Michael Abrams: Chicago Interior Designer and Architect
Today in the Lounge, your host Nick May interviews a fantastic guest, Michael Abrams, based out of Chicago, IL. Before we get to that, a few updates from The Lounge: Nick’s been working on building a team to give feedback on the show, to better our content in order to serve our loyal listeners, if you are interested please reach out to Nick. We’d also like to start today’s show with a shout out to Design Manager, one of our very best sponsors. Design Manager is in the business of helping designers grow their business, which is right up our alley here at The Chaise Lounge!
Michael Abrams: From Architecture to Interior Design
Nick is starting with something a little different today, by asking Michael to define a few interior design terms, perhaps you already know these terms, but if not, see listed below and learn something new, from a world renowned designer nonetheless!
- Settee: a sofa, usually smaller scale, an intimate loveseat.
- Patina: Natural aging, as Michael describes, a Patina is that “lived in” look.
- Timeless: Classics, something that never goes out of style.
Nick asks how Michael got interested in interior design, “I knew I wanted to study fine arts and I was at the University of South Carolina for a little over a year, but I knew I wanted to go to an Art school, and a professor of mine suggested the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where I applied and transferred and got my bachelor of Fine Arts.” After his bachelor’s degree, Michael went on to study Architecture at the University of Illinois and received a Master’s degree. After school, Michael went on to work for an architect, and then for a brief time, he worked in ‘Corporate America’ for a bank, as an owner’s representative. He spent time switching back and forth between architecture and corporate America, but after several downsizing or outsourcing events, Michael, at the age of 40 decided to follow his passion, in residential interior design.
Michael says of his first client, “My first client was a referral from a builder that I knew, that I had purchased a home from, and he referred me to a client who was truly wonderful and ironically, 15 years later, I’m still doing work for this client, I’ve done several second homes for them, quite a few modifications to the original home that they are still in, and have created a great long-term relationship with them.”
Nick asks about Michael’s business as it stands today, Michael describes his two separate teams and how his business is broken down, he also discusses the work that he does around the country. Michael talks about how he, until about 9 months ago, was doing all the bookkeeping, and how hiring an accountant has helped him grow his business and free up his time for things that are a better use of his talent. For almost 9 years, Michael was running the business solely on his own, he describes how that’s grown in the past 3 years, “It’s been a rapid growth in a short amount of time.” Nick asks Michael what triggered the change from working from home to taking on an office space. Michaels office is about 720 square feet with 5 people, which he says works ok because people are in and out throughout the day.
Nick and Michael talk about his proposal process, “I work a little different than many of my colleagues, because I never went to Interior Design school, when I opened up my practice, I decided to present what I felt was a realistic budget based on the scope of the work and based on the type of work I want to be doing. I put together a line by line budget, that is a reflection of the quality of my work, so I can be on the same page as the client, regarding cost, and this is all before I’m even retained.”
Nick asks Michael about how he finds clients, “I’m very active on Houzz, so I receive a lot of contact from that, as well as referrals and repeat work, I have clients that are serial renovators, I love those people, I love them very much!” Nick and Michael talk a bit more about Houzz and how that business has helped grow Michael’s firm, “I am a pro member and I’ve found that to be invaluable”. Michael has been obtain clients from across the country using Houzz.com
Regarding social media, Michael keeps a Facebook page active with project photos and is also active on Pinterest. “I also do marketing through Luxe Magazine, here in the Midwest.” Michael, like many of the other designers we’ve had on the show, describes the importance of good photography of his work.
“50-60% of the work we do is “out of the ground” houses, where we are working with the architect designing the home all the way through furniture installation.” He also will work on newer homes, or homes that are a few years old, dressing those up and personalizing them, which is the balance of the rest of the project type he works on.
With an architecture background, Michael describes his advantage in understanding construction and sequencing, “I think if you don’t have that background, you may not understand the importance of timing.” On the other hand, with the softer side if interior design, Michael describes himself as self-taught in that realm, so when he gets recommendations from vendors on their products, he listens and he takes their advice.
Michael enjoys the marketing hat and of course the designing aspect, “I do like to meet new people and I like the presenting factor “. Nick asks about the software and presentation tools he uses, which comprises mostly of sketch-up and AutoCAD. “It’s fascinating how fast things change,” Michael says of the use of computer technology in the field. When looking for new talent, he looks for good energy, and for someone who would be a good mesh with the environment of his office. He also wants someone who appreciates his aesthetic, “it’s not always my way or the highway but their taste should align with my aesthetic.”
Michael dispenses his advice to students or those just starting out, “Follow your passion, interior design has always been a passion for me, and if it’s truly a passion, then their chances for success are good. Communication is critical and its critical to people’s success.”
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