Everyone’s path into the world of interiors is different. Some know that they want to attend design school from an early age, while others pursue such a path after dabbling in an entirely different industry.
We spoke with top designers in the U.S., Canada, and England to learn just how they ended up on their current career path, and they share the exact moment they knew to pursue a career in interior design. While their timelines all varied, each designer could not be more grateful for where they ended up.
In Her Chicago Studio Apartment
“I had my ‘aha’ moment in my mid-twenties when for the first time, I was living alone in my one-bedroom apartment in Chicago. I was working in a dead-end corporate job with no inspiration or creativity. As I already knew I had a visual arts gift and was an accomplished artist as early as my teen years, I decided interior design was going to be my long-term field. As I would pour through interior design magazines every night at home, I decided to combine my artistic background, love for interiors, and strong business skills and haven’t looked back since.” —Amy Youngblood, principal designer at Amy Youngblood Interiors
Over an Apple Martini
“I was never exposed to design growing up, so I didn’t even think of it as a career choice. I got my engineering degree and moved up to work in New York City as an IT consultant. I was out with friends at a lounge one night, sipping some too-expensive apple martini—it was 2001—and I was in awe of the interior design. Then, a lightbulb went off in my head, and I thought, ‘Someone created this, someone gets to do this for a living, and wow, I want to do this.’ It took a few more years to get the courage, but I finally quit my good consulting career and went back to school to study interior design. Best decision ever.” —Jamie Ivey, owner and creative director at Ivey Design Group
After Applying to a Design Program
“I always knew I needed a career that involved creativity and the ability to connect with people. I really wanted to create something that you see and use—something that functioned. I have to admit I came into the interiors world on a whim after applying to a program at Parsons, not thinking I’d get in. It was truly a combination of listening to my intuition plus taking some risks that brought me to the industry.” —Meg McSherry, founder of Meg McSherry Interiors
Upon Leaving the Film Industry
“My career started in film production for Ridley Scott. Not conventional, I know, but I learned a lot about managing large-scale projects, which has stood me in incredibly good stead for the kind of interior projects I do now. I was living in London at the time, and as much as I loved working in the film industry, I soon discovered that this was a hugely demanding environment. Quality and design had to be the very best, but organization and delivery were equally critical, as an extra minute spent on a shoot could cost thousands of pounds.
This was an excellent training ground for me, but it required dedication, so I worked all the hours I could. After a few years, I moved to Wiltshire where I began my interior design career. As with all new businesses, I had to start from the beginning, which for me meant a sewing machine and a constant flow of curtains across the kitchen table.
A combination of determination, training, constant research and natural skills meant that clients soon started asking for assistance and advice for other parts of their home. My big break came when a client came to me and asked if I could design their family home—a nine-bedroom Grade II Listed Manor. It was such an enjoyable experience, and from there the beginning of Sims Hilditch was born. Some 20 years later, I now lead a team of skilled staff and work on numerous projects across the UK and abroad.” —Emma Sims-Hilditch, founder and creative director at Sims Hilditch
Working Alongside Other Designers
“I realized at the age of six that I loved house plans. My parents were building a new house and had books of house plans that I devoured. I commandeered them once our plan was selected and kept these books for several years afterward, studying the plans and drawing my own. When it was time for college, I applied to architecture school and was accepted. I realized early on that my real passion was on the interior side of things but stuck with architecture, graduated with an architecture degree, and went to work in an architectural firm.
I always gravitated to the interior side of our projects but took a management track for my career. A few years ago, I left corporate architecture to work for a wealthy family office that did a lot of small development with a residential focus. Working with the interior designers, I realized this was where my passion lay, and I convinced this client to take a chance on me and designed one of their homes. This led to two more homes for them. I built on this experience and began focusing exclusively on interior design, and several years later, here I am.” —Mark Lavender, founder of M. Lavender Interiors
Moving Into Her First Condo
“When we had moved from our condo in Chicago to our new house in the suburbs, this feeling, as an artist, of having this huge blank canvas to work with was so exciting. All the possibilities from paint to furniture, art, and décor got my heart racing, and it clicked that this was what I wanted to do. Having an art background helped mold my knowledge and creativity, and interior design felt like an organic and very natural next step for me.” —Natalie Papier, founder of Home Ec
Having an art background helped mold my knowledge and creativity, and interior design felt like an organic and very natural next step for me.
