There's no single recipe for success. As is the case in any industry, the best female interior designers got their start in a variety of ways: after renovating their own homes, following years of arduous design school, and even jumping in from related industries like PR or decorative painting. What's more, each of these women has her own measure for success, whether it's being featured in The New York Times, starting a paint company, or designing a 13,000-square-foot house in the country's most expensive zip code.
With Women's Equality Day just around the corner, we figured now is as good a time as any to highlight the next rising female stars in design—their journeys, their successes, and the lessons learned along the way. The beauty in all of these women is that each of them operates in her own unique way but never fails to deliver outstanding work. Some are early risers, others not so much. Some had a very linear path, others fell into interior design almost by accident. In the design world, all roads lead to Rome, and all paths lead to success. Here are some lessons we learned from the best female interior designers.
On her big break: "I started really getting noticed after I did my first showhouse for Holiday House NYC. At the time, I got this tiny little room that nobody wanted and decided to make it into a small office. I'm still proud of how it turned out. It was a real 'before and after' situation and is definitely one of the most fun projects I've worked on!"
On starting her day: "With my daughter, we usually play a little and have breakfast before I have to go to work. When I get to the office, there's always a whole bunch of emails and mail to get to, and then I go through the status of all my clients with each of our project managers before we start each day."
On her greatest mentor: "My mom. She had six kids and was a lawyer. She also has an incredible sense of style that's very authentically her."
On the best piece of advice she's ever received: "You'll never be able to please everyone always, so try to stay true to what feels right to you."
On her big break: "It's funny. If you had told me five years ago that people would know me for my interior design, I would have thought you were crazy. I started out in fashion and decided to put my design chops to work on a 1907 schoolhouse in my hometown of Pittsburgh. It was truly a hands-on project filled with DIYs, late nights, blood, sweat, and tears. I owe my entire career to that little house. I was able to hone in on my aesthetic, and it turns out other people dug that style too."
On her greatest accomplishment: "I've been pretty blessed with some extremely fun victories, but when The New York Times called and asked to feature my work and our little cabin in Echo Park, that was pretty major. I'm still floating on a cloud thinking about that."
On starting her day: "By going back to sleep! I'm not necessarily a morning person. But I start my day by giving my husband a kiss, and the first thing he always says is 'It's going to be a great day!' It's the best way to wake up. That and some hot tea."
On the best piece of advice she's ever received: "Say yes! Even if you think you don't know what you're doing, you will figure it out as you go along. Ask for help and advice from people you trust. Research, read, and google! You'll never know if you never try. I owe entire my career to saying yes to new opportunities. I call it the School of Hard Knocks—and I am currently working on my MBA."
On her big break: "I launched a design blog in 2008, which was the old-school, pre-influencer days of blogging. At the time, I was working in corporate America, but right away, I realized that I loved to design and I set up an LLC to test the waters. I was far along in my PR career and had begun receiving a lot of recognition for my blog, so I knew that if I left my day job, it would be to run my own design firm. At the beginning of 2013, I left to build my interior design firm full-time."
On her greatest accomplishment: "I recently launched a direct-to-consumer paint company called Clare that I'm super excited about. I channeled all of my expertise as a designer into creating a new kind of paint company with 55 designer curated colors, all the tools you need to paint, plus expert design guidance and inspiration. I raised $2 million in venture capital to launch the brand, and I'm excited that through this company I can help people everywhere create homes that love."
On starting her day: "I usually wake up, check my email, and do a daily gratitude journal using the Five Minute Journal iPhone app. On a good day, I'll also work out. Before heading to work, I'll usually make a Daily Harvest smoothie."
On the best piece of advice she's ever received: "Take what you love and find a way to make a career out of it. After leaving corporate America, I've carried this advice with me throughout the remainder of my career. I've never loved coming to work as much as I do now."
On her big break: "I am not sure I have had a big break. I think I am still waiting! There hasn't been a singular monumental turning point, but rather a slow build over five years. I graduated from interior design school and moved to New York a week later and have been working for myself ever since!"
On starting her day: "I start my day with my son calling my name 10 times before my eyes properly open. I grab him out of his crib and pull him into bed for a cuddle. My husband is usually finishing off a workout and comes in shortly after. My workday starts at 9 a.m. when I get to the office and frantically start responding to emails!"
On her greatest mentor: "My husband has been a pretty significant mentor to me. We moved here from Australia with no connections or friends, and we are opposite human beings. He has taught me to be less emotional and more professional and to strive for more with no apologies."
On the best piece of advice she's ever received: "My grandmother told me that if I pursue money, I will never make it, but if I pursue a passion, the money will follow. My father also told me recently that my energy is like a glass of water. If I fill it to the brim every day, I will start to think that is normal, and when it's three-quarters full, it won't feel as good. It felt very profound to me at the time."
Caroline Grant and Dolores Suarez
On their big break: "We started out as decorative painters, which is an unusual way of becoming an interior designer, but it taught us everything there is to know about color, texture, finishes, and detail work. We then went into residential design, which informed our hospitality work. We now have come full circle designing our first wallpaper collection, which includes all the finishes we were taught by a professor of decorative painting back in our 20s."
On their greatest accomplishment: "Our first restaurant, Bobo, was nominated for a James Beard Design award. It was our first hospitality project that started us off. Now we're working on our first hotel!"
On starting their day: "We both enter the office and have a brainstorm session for whatever projects are on the table. We always think two minds are greater than one. We also try to incorporate wellness into our routine with lemon turmeric tea before opening up emails!"
On the best piece of advice they've ever received: "Never be afraid to mix styles. Steve Jobs said you can always connect the dots backward. We were lucky to train under so many different great interior designers, such as Jeffrey Bilhuber, Studio Sofield, and Ralph Harvard. This way, we could learn from so many mentors and absorb all their creative knowledge and attention to detail."
On her greatest accomplishment: "For me, it was developing a ground-up property for sale on the very special Hedge's Lane in Sagaponack, New York."
On starting her day: "Bulletproof coffee, Sufi chanting, and then 30 minutes of visual inspiration online to get me going."
On her greatest mentor: "I am lucky to have other friends in the business; we share and inspire each other. I also always have a life coach or guide helping me, I think it's very very important to have support in this demanding business."
On the best piece of advice she's ever received: "Value your time, and others with will too."