My Design Journey: Shannon Claire Smith on Building Her Business

Shannon Claire Smith on sofa.

Laura Metzler 

Shannon Claire Smith is a master designer and stylist known for her “traditional yet edgy” work, which has been featured in a number of leading design publications and frequently makes Instagram users stop in their tracks. As part of our series, My Design Journey, we spoke with Smith regarding her early days blogging, her thoughtful transition to developing her own business, her dream collab, and what lies ahead for Shannon Claire Interiors and the design world as a whole. 

How Blogging Reignited a Passion for Design

In college, Smith enjoyed studying both literature and journalism and considered pursuing a Ph.D. and teaching down the line. “I just knew that I loved Shakespeare and wanted to read and write and study as much as I could, but I wasn’t thinking too far into the future,” she reflects. Smith had always been interested in interior design but didn’t consider it as a career option. 

While Smith was still a student in North Carolina, she and her husband purchased their first home. Eager to document the renovation process, Smith created a design blog, Burlap and Lace.

“This was 2009-2010, which really was the golden age for blogs, so I hopped on the design blogging train and just started writing,” Smith reflects. “It began as a way to share our projects with friends and family, and it just blossomed into something I didn’t see coming.”

While blogging, Smith really rediscovered her love of design. She began working to further integrate herself into the design world, chronicling her own projects as well as trends she loved, and she soon began earning a small amount of revenue from her work. “People were asking if I offered design services,” Smith says. “I leaned into it, put the work in, and have never looked back.” 

People were asking if I offered design services. I leaned into it, put the work in, and have never looked back.

On Educating Herself Prior to Launching a Company

Prior to officially taking on clients, Smith educated herself on the business side of the design world. “When I realized I was interested in this as an actual career, I got a job at a local home boutique and learned everything that I could about the retail side of the trade business,” she says. “I attended High Point Market and design conferences. I interned and later worked for a designer in my town to learn the ropes for years, which really helped with the behind the scenes workings of a design business.” 

Though Smith no longer considers herself a design blogger, Burlap and Lace did provide a means for connecting with others. “I ‘met’ lots of design friends this way, most of whom I still keep up with to this day,” Smith shares. That said, working on her blog proved to be quite different from working as a designer. 

“There came to be a huge and purposeful difference between those who are design bloggers and those who are interior decorators and designers,” Smith explains. “The former can clearly be a pathway to the latter, but it’s so important to know that designing and documenting your own home according to your own budget and timeline is vastly different than creating, conceptualizing, and executing a design for a client. I always joke that owning a design firm is 90 percent emailing and 10 percent creative design work, and this still feels so true.” 

Smith encourages those looking to enter the design field to take business classes or study and read business and entrepreneurial literature, especially if you think it’s not your strength. After all, she explains, “Interior designers wear a lot of hats and need to have a hand in bookkeeping, marketing, business operations, client relations, sales, and project management in addition to having an eye for design.” 

On Instagram Versus Reality

What we rarely see on Instagram is the entire execution process involved in designing a space, Smith explains. “Social media and blogging makes all of this look so much easier to achieve than it truly is: Photoshop and filters make rooms and vignettes and spaces look much more finished, pretty, and complete than they really are in real life.”

So, what should bloggers keep in mind before taking on client work? “Make sure that you are executing everything to a super high standard,” Smith says. “Make sure you are constantly educating yourself on how projects are completed.” One can do this by reading design books in detail, shadowing a contractor, and more, she notes. 

“You can drape a pretty tablecloth over an unfinished piece of furniture, Photoshop out those sloppy grout lines, or even brighten a picture so that it shines with the light of an impossible sun to make a space look ‘magazine worthy’ on Instagram or on a blog,” Smith adds. “It’s figuring out how to work to deliver these things as real and tangible results for clients that makes all the difference.” 

My advice for aspiring designer is to make sure that you have a solid brand and clear aesthetic that’s your own from the very beginning.

On Other Misconceptions in the Design Industry

Once again, pictures can be deceiving. “I think that non-designers probably underestimate just how much time and money goes into those pretty photos,” Smith says. “Despite what HGTV tells you, you cannot renovate a kitchen in six days with $20,000. Beautiful design takes time—lots of time.”  

In fact, producing just one beautiful image requires an extensive amount of time and money. “The management behind the scenes to get the room installed is like a very coordinated dance,” Smith explains. “And then when it’s ready for its final beauty shot, a photoshoot with a professional photographer can cost thousands of dollars to produce. So, we spend a lot of time explaining these things to clients who want to replicate the look of something they’ve found on Pinterest or Instagram.”

This shouldn’t discourage individuals by any means—after all, anything can be done, Smith notes, but it often takes time and money to execute the way you see it online.

On Her Proudest Career Moments Thus Far

One year into starting her design business, Smith and her husband relocated from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. “It was a lot harder than I was prepared for to move a young business from one place to another, and I struggled at the beginning to build a client base and find steady ground,” she says. “I’m really proud that I was able to not only do that, but also build and expand to where I am today.” 

What can those hoping to launch their own firms keep in mind? “My advice for an aspiring designer is to make sure that you have a solid brand and clear aesthetic that’s your own from the very beginning,” Smith states. “Create a workflow chart that helps you streamline your time, and stick to it. Hire for your weaknesses.”

And just like within any other field, building relationships is key, too. “Reach out to fellow designers and industry reps to make important connections," Smith says. "I have found so many really incredible friends through design, and having support is crucial.” 

On Her Own Home Décor

Smith frequently shares images of her own home on Instagram and has participated in the One Room Challenge on many occasions, too. “In general, I would say that I’m more adventurous and colorful with my clients than I am in my own home,” she says. “But, I like to think that there is a connecting thread in all of my designs: cozy, warm, traditional, and a bit unexpected.” 

Smith says that her desire to tackle her own space ebbs and flows. “It’s really a roller coaster. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is deliberate between wallpapers for my own powder room. Sometimes, I’m so in the zone and inspired by client projects that I want to change all of the things in my own home. There is no in between.” 

On the Future of Her Business and the Design Industry

Smith acknowledges the role the pandemic has played in her own business and the design world overall. “I think that the last year has really made us all more introspective, and I really have been spending a lot of time thinking about what the future looks like for SCI,” she explains. “While the world slowed down, a lot of us in the design industry were lucky enough to stay busy—busier than we have ever been, even—and I’m so grateful for it."

While the world slowed down, a lot of us in the design industry were lucky enough to stay busy—busier than we have ever been, even—and I’m so grateful for it.

These developments made Smith think about how she wants to spend her time, and that dictates how she runs the business. “Work-life balance is so important, now perhaps more than ever, and I’m sure every business owner can attest to feeling like that scale tips so much farther in one direction than the other. I’m not sure where my business will be in 10 years, but I know that I am striving to maintain a fulfilled and balanced lifestyle along the way. Also, I’d like to design a lighting line. Visual Comfort, can you hear me? Is this thing on?”