How I Became an Interior Designer: Part 5 (the end!)

>> Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I drank coffee after dinner. It's 9:45 and I'm ready to go to the club. Except I have three babies in bed and have not been to a "club" since Bryan graduated med school and I rallied for Raifords. But I. am. awake. So, let's blog.

Tap, tap, anyone still listening to this story? I fear I've let down anyone who may have been taking notes in the beginning. Might be a little late to clarify, but this is not How to Become and Interior Designer, just how I became an interior designer. And I really want to finish so that when I'm an old lady reading my own blog (and am finally over the fact that I accidentally deleted all the photos in posts prior to September 2009) I will remember this story, because none of it is important. But it sure did feel important at the time. And I have a feeling that is going to be the reoccurring theme of my entire life.

So in 2009 Bryan and I packed our bags and moved to Boston. But let me back up for a minute. I had planned this part of my life. I was going to have 5 years of "big firm" experience, a solid portfolio, and we were going to move to a big city and I was going to work for a big city firm. But just a month before I put my notice in, the firm I worked for in Memphis had a huge layoff. I did not get laid off, but the whole experience of my buddies being called to HR and then being told to pack a box, shook me to my core. It was horrible. And rumor had it, it was happening all over the country. So we move to Boston and guess what, no one was hiring. I sent out over 60 resumes. Crickets.

So I take it as a sign, I am supposed to take a break from design. I get a job at a coffee shop one block from our apartment. I think it's going to be like Friends, I'm Rachel, etc. etc. It was not like Friends. It was like working in an ER, except we were not saving lives, just making coffee. I also got a job teaching a drawing class for an inner city after school program. I am embarrassed to admit this, but again, I was Michelle Pfeiffer, they were all going to hate me at first, then they were going to love me. But, alas, they mostly just hated me. There were some sweet moments, but I got called the B word more than once and learned that teaching is the freakin' hardest job ever. Teachers and baristas, y'all have my lifelong respect.

Then one day in October this guy calls about one of the 60 resumes I sent out that September. He owns a small firm in Somerville, a town right outside of Boston, and he's looking to hire a designer with commercial interiors experience. I get the job. I work with a small team hired as contract employees on a corporate headquarters space over the next 6 months. If I did not mention, this firm was SMALL. And coming from corporate America, the lack of "standards" drove me nuts. There was no protocol for file saving, no CAD standards, some of the computer programs were pirated versions (ha!). It was the polar opposite of the structured corporate environment I had come from but you know what, he was still making money. The veil had been pulled back, you didn't have to know everything. You just had to confidently know something, and fake the rest. I mean, this man was being awarded HUGE projects in China and he had no CAD standards. Mind blowing.

So my contract ended and I take the train down to city hall and get a business licence. I had no clients. I remember crying in my car because I wanted to go to Ikea to buy something but I had no money (total first world probs) but while I was in my car, crying, my phone rang. It was a friend who worked at the small firm in Somerville, he was moving to China and wanted to know if I wanted to take over some work he began with Harvard's Stem Cell Institute. And the rest, as they say, is history. I taught at the Boston Architectural College the first year to help supplement my income (again, teaching, I'm pretty sure even the college girls called me a B). But four years later, I never could have imagined what a fun ride it would be.

And that's the story of how I became an interior designer, and then later a business owner. If you're reading this, you made it!!! I promise my next post, although it may be in 6 months, will have pictures.


How I Became an Interior Designer: Part 4

>> Wednesday, May 6, 2015

So, I could not leave everyone thinking that I have spent the past 10 years crying, like my last post may have indicated. Things DID get better. It was a rough year. But by the beginning of the second, I was wiser, tougher, and [the game changer]...less emotional. I credit the last to an architect who worked in my department, her name was Anna. She was well respected and confident, and didn't accomplish that by tearing others down. She was also married with three kids and went home at 5 pm. If you've worked in the corporate architecture world, you know that's a big deal. But one day Anna pulled me aside and plainly said "You cannot let them see you cry. If you need to cry, go to the bathroom. But this is a man's world and crying is not going to help your cause." And  honestly, it wasn't men who were making me cry (ladies, why are we so hard on each other!?) But it WAS men that were mostly calling the shots around there. And it was as if no one had ever told me that before. I just stopped, that day. And as far as I can remember, I never cried at work again.

