The Early Years
All throughout my life I had rooms that were designed with a theme. When I was young it was bright pink and orange paint, stenciled walls, gerbera daisy posters, and fuzzy pillows. In high school, it was sultry colors with touches of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. I loved having a space that was my own and nicely decorated!
I went off to college and of course didn’t have a budget to decorate, but did the best I could throughout those years. I had just graduated with a BA in Music from the University of Oregon and wasn’t convinced I wanted to be a music teacher anymore. I had a passion for working with elementary school kids and music was my first love. What else was I supposed to do? Was I good at anything else?
With $30k in student debt and no job perspectives, I had to find a full time job until I was able to make a decision on what the next steps were. I found a front desk job for a law firm in the pearl district of downtown Portland. I very quickly realized, this was not for me and started looking for alternatives.
10 months later, I was invited to work for a catering company and was placed in the sales department inputting catering orders and on occasion, planning large corporate events. I loved the idea of being behind the scenes planning the menu and making sure there were enough servers at these events. This was where I really started to learn what I loved to do - design and implementation! I approached my boss about getting into the event planning side of the business, but it became very clear that they had no intention of giving me a raise or providing me with more opportunities. So, naturally, I started looking for other jobs that might fulfill this niche. My boyfriend's best friend was a real estate photographer and had mentioned that I would be good at Real Estate Staging, but I brushed the idea off and thought nothing of it. I did not want to learn a new industry and interior design certainly didn’t feel like it was my calling.
My boyfriend ( who is now my husband) wanted me to find something that I truly enjoyed doing! I networked like crazy in the event planning industry, but kept coming up short. I remember one day, we sat on the sofa talking in depth about our future and what we wanted with our lives. I was at a loss for what to do next and did NOT want to spend any more money on schooling. Nolan brought up what our friend had said previously about interior design.
“I think you would be really good at interior design! You could start your own company and stage homes for Tim,” Nolan said.
I couldn’t afford to go back to school and didn’t have any aspirations to start my own business. However, the idea piqued my interest enough to do a quick internet search. I found a small trade school in Portland, Heritage School of Interior Design. There was a 3 and 6 month program - such a low risk! At the time, we were living paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have enough money to pay tuition. We met with CEO, Stephanie, and I fell in love instantly. I knew this was where I belonged and there was a fire lit in my soul that I wasn’t about to ignore. I talked to my soon to be in-laws and they were so generous enough to pay for my schooling.
Long story short, I soaked up every ounce of information I could and then started working for a local furniture store to get real experience. While I loved my co-workers and bosses, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t cut out for commission sales. I felt pushing furniture and items onto clients felt wrong, but my paycheck was contingent on it! What was I supposed to do?
I was stuck once again and didn’t like that my paycheck and success was basically in the hands of someone else. I felt like I had enough of a foundation that I could start staging houses and slowly building up my Interior Design portfolio.
Birth of the Business
I decided to take a leap of faith and open my company and got my first staging job! A family friend was looking for staging services and I was first on the list. Once I got the call, I had to figure how to make it happen without going in the red.
I spent the next 8 hours sourcing all the furniture and giving myself allowances for art and decor. Since I didn’t have any inventory at the time, I needed to purchase everything which definitely added up! I rented most things and had them delivered while simultaneously making multiple trips to target and homegoods for last minute items. My husband helped me into the late hours of the night to make sure the property was dialed in. Looking back, I laugh at the awkward amount of decor pieces and visible holes that could have been filled better, but we did it. Our first job!
A Trip to Southern Oregon
Nolan and I moved to Southern Oregon with no idea of what the real estate market was like in July of 2018. We had 0 network, 0 inventory, and we were still living paycheck to paycheck. We moved to Southern Oregon because Nolan was offered a product designer position at a local business in Ashland.
I started trying to build the network right away while improving my online presence. I spent the first 6 - 8 months making relationships with real estate agents and 2 of them really latched on!
Once I created these relationships, we were starting to get noticed! Since Ashland was such a small town, word got out fast and we started getting calls left and right. After the first year of living in Southern Oregon, we moved our inventory out of our garage and into two rented storage units. This was a huge win because it meant our business was going - organically.
One of our most important core values is having a debt free business model. We don’t take staging jobs that we can’t afford. So, if we are low on inventory and the proposal won’t cover the items we need to purchase, we pass on the job. After 2.5 years, we went from a 2 car garage to a 1,050 square foot warehouse! This was one of the proudest moments of my career so far. I had no fear about affording the rent because we had so much design work and staging jobs coming in. Renting a warehouse also opened up some opportunities to purchase wholesale which was another learning curve in the industry.
Overall, being positive and kind to every one of our clients has grown our business. If we don’t know the answer to something, we go find out! That’s what clients love about working with Meadowlark Interiors.
Our lives took us back to the Portland area and we decided to keep the business running in Southern Oregon by hiring a design assistant! At the same time, we would start to grow a second location in the Portland area the same way we did it before - organically. While it is extremely challenging to manage two locations and make sure everyone's needs are met, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give is, you don’t have to do it all! Find tradespeople who you like and work well with to help you. Movers, showrooms, and friends to help you with those first few jobs can really help build that foundation. My favorite part of being a business owner is looking back and seeing the progress I've made in the last 3 years. Starting from nothing and growing into a thriving business! If I'm being honest,I never would have thought we would have gotten here and feel so much pride in our progress.