Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Milestone and the Great Debate

Last week my business, Marianne Strong Interiors, turned another year older. It is hard to believe that a few years ago I went out on my own. I always dreamed of owning my own business and rarely a day goes by that I don't realize how lucky I am. I often get asked for advice about getting into Decorating/Design and starting a business. For those interested in how I started in the business, you can read a brief recap here. Today I thought I would touch on some points I get frequently asked about:* My best advice: Learn under an experienced Decorator/Designer and don't be afraid to start small. Although I have my own business now, I started with a well-established Decorator. I highly recommend this. Decorating/Design is not just about picking out fabric or drawing plans, you are running a business. The accounting alone is enough to make your head spin not to mention the insane amount of work that goes into every move: tracking orders, checking dye lots, requesting samples, quoting everything, handling tax (sales, county, city, state, etc.), finding vendors, etc. I can't imagine being where I am today without such a great mentor, boss and friend.

Also do not be afraid to start small. Several people warned me early on about something called "snob appeal" in this industry. In my opinion, it is not as prevalent as some think but it does exist. Do not let others make you feel bad for starting small. It can be a competitive industry, keep others negativity at a distance. Just remember as you grow in size and success to avoid becoming a snob yourself.
*On your own or under a wing: I have had a few people ask me if I ever wished I was not on my own. Working for yourself as opposed to working for a firm could be debated either way and it really depends on your personality. Are there times I wish I was under the umbrella of someone else? Yes. As a business owner e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g down to the Christmas cards is your responsibility (and money) and that can be overwhelming at times. However, for me, I am so, so thankful I have my own company. It is little moments that catch me off guard - a piece of mail addressed to MSI or seeing my name on a business card or letterhead that remind me I did this on my own. Even after a few years these small things still make me proud. My success is because of my hard work and those around me (especially Patrick and my family), not because of a company I work for or with. I hope this does not come off sounding pompous, trust me, it is not meant that way.

When people ask me about being on my own I always ask if they consider themselves to be entrepreneurs or not. It is important to know that before you go out on your own because it is hard and you have to really want it. There is a lot to be said for working with/for others. Some of the best Designers/Decorators in the world work for a firm. The pros of working in that type of environment are numerous and very valid. In general, I don't think one is preferable to another, it just depends on you and your situation. For me, I know I am where I am supposed to be.*Best part of the job: Every profession has some aspect that makes it worthwhile. For me, it is the clients and the ability to be creative. I love my clients, probably too much. This is a very personal field. You know their kids, dogs, quirks and the alarm code. I love that. When a client is thrilled with an installation or calls to say they love living in a space you created, it just doesn't get much better. These moments are why I do what I do and keep me going during the really bad days.
*Worst part of the job: I always have to laugh at this questions because depending on the day the answer varies. When I tell people I am a Decorator I sometimes see visions they have running through their minds - paint swatches, floating through fabric stores and hours spent shopping for fun. While paint swatches, fabric samples and shopping for clients are some aspects of the day-to-day job, it is actually much harder than I ever imagined. Regardless of the changing issues/problems (some worse than others), this job is worth it to me.
*School? Decorator vs. Designer: Without a doubt, I am asked the most about going to school and if it is necessary. Whew, this is a tough one and I can only offer one point of view. First, there is a difference between Designers and Decorators. It varies from state to state, but a general distinction is a degree in Design and passing the NCIDQ. I went back to school for Design for a year, but I left when I realized it was not necessary to pursue the career path I wanted to take. I have not taken (nor ever plan to take) the NCIDQ.

I started with a Decorator who told me, "you either have it you don't" and I have found that to be true. There are certain things I can't do and I am fine with that. If I have a client who needs a Designer or an Architect to do something I am not capable of, I have no problems recommending them to someone else. However, just because I can't sign off on a plan does not mean that my opinion does not count. Personally, I have found that my clients don't care whether I am a Designer or Decorator. That is not meant to slight Designers. Design School is hard and I understand the NCIDQ is even harder. I have the utmost respect for Designers.

