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!
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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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