Running a Creative Business with Studio MOD(ish)

Caty and Darlene are the talented duo behind Studio MOD(ish), a high-end, full-service Interior Design firm located in Washington, D.C.

What is your Interior Design background and how did Studio MOD(ish) begin?

Caty Well, formally, my bachelor’s degree is in visual arts. When I was in college, I was still unsure of what career to pursue, but I knew my general direction had to be based in the arts. Several years ago, I made the decision to obtain my masters in Interior Design and enrolled at Pratt in Brooklyn. As life often happens, my husband was offered an amazing position in Washington, D.C., which brought me to the area. My education has served as an amazing foundation for my career in interiors, but obtaining actual experience in the field is what I value most.

For me, the concept of MOD(ish) began years ago. I always knew I wanted to work for myself, but it's quite intimidating to take the first leap. The motivation and inspiration finally arrived when I met Darlene at a furniture company in D.C. We loved every aspect of working together; we were productive, creative, and most of all, we straight up enjoyed each other's company. For me, it doesn't get any better than that. One day Darlene exclaimed out of the blue, "we should go into business together." Since that day we've never looked back!

Darlene I have my B.F.A. from Howard University in Interior Design, and I also spent a significant amount of my time there in the Architecture school. I’ve always loved all aspects of the design and construction industry, so in the beginning I wanted it ALL: Architecture, Interior Design, Project Management. I always knew that at some point in my life I would be a business owner, and when I met Caty the timing felt perfect! Our design sensibilities aligned flawlessly (not to mention our boisterous sense of humor) and things sort of flowed from there.

How did you transition from working together to running a business together?

Caty It first started with a lot of planning on our daily commute. On our days off we met to work on the business. Though in retrospect we were a little "green” at starting and running a business, we just had to bite the bullet and commit to our fledgling company full time. So scary but so invigorating!

Darlene As Caty said it began with LOTS AND LOTS of planning, hashing things out and brainstorming ideas. Since we already worked together we had a pretty good idea of what each other’s work ethic was like (which was super important to me; I admired Caty’s drive to get things done and done properly). We started meeting during our lunch hours, then on our days off and soon enough all we could talk about was MOD(ish).

You have such an amazing sense of style, where do you look to find inspiration?

Caty I was raised by my father, who never let me read magazines because of their negative portrayal of women, their bodies, and focus on superficial things. I truly believe that's allowed me to develop my own individual style without worry of current trends and the constraints of fitting in. (I'm grinning as I type this.) That said, the furniture and home design industry has a tendency to lag the fashion industry by a year. Whenever I feel stuck or uninspired I look to fashion to bring fresh ideas.

Darlene I draw inspiration from everywhere! I love browsing through magazines and blogs to stay educated on what the current trends are but am equally as excited by the most random things. The most important thing about a design to me is that it’s functional and it’s heavily infused with our client’s character.

What do you like best about owning your own business?

Caty The freedom to be creative and make my own decisions. The partnership when we develop our design concepts and the excitement and appreciation of our clients.

What is one business mantra that has served you well?

Caty I feel a little silly, but I don't really prescribe to a particular business mantra. Our field of work is so personal, clients invite us into their homes and lives and we have to masterfully procure what we learn about them into a design.  The most valuable thing I've learned since starting Studio MOD(ish) is to follow my gut.  I suppose that's more of a mantra for life.

Darlene I agree with Caty. When we started we assumed everyone would be honest and trustworthy, but unfortunately we’ve learned otherwise on our journey. As a business owner, you sort of have a sixth sense when it comes to your clients and colleagues, so trusting your intuition is paramount. If it doesn’t feel good, walk away from it.

How do you stay motivated?

Caty Our clients are a huge motivation, their enthusiasm is infectious.

Darlene I love the satisfaction of being able to help our clients fall head-over-heels in love with their homes. That’s our goal with every single project!

What is one lesson that you've learned the hard way?

Caty Always sign a contract before beginning a project. I will leave it at that :)

Darlene What Caty said!

What is your dream project?

Caty For me, any client that is open and receptive to our work and allows total creative freedom is a dream project for me. Sure, the decadence of an endless budget is pretty tempting, but what's more exciting is an enthusiastic and trusting client.