My advice would be that being a Designer is not the only way to be in this business but may be a good option for those interested in that path. School does not guarantee success/talent and lack of school does not mean you can't be great in this industry.All Images Above Marianne Strong Interiors

I always appreciate e-mails asking about business even it takes me forever to get back to you (sorry to those of you reading who know this first hand). I hope this has helped a little.

The other day my good friend Camila sent me an article from HGTV named Designer vs. Decorator: What's In A Name? and it made me think of the numerous people who have asked me this question. The truth is, I know being a "Decorator" has worked for me and it is what I love to do but I never want that come out as disrespectful to Designers. I would never want to offend anyone. I decided since this article offered insight into this from some really big people in the Industry I would paste it below or you can read the original article by Bryan Patrick Flynn HERE.

****Once again, everything below here is from HGTV and Bryan (and I must add I LOVE Barry Dixon even more if that is possible):

Designer vs. Decorator: What’s In a Name?

I have a super-successful older brother who gets a kick out of discrediting my profession. He has a party trick that starts out with him saying, “Hey, wanna see what my overrated, interior-decorator brother considers a “skill”?” Then he picks up a pillow from his own sofa, moves it three inches to the right, hands someone a faux-invoice and says, “I just placed a pillow….so now I’m a designer! That will be one hundred fifty dollars, please.”

As I visualize clocking him in the face with a Christmas ham, I can’t help but think, “Are decorators really perceived as people who simply shop for pillows and paint walls?”

Technically, I’m considered the four-syllable D-word since (a) I’m self-taught, (b) I care more about tailoring, upholstery and objects than repositioning doors and windows and (c) I possess the drawing skills of a kindergartner. But I fully embrace it, reserving “designer” for those who are formally-trained, with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to prove it. Sure, I conceptualize most of my furniture, sketch it for my fabricator, then see it through to completion. But still, I’m totally cool with being labeled a decorator. In fact, prefer it.

I decided to ask 10 colleagues their opinion on the D-words. A few interviews later, I’d apparently created a Name-Calling Monster. Every design-type I reached out to had more to say about this subject than I could possibly jot down. I think you’ll be interested in the Three-Ring Decorator vs. Designer Circus. Consider me the sideshow.

Photo Credit: Habachy Designs

Michael Habachy, Interior Designer, Atlanta, Miami & Buenos Aires

BPF: Creatively, what’s the difference between a ME (decorator) and a YOU (designer)?
MH: None! Some designers really suck creatively but have more technical skills than they know what to do with. Many of the most creatively chic spaces I’ve ever seen were, in fact, created by decorators.
BPF: True or false: All designers can decorate, but not all decorators can design?
MH: False! Decorating is a talent — either you have it or you don’t. Design is a skill that can be learned.
BPF: Just like Kelly Wearstler, you’re known for designing almost every object in each of your
spaces from scratch, from light fixtures and furniture to accessories and wallcoverings. That being said, do you get offended when someone refers to you as a decorator?
MH: Nope, not at all. I believe that decorating is a word that means to create beautiful things and spaces; therefore decorating is an enormous aspect of what I do.

Ronda Carman, Blogger, All the Best

BPF: You’re probably the most passionate person I’ve ever met when it comes to discussing decorating, design and lifestyle. What sets a designer apart from a decorator?
RC: An interesting question, especially since I am neither. I think the lines have blurred. I would guess that most people associate designers with formal training and a degree. However, in my opinion, nothing beats learning by doing. Bottom line — you either have it, or you don’t. Some things you can’t learn in school; style is one of them.
BPF: Although you’re from the United States, you currently live and work in Glasgow. Do the two terms translate differently in Scotland than they do in the States?

RC: In Scotland, a decorator is someone who paints and hangs wallpaper. Until I figured that out, I was shocked that everyone I met seemed to have decorators coming and going. Actually, I was a little disappointed to learn that only their loo was being repainted!
BPF: Based on your own needs for putting your new office together, would you be more inclined to hire a decorator over a designer?
RC: I could not care less about their title, as long as I love their work. And, if I hired a decorator, I would want to make certain that they weren’t coming over just to paint.

