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Why?

My daughter said “You should write about Why you became a designer”.

That girl comes up with some good ideas.

She’s right, I should write about “why” but that’s kind of hard for me because it doesn’t feel like design is something that I chose. It chose me. There was a “lightbulb” moment in my dorm room in college at BGSU in 1997. That being said, I do believe that it’s important to go back and revisit your “why” once in a while. It might help keep you on track or even open up new opportunities. I know it does for me. We grow and we evolve and sometimes our “why” changes.


Would you like to know how I got here? Oh good, I know that story lol.



Backstory. “BG” (Bowling Green State University)

Short version. After I graduated high school, I went to Lorain County Community College for Graphic Design. My dream was to go to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, but that was financially out of reach. All I knew at the time was that I needed to be in some kind of art field, to the dismay of my parents. They were supportive, but also very afraid for me. I heard things like “You’ll starve to death”, “Artists don’t make any money”, “You should be an accountant, you’re good at math”. But I couldn’t hear it. If you’re creative, I know you can relate. There is something deep inside you that always draws you to a creative outlet of some kind. It can’t be stopped. I loved to draw and paint and rearrange furniture. The furniture part didn’t come into play, until later. I didn’t have a plan, or a specific job in mind when I started college. It just had to be creative, period. I didn’t know anything else, and I didn’t really have a plan. Nowadays, I love plans. I was more of a risk taker back then. I wanted to move out of state, maybe live in a bustling city with art galleries and live music. Pretty much the exact opposite of what I want now. It’s funny how things change as we get older. That kind of “busy” just wears me out anymore.


I took figure drawing, graphic design, photography, and a terrible art history class while I was at LCCC. Interesting side note, as much as I love going to art museums, I had to take art history 3 times before I finally passed the damn class, with different teachers each time. I think I also took some basic core classes, but honestly, I don’t remember them. I desperately wanted the college experience, away from home, so I transferred to BGSU and started down the path to Graphic Design. I could probably write story after story of my experiences in college, but those aren’t really relevant here, except this one.



BGSU did not have an Interior Design Program in 1997-99 when I was a student there. I didn’t even really know what that field was, so it wasn’t on my mind until…(here comes the “lightbulb” moment). I had just come from my graphic design lab (this is where you sit at a computer for 2-3 hours at a time working on your assignments). As I was working, I could see other students through the windows outside playing frisbee, and just walking to and from classes. I yearned to NOT be sitting at a computer all day, but still wanted to be in art. I loved art, and I still do. Anyway, I grabbed a lukewarm cheeseburger from the “cafe” on my way back from Lab and headed up to my dorm room. My roommate (and still one of my closest friends to this day) was still out for the day so I plopped down (I could still plop back then) in front of our little tv and got ready for my grab and go lunch. I just happened to turn on a show called “The Christopher Lowell Show”. He was teaching the audience how to decorate. It was my first real experience with design. Intentional design. There it was. The Lightbulb moment. THIS. THIS is what I wanted to design. Not just images on a screen or paper or canvas. I wanted fabrics, and furniture, and cabinets, and walls, and space planning, and paint colors, and light fixtures, and to create beautiful comfortable works of art- that you can LIVE in. I didn’t know it was a thing, let alone a career! I was 19, I didn’t just jump into a whole new plan that day ( I wasn’t a planner yet)- but it sparked an idea and revealed a glimpse of possibilities for my future. That day changed my life.



Apartment. Graphic Design. UPS. Fail out. Virginia Marti.

After a year in the dorm, we moved to an apartment (shoutout Haven House) mostly so we had our own bathroom. My sister transferred to BG from Toledo and we were roommates for a year and our friend (from home) Brad took the second bedroom in our apartment. My sister and I literally shared a bedroom. But of course, college apartments are ridiculously expensive, so the next year, we got 4 more roommates and moved into Mercer Manor (without Brad this time). Yes, 6 college girls in a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment. It was chaotic and awesome and crowded. We loved it at the time. We made some wonderful and crazy memories. No, there were no pillow fights. It was college, not porn. Stick with me.


Most of my roommates took jobs as waitresses, but I hated waitressing, so I worked at Dick’s Sporting goods (not enough money) and then found a job loading trucks at UPS. It was the third shift, thirty minutes away, and eventually I failed out of school because I was working until 2-3am and sleeping through my 8am Economics class, and 9am biology lecture with 300 other students. Classes I didn’t want to be a part of anyway, I definitely did not plan to fail out of school. I remember the shock and panic I felt when I opened a letter explaining that I had been academically excused from BSGU. I still feel like there were some serious steps skipped from being an average student one semester and then being academically excused the next. I only remember some parts of that clearly anymore, so I’m sure I’m forgetting important details that got me to that point. Anyway, that letter arrived only 2 weeks before my 21st birthday. The significance of that timing is that I had a bartending job lined up to start in BG once I turned 21 and I planned to work only three nights a week- nights which would have allowed me to make it to those classes and get caught up, but my first plan didn’t work. Instead, I had to move home, go to work, and figure out a new plan. Once I got settled at home again, I enrolled in a small art school in Lakewood, called Virginia Marti College of Art & Design. I tended bar on the nights that didn’t affect early classes the next day.



