Friday, July 27, 2012


Hi friends! So nice of Charmaine to invite me to post while she is taking a break. I love her blog and she and I have forged a friendship that is an invaluable perk to blogging.  I want to talk to you about starting a design business.

My daughter Bethany and I started our blog, Powell Brower Home, in November of last year, looking for an outlet to express our decorating passion.  Through our journalling we ended up launching our design business, a long time dream of ours that was quickly realized.

I was in "the biz" before and worked at a very successful national design firm for 12 years while raising my daughter to love all things art and accessories. I represented the company exclusively and sold their line of art and custom furniture, wallpaper, rugs and accessories. There were no eBoards or blog and my first gen (for real first gen) Apple computer did not lend itself to hours of online browsing and sourcing.  Only typepad programs on a dynamic green and black screen.  My, how things have changed!

  I constantly redecorate my home.  My husband says he never knows where to sit; the furniture is rearranged so often.  Now that Bethany has her own home, we have been feverishly decorating and using it as a test lab for any project we can dream up.  And the fun doesn't end there.  We love sharing our journies and tribulations on the blog.

The blog has been a fantastic platform to allow people to follow your decor du jour.  Your peers and spheres of influence can visibly see your creations and talents and they build confidence in your abilities. 

We started out by offering a few free design boards and got some fantastic prospects from that (and invaluable experience).  Despite how well we knew each other already, we are constantly uncovering who's better at what. I found that Bethany is the bomb at eBoards (a generational aptitude for sure) and I am better at the artistic rendering of a client's room(s).  This symbiosis only builds our credibility and widens our scope.  

In my humble opinion, these are the best steps to take in starting your own design business:

  Create a Portfolio:

Decorate your own home as if you were going to be photographed for a major magazine! 
This is your very best advertising.  Your home will exude your decorating and design skills and this is the most effective way to reach your audience when starting out!   Tell your friends what you're doing and that you'd love their help in spreading the word.  'Word of mouth' is the best advertising and with such a visual product, word travels fast.
Offer a few of your  friends a free  design board or consultation and always ask for referrals in return. If you knock their socks off, they will tell their friends!

Your Brand:

Once you've decided on a name, you need to get a federal tax ID number (TIN).  This is necessary not only for your tax accounting, but also to get accounts with vendors and tap into the significant discounts and product lines available "to the trade".

Then of course there are business cards, letterhead, etc.  It is really important to attach a visual to your name, like a logo, that you can print on various items which strengthen and increase your brand. This is where the blog has helped us.  We are always working to hone our skills and try to appeal to the look that our clients gravitate towards.  Not all of our customer base is up on the latest trends and the bold statements of the glossies and blogland.  We try to keep a tailored approach in putting out our 'first impression' and peel back the onion as we go.  That said, we are well aware that our MS Word-made blog header isn't cuttin' it for us anymore.  It was great at first, but we're starting to take off and this would be a good thing to rebrand sooner versus later.  But, we continue to make blogging friends and get our 'brand' out there.  Repetition, repetition, repetition!

Legal matters:

The first thing to take care of once your business gets off the ground is the legal stuff.  We  listed our company under a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP).  This is where two people are partners, and it insures that our business entity is protected legally and does not attach itself to any personal assets or our individual social security numbers.

Register your business name with your city or county, make sure you follow the county codes for operating a business out of your home or office, and also check with your insurance agent so that you are covered when you work as a decorator in people's homes and offices.

 Price structure:

You may want to start with some introductory pricing.  This is based on your credentials and experience.  Once you get some takers you can start raising your prices, but what good are high prices if you have no clients?  You will find in doing the virtual eBoards that they take a lot of time, and you will soon get frustrated working for free! So start with something affordable and get the experience.  Do a board for each of your own rooms for practice.  Research other design professionals (many bloggers reveal their services and prices on their blogs) and find a structure that you are comfortable with.  We are always talking to other decorators we meet along the way on pricing and process.  It helps so much that many of the designers in the blogworld have an open door policy, especially if you forge a friendship first.

Live your Passion:

Do what you love and things will fall in place.  If you believe in what you're doing, and let others know, the wheels start turning. We redecorate our homes constantly and always post about our new arrangements and our mistakes. We love to shop for decorating items, both online and in stores.  This builds our knowledge of what's current and at varying price points.  Read about famous designers and eras in design.  Know your furniture styles and terms.  Get up to date on current vendors and know your products!  Also try to lend yourself to any decorating style so that you are marketable to different audiences. Dress the part of a top-notch designer and look like you know how to pull a room together by being fashionable and stylish yourself.  You know you're going to get a good haircut when your hairdresser has stylish hair.  Same principle applies here.

 Ask for Referrals:

People who like your taste and your style, and who are comfortable with your personality, will help promote you.  But you have to ASK!  You don't have to do anything outside of your comfort zone or smell super salesy, but you do have to put yourself out there to get noticed.