Photo Credits: Burnham Design

Betsy Burnham, Interior Designer, Los Angeles

BPF: How do you differentiate designer from decorator?
BB: To me, a decorator is someone who furnishes a house and a designer is someone who
provides interior architectural details, as well as furnishings.
BPF: Are you insulted when someone refers to you as a decorator?
BB: Absolutely not! I am not a design snob; I’ve got an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth in Fine Art, but, as far as interior design goes, I’m basically self-taught. Sticklers in the design field would surely call me a decorator, but, at Burnham Design, we’re known for putting together seriously thorough spec books, and we rarely even pick an end table without drawing it into plan first to be sure the scale is right.
BPF: What are we seeing in the two spaces above?
BB: The first space was more of a decorating project since I chose color, furnishings and window treatments, but I did nothing to alter or enhance the architecture. The second space is best described as fully designed. I selected the windows and walnut flooring, designed
baseboards and casings, and I even designed a custom wall treatment. Once the house was remodeled, I did all the furnishings as well.

Photo Credit: Erik Kvalsvik

Barry Dixon, Interior Designer, Virginia

BPF: What sets apart someone who decorates from someone who designs?
BD: Decorating does not always require the training and technical aptitude that designing does. Designing often infers an understanding and command of certain basics, like the history of ornamentation or the laws of proportion and scale. Basically, the sorts of things you would
study in the pursuit of a degree. That said, there are many talented people who can decorate circles around some educated designers. This may be because they possess an innate gift that can’t be learned. They simply have “it” — that magic mojo that allows them to see and create in a special, intuitive way.
BPF: Do you think there’s any truth in stating that designers can both design and decorate, but decorators cannot both decorate and design?
BD: Technically, that may be so. A designer may bake the cake, and decorate it too, while a decorator might just ice the cake. I don’t care what clients call me, as long as they call me.

Photo Credit: Vogue

Erica Reitman, Blogger, DesignBlahg, New York

BPF: First of all, you are brutally honest and deliciously snarky. I like it. I like it A LOT. Fill in the blank, a designer is _______________.
ER: Someone who guides others towards their own styles using a combination of creativity, innovation, color theory, architecture and psychology. Reed and Delphine Krakoff’s New York Home featured in Vogue is the perfect example of a designer room.
BPF: Stereotypically, the term decorator makes me think of _________________.
ER: The difference between a nurse and a doctor. Nurses work super-duper hard, can take pulses, wrap patients up in bandages and assist; however, doctors are authorized to fully operate. I see designers more like the doctors of interiors and nurses similar to decorators.
BPF: Best design talent on HGTV?
ER: Emily Henderson.

Photo Credit: Josh Gibson

Phoebe Howard, Decorator & Entrepreneur, Jacksonville, FL & Atlanta, GA

BPF: The first time I met you in Miami, you politely corrected me when I referred to you as an interior designer. Do you remember that, and, if so, is there a reason you very clearly state that you are a decorator rather than a designer?
PH: Yes, for many reasons. First, the profession of decorator has been around for hundreds of
years and has a definite cache. What I do every day requires a natural skill for putting together all of the elements to beautifully furnish a home. Florida, where my company is based, closely regulates the profession of interior design and requires licensing to use the title of interior designer, but interior decoration requires no testing or license. The real intent of the law is to focus on commercial design, which I am not interested in.
BPF: If someone were to argue that a decorator simply has pillows made and picks colors, you would strongly disagree?
PH: Absolutely! I am 50% creative and 50% business-minded. In addition to decorating, I own and operate five residential showrooms throughout the South. It is unlikely that I would still be in business if I were just picking colors and pillows. Decoration is the comprehensive and
conclusive finishing of a home. It is about arranging furnishings in ways that are both pragmatic and beautiful. My expertise was formed after years of creating beautiful rooms in my stores. I purchase furniture from all over the world, design and make much of what we offer in the stores, make selections that will embellish and decorate more than 90 room settings in our stores every day. Picking colors and making pillows is about 5% of the story.

