It took me six years out of collegeΒ with aΒ seriesΒ of non-linear paths, a mortgage to pay, and a 7-month old baby at homeΒ to figure this out, but I’ve finally realized that interior design is my passion and I want to pursue it further. To get my feet wet, I’ve decided to continue my education by enrolling in interior design and architecture courses downtown at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. IΒ started my first class two months agoΒ and I’m loving every minute of it so far. Surprised? Well IΒ was too!
I believe good things happen whenΒ you shareΒ your personal experiences, so here’s the story of how I got here. ThisΒ isn’t meant to be self-glorifying but rather I hope that someone reading can relateΒ to what I’ve gone through. Also keep in mind thatΒ it took a LOTΒ of courage for me to put myself out in the open like this:
As an eighth grader in Catholic school, I knew I loved making art and was beginningΒ my search for high schools. While my peers were getting ready to attend the local Catholic girls’ schools and public schools, I set my sights onΒ quite possibly one of the most expensive private high schools in LA (goodness, my poor father!) that was over an hour drive away from our house just because they had the most insane studio art spaces and encouraged students to take a multitude of art classes.
So I took up drawing and painting coursework,Β my ultimate happy place. I remember one project in which weΒ completedΒ a space drawing of the studio with black Sharpie marker and I LOVED every second of it. I did a series of painterly portraits of my family members for my AP Studio Art portfolioΒ and remember feeling my happiest when stuck in my garage with my easel, brushes and tubes of oil paint completing my projectsΒ late at night. From those classes I also became very interested with architecture and buildings and tried to find a way to tie in all of my historyΒ papers to architectural topics. When I applied to Cornell, I was scared of pursuing a fine arts degree because I didn’t believe IΒ could actually make a livingΒ in the art world. So that led me to consider the architecture program, but something about it didn’t feel quite right either. I can’t quite remember exactly, but perhaps it felt too technical and rigid for me and perhaps I heard too many horror stories about how miserable the students in the program were (which obviously isn’t true for everyone, it’s just what the stereotype was at the time). Mind you, I had absolutely NO idea at the time that Cornell had a design program.
So I decided to double major inΒ Art History, which seemed like a perfectly natural extension for my love of art and architecture, andΒ Spanish Literature because I wanted toΒ become fluent in Spanish, study abroad, and be able toΒ live in the state of California again one day. It was an idyllic college experience. I adored my art history classes and spent every waking minute in the library writing my research papersΒ on pretty esoteric topics. In the summer following my sophomore year I interned both at a museum in LA andΒ an artΒ gallery in my hometown of Manhattan Beach to further my exposure to art and the various businesses that are created around it.
In my junior year I was fortunate enoughΒ to spend a semester inΒ Seville. IΒ lived with a family in the most beautiful three-story traditional Spanish home with a huge terraza, bright white walls with incredible patterned tile accents, and a big iron door (see below).
I know, AMAZING right?? During my time there I traveledΒ allΒ throughout Spain, Portugal, and Morocco,Β which influenced me greatly: the mosques, the orange trees, theΒ bright white stucco walls, the tilework. I lapped it up.Β I also traveled to Paris, London, and Amsterdam where I visited as many art museums as I could to learn and train my eye. I always loved color and pattern but this is where it truly flourished and became a part of my style.
At the time, I didn’t quite know what to do with my appreciation for beautiful spaces and things and certainly didn’t know how I could pursue a career in it. In my senior year I started interning at Cornell’s art museum doing provenance research and enjoyed it quite a bit. Working at an art museum seemed like a logical step for me, so I studied like a maniac so that I would get the best grades possible (I graduated with a 3.7 GPA) and when I would return home from the library I would do research on internship and job opportunities at arts organizations in Chicago, where I planned to move with my boyfriend who was doing a Masters program there because I had a weeee little inkling that I was going to marry him. :) My entire family helped me pack up the car (perks of having six siblings!) and we moved to Chicago the day after graduation, where I startedΒ a great internship in the development department at a big contemporary art museum downtown.