I did not go to school for interior design so I don't believe it's a necessity unless you're looking to work for a large firm right away.  If you are willing to put in some effort and work your way into the business through referrals and showcasing your own work, it's definitely possible to do what you love without the extra schooling.  I got my break when my artwork got picked up by a national firm to carry in their product line, and through the course of our interactions, I landed a job as a decorator where I thrived and excelled for years.  Erin Gates wrote a fantastic article about starting out in interior design and there are many schools of thought (pun intended) on the subject.  I personally don't believe you need to major or further your education in design in order to become a decorator.  But design school will teach you some invaluable skills such as furniture restoration, history and AutoCAD to name a few.
These are just a few tips on turning your love of decorating into a business.  We are busy trying to complete rooms in our homes and get them photographed.   Hopefully sharing our journey will inspire others to follow their passion! Hope you stay tuned and watch us grow!

Best of luck with your adventure in decorating!


Thank you so much Nancy!  These are some invaluable tips!

We are having a blast here in NY/NJ.  Heading to the Jersey Shore this weekend and we'll be ending this trip watching the Yankees play the Red Sox!

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Sadie + Stella said...

Love me some Powell Brower!! Lovely post darlings.

Sadie + Stella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kerry Steele- Design du Monde said...

Fabulous article, Nancy! I don't think you left out a single detail.

Beth of designPOST Interiors said...

Thanks for such helpful advice...I already love your blog and I am happy to have some of your tips! And can I just say that I am so jealous that yall get to work mom and I would kill for that kind of set up!

Lianna said...

Great detail on starting a business. It is a dream of mine! congrats!

pam {simple details} said...

Thanks for putting all your valuable advice into a post for us! So happy you two are getting to follow your passion!

Elizabeth @ The Little Black Door said...

Excellent post ladies!! This is great info. I'm bookmarking this for sure!! :)

LolaLalaBean said...

Excellent information!! I have developed a passion for interior decorating and it is completely opposite of my day job which is computer programming. Talk about being creative in two different I've thought about starting a side business or getting more education in the field but I'm so afraid that my hobby will turn into something I don't enjoy and I don't want to lose the love I have for this amazingly creative and fun field. By the way...Go Red Sox!!! Yep - I'm from Boston:)

Patty Day @Pattys Epiphanies said...

Thanks for all the hints, help and advice! Very helpful ...Loved hearing your "story".

Nicole Scott said...

Nice to hear the path you and Bethanny have taken. I am on a similar journey and it's always nice to know you're not the only one!:)

Loi Thai, Tone on Tone said...

Dear Charmaine - Thanks for having my friend on your blog. Nancy is someone I greatly admire and respect!

Nancy - Wonderful and thorough post. I know this will be helpful to many contemplating a career in design. Thanks for sharing.


Vel Criste said...

Thank you for sharing your story nancy - yo and your daughter are so inspiring! Although, I don't have any plans of putting a up this type of business anytime soon ( who know later ?!), I enjoyed reading this and believe that PASSION, in everything you do is always a plus. :-) will keep on readin dear. :-)

Bethany [at] Powell Brower Home said...

Thank you all for such wonderful, encouraging words. You are the best!! We hope to be as supportive to each of you as you are to us. Thanks for having us/Mom, Charmaine :)

Tiffany Leigh said...

A very excellent post, which I will definitely be using in the future!!

One thought about schooling: If you want to use the term 'interior designer' it's important to consider your area's licensing of this term. Here in Canada, you need a degree to use the title interior designer.
Of course, you can still have a career as a decorator or stylist without the formal education.
Just some food for thought.
Thank you for all the info xo

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy,
thanks for sharing your story. I am starting my own Interior design business which is a career change after years of doing it on the side for family and friends. I went back to school and I am happy to say feel like I am on the right track after reading your piece. Your art work on your board is beautiful! I am sure clients love seeing your drawings.
and I also love your room renderings. I am exploring software to do the same.....may I ask which software you used to create them. I would so appreciate the info.

Linda {Calling it Home} said...

This was great. I don't want to start a design business, but how you lay out the steps, good for anyone. Oh, and Nate Berkus did not go to school for design, either.

Carol@TheDesignPages said...

Wow, you managed to cram in a ton of info into a little post. Really great info for anyone looking to get their own biz up and running!

The Pink Pagoda said...

This is very informative and interesting! I completely agree that you can be an incredible interior designer without that specific education. I have a friend who's a retired designer. She's got such a great eye, knows all about art/architecture/furniture history and can work with many styles. She has her undergraduate in English and her graduate in Education. While she was working she was sought after and very successful.

Brandy@MAKE+MODEL said...

I love this post. It gives me in faith in the path I'm taking. Thank you for sharing. Brandy from Chateau À Gogo


Great post! Very informative. I consider myself "home schooled" you definitely don't need a design education, but if your young I say go for it !!!

LiveLaughDecorate said...

Great post! This should definitely be listed on both your blogs as a design biz tutorial. I would add working closely with and learning from your trades. Best way to learn the ins and outs of the biz and to gain some hands on experience which I find many designers with formal training, have never had.


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