Darlene Gimme that million dollar project, yo! Just kidding. A client that trusts our vision and gives us space to be creative is always a dream. As a creative, having space to think and design in my bubble is important and it’s amazing when a client gets that.

What is your advice for someone just starting out?

Caty Be confident in yourself, your talents, your education, your opinions, and your decisions. Expect to make mistakes and don't dwell on it when you do, move forward and appreciate those moments for what they are; great learning opportunities.

Darlene With hard work, dedication and the willingness to continue learning anything is possible.

Get in touch with Studio MOD(ish) on-line!
Website  •  Facebook  •  Twitter •  Instagram  •  Pinterest

Running a Creative Businesss with Lauren Messiah

Lauren Messiah is a highly sought-after Personal Stylist who's been featured in numerous publications. She also serves as COO for School of Style, a boutique fashion school for aspiring stylists.

What is your fashion background and how did your styling and School of Style career begin?

I studied Fashion Design at Virginia Commonwealth University. At that time I swore I wanted to be a designer. After I graduated I got a nice little reality check. It’s called "just because you went to college, doesn’t mean you get your dream job." I ended up working retail for about year (which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to work in fashion) and let go of my dream of being the next Betsy Johnson or Marc Jacobs. As the saying goes, when one door closes another one opens. One of my clients at Betsy Johnson helped me get an interview at AOL, where I worked as an administrative assistant. Not exactly living the dream but my job at AOL introduced me to this new thing called blogging.

In 2005, I started a fashion blog where I styled people online and answered fashion questions. I knew then that styling was my calling. Four years into my blog, I decided to take my styling game offline. That is when I discovered School of Style, where I would later become Co-Founder and COO.

What did your transition plan look like from AOL to fashion?

I treated my job at AOL as a stepping stone and a learning opportunity. I wasn’t about to roll over and give up on my dreams completely, but I knew I had to move out of my parent’s house and learn a little something about the business world.

With every non-fashion job that I’ve worked (there have been many), I have been very vocal about what I really want to do. It’s a fine line but with tact you can get some amazing cheerleaders and mentors on your side. I put in two good years of fetching coffee, scheduling meetings, and all the other soul-sucking work that comes with being an assistant. To my surprise and delight, my, at times, difficult boss connected me to another AOL executive who moved me out to LA for a job more closely aligned with what I really wanted to do.

Today, that exec serves as one of my most supportive mentors. I continued this method of putting in work at different companies, connecting with amazing mentors, and moving along to the next adventure when the time was right.

Juggling two successful businesses has got to be overwhelming at times. How do you stay focused and in control?

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a workaholic so I thrive off of the intense workload. I have a hideous habit of going, going, going...until I crash. So I’ve been practicing daily meditation and attempting to add “downtime” into my schedule. There is also a lot of green tea involved.

What do you like best about owning your own business?

The ability to take something from idea to reality in a very short period of time. When I worked at AOL it would take forever for a new product to launch, if it even launched at all. In both of my business, we can launch something fairly quickly and if it fails then it’s on to the next one.

How do you stay motivated?

Money! I’m kidding, kind of, but seriously, the bank account does motivate me to work harder. Not because I want to go swimming in a pool of money but because the success of the business doesn’t only take care of me, and my business partners, but it also takes care of all of my employees.

It also doesn’t hurt that the work I do actually helps people. When I see our School of Style graduates out there working or I see the confidence of my styling clients boosted because of my work – that motivates me to keep this ship sailing.

You have a really active social media presence, how important has that been to your success? Has there been one platform that's been the most beneficial?

I owe a lot of my success to social media. School of Style and my styling business are both self-funded, so the monthly marketing budget is basically non-existent. Social media has been a great tool to get the word out and to build credibility as a business.

For my personal styling business, Facebook has been the most beneficial to me because I get to find out from real women what they want when it comes to fashion. What frustrates them, what advice they need, and where the industry is falling short when it comes to getting dressed in the morning. I’m also addicted to Pinterest. I collect inspiration for clients and create secret styling boards for them as well.

I love your positive attitude and work ethic. What are some key traits that have served you well in the business world?

