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A Look Back on 20 Years

This year I celebrate my 20th year as an interior designer. I feel so very fortunate to be a part of an industry that is so dynamic. Interior Design has evolved not only with trends, but with world economic events, environmental issues, and to the transformations that have taken place in the human spirit. I remember when I first started in the industry, I would look at designers with 10 years experience and marvel at how smart they were. At 20 years into it, I still feel like I have a lot to learn.

Here are 20 things I have learned to be very important in my 20 years as a designer…Not in any particular order.

1. Being a designer is what I do. It is not who I am. As much as I love what I do, I do not want it to define me as a human being. Being a mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt….that is who I want to be known for.

2. Surround yourself with amazing people. Accountants, bookkeepers, graphic designers, business coaches, lawyers (hopefully you do not need these very often). Don’t try be an expert at everything. Hire the right people. It will save you money, and make you money in the long run. I think I know a bit about design, but I hired a great graphic design company to do my business cards. If you want people to look at you as an expert in your field, then you must have a mutual respect for those individuals as well.

3. Have the right tools for the job. It saves time and makes you look professional. A laser tape measure is probably one of the best investments I have made.

4. Support each other. I work in an industry that is made up of women mainly. Encourage, admire, and applaud them. Although I am not a religious person, there is this one line from the bible that basically reads…Refresh others and you, in turn, will be refreshed. Serious words to live by.

5. The majority of the stuff I need to know about being a designer and business owner, I probably learned in kindergarten. Things like….be fair, take turns, be kind, use your manners…’s amazing how those actions can contribute to your success.

6. Justice rides a slow donkey. This is something my dad told me years ago, and I have carried it with me. It is the idea of Karma. Things will turn out how they are supposed to be. People will not necessarily get punished for wronging you, but the universe is always working for you….trying to create a balance. I have seen this happen more times than I can think of. It might not be in the timeline you hope, but trust that justice will prevail.

7. Network! Put a smile on your face and go to tons of events. Even if you pop in and make an appearance for 20 minutes. It is good to be seen.

8. Be grateful for the opportunities you receive no matter how large or small. I had this one computer guy who sent me a personal thank you note no matter if I bought a lap top or a single mouse. Never underestimate the power of a simple thank you.

9. Stick your neck out. My mom and dad always said to me that you don’t get anywhere if you don’t take a risk. I agree with this. You sometimes lose a bit of sleep, but in the end, you will be glad. You will also grow from the experience, and it gets you prepared for the next exciting adventure.

10. Accept changes and adapt to new ideas. In 20 years, I have seen a lot of changes. Technology is something that has changed in a huge way. I learned AutoCAD on DOS. Anyone remember DOS? I also had a pager on my side that would buzz and show me a number that I needed to find a land line to call. Now I can send emails and text someone anywhere in the world.

11. Have a design philosophy. My philosophy has evolved somewhat since I started but for more than half my career my philosophy has been: I believe that spaces should be a backdrop for all things meaningful in your life….people and conversation, food and music, art and architecture.

12. The elements and principles of design should be something that you have committed to memory. You use them every day whether you are getting dressed in the morning or putting together your outdoor flower pots. Some days you are put on the spot and have to be instantly profound. What do you want to say about Color? What do you want to say about Light and Texture? These are the framework for your designs.

13. Keep learning. Since graduating 20 years ago, I have received 3 professional designations, and have taken numerous courses where some are not even related to interior design. The skill of learning is a good one to nurture. I think I am a better designer because of all the courses/seminars I have taken. This fall I am going back to school part-time to get my Master Gardener Certificate. I am so excited!

14. Take care of your health. Get the right amount of sleep! Whatever you are stressing about will wait til tomorrow. Eat well and exercise. Be a good example for those that look to you as a mentor.

15. Be respectful. As a designer, you always hope that your ideas and instructions will be followed through, and end up how you envisioned them. I have a rule of 3. I will advise the client that I do not think their idea is the best one. I then give them the design rationale for it. I will say this 3 times. Often times they end up agreeing but sometimes I am left to submit. Ultimately, it is their money and their space, so always be respectful of that.

16. Give back. Choose causes you believe in and support them. Volunteer your expertise and time. I have given away tons of design hours for various groups for silent auctions. I currently volunteer my time and resources for the Tri-Community Festival of Trees. It supports the local hospital in my community. I love the people, and it is fun.

17. Be a flexible boss. Supporting different work schedules, letting people plan important appointments throughout the week, and attend their children’s field trips will get you some pretty awesome hard working people.

18. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. Another family saying….can’t you tell I come from the farm? Basically it means…don’t be greedy. I don’t overprice my services. I do not undervalue what I do, but I am very fair about what I charge for my services.

19. Take care of your soul. Do things that inspire you. Travel, go for walks in the forest, and visit an art gallery. Pinterest and Houzz are fun, but not a great source of inspiration for original design.

20. Prioritize. Keeping a balance is an art and a science. I know how difficult it can be. An afternoon Christmas concert put on by my children will never lose out to a client meeting. On the professional side of things, my existing clients always take priority over potential new ones. I spend money on my existing clients at Christmas time. That is where my marketing dollars go. Not to newspaper or magazine ads. My existing clients are my marketing team.

There you have it. Take what you want and ignore the rest. I am not sure how many more years I will continue to work as an interior designer. So far, it has been extremely rewarding and mostly a blast.

Cheers to you and Cheers to me.

- Tammy MacKay

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