An insightful interview with a seasoned interior designer reveals key lessons for aspiring decor mentors. From cultivating an eye for design to building client relationships, this decor mentor shares their top tips.

Developing an Eye for Design

Interior design is both an art and a science. Mastering the technical skills takes time, but cultivating an “eye” for design is equally important. Here are some tips on sharpening aesthetic sensibilities:

Study the Classics

Familiarize yourself with classics in interior design through books, museums, and historical sites. Understanding the elements and principles employed in iconic spaces allows you to draw from proven ideas.

Observe Natural Beauty

Notice how nature combines colors, textures, proportions, and variances. Observing these aesthetics in the world can inspire original interior concepts.

Critique Photography

Analyze shots in magazines and online galleries. Train your eye to identify what makes some spaces captivating and others unappealing.

People Watch

Pay attention to how people interact with their environments. Small details about furniture arrangements, lighting, accessories, and more can inform design choices.

Mastering Technical Skills

While creativity is crucial, knowledge of the technical elements of interior design is equally important. Here are some of the key skills needed:

Space Planning

Understand ergonomics, furniture dimensions, traffic flow, and building requirements to craft efficient floorplans. Practice sketching to scale.

Architectural Detail

Learn about finishes, fixtures, materials, and methods to specify architectural details. Understand building systems and building codes.

Color Theory

Study color harmonies, palettes, tones, and psychological impacts. Practice combining hues across textiles, paints, furniture, and accessories.

Lighting Design

Consider lighting layers, fixture types, placement strategies, bulb temperature, and lighting controls. Lighting can make or break a space.

Furniture Arrangement

Practice arranging furniture for both form and function. Understand typical furniture dimensions, sightlines, conversational groupings, and traffic flow.

Cultivating Client Relationships

Connecting with clients is just as important as mastering design skills. Use these tips to become an expert relationship builder:

Active Listening

Ask thoughtful questions and focus intently on client responses. Pick up on stated and unstated needs to understand their priorities.

Managing Expectations

Be realistic about timelines, costs, design limitations, and outcome possibilities. Guide clients gently to viable solutions.


Gently guide clients on styles, trends, and design principles. Introduce them to new ideas that meet their needs. Build their knowledge.

Customized Options

Provide a range of options customized specifically for each client. Avoid pre-determining one rigid solution before fully understanding their lifestyle and preferences.

Ongoing Communication

Check in frequently and update clients on progress. Make them feel heard and involved throughout the design process.

Executing Projects Skillfully

Careful planning and attention to detail are vital for the successful execution of design projects. Here are some key tips:

Meticulous Timelines

Create detailed timelines accounting for ordering, shipping, installation, traffic, specialists, inspections, and contingency buffers.

Diligent Research

Thoroughly research available products and services. Vet vendors, read reviews, compare options, and verify quality before making final selections.

Careful Budget Tracking

Use spreadsheets and financial software to track every penny against the budget. Provide clients frequent status updates.

Organized Documentation

Maintain meticulous notes, photos, samples, and revisions during projects. Thorough documentation prevents mistakes.

Problem-Solving Mindset

Issues will arise, but skillful designers have plans and resources to troubleshoot them. Having contingency plans reduces stress.

Developing a Design Specialty

Expanding expertise in a particular style, demographic, or type of space can help attract ideal clients. Consider focusing on:

Residential or Commercial

Private homes and corporate offices have very different requirements. Most designers specialize in one or the other.

Modern or Traditional

Some excel at sleek, contemporary looks while others prefer antique, classic styles. Pick a distinctive aesthetic.

Scale and Scope

Consider specializing in small decor jobs, full remodels, or large commercial spaces. Match skills to project scale.


Style needs vary across cultures, ages, family types, and income levels. Cater to specific target demographics.

Sustainable Design

Specialize in energy-efficient materials, renewable sources, indoor air quality, and conservation practices.

Running a Profitable Business

For long-term success, interior design must be treated as a serious business. Some key elements include:

Business Licensing

Obtain proper business licenses, tax IDs, and insurance. Follow regulations for interior designers in your state.


Use detailed contracts for every job, outlining scope, timeline, deliverables, payments, contingencies, and policies.

Portfolio and Marketing Assets

Invest in a polished online presence with a portfolio, website, content, and marketing materials that convey expertise.

Finances and Accounting

Track income, expenses, profit margins, and tax liabilities. Manage finances wisely.

Legal Counsel

Establish relationships with competent attorneys and accountants. Rely on experts for advice.

Strategic Growth Plans

Set formal business goals and growth milestones. Pursue education, staff, equipment, and processes to scale sustainably.

Key Takeaways from a Decor Mentor

Some final words of wisdom from our interview:

  • “Never stop learning. Attend workshops, read books, and follow industry leaders.”
  • “Let your passion drive your career. Love what you do each day.”
  • “Listen to clients first, sell second. Design is about meeting needs.”
  • “Start small and focused as you build skills. Expand slowly.”
  • “Be flexible. Expect changes and challenges.”

Following the tips from this seasoned pro can position aspiring designers for success. With commitment to the craft and smart business practices, a rewarding career in interior design is possible. Let this mentor’s journey inspire your own path.

Frequently Asked Questions About Breaking into Interior Design

Interior design seems like a glamorous career, but the reality involves hard work and business savvy. Here are some common questions on launching a design business:

How much education do I need to be an interior designer?

Most states require 2-5 years of design education plus internship experience before licensing. Programs range from certificates to master’s degrees.

What skills are most important for interior designers?

Creativity, spatial thinking, design expertise, communication, and business/management abilities are all crucial.

Should I focus on residential or commercial design?

Many designers specialize in one or the other. Consider your interests, skills, and local demand for each type.

How much can I earn as an interior designer?

Pay varies based on experience, specialization, and location. The median salary is $56,000 but top designers can earn $150,000 or more.

What are the first steps to starting a design business?

Register your business, obtain licenses and insurance, establish your brand, build a portfolio website, create contracts/templates, define services, and implement marketing.

How do I attract my first clients?

Leverage networks, offer discounted starter packages, partner with complementary vendors, market online/locally, and pursue referrals from early customers.

When should I hire employees for my interior design firm?

Most advise starting solo and outsourcing help until consistent client demand supports at least one full-time hire. Scale slowly.

What mistakes do rookie interior designers make?

Underestimating costs and timelines, focusing too much on creativity over business skills, taking on work beyond their expertise, poor contracts, and insufficient marketing.

What is the best way to learn technical design skills?

Formal education, reading extensively, job shadowing experienced designers, attending workshops/conferences, and practicing on test concepts.

How can I stand out in a competitive industry?

Differentiate with a specialty, stellar client service, unique yet livable designs, strong portfolio, and polished marketing that communicates your vision.


The road to becoming an interior design mentor is rewarding but requires immense patience, skill, business savvy, and passion for the craft. By studying the classics, understanding technical elements, connecting with clients, executing skillfully, developing a specialty, and running a lean business, aspiring designers can gain the expertise that commands respect. While challenges arise, those who focus on continual learning and improvement position themselves to share lessons with the next generation of decorators. Savvy mentors know that success comes not from talent alone but from blending creativity with relentless hard work and dedication. With the right foundation, interior design mentors can build both inspiring spaces and meaningful careers.