Photo Credit: William Waldron, Elle Decor

Nicole Cohen, Blogger, Sketch42Blog, New York

BPF: After completing the interiors of your Manhattan home on your own, you came across a Chicago space that made the cover of Elle Decor with a similar look and feel–I’m sure that built confidence! What do you consider the main difference between designers and decorators?
NC: My personal opinion on designer versus decorator: You can learn how to draft, you can learn how to plan a room, you can learn a heck of a lot from design school, but you sure CANNOT learn taste.

BPF: Is there a cache attached to one title versus the other?
NC: I was at an Elle Decor event last year called Women in Design. Margaret Russell asked Kelly Wearstler, Charlotte Moss, Holly Hunt and Michelle Nussbaumer if they prefer to be regarded as designers or decorators, and none of them seemed to care. I guess when you are on top, you don’t have to be insecure about what people call you.
BPF: Your reaction to this statement: “Decorators just play with fabrics and choose paint. Designers actually make stuff from scratch.”
NC: That seems to be the common belief; however, I am neither a decorator nor a designer, and I have had tons of custom furniture made to my specifications, not to mention all types of window treatments, mirrors, wall treatments, etc. I don’t really even think that it’s possible to create a home without designing SOMETHING from scratch. I totally disagree with that

Photo Credit: Katlyne Hill Photography

Erika Ward, Designer & Blogger, BluLabelBungalow, Atlanta, GA

BPF: Do you consider yourself an interior designer or a decorator?
EW: I often refer to myself simply as a “designer.” While I do not have the interior designer designation, I have the professional and educational experience to perform the job as a project
manager and decorator. As a PM, I
employ subcontractors to execute the foundation of my design plan then complete the job alone in decorating the space.
BPF: Is it safe to say that all designers can decorate; however, not all decorators can design?
EW: I think it’s safe to say that ANYONE can decorate in some sense of the word. Decoration is relative and judged by individual preferences. Its emphasis is placed on adornment and creating beauty in a space. However, I believe that not all decorators can design. Design, in this case, considers more than just aesthetics. It also considers function, safety and even psychology. Some decorators consider such, but most focus on primping the space.

Photo Credit: Sarah Dorio

Annette Joseph, Producer, Photostylist & Decorator, Atlanta, GA

BPF: You’re pretty much a Renaissance woman when it comes to interiors. Which title fits you best, decorator or designer?
AJ: I would choose both! I’m technically a photostylist/producer for shelter publications. When I work on interiors for magazines, I’m really designing and conceptualizing the overall
intended look. But then I end up getting in there and decorating the space for the photographer to capture the perfect image. I really think of myself as a stylist.
BPF: In addition to magazine editors, decorators and designers also hire you to style their PR images. That being said, what’s the main thing that sets your decorator clients apart from your designer clients?
AJ: Most of my designer clients have seen a raw space through to completion, whereas the decorators have taken an existing space and made it more beautiful by adding the right furniture and home accessories.
BPF: Any truth in the misconception that designers move walls and decorators just fluff pillows?
AJ: I would say that we all fluff pillows and pick fabrics in the end. If you’re into design, you’re into it all. Whatever you call us, designers, decorators or stylists, we’re all preoccupied with
beauty, style and elevating our lifestyle by how we live. In my world, we all get along beautifully, since we all bring something to the table that, in the end, collaboratively creates a beautiful space.