The following year Bryan and I got married and I moved to Memphis. In Memphis I took a job with another large firm and there was another game changer, my boss liked me. It was the first time in my career I didn't feel like I was just producing something, or trying to be relevant, or dying to be creative. This guy hired me to be creative, asked me what I thought about things, and appreciated when I worked Saturdays. It was a change of pace I so desperately needed and one major factor in why I am still in this industry today (because I really have tried to bail a million times:)

That all being said, the new job was still, and probably more so, a man's world. And ladies, it's not right, but it just is. My approach to dealing with that was just to consume knowledge. I learned how to put a set of construction drawings together front to back by myself, I could detail a load bearing wall, I became LEED accredited, and NCIDQ certified. I needed to prove I could do more than pick paint and fabrics and that interior design was not an afterthought and most importantly, not a "girl's job".

Three years later I headed to Boston with a full portfolio, feeling very empowered (maybe a little too empowered!)...and then the 2009 recession happened. More on that to come...

^^^Our sweet, little first house in Memphis^^^
And HERE is a hilarious article written by the Commercial Appeal where I question how my husband survived the first few years of being married to me. 


How I Became an Interior Designer: Part 3

>> Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Losing momentum here, y'all. When did blogging become so hard? But I am back, because I think this next little bit may be the most helpful piece for anyone who is doing any sort of career soul searching. It's a wordy post, so bear with me.

photo by:

Picking up where I left off, I spent the next four years in college studying interior design (in the space photographed above). The interior design program at UT is under the architectural college and I think most people might be surprised to learn how absolutely grueling (glorious at times) but really, really emotionally, physically, and mentally taxing design school was for most of us. I was once accused of being prejudice against handicap people during a review. I cried. I once had a professor ask me if an ant had walked in ink and then crawled all over my boards. I cried. And then best, the dean of the school taught a lecture where she occasionally made us turn in sketches. At the top of my paper she once wrote "you cannot draw!"...I cried. I cried, we all cried. We stayed up until two am, sometimes all night, all the time. Showers were not a priority. We were gross, sleep deprived, but in the strangest way, having the time of our lives because we all had each other. Those mean old professors knew what they were doing. They were preparing us for the real world. And the real world was about to be really rough for me.

So I graduated and despite all the criticism, which I think lightened up as the years went on, I somehow made it out of college thinking I was the bomb. The market was tough but I got a job with one of the larger firms in Nashville in their corporate interiors department. I think it took me approximately 36 hours in the real world to realize, NOPE I was not the bomb, and approximately zero people thought I was the bomb. I was slow at CAD, I was not well versed in deciphering building codes, and the worst part, assigned to work full time with a designer who I did not meet during my interview and to put it mildly, was not a good fit for.

The first year out of college, similar to the first year in design school, was so rough. I cried. all. the. time. The book The Devil Wears Prada had just come out and it was like therapy to me. I was not alone. I remember sitting at my desk at 6 o'clock one evening, most everyone had already left for the day. I had been given a set of red lines (marked up drawings that needed to be corrected in the computer) by a more senior designer, right after lunch that day. She said "I need these finished, stamped, and on my desk by 5". I was already scared of this lady and knew the task was nearly impossible (at least for me) but I wasn't asked, I was told. So I sat for the next four hours, no restroom breaks, no water breaks, head down...clicking...clicking...clicking.  4:30, I'm finished. I plot the drawing. Get it stamped. Get it signed.

I think I got the sheet on her desk by 5:10. She snatched it, huffed a dismissal, and I sheepishly walked back to my desk guessed it...criiiied. There was only one guy still in the open office area where I resided at this point and he came over with a beer in hand (where did this beer come from? I have no idea) but he sat it on my desk and very plainly said "don't cry. she sucks" and I laughed, through my tears (which I agree with Dolly Parton, is the best emotion) My boss, the head of our department, called me into his office 10 minutes later after getting the full run down from my personal Anna Wintour of just how terrible I was. He began the conversation with "don't worry, we're not going to fire you".

