My Design Journey: Shea McGee on Taking Risks, Overcoming Imposter Syndrome, and Finding Joy During COVID

Shea McGee of Studio McGee

 Ryan Garvin

It's safe to say 2020 will be a year that Shea McGee will never forget. Not only due to the coronavirus pandemic (although, that can't be overlooked), but because the interior designer behind Studio McGee hit several major career milestones. In the midst of COVID, she not only launched her first collection in collaboration with Target (which sold out within just a few days), but also partnered with Netflix to create the bingeable series Dream Home Makeover and released a new book, Make Life Beautiful, written in tandem with her husband-slash-business-partner, Syd McGee.

To her one million and counting Instagram followers, the interior designer's journey may look picture-perfect, but it hasn't all been well-appointed interiors and splashy book deals for the husband-and-wife design duo. "We fumbled for a year trying to figure out how to make ends meet and realized that a big gesture and a fresh start were what we needed to dive headfirst into entrepreneurship," she tells MyDomaine. "We had burned through our savings and did not have the luxury of time to let our business grow slowly, so we sold our home, Syd’s truck, and most of our furniture to fund Studio McGee."

Ahead, Shea pulls back the filter, discusses her unconventional path to becoming an interior designer, and shares her tips for adding simple, inexpensive touches of beauty to any space.

neutral living room designed by Studio McGee
Lucy Call

MYDOMAINE: Your path to design was anything but linear. Soon after earning a degree in public relations, you realized your true calling and decided to pursue a career in design. How did you get your start in the industry and make the transition?

SHEA MCGEE: I’ve always been enamored by personal style and design, but I was afraid to take the interior route because I didn’t consider myself a true creative. I can’t draw very well, and I didn’t want to fail in those technical courses. Once Syd and I moved into our first newlywed apartment, all I could think about was transforming our 400 square-foot box into something that felt more like home. I was not passionate about my day job and spent all of my spare time pouring over design magazines and blogs. 

Syd encouraged me to go back to school, even though I had just graduated with a degree in public relations a couple of years prior. After receiving a flyer in the mail for a local community college, I realized that it was the perfect way for me to test out interior design without quitting my job. When we saved up enough money to buy our first home, I started demolishing the kitchen within the first few weeks while taking design classes at night. This home was my portfolio builder, and I started with small consulting projects for friends and neighbors during this time. Step by step, each project grew in scale until I had a full client roster and a growing Instagram account that gave Syd and I the confidence to go into business together. 

black-and-white kitchen
 Lucy Call

MD: With only a few semesters of design education, no back-up plan, and a brand-new baby, you took the risk of selling your home and started over in a new, less-expensive state to go all-in on funding your business. Take us back to that moment—how did you move past the fear to pursue your dream and what advice can you share?

SM: We fumbled for a year trying to figure out how to make ends meet and realized that a big gesture and a fresh start were what we needed to dive headfirst into entrepreneurship. We burned through our savings and did not have the luxury of time to let our business grow slowly, so we sold our home, Syd’s truck, and most of our furniture to fund Studio McGee.

I look back and still can’t believe that we were so gutsy. The months leading up to that decision were filled with fear and uncertainty, but once we were fully committed to building our business, the fear disappeared and was replaced with a fire to chase our dream. My advice would be to just keep going. Each success we experienced has not been without opposition and challenges along the way.

I look back and still can’t believe that we were so gutsy. The months leading up to that decision were filled with fear and uncertainty, but once we were fully committed to building our business, the fear disappeared and was replaced with a fire to chase our dream.

Shea and Syd McGee of Studio McGee
Lucy Call

MD: How do you handle impostor syndrome, fear of failure, and mistakes as an interior designer, especially when a picture-perfect image is such an essential element of your brand?

SM: I think the way to manage those challenges is by focusing on the work. When we become too wrapped up in comparison and fear, there is not enough time or energy left for creativity to thrive. 

MD: Speaking of picture-perfect, you've built an impressive community on Instagram—with over one million followers and counting! To what do you attribute your success and what advice can you share for aspiring designers looking to break through on the platform?

SM: Just keep going! Consistency is key to growth. In addition, show appreciation by doing your best to respond to messages from the followers in your community and engage with the people you're following. 

Shea and Syd McGee of Studio McGee
 Lucy Call

MD: In the midst of a pandemic, you launched your first collection in collaboration with Target—and it sold out within just a few days. Congratulations! What was your reaction when you got the news that the collection had sold out so quickly and what can we expect next?

SM: I stayed up until all night to be a part of the launch, and we were completely blown away by the response. You can expect a holiday collection soon and even more launches in the coming months. 

MD: People around the country are spending more time at home than ever before due to COVID. What tips can you share for adding simple, inexpensive touches of beauty to your surroundings to lift your spirits and inspire you to keep creating a life you love?

SM: I keep a pair of clippers in my glovebox so I can snag a beautiful branch wherever I can! The height and drama of foraged greenery add so much life to a home regardless of size or budget. I'm a big believer in making your bed every morning and lighting a candle in the home. Also, a clean space makes such a big difference in how we feel. 

Make Life Beautiful by Syd and Shea McGee
Make Life Beautiful Syd and Shea McGee $25
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