My Guide To Taking the Plunge into the Interior Design World

My Guide To Taking the Plunge into the Interior Design World

The past few weeks, I’ve received a number of e-mails from readers asking one very important and pertinent question. “How do you do this?” That “this” is breaking into the world of interior design (particularly without a design degree). Well I figured for every e-mail I do get on this topic, there are many more who never took the step to actually ask but are still very interested. So, this post is for those of you who need a little encouragement and how-to for starting your journey into interior design. But I think this post is also for anyone who needs a little advice on how to tackle that dream you’ve been dreaming of head on!

First of all, let me just say it’s a complete shock and incredibly cool that I am sitting here writing this post. A little over 2 years ago I was in tears because I didn’t know how I was going to make my dream of being a designer come true. I promised myself I would never settle for a job I didn’t love and that meant figuring out how to make this “design thing” work. I spent a good year just trying to figure out how in the world to get started. It was a rough time, but now I can hopefully use my experience to help you figure out how to start your own journey into design.

I do best by putting things in list form. So, here’s my guide with 10 tips for helping you to live the life you’ve been dreaming of.
Tip #1- Identify your goal and write it down. . . and don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars!
This step will be very easy for some of you. You know exactly what you want to be doing, just don’t know how to get there. I encourage you to be very specific when you write down your goal. Choose something that is measurable. Sometimes I think people are very conservative when they are writing down what they want to achieve. DON’T BE!!! You can achieve anything, if you’re willing to go after it with all your heart! DON’T HOLD BACK!!!
If you feel like a lost soul who cannot even think of what your “dream” is, here is my suggestion. Search yourself for a passion. Here’s what I believe with all my heart. God gave us each a set of talents and passions and gave them to us for a reason. The Bible says, “there is nothing better on earth than for a man to enjoy his work.” (Ecclesiastes 3:22) I believe the Lord wants us to be joyful and happy in our work by living out the passion he has placed inside us. Once you identify the passion that the God of the Universe put inside you and believe that he desires to enable you to live that out, you will become much more confident in the dreams you have imagined.
Tip #2- Build a portfolio.
Ok, so once you believe that the Lord made you to “do” design, it’s time to start honing your skills and showing off your talents. It is so important to be able to show others your work- it serves as proof to, “yes, I really do this for a job.”
So how do you build a portfolio without any clients? Do you have a house, an apartment, a living place of any sort? Your own home is a great place to start building your portfolio. At this point you might be thinking, “But I don’t have any money.” Neither did I. I did everything I could with garage sale buys and flea market finds, but I would also go and buy everything to make a room perfect from regular stores. With all the stuff bought, I would then set the room up, take pictures, and then return all of the purchased items. This was a huge hassle and really annoying, but it got me started.
Also, don’t be afraid to put furniture redo’s and smaller projects in your portfolio. You don’t have to showcase an entire room to give people a taste of your talent and style.
Tip #3- Start a website or blog.
So now that you have started a rockin’ portfolio, you need to get it in front of people. I have found that a great way to do this is by starting a website and/or blog. There are pros and cons to each, which is why I recommend doing both.
A website seems much more professional and shows that design is not just something you do on the side. However, a website usually lacks that personal touch. I’m not sure if this is true, but I feel like most people will not hire a designer they are not comfortable with. You have a much higher chance of getting jobs if people feel like they know you.
A blog is a great way to bring this personal element in. Sometimes a blog seems very one sided- like you are putting all of this work into it and people aren’t responding. However, they are reading and the more work and heart you put into it, the more it will grow along with your readership and possible clients.
Tip#4 – Make it official!
Become a formal business entity. The day I sent my papers in to make “Kara Paslay Designs” a real life business was the day that I felt like, “Ok, I’m really going to do this!” Sometimes taking all those steps that “make it official” seem scary. But they really give you that kick in the pants and the guts to say, “I’m doing this and nothing’s gonna stop me!”
Tip #5- Put the word out.
Once you’ve got a couple of rooms in your portfolio and a website/blog up and running, it’s time to put the word out. I found one of the easiest ways you can get started on the road to doing interior design full time is to “claim your career.” Every time you meet someone new or the question, “So, what do you do?” comes up, you must answer it by saying, “interior design” or whatever it is you are working toward. This feels really strange at first, but keep saying it. This not only starts conversations about your new business, but with each “claim” you will start to see yourself as the designer you want to be.
Also, use social media to your advantage. Facebook, twitter, Pinterest- all of these are great places to post links and get people back to your blog or website. Also, the more you post and stay fresh in people’s minds the more likely they are to think of you when they’re ready to take on a project!
Tip #6- Teach yourself.
If you caught on to your career path a little late like me and didn’t get to receive a “higher education” in the details of design, don’t worry! You can still do this. Of course, you probably have some natural design abilities but this doesn’t give you the right to completely forgo all learning. There are plenty of things that you will need to school yourself on. You can learn a lot by trial and error but you also need to be constantly schooling yourself on changing trends, new techniques, construction methods, ect. Apprenticeships aren’t as common as they once were, but finding a mentor who’s been in the business is a fantastic way to learn how to do interior design. Try to find a mentor who will take the time to teach you rather than just have you do all the grunt work. I’m hoping to be able to take on few interns in the future if anyone is interested. I’ll keep you posted.
Tip #7- Don’t give up.
There will be stints in the beginning when it feels like you are making no headway. But hang in there! A few months after starting my business, I was having a dry spell with no jobs and not much interest. At that time, I took to the streets. I went around Tulsa visiting any boutique that I thought could use my services. In one day I visited about 9 shops. Two of those shops ended up calling me back to hire me for my services. And one of those shops was IDA RED who just happened to be my biggest client last year! I’m sure glad I didn’t sit around and mope on that day!
Tip #8- Take any and every job that lines up with helping you achieve your goal. Say “NO” to all the rest.
I took so many crappy jobs for minimal pay when I first started. Painting a room, sanding furniture with a dozens layers of paint, and installing moulding was not my idea of living my dream, but it did allow relationships to form, trust to be built, and skills to be honed. I have found that one job can lead to multiple other jobs that can be much bigger than the first. So, don’t be afraid to do some dirty work for a little while.
Tip #9- Decide if it’s worth it. Sacrifice required.
No dream will be reached without some major sacrifice and hard work. You may have to skip vacations, take crappy jobs, get paid less than you’re worth, and see friends a little less. Really, to achieve your dream (whatever it is) you have to decide you will do whatever it takes to see it come true. This kind of devotion can only be given when you realize the goal you are after is what you were made to do. You have to believe this goal/dream is your calling in life. . . . or it’s probably not worth it.
Tip #10- Use your gifts/abilities to help others.
I don’t believe that God gave me a passion for design and the opportunity to do it as a career just so that I could be happy. I also believe he wants me to share this gift with others and use it to help people in some way. This is why I help with Clean Slate and other projects throughout the year. This is also why I share so much information and hopefully helpful tips on the blog. The old saying stays true- “You reap what you sow,” so give generously of your time, talent, and treasure if at all possible.
I hope this post was helpful and encouraging to at least one person out there. Please feel free to post any other questions you may have that I neglected to cover. I would love to help you in any way I can!