I’ve been training my mind for the past 5 years or so to avoid negativity like the plague. Negativity can take you and your business out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Positive-Pollyanna 24/7 or anything, but I do think a great attitude can take you quite far. With that being said, I also don’t apologize for who I am in the workplace. I’m blunt, I work hard, I give praise when it’s earned, and I expect the very best from the people I work with. As women, I think it’s important that we don’t shrink down in the workplace for fear of looking like a “bitch”. I’m not saying you should be a bitch, don’t do that! I’ve tried that trait out for size early in my career and it doesn’t work. Be kind but be firm.

What is one lesson that you've learned the hard way?

Not using reimbursement checks to pay off my credit cards right away! That was a painful lesson.

What is your dream project?

Oh wow, that’s a tough one because there are many things I want to accomplish. I’d say having my own televised makeover show for real women would be incredible. Kind of like a more modern and honest version of What Not to Wear.

What is your advice for someone just starting out?

Slow down! I find that after working with dozens of assistants and interns that 99.9% of them want it now. Everyone wants to go from zero to Rachel Zoe in 60 seconds. It doesn’t work that way. Pay your dues and learn all you can along the way. Shut the heck up, put your head down, work hard, and the pay off will be pretty amazing when it comes.

Get in touch with Lauren on-line!
Facebook  •  Pinterest  •  Twitter  •  Instagram  •  YouTube

Running a Creative Business with Lauren Paradise

Lauren Paradise is the co-founder of kelly+olive, a Chicago based interior design business. Lauren is juggling running the business while also perusing a masters degree in interior design.

What is your design background and how did kelly+olive begin?

I have always been interested in art and design, though my undergrad studies were in theatre. In 2008, while trying to work as an actor in Chicago (mostly working at an unfulfilling day job), Courtney and I began talking about creating our own home styling business. We shared a knack for and interest in interior design and had recently helped a friend redecorate her apartment on a tiny budget. The project was a success, and we worked together well so we thought this would be a fun fulfilling way to make a little money! We dove right in and things have grown bit by bit over the years.

Offering interior design through an on-line service is pretty unique, how did you decide on this format?

We were looking for a way to offer a service that would be affordable and accessible to almost anyone. Hiring an interior designer is still seen as something for the wealthy or frivolous. We know that everyone deserves and can benefit from a well-designed home, and working with clients online is a great way to reach all sorts of people while keeping costs low.

What have been the benefits of working with a partner?

For me, there are nothing but benefits. It's so helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to hand projects over to when I get stuck, to split the workload of the boring stuff, to hold the other end of the tape measurer. Plus it makes work super fun because I get to do it with my friend!

What do you like best about owning your own business?

Independence and flexibility. Owning my own business lets me tailor my workload while I'm pursuing my Masters Degree in Interior Design. Courtney and I have both been able to be flexible with the number of clients we take to suit what's going on in our lives. 

What is one lesson that you've learned the hard way?

Get a good accountant! We can't all be experts at everything (I have no desire to be a tax guru), but small business taxes can be really complex and you don't want a scary letter at your door.

You two have been featured in magazines, newspapers and news segments. What's your secret?

I don't know if there is a secret! Just a combination of luck and timing. We reached out to a lot of people when we first got started and got a connection that led to a magazine profile. Press people are always looking for new content, and if you can frame it in a way that seems cool and current, they'll pay attention. In that way I think the recession helped us out. We were offering a new, budget-friendly way to decorate and that really fit with current needs.

How do you stay motivated?

I've found working for myself and working from home to be a little isolating at times. It's hard to be a totally self-motivated creativity/productivity machine. In the past I've tried to schedule field trips into my week, take a walk around the neighborhood, or hang out with some other business-owner pals. Now, being in school and having new ideas, new faces, new skills around all the time keeps that part of my brain humming. 

What is your dream project?

I'd love to work on a restaurant or hospitality project. There's an opportunity to do something there that is really dramatic, iconic, or thematic in a way that wouldn't quite work in a residence. 

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Don't be afraid to reach out. Early on, we made a list of magazine editors, bloggers, and fellow designers and sent emails introducing ourselves and our business. As long as you're friendly, professional, and don't seem to be asking them for anything, people are receptive. We made some amazing connections and got great press just from saying 'hey, I thought you should know about us!'

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