Student Success: Sandra Mijan
Ever since she was young, Sandra Mijan has been drawn to interior design. She has memories of being 5 years old, mentally rearranging and redecorating rooms in her head as her imagination wandered to the field of staging and design. When she was 20 years old, her family moved from Yugoslavia to the United States as refugees. After completing years of ESL classes and then a dental assisting course, she started a full time job at an orthodontist’s office. But, as she says, there was no passion to her work. It was just a job.
Thankfully, in December of 2015, Sandra enrolled at NYIAD’s interior design course, finally able to pursue a field that truly brings her joy. Graduating about a year later, she now owns and operates her own independent interior design business, completing projects all across the spectrum of design- from a ballroom renovation and hair salon redesign, to residential clients and color consultations. We recently had the chance to chat with Sandra about her time at NYIAD, her plans for the future and her advice for our current students. Here’s what we learned:
1. When did you realize that interior design was a field you wanted to pursue?
Passion towards interior design & decorating has been in me for years, and it got woken up again as my husband and I bought our 1st, soon 2nd and later 3rd home. I am an orthodontic assistant turned interior decorator.
Back in 2015 I was in the middle of an orthodontic adjustment when a patient of many years asked if I knew of any interior designers. I took a chance of following my dream right then and there. My patient hired me as his interior decorator and I started taking more side projects.
2. Have you always been interested in art and design? If not, what is your educational background originally in and what other similar topics interest you?
From the young age, unaesthetic, unbalanced spaces made me feel very uncomfortable and in my head I would move them around. I grew up in a beautiful two story home my grandfather built with the ugliest fence (for my taste), I remember always bugging him about it. What 5 year old cares so much about a fence? Just saying... Growing up in Yugoslavia, Croatia, no one ever encouraged me to be a designer, in fact I think there were only architects at the time that did design work and I couldn’t peruse that because, math was just not my cup of tea. I was always a “right-brained” person drawn to arts.
Being part of a theater ensemble for 7 years I wanted to be an actress, but my parents were not loving that idea so much. After high school I completed one year of college in Early Childhood education. Soon I turned 20 years old, and we came to the USA as refugees. I was not speaking any English at the time, so being a teacher was not an option for me anymore. I had to start from the very beginning, and I was terrified. I worked in hospitality on the Las Vegas Strip for a few years while taking ESL classes and adjusting to life in America. I discovered the Dental Assisting program at CSN, graduated 2 years later and right after my internship started working full time. Which later led me into orthodontics. I truly thought that would be my calling for the rest of my life. I enjoyed it, but something was missing...I wasn't passionate about it. It was a job.
3. When did you enroll at NYIAD?
My business was started as a side job back in the end of 2015. I was learning it all myself by reading books and blogs and listening to people that are already in the business, attending markets, etc. I felt something was still missing and took quite some time to decide what program was right for me. I wanted to learn history, process and fundamentals of design, as well as earning academic qualification. After long research and deliberation, NYIAD seemed like it was delivering it all. Not to mention the price of a course that is reasonable as well as the timeline given, so I can manage family, work, and school.
I started my course in December of 2015 and graduated in February of 2017. I think if you are a full time committed student, the course could be finished faster than that.
4. What was your coursework like?
The coursework was very informative though challenging at times. Drawing to scale was the most challenging and frustrating for me. But, the lessons are very organized and well structured.
5. Was your mentor helpful during the process?
Being in the field already I did not really need help, everything is well explained; but at times simple questions were answered in a timely manner. I had Rosanna Trivilino as my mentor for the first four units and I finished with Lisa Talabac. I have to admit it was very hard for me at first to accept constructive criticism for my creative work but I fast learned that that's the only way for me to grow.
6. After graduation, how did you use this knowledge to help you with a real world career?
I am constantly working on my business and trying to improve and be better. The NYIAD course taught me about the step by step process and keeping systems in place.
7. What did you learn working in the real world that you wish you could’ve learned at NYIAD?
I wish AutoCAD was part of this course, because that’s what everyone is looking for.
8. Tell us about the work you do- is it more residential or commercial, etc.
I truly enjoy residential interior design and decorating, but in 2017 I got to dip into commercial design by fully designing a hair salon studio, and renovate a ballroom. I also offer color consultations and styling by the hour as well as e-design.
I am a one woman show, I am exclusive, and I take on a few projects at a time to better serve my clients.
9. How do you find new clients in your area?
For me, word of mouth referrals, and my Houzz.com profile work the best.
10. If you had to pick one, what was the most memorable design project you’ve ever completed?
It is so hard to pick one. All of the projects are so different from one another. That makes them all very special and memorable in their own way.
11. Describe a day in your life at work!
Being a one woman show, day by day it is not the same. It all depends on my weekly schedule and the type of projects I work on. That's the beauty of being your own boss. I have my own organization systems and I do everything I can, as I go. Benjamin Franklin once said: “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today”.
12. How has social media/ blogging helped you as a creative professional?
Instagram is the only social media account I have been pushing and working on. I think it's a great platform to share your work as well as to keep up with trends and inspiration.
13. What’s the most rewarding part of your career?
The most rewarding part of my career is for sure the project reveal moment and my clients' facial expressions as well as their testimonials later.
14. If you could give one piece of advice to our current and prospective students, what would it be?
Be ready to work for free or very little in the beginning. Be ready to spend hours and hours by your computer, on your phone, and in your car. Be ready to get excited with the prospective clients and then the disappointed. Be patient! Don't let social media mess with your creativity and confidence. You are unique and your perfect client is out there! Most importantly, be transparent! Follow your passion!