Photo Credits: Rebecca Phillips

Nick Olsen, Decorator, Blogger, NickOlsenStyle

NO: To my understanding, calling oneself an interior designer requires a degree in the field, a professional certification, accreditation and so on. I think the biggest difference between designers and decorators is that the former literally moves walls and other structural elements of a given space, while the latter decorates the box.
BPF: Since you’re in New York and see it all first-hand, why do you think many designers wanna stab themselves in the ear when referred to as decorators?
NO: I think some designers scoff at the term “decorator” because it does have a more frivolous connotation — simply picking out paint colors and fabric swatches — but it’s one I’m perfectly
comfortable with. I have no formal training in decorating, but perhaps if I completed a four-year program in interior design, I’d fight for the distinction too.
BPF: You have a master’s degree in architecture, yet you are a decorator. ‘Splain please.
NO: I gained so much from my undergrad (Bachelor of Arts) degree in architecture, but I quickly realized that I have the patience of a five-year-old and can’t bear all the minutiae architects must master: electrical outlets, building codes, etc. So I didn’t pursue the necessary master’s degree needed to practice. By comparison, decorating offers instant gratification…having a room repainted or a chair reupholstered takes only a few days, and the makeover factor is one of the most satisfying parts of my job.
BPF: If you were working with a client that was adamant you design a room around a velvet print of dogs playing poker, how would you handle it?
NO: I’m not in the business of making clients feel ashamed of what they love (even if it makes
my eyes spurt blood), so if the room had a clubby, library feeling, and the dog painting had EXTREME sentimental value, I could make it work.

(my frequent coworker and his favorite work position)


Emily said...

great post marianne! Great insight advice :)

Janell @ House of Fifty said...

Wonderful post, happy another year in business!! I think your advice to work under a well established designer is key, it can be hard, but definitely worth it. I worked for a great firm here when I decided to pursue interiors and what I learned has proved to be invaluable!

Continued success!! Janell

ALR said...

Marianne, this post is fantastic! I have read everything, soaking it all up. First, I think your work is beautiful, I look forward to anything you will share, especially your projects. Second, I do not care about titles in any way. I like what I like at that is all I care about. I am happy for your success and I think you deserve it. Thank you for sharing this fantastic post.

Amy R.

Unknown said...

YAYEEEE MSI!!! Much love from the Stegall/Weedon clan to a talented and delightful young lady who has always been destined for great things! Chin Chin to many more great years of MSI and a great friendship! xoxo

Red Door Home said...

What a treat to see pictures of your projects. No matter what you call yourself you are very creative and have a great eye for design.

My Interior Life said...


Great post and so well-written. I need to come back and read more when I have more time!


High-Heeled Foot in the door said...

Yay a Harry pic! Congrats love! So exciting! You are rockstar!

We must plan my trip to come visit you soon. Jon is all on board!

Unknown said...

I loved this post so so much- I have been asking so many of these questions as I consider a career in decorating/design. I definitely lean towards decorating and totally agree that you either have it or you don't- I prefer at this point in my life to learn by doing and have spent enough years in school. I was so happy to read all of these perspectives and thank you so much for such an interesting post- really great to read!

Splendid Sass said...

Great post, Marianne! I have spent a while here.
Thanks for this useful information.
Congratulations on your business, and have a nice day.

Katie @ Katie Beth Interiors said...

Such a great post! I am in the process of breaking out on my own and starting my own business and it really helped to hear some perspective.

Karen said...

Wonderful, insightful post Marianne. Congratulations on another year of doing what you love, here's to many more!

Anonymous said...

well congrats on another year and to many many many many many more!

Melissa @ Veranda Interiors said...

Fab post Marianne, I love the section 'designer vs. decorator', I loved reading the points of view from so many. xo

Kelle Dame said...

Loved this!! Thank you so much for sharing the interviews. It's good to know I am not alone in my thoughts! So glad that you decided to go out on your own and share your Gift. I think it's really pretty simple. When you have a gift and the passion to drive you nothing else matters. :)

Katie (Re:fresh Design Studio) said...

Great post, Marianne. Congrats on another successful year of business!

Donna said...

Love this post!!! Congrats on your success as well!!!

Erika Ward said...

Happy Anniversary Doll! Wishing you all the best and continued success!

Kathy said...

