I met Laura many years ago in college, and we both happened to move to New York City around the same time after finishing school. She now lives in Chicago, where she launched her interior design business, Outline Interiors. And I might be biased since we’re old friends, but I have to say, her work is faaaaaabulous. She’s built a strong business that has a very clear vision that makes her unique in her industry. She shares important advice and business savvy with us.
“Stop comparing yourself to others… It’s the worst. Own what you’re doing, take pride in your work, and just do you.”
What made you want to be an interior designer and start Outline Interiors? Tell us a little about yourself and the road that led you to becoming a business owner. What do you love most about your work?
I always wanted to be an interior designer. I would draw funny floor plans and make shoebox dioramas growing up (which would be hilarious to find now—where ARE they?). I say this a lot, but I like to “make things.” I like having a tangible product at the end of the whole process. I went to TCU (Texas Christian University) to study Interior Design, did a summer internship in New York City, and was hooked. I moved to New York immediately following graduation and lived in the tiniest, least glamorous apartments for 8 years while working for some of the industry’s top designers (oh, the contrast!). It was equal parts exhausting and exhilarating being a part of that world. I was exposed to some of the wealthiest clientele in the coolest homes in the city (and beyond!). New York truly has the best design resources and sensibility in the country. About 2 years ago, my then-boyfriend, now-fiancé, decided to move to Chicago, where he grew up. My family is in Minneapolis, so it made sense. I was ready for an apartment with a washer and dryer actually INSIDE of it, and a more chill lifestyle. Chicago also has a thriving design industry…and so far, it’s been the best of both worlds.
My decision to start Outline Interiors was a long and slow process. Moving to a new city, I didn’t have any vendors (my “people”). As a designer, I feel like I’m only as good as my vendors. Sure, I can come up with all sorts of cool ideas, but without talented artisans to actually make that vision come to life—what’s the point? I worked for a very well-known, high-end designer here for about a year, and it was during that year that I got the itch. I was tired of executing someone else’s vision (especially, if it wasn’t even my taste). I wanted to have the control to decide how projects were run, how people were treated, and who I worked with. I love having that freedom, but it’s also a big responsibility.
What was the biggest obstacle to starting your business?
The biggest obstacle I faced was probably mostly mental (am I ready? do I have enough in savings to get by if business is slow at first?). I’m incredibly lucky to have a supportive partner who was like, “OMG—just DO it! You’ll crush it, and if for any reason, that takes longer than expected—I got you.” I had a lot of anxiety of upsetting my current employer, and I imagine that’s something a lot of other future girlbosses feel. At the end of the day, it’s business. I wasn’t going after her clients, and thankfully, there’s plenty of work to go around for us all. Something I still struggle with (most likely due to lack of interest) is the business administrative/accounting aspect of running your own business. If I never had to reconcile my monthly bank statement again, I would be so happy! Setting up an LLC, filing sales tax payments every month, making sure I’m not doing anything to make the IRS come knock on my door, etc. But with anything—you figure it out, it gets easier, and eventually, you just hire the right people to handle it for you!
“By creating strong relationships now, we can all grow and work together in a very organic way.”
What was and is the most exciting part of being a boss?
Control of the music playlist (soundtrack to “The Bodyguard”) and selection of the postage stamps (Harry Potter). But seriously, I love the flexibility I’m allowed. I’ve been able to travel and spend more time with family. Granted, I work late and on the weekends, a LOT, but… balance. Also being able to decide what projects [to take] on has been huge. If something doesn’t feel right, I don’t do it.
What do you see in the future for your business, and how will you get there?
I recently hired my first employee 2 months ago, and that’s made a huge difference in my overall productivity. Having that support has allowed me to delegate some of the work that used to bog me down and keep me from the more fun creative stuff. That being said, I try to share the fun stuff between the both of us to keep everyone motivated and excited! I’d like to grow to be about 10 people eventually (including an accountant! oh wouldn’t that be lovely…). I currently have a lot of clients who are young couples purchasing their first home, and their budget is more modest. I don’t mind these projects, and I love these clients…because these are the clients who will grow professionally and personally, and down the road will want to upgrade, or will purchase a second home. By creating strong relationships now, we can all grow and work together in a very organic way.
What the best piece of advice for women who are interested in starting a business?
I would say to take advantage of and contribute to your network. I’ve kept in touch with former colleagues and bosses over the years, and now, they’re an incredible sounding board to me on this endeavor. It can be very lonely starting out on your own, but having someone you can call or meet up with that can relate to an issue you’re facing is invaluable. I don’t think that bit of advice is gender-specific at all—it’s just kind of common sense. Another piece of advice would be to stop comparing yourself to others. This can be difficult in an Instagram world. I know I would get down on myself when I’d see other designers’ pages and think, “Why don’t I have projects like that?”—comparison is the thief of joy. It’s the worst. Own what you’re doing, take pride in your work, and just do you—the number of Instagram followers or likes is not going to create fulfillment.