This article has 7 comments

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you for your encouraging words. I’ve been on the fence for a long time now and afraid to take the plunge. Your words are helpful!

  2. Lisa

    First time commenting here. I linked to your blog through your house tour on YHL.

    What a beautiful, helpful, and well-thought-out post! Thank you for taking the time to share the lessons you’ve learned. Interior design is not my specific dream (it would be if it were my talent, ha!), but this post is so applicable for plunging forward toward any big dream. Thank you!

  3. Gloria

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I’m still trying to figure out my niche of whether I want to be geared more towards graphic design or interiors. It’s taking a lot of prayer, and just asking God what direction He wants to take me in. It’s just good to hear that not everyone has it all figured out from the get go, that you just have to go out there and make it happen.

  4. Lisa Johnson

    this is a great post and so helpful- no matter what your dream. I am starting to wind down my years of full-time mothering, and I am trying to think, pray, and dream through what my next step in life might be. My problem is narrowing it down!

  5. LaurenHenson

    Thank you for this!!!! I was so pumped when I found your blog a few months ago and extra excited that your local to me. Your blog has been a huge inspiration to me on pushing threw right now on the interior design part of my life. I am currently in between tip #1 and #2. Anyway, keep it up!

  6. Bailey Jean

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I am two weeks away from starting my junior year in college and have been panicking, wondering if I chose the right major or not because I have so many dreams (mainly photography and interior design) that do not fit in my degree. This has been a great help and inspiration!

    Also, do share when/if you ever decide to take on interns! I am incredibly interested!

  7. Alisha

    I’ve been following your blog for about a year now, but this is my first actual comment. Loved every bit of this post, and your work! Beautiful!

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