While I would love to say each of the designers below had their assistant block out an hour on their calendar for a chat with me over coffee (iced almond milk latte, flat, one pump vanilla for me, please), I instead have to tell you that I spent hours researching the career trajectories of designers I admire in order to prepare for this site and my own direction moving forward. After mapping out the interior design curricula from multiple schools and pricing out the cost, I figured this information could be valuable to readers who might also be contemplating a similar degree or certificate. By pulling these details together, I also have the opportunity to share some of the designers' work that most closely resembles my own desired aesthetic.
In no particular order, I'll start by sharing the details I was able to find on Amber Lewis. I first came across Amber when she overhauled Emily Schuman's (of the Cupcakes and Cashmere empire) kitchen. The clean, bright and airy feel of the remodel caught my eye immediately and after visiting Amber's own site, Amber Interiors, I couldn't help but drool over her 'Client Freakin Fabulous' work. The natural light streaming through this home is incredible. The flow from each room is captured so easily using similar design aspects and themes, but at the same time, it seems there is something new and interesting introduced in each room. Amber's use of rugs in each space has me feeling all sorts of ways for the color and texture they add. I could go on and on. Basically, if this is what Amber learned in school - I want to go to there.
Amber attended the UCLA Interior Design Program from 2002-2006 after a brief stint in fashion school. She spent 6 years assisting a small design firm and from there, decided to create her own firm in 2010. The UCLA Interior Design program consists of 18 courses which provide a basic foundation level of education in Interior Design. Estimated total cost for the program is around $17,000. I wonder, and hope to ask her myself one day, at what point did Amber feel ready to attempt this on her own? Did she learn more from the program at UCLA or from the 6 years working for the design firm? So many questions. So many great designers.
Next, I want to highlight the work of Shea McGee of Studio McGee. I can't remember where I first saw Shea's work but I do remember thinking I found someone who may or may not be relatively unknown to the larger design world - somewhat of a secret. While she has plenty of followers on Instagram and has no problem booking work, I felt that because she wasn't scooped up for her own show on HGTV yet, that she was a hidden gem. After looking through Shea's portfolio, I was drawn to her work based on the clean lines and mix of items that felt old and new at the same time. The design on the Midway House captured my love for the dramatic use of dark and light. I could do laundry all day in that mudroom.
Shea received her BA in Communications and Public Relations in 2007 but went on to attend Saddleback College from 2011-2012 where she studied Interior Design. It is not clear as to what certificate or degree she received, but Saddleback offers three levels of study in Interior Design. The Associate degree in Interior Design is awarded after completion of level III. This program takes 96 weeks to complete and the estimated total cost is $7,000. I once again have unanswered questions. I would love to ask Shea when she knew she was ready to branch out on her own. How did Saddleback College prepare her for the complex world of working with clients and maneuvering through a renovation? I need to know all the things!
Remember when I mentioned HGTV a moment ago? I hope it didn't sound like I wasn't impressed by the designers who entertain me each night while I watch my boyfriend fall asleep on the couch at 8pm. I have a thing for quite a few of the designers on this network but one that really fits the bill is Jillian Harris. You might remember Jillian from a little show called The Bachelorette, but I remember her for her design prowess and magnetic personality. Jillian has impressed me time and time again with her reveals to clients while working with budgets which are slowly eaten away by all of the 'behind the wall' issues. When left with the short end of the stick, she still turns out incredible design that leaves many clients saying 'love it' instead of 'list it.'
Jillian attended BCIT from 2007-2008 and received a Diploma in Interior Design. While it was tough to find the exact cost for attending BCIT, I was able to do the math and determine an estimated cost for the Certificate of Design which rounds out to around $9,500. You must have the Certificate of Design before you can receive your Diploma in Interior Design at BCIT, but this should give a good idea of the general cost for this school and degree. It seems before attending BCIT and a bit after receiving her diploma, Jillian worked as an Interior Designer and Project Manager while also simultaneously starting her own design firm in 2007. Jillian has a full plate, but it really seems like she has found a great balance between her own clients, the show and running her site. Jillian has found a way to become a well known designer after spending only a year or so in design school. This makes me wonder, what skills did Jillian take away from her time in school that helped elevate her experience? Could she have done it all without that time in school? Is her reputation alone enough for clients to trust her or did she feel she needed the diploma to be relevant in the design world? I've always been inquisitive...
I'm not done (are you still with me?) just yet. I have one more for you of a different variety. Daniel Kanter is living my dream. He is fearless and will have you laughing so hard you choke on your morning coffee as you read through his site, Manhattan Nest. My sleuthing didn't result in solid data to back up Daniel's background and education online, but it is clear he started his site and experimentation with design in 2010 while living in a dorm room in NYC. From there, he scored an amazing rental apartment in Brooklyn which he spent countless hours and much of his own money to restore its charm and improve aspects of living in the space. In his most exciting move yet, he took a risk - a big one - and bought an 1865 fixer-upper in Kingston, NY. As far as I know, Daniel did not have any real experience restoring and renovating a full home from top to bottom but he decided to do it anyway. Be still my risk-taking heart. This home was not much to many people as a 'before,' but if you follow Daniel like I do, you know the 'afters' are a real feat and you are slowly watching this home come back to life. Daniel doesn't post as often as I need him to - probably because since purchasing the Kingston home, he also purchased another home down the street which he plans on selling upon completion. Additionally, Daniel seems to have taken on his first client as he helps them renovate a cottage outside of Kingston. He's busy so I cut him a break, but at the same time - more posts, please.
I am quite passionate about Daniel's efforts specifically because I have such an interest in restoration and pieces with history. I love watching as Daniel moves from room to room, making improvements on a budget but still creating beautifully curated rooms. It almost feels like you are slowly witnessing the house breathe a sigh of relief that someone saw potential and was willing to put in the incredibly hard work. I really love this house and am so looking forward to the day I can restore my own piece of history.
Daniel has figured it all out on his own. He's had setbacks, but he has been successful and he's following a passion. I would love to ask Daniel more about his background, education and if he would have done anything different along the way. I would ask him about his strategy in learning new skills and how he keeps his cool in stressful situations involving process and budgets. Daniel has learned so much in a short amount of time. He shares as much as he can on his site but my questions still remain!
These four individuals are such a small sample in the larger world of designers. It is hard to say what goes into a recipe for success but I think it is likely equal parts risk, determination and the recognition that learning is constant. As I continue to pursue my place in the design world, I need to remind myself why I started and know that really, you just have to start somewhere.