Odds are, you’ve come across one of Michelle Gage’s vibrant rooms before—the Pennsylvania-based designer has been featured in too many publications to count. Gage is never one to shy away from pattern and feels passionately about using wallpaper in her projects when possible. As part of our series, My Design Journey, Gage opened up about her childhood interest in design, the process of forming her own company, and the exciting spaces she’s currently working on with clients.
On Her Life-Long Love for Design
Gage studied interior design as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, but her interest in decorating emerged long before her college years.
“As a kid, I never really played with Barbies—I just styled their dream homes,” Gage reflects. “I have so many vivid memories of my friends being annoyed by the fact that I would spend hours setting up that little pink mansion, only to be called home for dinner before any ‘playing’ actually occurred.”
Gage would create her own inspiration boards for spaces, too. “I sketched a floor plan and new furniture layout for every new house I entered,” she says. “On Sundays, I would shop the newspaper circular for home sales and rip out department store sofas, rugs, and tables to create mock up living rooms.”
Finally, when Gage saw the title "interior designer" referenced on television, she was able to put a name to her dream profession.
As a kid, I never really played with Barbies—I just styled their dream homes.
On Her Transition to Running Her Own Business
After college, Gage moved to Pennsylvania, where she began working for Anthropolgie HQ as a buyer. Eventually, she felt ready to launch her own business full-time, and Michelle Gage Interior Design was born.
“I am a big believer in recognizing your window, and I could just sense that the timing was right,” Gage says. “I didn’t leave with some grand business plan. Little did I know, I was about to embark on a new journey where I was building the plane as I flew it.”
Running her own company didn’t come without its share of surprises. “I think the most eye-opening aspect of working for myself has been seeing the amount of support you get from working for an existing company,” Gage reflects. “They have departments that small businesses just don’t: payroll, marketing, finance, and HR. When I left, I became all of those departments—plus design, project management, and client services.”
Little did I know, I was about to embark on a new journey where I was building the plane as I flew it.
Gage notes that for many, this change of pace is quite overwhelming. “It really does take some time for new designers to find their footing, and I’ve seen many get far too frustrated along the way,” she says. “The part I enjoy most now is sharing the knowledge and experience I have gained with others.”
As a result, Gage offers a course for designers looking to launch their own companies. “I was getting bombarded with DMs, texts, emails, and calls for coffee and simply couldn’t meet with everyone,” she says. “I genuinely enjoy talking about the business side of things. The course answers all of those ‘pick your brain’ questions that people have, but in a thoughtful way that guides you through the proper steps in a logical manner.”
In the class, which Gage created after five years of working for herself, she specifically highlights concepts such as contract creation, building a team, networking, and more. “If there was a course like this for me to have purchased when I was starting out, my first few years would've been way less rocky,” she says. “Looking back, I’m very proud of how far I have come and never would’ve imagined I’d have these opportunities—or gain the valuable peer relationships I have—just five years ago.”
On Her Extensive Press Coverage
Gage is a master of marketing and has worked extensively to have her projects featured in publications including Domino, House Beautiful, HGTV, and more. “I live under the mantra of ‘if it’s important to you, you’ll make it happen. If not, you’ll make an excuse,’” Gage explains.
Early on, she carved aside a set amount of time per week to pitch her designs to publishers. “Now, I’ve done all of the legwork to have editors come to me, which is amazing,” she says. “But, make no mistake about it: nothing worth having comes easily.”
On Her Bold Style—and Love of Wallpaper
“If you’re doing a decorating project and are leery of wallpaper, we probably aren’t the right firm for you,” Gage notes in the FAQ section on her website. She even says that her own style is more fantastical than what is reflected in her clients' projects.
“We’re lucky to have clients who trust us and want to be pushed to be bolder, but few who want to get as ‘weird’ as I’ve gotten in my own home,” Gage says. “I always lead with my gut and spew that all over my house.”
And as for her passion for wallpaper? “I always let the house do the talking, but more often than not, it tells me that it craves wallpaper,” Gage explains. “I want to inject a little personality into the projects I design. I’m also a big art lover and to me, layering different prints and patterns is art. I don’t like sterile living environments. A home’s warmth comes from its color and pattern.”
I always let the house do the talking, but more often than not, it tells me that it craves wallpaper.
On What's Next for Her Company
“We’re lucky to have some really exciting projects happening right now,” Gage says. “Currently, we’re renovating and decorating a 1700’s farmhouse in New Jersey. We have a fun decorating job in the city, where we’re going to have the opportunity to do some really quirky custom furniture.”
And repeat clients are coming back to Gage, this time to tackle their vacation homes. “This is always great because the trust is already established and we’re able to do some funky things for them,” Gage says.
As for the future of design as a whole? “The design industry has had a rough go at it lately with all of the shipping delays. We’ve had to be the bearers of bad news a lot in this past year. I would hope those issues start to resolve themselves as the world opens up and starts to get back to normal.”