there - but also for actually standing back and working out where you are going, rather than just treading around on that wheel.

You are dead right though - the hours which we designers really put into projects, which can never be claimed back, are extraordinary. My husband just scratches his head, and wonders why I do it.

Sounds like you are allowing things to fall into place though, to focus on what you already know that you do well - and to hone in on it a bit more. Which all sounds like a wise course of action.

Mary Ann Pickett said...

I enjoyed this are very talented and success should be yours. Does this sound like a fortune cookie?

Kim @ Savvy Southern Style said...

Well, I read it all and think you should follow your dream. Nice to learn more about you and your work back ground. At least you are decorating for a living and I just keep redoing my house. lol said...

How I loved reading this and appreciate that you wrote it. I struggle constantly with the issues you have talked about. I have even thought of getting out of the business after 14 years in various roles, like you. Problem is, i love it. And I think I'd be miserable doing anything else. But I'm also tired of the battle with the economy. I'm excited for you -- I wonder if your new direction will be similar to the "plans" I've contemplated for myself. Good luck. I sooo understand where you're at!

carolyn bradford said...

All I have to say is, "Amen" to that, sister!!! Dead on! Spot on! Right on! Whatever….when I finally got to the part that said you were sticking with your goals I could relax!!! I'm so glad you are sticking to your guns! you have everything it takes to make it big no matter what! This was NOT too long!! My posts on my OTHER blog are too long!!! But it's where I vent! Maybe you need two blogs! Just kidding….i wish i didn't! Anyway….you needed to vent…you did it…we love you and we love y our work and you are very talented!! GO FOR IT!!! Dream Big!!! And don't look back!!! Best of luck to you!!

Jessie said...

It's great learning about your background, Carla.

Just keep doing what you do best and have faith. You have gone this far. Many people have dreams yet haven't realize anything thus far (hint=me). You are a talented lady so I am sure you will achieve your dreams as soon as the economy starts to pick up.

Wishing you all the best!


Linda@ Lime in the Coconut said...

Ya know....Putting it out there is 90% of it!

Big things are comin'.

I can smell it.



I had to get to the bottom to see if I wrote this in my sleep :)
I think everyone feels a bit this way......I know people think it is easy...decorating [because we make it look that way I guess] ...but it is a process and it takes time and you should not be afraid to charge accordingly for it. I would rather do one really fun big job than 5 little jobs....The trick is figuring out which ones to take and which ones to let go. On the other hand if I think someone is going to be nice and LET me do what I do best...but with a smaller budget then I am taking that one. I am all about easy.....
Hang in there Carla!

Taylor Greenwalt said...

Carla, I feel your pain. We go through the same thing. I am not sure your friend is right about the whole blog thing. Some top designers are now blogging. The state of our economy is not helping.

Splendid Sass said...

I think you are brilliant to face this head-on! We all feel the she way, and it is all a mix of what we can do at the moment.
You work is flawless and you will always have business, even if it is not Hollywood. There are only a few that were in the right place at the right time. Who knows, maybe that will happen to you, but if not, you will be prepared.
Hats off to you, Carla.

Fits and Kisses said...

I just love that you are so REAL on your blog. Not an online version of yourself where you pretend to be something you are not! I know your work and I know your passion. Life is a lot the same for us right now...that wheel keeps on a turning'. Embrace what is around you, and shine in your field. It is so easy to shine because so many DO NOT. Our Woodlands hometown folk love the personal service. Keep keeping on and your 'big break' will come!

Naz said...

We all get disillusioned at times and it's fine, it's allowed. Sometimes in life we think "is that all there is" not realizing what's wrong with that. Accept what you have and embrace it. It's all good.

Anonymous said...

I read to the end...I'm glad the following day got better for you. But I'm also glad you shared this with us. You have a great presence, Carla; your personalty shines through your blog - in both your words and pictures of your projects.

Anonymous said...

Carla, I think many of the people who have commented are other bloggers interested or working in design. I'm not. I think I am more like one of your future customers. I lurk because I am trying to work up the nerve to hire some help with my home and I am so excited to see you describing your business model because it's the kind of business model that includes someone like me.

I'm not the luxury market and I am turned off by the portfolios of all the designers in my hometown. I need a friend who knows all the best fabric places who can tell me these three patterns go together without being too match-matchy and don't buy *that* material because it will show the dirt instantly. I don't know if you can make a business out of people like me, but I wanted you to know that I am really, really, rooting for you.


Diana S. Walker said...

No dream is too big to achieve......just go for it. Having been where you are many times, realize that as time flies by You are still here doing what you love. Our goals change in this profession and I will take job satisfaction over some of the high end jobs I have slaved over with little appreciation for the time and money it cost me to give them their luxurious homes or offices. What makes me happy is being free enough to pick the challenge that is interesting,enjoy my next 10 years and experience new and fun things with my new inters and assistants.

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