Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How I Came to Have A Studio Outside My Home

My clients are always a little curious.  Many independent designers work out of their homes in an effort to keep overhead low, especially in these slower economic times.  Unless there are several full time employees, most elect to carve a place out at home for this very.....”cluttered” business.

The acoutrements of a design business can be a bit overwhelming.  Tile samples, stone samples, drawings, fabric samples, catalogs, sample books, pieces of hardware, little metal finishes, pieces of patterned glass, wood finishes, you get the picture.  The more you work....the more you accrue.

And, you can imagine that with every new project......well, you need more. You simply don’t have that special sample of something unique that fits that particular client. When you get it, you hoard it, because you just know you’ll need it again....maybe....and that’s good enough.

I was once at a metal fabricator’s shop and was so excited when they let me pick up a bunch of their leftover bits of patterned sheet metal.  Quilted stainless, burnished brass, perforated metal pieces in various patterns.  It was like hunting for Easter eggs when I was a kid.  They were happy to oblige and sanded the edges down so I wouldn’t cut my fingers.  I still have those and I don’t give them up for anything. :)

You can imagine that this stuff collects in the nooks and crannies of your home....workspace, garage, dining room, hallway, living room....behind chairs, sofas, in decorative boxes, baskets, plastic tubs in the closets, and on and on. It multiplies while you sleep. I promise.

As a designer....these are your tools.  These are the things necessary for your work.  These are your collections.  

These are the things of inspiration

To know how to use them, you must see them first hand, touch them, compare them with something else, view them from far away and examine them in detail.

Organization helps, but really......it’s all about square footage.

Working out of my home was becoming terribly inefficient.  I couldn’t keep enough products and samples there to do me any good and there was so much in the way….everywhere!  I was driving all over Houston every time I needed a different stone material or tile sample.  The time I spent hunting down products was draining the profit right out of my business. It was all terribly frustrating.

My office at home in 2008. Honestly, I'm one of those people that knows exactly where everything is.

Not to mention how the stuff I had spread like wildfire throughout my home.  My kids would tiptoe in through the front door as the open floor space in the entry hall would be covered with materials.  I’m really not a hoarder...this is truly the nature of beast!

Then there were my dogs. Every time I got on the phone it seemed they would start barking at the squirrels outside. With an open plan house, that was a problem. My husband, who didn’t want me to spend the money to move the business out just said....”take the phone outside when you need to talk.”  ????? Oh  yeah, that’s efficient. I felt very unprofessional and it was just really hard to work.

My little Missy is a yipper.

Bear looks dead here, curled up next to his toy squirrel.  If he sees a live one through the window....look out!

I had other designer friends that told me that the best way to make a profit in this business is to keep overhead as low as possible. No rent. No employees. Being the optimist I am, I always thought my road would be different. I could do it. Things were so inefficient now,  wouldn’t I be able to cut my costs (time, because time is money) so dramatically that it would soon pay for itself?

It is difficult, judging when the best moment is to move out. When the recession hit, I thought for sure it would be another few years before the time would be right. I thought the dream of having my own studio, designed to fit my needs, would have to wait. And I’m not getting any younger, so I wasn't very happy about that.

Moving the business out of my home was my dream!  I had always wanted to relocate to a more professional environment, have employees, and everything I needed at my fingertips to make me more efficient and productive.  I’d been dreaming that dream for many years, visualized it, collected images of designer’s studios, and I was just waiting for the right moment.

Ah yes, a place for everything and everything in its place.

About 3 years ago, a local contractor approached me about opening an office within his new location.  He wanted to have a showroom of sorts, with a designer on site, to help him with his projects and vice versa.  It hit me right at the perfect time….I was so fed up with working out of my home.  He offered free rent and space for all my samples.  That offer was just way too good to pass up.

A reliable friend in the business had referred this contractor to me and although I hadn’t done business with him before, he had a good reputation, some of the people I knew in the area thought well of him. I liked him, his energy, his enthusiasm, his vision.  So….I made the jump.  I was so eager to get out of my house and I thought it was just such a good deal.  This was finally my moment.

I had a nice set up in the corner of the building.  I built my sample library, hired an employee, invested in furnishings, computers, everything but rent.

We remodeled the space that took it from this.......

to this.

See my nice sample room in the back!

Oh yeah, I was in there lock, stock, and barrel.