Happy anniversary! You are indeed at the peak of your business. Thanks for sharing such thoughts, as well as your designing ideas. I love how you mix and match colors and the furniture. In our house in Sarasota, flooring plays an important plant. I love the idea of space, so the attention goes to my flooring. I decorate it with good carpets and wood laminates. I just enjoy your designs and hopefully, I'll visit you sometime to ask your help for our bedroom. Thanks!

Emily A. Clark said...

Congrats on another successful year! And, thanks for this post. I really enjoyed it; love hearing your insight.

Aimee@ the Functional Space said...

Marianne, Congratulations to you on the anniversary of your success. Thanks for the wonderful post too. I did go to design school and when I was first out of school I used to bristle at the word Decorator but now I've completely gotten over myself and don't mind either title. I've also been working independently but doing contract work for other companies for several years now and am really wanting to branch out and be truly independent. Thanks so much for inspiring me to really work harder for it!

Hello Lover... said...

Congrats on another year! I loved reading your perspective - I had read this article on the decorator vs. designer debate yesterday and I find it so interesting! From someone who is not involved in this business as a career (but would love to be) I don't care whether it's designer/decorator I just think you all are so blessed and lucky to be able to have a job where you can be creative, intelligent, and business savvy and make it work for your career. Great post!

Unknown said...

great post and great advice. thanks for showing your work too, it's great!

A Perfect Gray said...

thanks Marianne. so wonderful to read about your journey. I clicked back to your earlier post and I am going right out to get that book by Dan Miller.

thanks! Donna

spark! (Ada-Marie) said...

Congratulations, Marianne! You are insanely talented and deserve every blessing you have! xxoo

designchic said...

Congratulations on another year!! I love following your blog and seeing your work and reading your advice...wonderful insight and inspiration!!

julie couch said...

Marianne, my assistant forwarded me this post and told me "read this!" I'm glad I did. You are so charming and I love the elegant whimsy you create in the spaces you design.
I just started a blog a couple months ago, but I started my business about 4 years ago- Scary but fun- stressful but rewarding- You hit the nail on the head with your "tips."
I have wrestled with the design school thing- and actually spent many thousands and a few years back in design school (after a degree in art istory) but I was too busy to complete it- Like you I love residential design and know I'll do that for a long time-
Thank you for sharing- It's great to find you and your blog! All the best, Julie

Jennifer said...

happy, happy birthday, MSI! great accomplishment, Marianne, and I love hearing your perspective. will have to come back to read all of the others, but I do love what Barry said, "I don't care what they call me, as long as they call me." he's a hoot! (a very talented hoot, at that)

Jade @ Flip Flops + Pearls Design said...

Congrats on another year! Great post...your points were all so valid and came across perfect! You either got it or you don't, no matter the title, and you got it!

xo Jade

Katie @ Katie Beth Interiors said...

I just wanted to thank you for writing this post. I am in the midst of trying to start my own business and the advice you gave was just so helpful...thanks!

sarah @ realestatestyle said...

I really loved this post! This is a topic I have always wondered about. It was also great to read the article with the designers/decorators' points of view. I am full time in real estate, but this movivates me to think big for the future!

Liz @ Canopy said...

WOW! What a great post. I am glad to read so many different answers to this ultimate question. I have enjoyed looking around your blog, and thank you for writing about how you got started in the business. I have just started blogging myself and am still learning. You're very talented!

Bailey@ peppermintbliss said...

Congratulations Marianne! You are so talented and were for sure a huge inspiration to me in taking the steps to go out on my own...Its an interesting debate and I am sure to revisit this post and reference it often as I go forward...Can't wait to see what the next year(s) hold for MSI!

Alicia B. Designs said...

What an inspirational story! I read the old blog post about how you began in this business and it really gives me hope! Though I am being formally trained in design, I think its ridiculous when people get snippy about decorator vs designer. Greats like Charlotte Moss and Bunny Williams call themselves decorators and they're the top of the top. It's really just a word...

Have a lovely weekend!
Alicia B.