Student Success - Lauren Liess
Sometimes it takes a while before you realize that the things you love to do most are the same ones that can earn you money. That’s right - you don’t have to work in an office from 9-5 or stare at a computer screen all day.
This is what Lauren Liess found out after graduating from college. From the time she was a little girl, she arranged her room and doled out free advice to her friends on decorating their rooms.
“Still, when I went to college, I didn’t even think of interior design as an option,” she said. “When I graduated from college and started decorating my first apartment, I was in heaven. I was doodling room designs and making lists during my work conferences. Friends and family began asking me for help decorating their homes and I realized how much more design work appealed to me than my ‘real’ job.”
Soon, those same friends and family members began recommending Lauren’s skills to others, and eventually Lauren opened her own business, thinking it would just be a part-time endeavor. It’s now her full-time business, and she loves it.
She decided on NYIAD Interior Design School for her education because of the solid information which is infused with fun projects. Her studies at NYIAD are what allowed her to launch her new career.
“I chose NYIAD because it seemed straightforward, all-encompassing and fun. I really loved it & was able to start my business from what I learned,” she said.
After graduating, Lauren worked primarily on residential projects, sometimes as a consultant. Speaking with her NYIAD mentors years ago, she shared that her favorite project was for a client “who wanted a whole new outlook on life and in her home.”
“She was turning over a new leaf, and it was so great to help her get where she wanted to be by making her home special to her. We re-did her entire home. I’d describe her style as earthy and natural with a twist of traditional elegance,” Lauren said.
In any business, there are of course challenges, and in running one’s own interior design business, most often the difficulty is in finding the right people to work with. The designer often has to sub-contract work to contractors, carpenters, painters, electricians, and other professionals. Lauren also found this to be true.
In a 2008 interview with NYIAD she shared, “It's been a challenge for me to find really reliable people to work with. I am working with some amazing people right now and it’s really one of the most important things for my business.“
There are also surprises in any business, and in that same 2008 interview, the biggest surprise was a happy one.
“The most surprising thing I’ve discovered is that my work doesn’t feel like work anymore! It’s true what they say: ‘Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.’”
Little did she know at the time just how far her career would take her. At the time, she had just opened her own small business and was decorating for family and friends in the area, just finding her footing in the world of interior design.
Since that moment, to say Liess has progressed by leaps and bounds in the interior design industry would be an understatement. This fall, the small town style icon will star alongside her husband David in Season One of HGTV's new design show, "Best House on the Block."
The show gives viewers a look inside home transformations designed and executed by Liess and her husband, throughout the Washington D.C. area. "What we're focusing on is taking generic, typical houses and making them really special, really custom, really tailored to the family," Liess said in an interview with the Washington Post.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Liess again about her time at NYIAD and her advice for our current and prospective students. Here’s what we learned:
If you had to give one key piece of advice to our current students and recent grads, what would you share?
“It’s insanely rewarding but nothing will be handed to you, and you might be broke for a while. Have extreme confidence in yourself and really believe that you can do it. And be scrappy. There's no glamour in it. Seriously. (Or at least I haven't found it yet). Sure, maybe you'll go to fun cocktail parties and meet glamorous people, and maybe even design glamorous spaces, but the job itself is work. I joke that there's no "lunching" in decorating. I've always wanted to be someone who "does lunch" - but in order to keep my business running to the max, I can't be. Getting a business going takes a lot of late nights & weekends. It's so different from going to work somewhere else and it consumes you.”
What are some helpful pointers our aspiring designers could use to get their businesses up and running?
“Have your work professionally photographed. When I first started out, I took photos of my work and put them on my website. And no one called me. I visited successful designers' websites and compared mine to theirs and saw that they all had professional photography and of course, mine didn't. I saved up and hired a photographer and almost immediately after loading the professional pictures of the same projects, I started getting calls. I don't do advertising but I do put a considerable amount of time and money into having some of my work professionally photographed.”
(Here are some photos Lauren shared of her work back in 2008.)
What did you learn throughout your early years as a designer that you wish you knew sooner?
“Remember you'll be a business owner first and foremost. There's not as much actual designing in design as you might think. Running a business and keeping clients happy, working with manufacturers, handling paperwork and details takes more time than actual designing. Hiring other people to help you with some of the other tasks is helpful and I've been able to squirrel away more design time by doing this, but finding enough time to actually do your work is a constant challenge.”
So what’s the key to finding success in the interior design industry?
“While insanely satisfying, decorating is all about other people. It's about making your clients' happiness the top priority. You have to love meeting people and bonding and getting close with people. I don't think egos work in this business. At least I can't imagine the process being enjoyable with a big ego in the mix. You have to walk the line between asserting your opinion and style while making sure you're being respectful and meeting your clients’ true needs and wishes.”