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Successful Interior Designer

147 – Susan Suhar-Phillips: Interior Design Director at HDR

Susan Suhar-Phillips: Interior Design Director at HDR

Today in The Lounge, Susan Suhar-Phillips, Interior Design Director at HDR, joins Nick at the Porcelanosa showroom in the Merchandise Mart. Susan is Nick’s longest-known friend to ever be on the show. Not only did they go to Junior High together but they also lived down the street from each other growing up! On this episode, Susan discusses how she got started in interior design and the variety of jobs she’s had in the industry. Susan also talks about her big move from Chicago to LAand how it made a HUGE change in her networking pool.

Getting to Know Susan

Susan is the Los Angeles Design Director for HDR, which is a large country-wide firm. She assists with projects at these sister firms as well. Susan has worked with HDR for about a year now. Before that, she was at Eckenhoff Saunders as their Interior Design Director.

Susan originally started out in the fine arts program at The Art Institute of Chicago when she found that being an artist was not a financially successful career path for her as she moved out of her parents home. So, she went in a different direction and tried environmental studies and sciences, but didn’t really like it. On a whim, she decided to take a drafting class at her local community college and at 21, fell in love with it. It was the perfect marriage of her creative side and her science side. This class gave her the exposure to architecture, drafting and interiors that she needed for the “ah ha” moment she’d been waiting for. Susan first received her associate’s degree in Interior Design and then continued her education back at The Art Institute for Interior Architecture. She describes her community college education as gaining the technical knowledge while The Art Institute taught her to push the design envelope. It forced her to look at the world and its interior environments completely differently.

While Susan was in school she also did a couple of internships. Her very first internship was in community college with a furniture dealer. This experience allowed her to become familiar with vendors, materials, pricing, and application. While attending The Art Institute, she worked an internship with VOA which later turned into a full-time design position. VOA exposed Susan to the world of interior architecture and gave Susan a glimpse of how to collaborate with large teams, work on big projects, work with high profile clients, and work late nights. Don’t forget to bring your portfolio to your internship interviews like Susan might have ;).

Networking is Key!… But it May Take Some Time

Susan just moved to LA from Chicago a year ago, and as a result, she now has to start over with her professional network. She feels like networking is the only way to broaden your project base. Susan explains that the more exposed you are, even with your industry peers including competitors, vendors, and clients, the more you’re respected and understood as a contender in the industry. Moving can be stressful enough but it also took about a year for Susan to get used to her new routines, get acclimated with project deliverables, and accustomed to her commutes/travel before she started networking. She now has a good handle on everything and is ready to start.

The Business Today

As a BD, business developer, Susan can go out into the field and promote her company. She gave us some insight that HDR is moving away from hospitality and becoming more of a healthcare giant. Susan also mentioned that when Gary Wheeler joined HDR and took helm of the workplace, he made a significant change to the vision of HDR and where they are going design-wise. This vision is to become more interiors driven. HDR is going to be including the workplace and have strong market sectors between healthcare, work, education, science, and technology.

As Design Director, Susan, has six designers that work underneath her with experience in design ranging from fifteen years to just out of college. The hardest thing she has to do job-wise, is making sure that everyone is always staying busy and billable. Also, she has to make sure that schedules and work plans are laid out to support the entire staff so no one is being under worked. Susan doesn’t like doing time sheets, master specifications, project manual specifications, and the critical features that are called out for specs because they are very time consuming but on the bright side there are people on her staff who love writing them.

Susan has been surprised to find how different designers are regarded in varying firms within the industry and how a designer is incorporated into commercial projects. Commercial is so collaborative in working with engineers, architects, contractors, and subcontractors. It was a surprise to see how many people it took to complete a project as well as the amount of info exchanged and necessary documents.

HDR has an interior design summit that includes all 10 offices. All 30 designers meet in the Chicago office to kickoff Neocon. It’s a way for their firm to stay connected while they get exposure at Neocon. Neocon, for Susan, is the design “fiscal year” when new products are launched so they can be the first to use them.

What’s New?

