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How I Got Started as an Interior Designer

If you've found your way to this post, it's likely that we share a passion for all things interior design—HOW FUN! Thanks for being here, and it's great to meet you.

I can't tell you how many times young people reach out to me wondering about a career in interior design. So often, in fact, that I created an email template outlining my story that I share with them. And then I realized, wait, why haven't I made this a blog post? How fun would that be!?

In this post, I've copied and pasted a few questions and answers below that new or aspiring designers have asked me along the way, and which might be applicable to your situation if you're curious about entering the industry.

But first, if you're looking for something more in-depth, personal, or one-on-one, I also offer interior design industry consulting sessions, both for those curious about entering the industry, or for other designers who would like some insight on how I personally operate my business.

Let's jump in!

How did you get started in the industry? Where did you go to school and did you do free lance work or work with another interior design company before starting your own? 

I graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, with a major in vocal music and minor in psychology. My plan at the time was to pursue musical theatre (click for an adorable video from college), but after graduating, I found myself working for the church I grew up at for a few years as their director of music while simultaneously co-operating a location of Biggby Coffee with my brother.

In both jobs, I learned a lot about the things I was good at/loved, and the things that didn't so much fit for me:

At the church, I had extreme autonomy and creative control, which I found to be a great fit for my working style and personality. I had a nice blend of working together with people, while also having lots of solo working time, and I loved that.

At the coffee shop, I learned about marketing, networking, and building a community, but I realized I wasn't the greatest at managing a team, and I knew I didn't like the rigidity of retail hours.

After getting married and moving to Grand Rapids, I started working a handful of part time jobs...admin assistant, church secretary, fine jewelry sales person, and social media manager. In all of these roles I learned things that I still use today—time management, coordinating people and teams, sales, marketing, calendar management, networking, the list goes on!

I was always interested in design, but I got a hands on taste while spending time creating our first home together—a two bedroom apartment in Cherry Hill, Grand Rapids—as well as from watching TONS of Fixer Upper (LOL).

I remember saying to one of my co-workers at the time that if I could do ANYTHING, it would be interior design. Then I thought, wait a second, that does not seem out of reach!

Before getting started, I did what many of you have done—I reached out to a handful of designers to ask about their experience, researched, read TONS of design blogs, and practiced a lot on my own space.

Then, I did what any logical person would do (ha): I made a business card, I started attending local networking events, and I let folks know I was offering design services. Seems pretty bold now, looking back at it!

I will say that I personally have experienced a lot of tension in the design community (however, NEVER from clients) between folks who are degreed designers and folks who aren't.

If you go the non-school route, just be prepared to get some push back here and there. There are PLENTY of famous designers who are self-made: Joanna Gains, Jonathan Adler, Jeremiah Brent, Nate Burkas, Leanne Ford, the list goes on...maybe you're the next big name in design!

I personally don't care if you have a degree or not. It's a useful tool to have, but the reality is that most folks don't end up pursuing the industry they got a degree in, and my bigger question is: are you making your customers happy, and are you making sure to follow your local and state laws/regulations around what you are legally allowed to do? If so, you're golden.

Do you do more commercial or residential design? And how much of your job is sitting at a computer designing something versus kind of being out in the field. What does the day-to-day look like? 

I market mainly to residential clients, but I have done and still sometimes do commercial work. I tend to prefer residential unless the commercial space has a very residential feel.

Work wise, I spend a LOT of time at the computer, even during my Designed in a Day sessions. Once I have a space measured out, most of the actual design work is space planning in SketchUp, conceptualizing, creating visuals, finding the right pieces—all of which happens on the computer.

My days all look pretty different, and there's plenty of variety. Currently I focus mainly on Designed in a Day sessions, so those days, I'm in clients' spaces working with them on space planning, sourcing, styling, etc.

When I'm not in sessions, I spend time marketing, writing, networking, and planning. As a business owner, I find as much or more of my time is spent on things relating to the business side of things (marketing, planning, sales, finances) and the lesser percentage of time is spent directly designing spaces.

That would likely be different if I worked for a design firm or on a team of designers rather than owning a business. This works out great for me because I LOVE running a business (that came as a surprise to me!), but if actual design work was what I wanted to be doing all the time, working for someone else might have been be the way to go (OR, potentially, freelancing for other designers rather than working direct with clients).

What types of programs do you use for design?

I use Sketchup to do 2D space planning and some minimal 3D planning for cabinetry and builtins. I use Pixelmator Pro (which is very similar to photoshop) to do style boards, and Canva for marketing materials. A lot of folks use Chief Architect for 3D and cabinetry design, especially for kitchen, bath, or whole home projects.

I have been looking into programs for studying interior design and found one through the New York Institute of Art and Design. It is fully online and at the end you get industry certification. I was wondering if you know if it's a good program, OR are there others that you have heard of that might be better? 

I looked into this program a lot when I was first getting started, though I've never met anyone who went through it, so I can't speak to its quality.

I went back and forth many times, but in the end I decided just to jump in and start working. I decided if I found, after getting started, that I would benefit from some classes, I could always do it while I was working—but I never quite got around to it!

Currently, Michigan is a state that does not require interior designers to be licensed (and you can always opt to call yourself a decorator if you're not comfortable with the term designer). I wasn't keen on spending money on more schooling, so I just went for it. There are loads of resources out there that are less expensive than a degree or certificate program. Here are a few I like: 

And, as I mentioned before, if you're looking for more specifics or think you would benefit from a one-on-one conversation with someone who has been in it for almost a decade now, I offer virtual consulting/coaching conversations as well. Hope you found this helpful!


Work with Lauren Figueroa Interior Design

LFID is an interior designer working with folks in West & Southeast Michigan and NYC, known especially for her unique Designed in a Day service.

LFID clients range from Detroit to Clarkston, and all the way to Grand Rapids, Holland and Traverse City, and most recently, NYC! I pride myself on creating bespoke, people-centered spaces—because after all, people are what this life is all about!

If you have a project on the horizon, get started by telling me about your vision here, and you can view past projects here.

Thanks for stopping by!  


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