Development and fundraising wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing but I figured it would get my foot in the door at an arts institution. Meanwhile, I hadΒ to furnish our first apartmentΒ from scratch. SoΒ I started to spend my weekends with my mom near our summer home in rural Wisconsin scouringΒ garage sales and antique stores where I began to develop my loveΒ for antiques and the thrill of the hunt. Meanwhile, I searched doggedly for paid jobs that summer, and by fall landed a job in the development department at a non-profit theatre company in the heart of downtown. Again, theatre wasn’t exactly the industryΒ I wanted to be in, but it was a real job with a paycheckΒ (yay I could pay rent on my own finally!) with a wonderfulΒ boss and other creative minds, actors, and artists that I could learn a lot from.
During my time at the theatreΒ I learned about writing and communication, business etiquette, event planning, the arts and philanthropy scene in Chicago, play development, andΒ even set and costume design. It was a wonderful and certainly productive three years.
Oh, and we got married in the midst of all that too. :) My first real-world exposure to event design and the beginning of my passion for DIY projects.
At nights and on weekends, I tried new recipes and cooked like a fiendΒ to feed my husband and his hungry med school buddies. I fell in LOVEΒ with cooking and entertaining, so I started this ol’ blog here. I remember thinking after baking that exact batch of cookies in the picture belowΒ that I should start sharing my recipes with other people.Β This was my first post. HAH!
During my time at the theatre, I thought that I shouldΒ further my career in the non-profit arts sector and corporate social responsibility, so I deemedΒ that business school would be the logical next step to give myself an edge. I nearly killedΒ myself studyingΒ for the GMAT and even enrolled in a pre-business school accounting course to support my application. At the same time I also volunteered to takeΒ over the silent auction for the fundraiser of a junior board for a local hospital so that I could gain more experience in the philanthropy scene. In the end I coordinated a really awesome silent auction and made a lot of great contacts in the Chicago community.
After a few heartwrenching discussions with my husband and family about what I truly wanted in my personal life, I returned my accounting textbooks at the bookstore and made a beelineΒ across the street to Walgreens to buy prenatal vitamins and never looked back. I wanted to be a mom. And I didn’t want to have to wait seven years to do so (isn’t this is the hardestΒ dilemma for every young educated married woman in the 21st century?!!) So we started trying to have a baby, and even that took longer than I had imagined. Since then, I also started working at home for my family’s dermatology practice because it offered an increase in hourly pay, allowed me to be at home with our two dogs while my husband clocked long hours at the library, and I figured it would allow me to continue working part-time from home whileΒ still raisingΒ a baby (which it has).
Then two summers ago, my three-year-old golden retriever was diagnosed with cancer whichΒ required intensive at-home care and she died two months later. It was absolutely the most devastating thing I’ve ever gone through in my life but I’m so grateful for the time I was able to spend with her at home rather than running back and forth from an office. I’d give up everything I have to have her back.
In the meantime, I still loved cooking and entertaining and found myself to get really good at itΒ (if I do say so myself!). So around the same time, I tried to start a small dinner party catering business as a side job. I coordinated a few parties to test it out and they were certainly successful but I soon learned how difficult it was to find clientsΒ who were willing to pay what I knew I was worth. No harm no foul, and I moved onward.
Fast forward to last winter, my husband matched into a dermatology residency and we moved into aΒ 100-year-old house in the suburbs of Chicago. It was gross and dingey, the floors were peeling, the sump pump was overflowing, there were mice and ants. A little elbow grease (scratch that, a LOT of elbow grease!), a lot ofΒ thrifting and Craigslisting, andΒ a lotΒ of time spent thinking about design (oh and can’t forget about my life savings either!) and we turned it into something cute on a total shoestringΒ budget.
Looking back I wish I had blogged about the whole process of our home improvements but I was hesitant because at the timeΒ I was only writing about food. I also got pregnant at the same time (yay!)Β so I had my head wrapped around doctors appointments, birth preparation,Β and baby product research.