Susan recently spoke at Neocon and it went so well that it was standing-room-only to fit everyone in there! Susan was very nervous, not because of the public speaking aspect, but because of her topic. Jinsop Lee’s TED talk on 5 human senses and product design was so inspiring that it got her thinking in terms of how this could be related to interiors. So, she spoke about designing based on the human sense and what that means- how we can break it down to understand our sensual impact. Susan feels like there’s a loss of humanity with technology, and this is how we can reel that back in.


Benjamin Moore’s Scruff X helps with those nasty scuff marks you get on your beautiful white walls when a sofa or chair rubs up against them.

LVT Porcelanosa (Luxury, Vinyl, Tile) Link Floor is getting put in commercial spaces, multifamily homes, and hotels because it is a high-end durable product. Vinyl stays cool and doesn’t absorb any smells. It stays fresh and is easy to clean.

Highpoint Market

Nick worked with Steelyard to bring hospitality design to High Point Market. Nick will be hosting a panel discussion on what it takes to move from residential to hospitality. It will be part of the Viewpoint Panel series titled, Hospitality Insiders Share All: What it Takes to be a Designer in the Hospitality Sector on Sunday, October 15 at noon with Gary Inman, Nina Magon, Patrick Sutton, and Todd Ellenberger

Let Nick know if you are going to highpoint and he would love to meet up with you there! Leave a Review on iTunes and ask us about our internship opportunities by using the Question? tab or emailing admin@thechaiseloungepodcast.com.

  • Upcoming Events

Casual Market Sept 12 – 15

ICFF Miami– Oct 3 – 4

IDS – Oct 13 – 16

High Point Market Oct 14 – 18

BDNY 2017 – Nov 12 – 13

KBIS – Jan 9 – 11

  • Wrap Up

If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at TheChaiseLoungePodcast.com. Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!

134 – Sarah Wilson: Career Reset into Interior Design

Sarah Wilson: Career reset into Interior Design

On this episode of The Chaise Lounge, Nick chats with Sarah Wilson of Chansaerae Interior Design. Sarah shares how she restarted her career in a new industry, working for herself, and also shares her goals for 2017.

Getting to know Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson joins Nick in The Lounge from Palm Springs, California, where she owns and operates Chansaerae Interior Design. Sarah loves to vacation in St. Croix, where she grew up. Her favorite room is her bedroom, but she would love even more to have a walk-in closet. Sarah admittedly is not a pet person; she would rather have the freedom to go wherever she wants, whenever she wants.

How Sarah got into design

Interior design is Sarah’s third career. She started in school for graphic arts and worked in that field for three years. Sarah had her son, then went back to school for her Bachelor’s degree. Wanting to earn more money, Sarah earned her Masters in Information Technology.

She eventually realized that she missed the design aspect of her profession. Sarah had always designed her own spaces and didn’t want to work for someone else so she made the switch. Starting next month, she will have been a business owner for two years. She loves the reaction she gets from clients when the space she designs is done.

Getting the word out

In terms of marketing, Sarah participates in both digital and traditional methods, including Instagram, local newsletters, and Facebook ads. Sarah has also had luck developing mutually beneficial relationships with contractors and joining networking groups.

Making the switch

Sarah mentioned that she embraces change. It doesn’t scare her. When she wasn’t happy with her previous job, she knew it was time for a change. It may have seemed like a quick decision, but it was on her mind for at least ten years. Sarah started with seeking out design education, then followed through with internships, and ultimately opening her own firm.

It was never her goal to work for someone else, so she used her internships to learn what she needed to open the doors to Chansaerae Interior Design. Sarah identifies with how personal design is. She wanted to do things her own, way with her own point of view.

Current projects include a kitchen remodel, bathroom remodels, a fireplace refresh, furnishing a whole home, and even home staging. In 2017, Sarah hopes to expand even more into home flipping. She knows what sells homes and wants to employ her expertise.

Learn more at Chansaerae Interior Design.

  • Upcoming Events

NeoCon – June 12 – 14

PCBC – June 26 – 28

Las Vegas Market – July 30 – Aug 2

BDNY 2017 – Nov 12 – 13

KBIS – Jan 9 – 11

  • Wrap Up

If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at TheChaiseLoungePodcast.com. Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!

125 – Industry and Previously Owned by a Gay Man

Phyllis on Branding and Michele Hofherr on Previously Owned by a Gay Man

On this episode of The Chaise Lounge, Nick chats with industry partner Phyllis Harbinger about branding and email messaging and Michele Hofherr about her business around curating unique items and the story behind the name: Previously Owned by a Gay Man.