After a Rough Day of Work
“The moment came when I had gone through an awfully busy day at work as a financial broker’s assistant. I wanted to do something more creative and more rewarding. I realized I had a forgotten passion from when I was young, which was to be an interior designer. At my husband’s encouragement, I promptly enrolled in design school and have never looked back! It was the best decision I ever made.” —Phyllis Lui, principal at Kalu Interiors
Rearranging a Friend's Furniture
“It should have been incredibly clear the moment I found myself dragging around and rearranging furniture in the home of a close high school friend while her dad was on vacation. It wasn’t until I purchased my first real estate investment that I knew I wanted to pursue interior design professionally, but I never looked back.” —Breegan Jane, designer, blogger, and philanthropist
Switching from High School to Full-Time Design
“I was a freshman in high school and I was being bullied—it was really bad. I told my mom that I wanted to leave school, and she said that if I found something that I wanted to do and a school that would take me, I could. I loved to sketch rooms and had always enjoyed helping her decorate for her parties. She had a girlfriend who worked as a designer for Ethan Allen, and I just thought that that was the most amazing thing. So, I said I wanted to be an interior designer, and the rest is history.” —Blanche Garcia, principal at B. Garcia Designs
When Redecorating Her Childhood Home
“I was raised in a family that appreciated homes, entertaining, and decorating at every level in life. Even in the early days as the wife of a young naval officer, my mother would save money to buy a nice lamp or a new tablecloth for their apartment. When my father started building houses, we moved into one of them, and my mother hired a decorator from a local furniture store. I remember thinking he was so elegant, and I loved the exciting new furnishings he brought into our home. One day after school, when I went to practice the piano in the living room, I noticed new draperies had been hung. They were cream and yellow striped silk and I thought, ‘Our house is beautiful.' From then on, I was hooked. Design wasn’t my first career—however, it always beckoned and I am thrilled that today I spend my time creating beautiful, comfortable, and functional spaces.” —Pamela O’Brien, principal designer at Pamela Hope Designs
Purchasing Her First Home
“I knew the minute we purchased our first home. I loved seeing and learning about all of the fabrics and colors and textures out there in the world, and I am still enjoying it." —Kelly Bernier, owner and lead designer at Kelly Bernier Designs
Meeting Another Design Student
“I thought I wanted to be an architect when I was growing up. I’ve always loved houses and how people live in them, and I wanted to design every aspect of a home. I didn't understand that nowadays, it’s the interior designer who’s more of the driving force behind not only the decoration, but the function, space planning, and full aesthetic of the interior.
Where I came from, interior design was never considered a viable career—especially for a man. I went to school for architecture, but in my junior year, I met someone who was going to school for interior design. After asking more questions and looking into the program, I realized that interior design was my true calling. Learning that interior design is a highly technical career that requires training and knowledge as well as good taste and talent was eye-opening. I immediately enrolled in the interior design program and have never looked back.” —Wesley Moon, founder of Wesley Moon Inc.
An Early Love of Art
“Most designers are all cut from an artistic cloth and realize a creative path early in our lives, though honing in on the particular craft and direction is one that doesn’t usually fall neatly on our laps. Being a creative who was inspired by so many artistic fields from a very young age, it took me some time to determine my path. But when I found it, I hit the ground running.
From as early as I could remember, I was enthralled with everything from fashion to fine art to decorating to architecture. I used to often draw fashion designs and explore a variety of textiles while also being heavily involved in painting, redecorating my childhood homes, constantly being inspired by architecture from our travels as a family. I also loved the creative aspects of marketing and business such as illustration, and I was able to merge all of these creative worlds in my life with interior design.
Approaching my last couple of years in high school, I began exploring career options, and when I researched a variety of disciplines from colleges to technical institutes, interior design kept shooting out at me. I began reaching out to established designers in the field. I also had a cousin going through an interior design program, and I’d get lost in the hand strokes of her hand-drafting pages whenever we visited. I then knew immediately upon exiting high school, I’d be entering an interior design program (which I did), as I finally realized it would be the binding of all of these creative principles I loved as a child into this one beautiful collaborative field." —Aleem Kassam, principal at Kalu Interiors
Changing Her Bedroom Layout
“I am not sure I had one particular moment where I knew I wanted to get into interior design. In my case, it was more of an evolution. I grew up in Scotland surrounded by old buildings, and as a child, I was constantly moving the furniture around in my bedroom, so my future career was definitely in progress at an early age.” —Kirsten Blazek, founder of A1000xBetter