Virginia Marti College was tiny and wonderful and exactly what I needed. The class sizes were small with approximately 20-30 students. Our professors were pulled from working in the field and shared amazing perspectives and experiences with us. They pushed us beyond our imaginations and really prepared us for the real world. This school provided the only Art History class I ever passed. (Third time’s a charm!) It was the best college experience I could have ever asked for, and I lived at home. I wish I would’ve done more research before I started my college career, but I really didn’t know any better at the time. Hindsight is always more clear. Only a couple of my previous credits transferred, so after another year and a half in college, I graduated with Honors with my Associates Degree in Interior Design. Avery was with me that day. When I walked across that stage to get my degree, I was pregnant (I still wasn’t great at planning yet, lol).


My college education was a long and winding path. I learned so much at each school I attended, but at Virginia Marti, I learned a phrase that has stuck with me since 2001, thanks to one of my instructors that pushed me to be the best version of myself. “You cannot base your reputation on something you INTEND to do.” - Byron Smith, Instructor of Interior Design at VMCAD 2001. (Now deceased). I remember that often, and I think of him every time.



Resume.

The rest of my experience since then, has been in the field working on the job. As of today, I’ve been working as a Designer for 22 years. Showroom decorator at Value City furniture, Design Consultant and Office Manager at Vilamoura Homes, Designer at Gilfether Homes, Designer/ Sales and Vice President of Fraley & Fox Construction, Designer at Dellisanti Design, and my current job as Project Designer at Erie Shores Contracting. (My resume at a glance).

I’ve worked in the field since college in some capacity of design. Unfortunately, I still get passed up for jobs because I don’t hold the golden ticket (Bachelor’s Degree). 22 years of actual experience, apparently means nothing to large corporations, but that’s ok, I’m not the corporate type anyway. I don’t like having a boss or being told what to do. The contractor I work for is less “bossy” and more collaborative so we work very well together. He likes that I speak directly and don’t buy into the sugar coated bullshit that comes with the corporate environment. I’ve found my people, lol. I still like to look once in a while though just to see if something peaks my interest. But nothing compares to being able to work from home or the incredible clients that I have been blessed with.



Furniture.

Most of my career has been in the Kitchen and Bath industry, which I love. It’s mostly problem solving with design mixed in. It’s very fulfilling, and I’m building someone’s dream. But let’s talk a little about my first love, painting and upcycling furniture. In 2017, I started 716 Design to start selling furniture pieces I saved from the curb, or the dump, or the firepit. I even had my own little store at our local flea market for a little while. Unfortunately, the flea market wasn’t the right audience for my products because everyone wanted something for $10 and that just didn’t work. I built a bench out of a vintage bed frame, reupholstered an old waiting room chair, painted and reupholstered an entire dining set, and so on. I tried selling them at my hometown farmers market a few times, but no one is really looking for that big stuff at those markets. It’s more for fresh veggies and trinkets, not dressers and dining sets. But you don’t know unless you try it, right?



Creativity comes in spurts for me anymore, so I have to get inspired to work on something and I feel like inspiration is starting to stir within me lately. For instance, before sitting down to finish this, I decided to paint my garage man door a lovely teal green color. My front door is a bold blue, so the two together should look stunning. (Don’t worry, I’m gonna tie them together with a pretty stencil on the front porch concrete and some decorating). Both colors are compliments of my brick chimney. Sometimes all it takes is a quick trip to Goodwill to see what treasures call out to me as I walk through. People tease me, but I can look at a table or nightstand and it will tell me “what it WANTS to be”. So I take it home and do it. This last trip I saw a set of identical night stands that wanted to be green, but I haven’t had the time so I left them for someone else. I’ll go back tomorrow, and if they’re still there, I’ll grab them. For a short time I had an Etsy store and shipped finished projects all over the country, but shipping was a nightmare. I may go back to that eventually and seek out smarter ways to ship my products, we’ll see. That was a much better audience for my finished pieces.


What do I still want?

I have a long list of things I still want to accomplish in design and in life.

I’ve always wanted to design a fabric line. Why? Because this would be the perfect culmination of the graphic design and interior design worlds colliding together. And if I’m gonna do fabric, why wouldn’t I design a wallpaper line too? It only seems like the logical thing to do, right? Then, if I do those, I might as well throw in a furniture line, a line based on the flips I’ve done over the years. Part of the reason that I love flipping furniture is saving the all-wood pieces from ending up at the dump! It still amazes me that someone will throw out or give away a solid dresser set only to turn around and buy a new set made of particle board because it looks newer. Paint and new hardware can make a world of difference! Painting furniture requires sanding and priming and some hard work. It can be frustrating and a lot of hassle, but I believe it’s worth it.


My next big moves are Airbnbs and Flips. I’ve stayed in some fabulous Airbnb’s across the country and every single time, I think about what I would do differently to give my guest the best possible (and most comfortable) stay. I’ve even shared some design tips with hosts that truly wanted the feedback. Creating beautiful and comfortable homes is my “thing”. It’s what comes naturally to me, so why not do some short term rentals for the income and to share my love of all things design with travelers. Same goes for Flips. I cannot tell you how many “flipped” houses I have shown as a real estate agent and I am flat out embarrassed by the quality of them. Flipping houses is really just taking my decades of experience in design and real estate and mashing them together to provide quality listings to my local buyers. The hardest part is getting started and being comfortable with my funds before I take the leap. This part is in progress now.


The question at the beginning was “Why?” The answer is simple. I just have to. It’s hardwired. Design isn’t just what I love, it’s who I am. It’s a gift and a blessing that I get to share over and over. One that I will always be grateful for.


May you be surrounded by love and comfort always,

Lis





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