Checking in with Phyllis on Branding

Phyllis recommends consistent messaging across all platforms, even down to your email signature. An email signature is the block at the bottom of your emails that often includes contact information, social icon links, and your company logo. Phyllis also mentioned that including your photo can help people feel like they already know you.

Phyllis also cited that 72% of consumers want to hear from you via email rather than any other method of communication. So, how much is too much in your signature? If you are telling an entire story, including product information, or have irrelevant quotes, you may want to consider simplifying the content.

Beyond your email signature, there are other branding components to consider, like your actual email address and logo design. As far as the email address goes, using “@gmail.com,” “@yahoo.com,” etc is a mistake, rather, use your company name. This not only supports your brand but makes you look more professional. A well-designed logo can make all of the difference as well. Phyllis and Nick recommend services like Hatchwise and 99Designs.

These are both cost effective ways to have a third party skilled designer create a logo for you.

Phyllis recommends finding creative and useful ways to use your logo too. She added her logo to a tote bag to give clients to keep their samples in. The pair also discusses handmade and personalized gifts for clients, and always keeping colors, logos, and fonts consistent. In closing, take a look at the brands you know, love, and trust. What can you learn from them?

Send Phyllis an email to get in touch and learn more!

Getting to know Michele Hofherr and Previously Owned by a Gay Man

Michele Hofherr is a straight woman married to a straight man. She loves black handbags, Montecito, CA, and red wine. She isn’t a private person, so nothing is off limits; she even admits to loving guilty pleasure, binge-worthy TV.

  • What’s with the name?

Previously Owned by a Gay Man is a peer to peer marketplace that curates furniture through individuals. Michele and her team curate unique items and individually list them on their website. These items don’t have to be owned by a gay man. It’s about the essence of a gay man, not the literal interpretation.

The name came from the true origin of the idea as it articulates what inspired them. Michele’s gay friends would move constantly and would always have extra items. These items were given away for free far too often to people who didn’t fully appreciate them. While Ebay and Craigslist fill a niche, those avenues can be overwhelming.

  • What the business looks like today

The business has been up and running for three years. Michele runs the front end. She’s the creative idea person. Her business partner, Lindsay runs the back end, with a focus on technology. Lindsay has never been into design personally.

There are now at least 1000 items listed on the site. The goal is to remain very curated and not too large. Michele wants to prevent the overwhelming feeling that other marketplace sites possess. She wants to have a revolving door of great stuff.

As mentioned prior, Previously Owned by a Gay Man is a peer to peer marketplace. Individuals list their own items and warehouse them, while Previously Owned by a Gay Man facilitates shipping, which is paid for by the buyer. Geoffrey De Sousa, Chief Curator, is a design aficionado with an objective point of view. Everything submitted goes through him.

Learn more at Previously Owned by a Gay Man’s website.

Industry: The Chaise Lounge Podcast

Upcoming Events

 High Point Spring Market – April 22 – 26

HD Expo – May 3 – 5

ICFF – May 21 – 24

NeoCon – June 12 – 14

Las Vegas Market – July 30 – Aug 1

BDNY 2017 – Nov 12 – 13


Wrap Up


If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at TheChaiseLoungePodcast.com.  Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!

120 – Sarah Blank: The World of Kitchen Design

Sarah Blank Interiors

Sarah Blank: The world of Kitchen Design

On this episode of The Lounge, Nick chats with Sarah Blank. Sarah shares her passion for being a kitchen and bath designer, how she started her own business, and what she loves about the industry.

Getting to know Sarah

Sarah is calling in from Stamford, CT, where she is working from home. Sarah enjoys Dwell for modern architecture and Period Home Magazine from a Classicist perspective – each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Sarah also enjoys a good handbag, red wine, and spending time at her Vermont vacation home.

How did Sarah get into design?

Sarah was working for her high school history teacher’s brother, Richard, for a summer. Richard was in charge of Bloomingdale’s windows. He told Sarah she needed to enroll at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She transferred and the rest is history!