But this was 2009 and……there was a recession going on.  Within 4 months, my contractor had moved out of the building under financial hardship, and I had to pay some of the rent to stay on just until the end of the month.  I was right in the middle of a bunch of projects that I was completely busy with and didn’t have the time to find a new space....and spend even more money!

My employee and I moved back to my house....that was soooo hard.  Not just physically, remember I had lots of samples, and furniture, and stuff, but it seemed like I was failing at this in just a matter of months!  Even the most positive of business people would feel like this was a huge setback.

Unwilling to give up and let the universe tell me to stay put, I found a new space…. in the same neighborhood as our first office.  I signed a lease and was going to be the first tenant in the new building.  Great location….first floor with lots of windows and natural light. I could design it the way I wanted and it looked a whole lot like how I always imagined it would. That's a good sign.

But that’s another story.  

For another day.

The great thing is, two years later....

I'm still here.


Splendid Sass said...

I am exhausted just thinking about all of the work!! Looks amazing though, and a very workable space.
I am like you, Carla If there is a mess, it is organized.
Love the picture of the pooch!
Hav e great week.

Kifus said...

Oh my goodness, Carla, what a great post! I loved reading it, and I'm so glad it has a happy ending! What I'd love to see is the room in your house that used to be your office!
Thanks for sharing your story with us!


Jessie said...

I admire your courage for not willing to give up your dream to have a design studio despite a major setback. Major props to you!

It just proves that faith, determination, courage and optimism are everything to achieve any dreams. Glad that you shared your story with us, it's truly inspiring!

By the way, I really love the studio you had in 2009. It's beautiful, well-designed and functional.


Taylor Greenwalt said...

Carla, what a wonderful story and so encouraging. I have a home office and would love to have a little space among other creative people. I have little room for a full library and wish I had more room. It is so important to have things at your finger tips so you don't have to always drive down to the design center and waste time!

Ann said...

I enjoyed reading your story.
Congrats on the new space,
for sure you'll make it look so good in no time at all.

Naz said...

You made lemonade out of lemons. I give you much credit for keeping your dream going. Well done Carla.

Woodside Park said...

Thank you for this post, Carla!! I really admire and respect your perseverance. And, I am envious of all your samples :-) As you know, I have a small home office. I also have a large retail shop with another office (at the shop). I often think about downsizing the shop (to save money), and moving everything home. I just can't do it....would overwhelm my home office, and not be very professional. Cheers, Loi

carolyn bradford said...

Carla….I knew I always liked you from the first time I read your blog! You are amazing and I'm glad to hear that somebody out there wants to persevere as much as I do! I'm tired of the economic set backs and I'm VERY tired of the negative comments I hear about how slow everything is! I am definitely the one that has to encourage my own employees and that can get exhausting as well as depressing! Keep on keeping on, girl! Your outlook is incredible…your offices are spectacular…and I can't wait to see what the future holds for you! As long as we all provide quality service, quality merchandise and extraordinary customer relations…I for one think we will make it! Hope you are encouraged by the people that really believe in you! Thank you so much for sharing this post!

Unknown said...

Great story Carla. I understand where you are coming from: to work from home or in an office? Love the lucite chairs!

Barbara@HausDesign said...

I loved this Carla - no great accomplishments are without setbacks so I appreciate and admire your tenacity! I love the lights you had in your first workspace...maybe those will be in your new space. I hope we get to see more!

quintessence said...

I LOVE your office - I have a tiny space in my home but as you were describing, it is overrun with books, catalogues, samples etc. and I'm not even a designer. But since I like to connect the dots, I feel like I need to have the history there. I doubt I will ever be getting a space outside the house but hopefully will be able to build some bookcases and storage at some point!

Carol@6WilsonBlog.com said...

Wow. Loved your story. As I've said before, I think you are soooo talented and I love seeing what you do. I have the same dreams as you. But you win on courage!! :)

Unknown said...

Wow, what a story and Im so glad you are thriving. The decor climate financially is hurting I feel and Im glad I work from home and don't have the overhead! Your office layout was so beautiful and it seemed like a dream set up, but I know your current one must be, too. Can't wait to see that!
Have a great weekend.

Marivic said...

This is such an authentic post. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story! Your first outside-the-home office is wonderfully organized. I can't wait to see what your office looks like now. What a cliffhanger. Will be waiting...

Mona Thompson Providence Ltd. said...

Love, love, love your story...can I just ditto what Carolyn said...agre with every word...we are in the process of thinking about our own space..we need a bigger warehouse and maybe it's time to move with all of the samples as well.,..I encourage you every step of the way.

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