How to Become an Interior Decorator in Your 40s (and Beyond!) - QC Design School

Tammy Hart, I.D.D.P, CAPS is a graduate and tutor of Q.C. Design School as well as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist from the National Association of Home Builders.  She is the owner and award-winning designer for Designer Chick Co., and she’s the previous director of the National Board for DDA (formerly CDECA).  She is a professional speaker and has spoken at venues like IIDEXCanada and the Small Business Forum.  She’s been featured in East in the City Magazine, has had a guest spot on Daytime Durham, Rogers TV and has won the HOUZZ Service Award 2017.  She works to empower young women to become successful future leaders and supports ocean clean-up efforts.

networking with other interior design professionals

I network, a lot. When networking with design professionals, I meet many brilliant women. Women who have had extremely successful careers holding very respected positions. One commonality has become increasingly apparent amongst these talented individuals. This commonality is that many are on a new career path– and they’re doing this as they approach their 40s.

These are some of the reasons why they’re taking on a second career:

“To take back control of their life.”

“Burnt out.”

“Sick of working for someone else.”

Though it’s a story heard all too often, it’s empowering to hear about women taking back control over their lives, earning potential, and time. And men, please don’t think I’ve forgotten about you because this scenario, although less common, still occurs.

My own story isn’t very different. I had a successful career, but I was burnt out, underappreciated, and over-worked (400+ OT hours a year for 6 years). It had left me with little time for my family let alone myself. And so I knew, like all these men and women I’ve met over the years, that it was time for change.

But in my late 30s with mouths to feed and bills to pay, my thoughts went from “Are you insane to do this now?!” to “What are you going to do?” to “Can I make this happen?” to “I’m going to do this. I’ve got to figure it out. I will make this happen!”

professional woman reflecting to herself about her career

So where do you start?

It begins with a reflection of yourself. What are you passionate about? What’s your skillset? Believe me, when you’re burned out, it’ll take you a moment or two to muddle your way through this exercise. I was so muddled that I hired a transitional coach.

I didn’t even know these existed until one day, at a networking event, this brilliant woman wearing hot pink (The Pink Coach) sat at my table next to me. From that day on, we’ve been inseparable as coach and coachee. She’s helped me see my strengths and pick my path. I’m a firm believer that a talented coach will authentically care about your future, become invested in you, and not impose their idea of the “right” path on you.

It took a very close evaluation of my transferable skills, passion, three secret words, and a torn ACL that pushed me from a light bulb moment into action.

What skills do you need to become an interior decorator?

The Design and Decorating world is a fascinating one. It allows you to use both sides of your brain – the creative side and the business side. Consider your skillsets for both of these when deciding to make the leap.

interior decorator discussing interior designs with her clients

I’ve talked about the soft skills needed to be successful in this business: people skills, communication skills, and listening skills. You need to effectively and authentically hear what your clients are saying and take their likes and dislikes to come up with a concept for them. It is not about you and your likes and dislikes because it’s not your home.

It’s about compromise and exceeding customer expectations. It’s about collaborating with all your partners, from suppliers to trades and everyone in between. It’s about budgeting for your client and for your business. It’s about marketing both of those. Finally, it’s about creating success – whatever that may look like for you.

Career success isn’t built in a day

But it all wasn’t as easy as just saying, “Okay world! Because I was designing palettes and running a business and interacting with clients before, I’m now a decorator/designer. Bring me clients!” I wish!

It was knowing that I needed an education to back up my experiences and solidify my expertise. But how? I had bills to pay and mouths to feed. I needed to hit the floor running with this. That’s where QC Design School came in. That’s how I was able to fit in school and my family and start the back end of my business at the same time and do it quickly.

If I’m being honest, it took me longer than expected to complete my interior decorating course. I wanted to get the most out of every single assignment and quiz so I’d actually get volunteers for my projects to open up their houses to me. It was great for building my portfolio (Hint! Hint!)

With the completion of school, I was off and running with my business. I’ve mentioned before that it’s like having a new baby, only it comes with many manuals, my favorite one being How to Start a Creative Business – The Jargon-Free Guide for Creative Entrepreneurs by Doug Richard. Don’t think that just because your formal education is over (YAY YOU!) that your education is over. Now begins your “in-the-biz” training. You’ll learn how to run a business and how to overcome business obstacles you’ll be faced with.

Here’s your empowering moment. You took control of your time, earning potential, education, and future. With control of your business, you know that no matter what the obstacle is, you’ll be able to overcome it with strategic planning.

What was one obstacle you faced in your transition from one career path to the next and how did you overcome it?

People often start their second careers after having a family. Here’s QC’s guide to balancing your kids and your career as an interior decorator!

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Cherelle Miles says:

    I was so glad to see this blog. Now I don’t have to worry about starting at 49, it has always been on my mind should I or shouldn’t I. But yes I am so tired of working for other people. This has been so helpful for me as I have started my class in Interior Decorating and I also signed up for Color Consultant. Thank you again. This was my empowering, motivation moment.

  • Cheryl MacIsaac says:

    I too am in my 40’s! Loved the article, the tips and inspiration to start my own business. Hearing about women taking chances and succeeding is just what I need to read about today. I know this proves will take me a while but I’m older, wiser (I like to think so 😉 ) and supported by my family.

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