After graduating, Sarah obtained a position working in kitchen design and has never left the industry. In 1994, she met Richard Sammons, a classical architect. Through him, she became involved with the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art. Sarah said that Classicism isn’t a style, but rather a language that you design by, rules and principles that are all about proportion.

Sarah loves what she does and believes in collaboration. Within her first year, Bunny Williams asked to do a job with her. Sarah loved working with her. Bunny is so good at what she does and is so down to earth. Bunny included Sarah in meetings with clients to see how she worked.

Sarah works mostly on kitchens, butler’s pantries, and master baths. Some homes have numerous kitchens with different sets of criteria. Kitchens need to be accessible not only for homeowners but also chefs and caterers. Kitchen designers have to blend all needs to be universal and usable.

What does the business look like today?

Today, Sarah’s company is small, which she likes. Kristin and Andrew are her designers, and Chip is her right-hand assistant. Her husband’s company does local construction and contracting and she works with a small group of architects and vendors she loves – mill shops, steel fabricators, etc. She mentions that you need to have vendors and people to make your designs happen.

Sarah’s husband also handles the business side and Andrea helps with social media.

How did Sarah start her own firm?

Sarah says she just knew she was ready to go on her own. She was with her previous company for 17 years and even gave them a years notice. Her first job on her own came from a referral. Sarah recalled how in the beginning, the team could focus on one project at a time, but now they are constantly juggling jobs to keep things in motion.

Sarah started her business in the basement, but then built an addition on her home. Soon, she built a studio, which was a learning experience with the classical language. The space was so beautiful and well designed that a plastic surgeon made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. She ended up selling the studio and now works out of a studio in Greenwich, CT.

Sarah says that execution is exciting for her and takes the most time. She can almost see into the future with her experience and being able to plan. Sarah recommends that you make sure you have contracts in order, understand the law, and do your job well. She has learned this from experience as well, from being involved in a lawsuit. Sarah loves what she does because of what she has been through.

Why kitchen and bath design?

Sarah loves classical architectural and says that you don’t need to be an architect to practice Classicism. If she could do it all over, Sarah wouldn’t change a thing. She uses her talent and ability to put together a home as a whole. What she does cannot be purchased online. Sarah tells us that homeowners want kitchen and bath designers that are detail oriented.

Sarah designs from the ceiling down. She doesn’t just put boxes on a wall, but rather integrates the kitchen into the architecture. It all has to flow. She focuses on the fundamentals of the room and brings a design point of view through her own experience. On the other hand, Sarah finds it tough when clients want things that won’t work or they don’t do what you recommend. She has had to walk away from customers knowing that it is the best decision for both parties in the long term.

Learn more on Sarah’s website feel free to reach out to her directly. She would love to help you in the industry and educate you on how to find success with kitchen and bath design

  • Wrap Up

If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at TheChaiseLoungePodcast.com. Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!

119 – Barry Wooley: Painter Turned Amazing Interior Designer

Barry Wooley Designs

Barry Wooley: Painter turned amazing Interior Designer

On this episode of The Lounge, Nick chats with Barry Wooley for the second time. Barry shares his journey into design, how he started his business, and how he keeps a family culture alive in the workplace.

Checking in with Barry

Barry is joining The Lounge from Louisville, KY. Barry Wooley DesignsHe and Nick met previously at High Point, where Barry works with Hillsdale Furniture to curate collections and provide input on finishes and hardware.

Barry loves Barcelona, Spain for its architecture, fashion, food, and mixture of old and new.

He also likes cats, Mac products, and convertibles. Barry loves to entertain in his dining room, but you will never catch a glimpse of his TV room, not even on Instagram.

How did Barry get into design?

Barry’s mom was creative and always decorated their homes, and his siblings are all in creative fields. Barry went to school for educational psychology then worked in the corporate world. He took on some design jobs on the side and was able to make the move to full-time by age 27.

Barry’s parents were painting contractors and decorators, which was an advantage for him. He evolved the paint company to paint and decor, and now into a design firm. Barry has no formal education in design, so he started by hiring people to work for the firm. He can’t draw but can come up with solutions. Barry disagrees with some things that are taught in design school but realizes the importance of differing opinions and teamwork.

What does the business look like today?