I remember my head spinning, thinking, "FIRE ME! why are we even discussing firing me!? I come early, I work late. Yes, there has been a huge learning curve for me from school to real world, but fire me!? I'm 22 years old and I'm really, really trying here."

And that's where I'll stop today. I promise the next chapter takes a nice turn for the positive. BUT I have always wanted to share that little sad time in my career (it went on like that for a straight year) on my blog because I think it's easy to look at projects on Instagram or designer's portfolios and think that it's always been just one big escalator moving up. Not the case for me at all. If IG were around in 2004 mine would have been a nice rotation of this...
and this...
And ain't nobody want to follow that. But to all you talented, under-valued, poorly managed new graduates out there thinking of jumping ship and taking the LSAT, hang in there. It's going to get better.


How I Became an Interior Designer : Part 2

>> Friday, March 20, 2015

Let's see, the next chapter of my story is probably in high school. But I think it's worth noting that I watched a million episodes of Designing Women in between. So I did have some continuing education after my original revelation.

But high school, I was ok at high school. I did everything just ok. I applied myself here and there, but reflecting back on high school as an adult, I could have tried a lot harder. I took the ACT (sans studying), applied to college (just one) and was accepted....BUT....did not get accepted to the interior design program. I met with our school counselor about what major I would declare and I remember her telling me that maybe interior design was not for me. UT only took around 15 students into the program every year and my academic performance thus far was not going to get me into that select group.  But instead of being all what kind of dream crushing school counselor are you!? I accepted the challenge, checked undeclared, and headed over to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to pick out some extra-long twin sheets.

^^^what's a blog post without a picture?^^^
There are overalls under that awesome pullover, in case you were curious. AND in my hair, naturally curly, is  pushed back with one of those comb headbands. Pin away.

So I went to college and for the first time in my academic career, I decided I needed to do more than just ok. I scheduled a meeting with the Dean of the Interior Design program, who told me that they take a handful of non-freshman students every year based on portfolio review. I spent the second semester of my freshman year in various art studios, with some really cool people who were forging their own academic paths, and it.was.awesome. I re-applied that spring and guess what, senior year school counselor?? the faux fortune teller was right. I was accepted. Stephanie Frye was still on track to becoming an interior designer.

And if you happen to have made it this far and are thinking, why did I read this, I don't even want to be an interior designer? My husband, who just finished his training at a Harvard Hospital, who DID study for his ACT, and is the most handsome nerd I know, did not get accepted into medical school the first time he applied.

So, don't let rejection stop you. It's actually been a re-occurring theme in my career, but more on that later! Part 3 coming soon.


How I Became an Interior Designer : Part 1

>> Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I get a lot of emails with questions asking me the path to becoming an interior designer. The most honest answer is, there are several paths. Some of the most talented, successful interior designers I know have no formal training. You see their work on the cover of shelter magazines everyday. On the flip side, some interior designers have both an undergraduate and a masters degree in design. They are your design professors or the head of interiors departments in commercials firms, like my insanely talented friend Heather who was just named one of Nashville's 40 under 40 (baller!) Me? I am somewhere in between. But if you want to hear my story, I'm going to make you start in the beginning. And so I bring you a new blog series...

How I Became an Interior Designer 
Part 1

The year, 1988. 
Just doing second grade, one day at time, occasionally gazing into mirrors to remind myself how lucky I am to be a child of the 80's.

And then one weekend in that very formative year, our elementary school had it's annual school fair. There was a fortune teller at this event, who I knew was not legit because she was my second grade teacher, BUT I was willing to overlook that in hopes of gaining some insight on my future. So, being the planner that I am, I went straight for the meat...what am I going to be when I grow up? She looked into her crystal ball and said "an interior designer." And I said "what do they do?" She said something along the lines of picking out fabrics and decorations and getting paid for it, and I was like uhm, ok! 

And so at the ripe old age of 7, my career plans were set and I have not changed my story since 
(minus that stint after college where I hated my job and wanted to take the LSAT)
Be back soon with part 2.


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