In any case, I was really proud of what my husband and I were capable of accomplishingΒ on our own and in the process became completely fascinated with home renovations, especially those that can be done on a DIY scale,Β as well as decorating. I especially loved decoratingΒ Oliver’s tiny 85 square foot neutral nursery (probably the only time I’ll ever design anything all neutral!) and was so touched thatΒ other people liked it as wellΒ to the point thatΒ it garnered my very first onlineΒ featureΒ and is slated for another.
At the same time last summer and fall, I accompanied my parentsΒ on numerousΒ design meetings for the renovation of theirΒ Wisconsin lake house with their interior designer, contractors, and architect, and I quickly realized how much I loved discussing cabinet faces, hardware, paint colors, furniture arrangement, fabric mixing, light fixtures, and knocking down and putting up walls. Oh and shopping. I REALLY liked going shopping! Thrift stores, garage sales, antique shops, retail stores, design centers, tile shops, you name it, and you bet I would want to tagΒ along. I also learned how the execution of good design is highly reliant upon cultivatingΒ skilledΒ contractors and tradesmen that you know and trust.
I started reading design books, blogs, and shelter magazines voraciously and creating inspirational collages for every room in my home.Β I started to run out of spaces to design in my home so I started to curate them in my head, in my scrapbook binders, and on my Pinterest boards. Six months later and with an absolutely perfect two-week oldΒ baby in my arms, I realized that interior design was truly my passion and that I had to pursue it further, in some way shape or form.
Yikes, you might imagine how I felt at that moment. Whyyy did I not figure this out sooner?Β How could I possibly goΒ back to school when I have a baby and soon-to-be toddler at home with no money for childcare?Β Though plenty of designers out there have no degrees whatsoever, I knew I needed to further my formal education in the area so that I could learn the lingo, learn how to read and draw an architectural plan, use the software, and practiceΒ my drawing skills.
I know I’m smart enough to pursue a Master’s in design, but because of that cute little drooling bubba of mine and a boatload of my husband’s medical school loans to pay off, a Master’s program is out of reach for me at the current moment. So the courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are perfect because they meet at night when Oliver is asleep and my husband is home, they’re affordable, I can put in as much work as I have time for, and I can take it slow with just one class at a time and take semesters off when time with my little family (my #1Β priority) is calling. I’m loving every second of the work we’ve done so far. LatelyΒ we’ve beenΒ working onΒ preliminary sketches and designs for a kitchen and bathroom, as well as practicingΒ drawing in 3D and isometric forms.
The class allows me to think about design in a more formal way and opens my eyes to itsΒ more nitty-gritty aspects like custom cabinetry, millwork, tile placement, windows, flooring, and other architectural elements. At the same time, it allows me to get out of the house and converseΒ with other like-minded people. Any mom raising a baby in the middle of winter might understand how stir crazy you can get, so just getting out of the house and having some “me time” is a VERY good thing for me right now.
In my ideal world, I would love to work part-time as a decorator helping people select architectural details and finishes, fabrics, paint colors, furniture, and accessories to make beautiful, functional, and family-friendly residentialΒ spaces on budgets of all kind.Β If I can get good enough I’d love to do more in-depth design work such as full-scale kitchen and bath remodels too. ThisΒ would allow me to take care of familyΒ but also contribute to our household income while doing somethingΒ that I absolutely love at the sameΒ time. Because obviously, the end goal of this pursuit is to make some moola!
Do I wish that I had figured out that I wanted to pursue designΒ sooner? WellΒ of course I do!Β I could dwell on and on over the paths I took in the pastΒ but that’s going to get me nowhere. My mom always tells me that “decisions are made at a point in time.” And six years ago I wasn’t prepared to make decisions like this. But now I’m ready to move forward.
So there you go, that’s where I am right now in life. They say you should pick one thing in life and doΒ it with all yourΒ heart. But I was never one of those kids who knew exactly what I wanted to do at age seventeen (like my husband, hah). I like to do MANYΒ things, and I hope that makes me a well-rounded person. I love to cook and entertain, I love decorating and design, I love writing and blogging, I love being a mom and wife and sister and daughter and dog owner and everything that that entails. And this blog, in turn, will reflect all of those things that I love to do going forward. (Some minor aesthetic updatesΒ to the site are definitely on the radar as well.)
Thanks for reading. :)