Today, Barry runs a full-service interior and exterior design firm specializing in residential, commercial, and hospitality projects based in Louisville, KY. He loves the personal connection of residential projects. Barry employs 20 full-time employees within two retail locations. His employees include designers, carpenters, painters, affiliates, etc. He wants to be able to do it all for his clients.

Barry talks about some of the coolest projects he has been involved with including: fantasy interiors in basements, amazing kitchens, upholstering walls, grass cloth on ceilings, and even a bourbon bar in a basement or speakeasy wine cellar with a separate entrance.


How to turn a painting company into a design firm?

Barry began helping his brother and his wife paint and decorate their home. He was able to personalize it without spending a ton of money. He ended up developing a questionnaire to help select colors and soon became known as ‘the guy with a painting company who was good at color selection.’ This was a natural evolution to move into decorating and selecting furniture. In 1998, Barry was invited to a home expo, then people started hiring him to design their homes. From there, Barry hired designers and developed a resource library and the rest is history.

Barry’s projects range from main homes in Kentucky and Indiana, winter homes in Florida, and summer homes on Lake Michigan. There are currently over 30 projects in the works. Barry believes that the busier you are the better you are. And if you love what you do, it all works out.

Barry feels strongly about creating a family-like atmosphere at his company. He is building a new design center with a family room, child care, and a space to eat lunch together. Everyone has their own office but is encouraged to work collaboratively.

On the marketing side, Barry says they do everything from editorial publications, charity events, local TV shows, radio ads, social media and more. He is currently working on a pilot for TV called Ministry of the Interior.

To learn more about Barry Wooley, visit him in real life at 835 East Main Street, Louisville, KY 40206, online or on social media (Facebook and Instagram).

  • Wrap Up

If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at TheChaiseLoungePodcast.com. Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business. See ya!

114 – April Force Pardoe: A Force Within the Interior Design Industry

April Force Pardoe

April Force Pardoe: A Force Within the Interior Design Industry

On this episode of The Lounge, Nick chats with April Force Pardoe of April Force Pardoe Interiors. She shares her experience of starting her own business, how she translates graphic design to interiors, and her support system within the industry.

Getting to know April Force Pardoe

April is calling into The Chaise Lounge from Elkridge, Maryland and is a long time listener of the podcast. April has been running her business for nine years. A few of her favorite things include House Beautiful magazine, a Mac over a PC, and a Cape Cod vacation. She also enjoys a gin and tonic and a good Netflix binge.

How did April get into design?

April received her Master of Arts in Publication Design with a focus in graphic arts and design. She has always been creative and good with color. April started working in event planning where she gained experience in logistics and coordinating using 3D structural layouts.

Eventually, the event planning schedule was too much with young children, and April decided to get into interior design and start her own business.

April has not had any formal education in interior design but is always looking for webinars and seminars. It took her about six months to launch her business. Her intuition, graphic design, and logistics experience have served her well, even down to the fine details.

How does April find clients?

April has only advertised once (in a mom’s club newsletter), and she got one client from it. She also took a design class on how to approach the design of a room. April asked a friend to be her guinea pig and her friend has been an advocate ever since.

April also has a touch base program internally where she schedules phone calls, mailings, and cards to stay top of mind with current and past customers. She also writes a newsletter and blog, manages her social media accounts, and creates video content.

What’s April’s business like today?

In the past, accounting has been April’s least favorite part of the business, but now she has a person to help with that. April mentions that having the right people to help is wonderful. She likes being able to take a vacation and unplug. April is still learning to delegate more and the art of doing it well. On the other hand, April geeks out on the data behind her business. On a quarterly basis, April reviews her business and time spent on certain tasks and strategies on how to become more profitable.

April attends High Point in the spring and networks with a group of designer friends every other month. This is a great and supportive group that shares resources, contractors, challenges, and more.

April has been consistently busy for the most part but has experienced a slow spring. She decided not to get down or worried, but rather reached out to past customers, visited them, and even sought out speaking engagements. April recommends to keep putting yourself out there no matter what.

Learn more at April’s website, Instagram, Facebook, or email.

  • Wrap Up

If you would like to hear more episodes, please visit us on iTunes or on our website at TheChaiseLoungePodcast.com.  Lastly, find The Chaise Lounge on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or post a review on iTunes, you may even hear your review read live on our next podcast. With that said keep dreaming big, and keep designing a great design business