A New Start in 2022: 6 Designers Reflect on Lessons Learned

February 1, 2022|In SD Blog|By Danine Alati

As 2022 is just underway, six architecture and design professionals—some of which are Studio Designer clients—take time to look back on their careers and reflect on things they know now that they wish they knew as A&D industry newbies. Some contemplate sage advice, and others consider professional situations that taught them valuable lessons along the way. Here, these architects and interior designers share with Studio Designer nuggets of wisdom that they’ve gleaned through the years.

Corey Damen Jenkins

Principal & Chief Executive Officer, Corey Damen Jenkins & Associates, New York, Studio Designer client

Corey Damen Jenkin's latest Kips Bay Showhouse project | Photo: Nathan Schroeder Photography

“When I launched my company 13 years ago, I was a one-man, self-sustaining tornado of ambition and hope. I did everything myself—not just the design selections but also marketing, managing the contractors, invoicing, placing orders, moving furniture, hanging artwork. And because I only had one or two clients a year back then, wearing all those hats was fairly manageable. I designed during the day and did the business stuff at night. I had 100 percent control of everything in my orbit—and I liked it that way.

“When demand for the firm increased, I struggled with delegating tasks to new staff members. I worried that newcomers might be cavalier and damage the brand I had toiled so hard to build. And yet, delegating responsibilities is the key to any company’s growth. Now, we have eight people on our firm’s payroll, and there’s simply no way I could accomplish everything I’m doing these days without their incredible support.

 “So, I’ve learned that it’s OK to let go and let others. That’s a statement we use around our firm—and even with our clients. The five words of empowerment: ‘Let Go, and Let Others.’ In other words, let others step in and carry the burdens you can’t muster anymore.”

A new-construction build in Franklin, Michigan, by Corey Damen Jenkin | Photo: Werner Straube

Sarah Broughton

AIA, Principal,  Rowland+Broughton Architecture / Urban Design / Interior Design, Aspen and Denver

Shadow Mountain House in Aspen, designed by R+B | Photo: Brent Moss

“Design is the ultimate optimism, and we have the opportunity to improve lives and educate. Don’t take it lightly! Keep learning every day. Research, read, ask questions, travel. Be curious and interested. Get uncomfortable. Push yourself and reach for the stars. And share with others. Develop a network of colleagues. Life is richer with a community, and as the projects and requests get more complex, it is great to have mentors and sounding boards. Above all: Have fun. Be positive. And draw everything to scale!”

Aspen's Ridge House, designed by R+B | Photo: Brent Moss

Neal Beckstedt

Principal, Neal Beckstedt Studio, New York, Studio Designer client

The kitchen of a Gramercy Park townhouse in New York City, designed by Neal Beckstedt | Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson

“I wish I knew to be more selective on what work and clients I took on. When I first started out, I wasn’t very selective and took everything and anyone that came my way. Unfortunately, that led to projects and clients that were not the right fit. It’s hard to say ‘no’ to begin with, and it’s even harder when you first go on your own not knowing what the future may hold. I’m getting much better at being more selective and becoming more aware of what type of projects and clients we work well with. Wish I had learned and understood this years ago—it would have saved me a lot of headaches!”

The library of a Gramercy Park townhouse in New York City, designed by Neal Beckstedt | Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson

Suzanne Kasler

Principal, Suzanne Kasler Interiors, Atlanta, Studio Designer client

Designer Suzanne Kasler
A Buckhead, Georgia, home designed by Suzanne Kazler | Photo: Erica George Dines

“Conversations about money, especially budgets and billing, can be uncomfortable to have up-front with a new client. However, I have found that if you begin the client-designer relationship with these conversations, you will quickly earn their respect. By being totally transparent about the way you budget, bill, and spend, they will trust you greatly as a designer, project manager, and friend.”

Bella Zakarian Mancini

Owner & Creative Director, Bella Mancini Design, New York

A loft in DUMBO, Brooklyn, designed by Bella Mancini | Photo: Brittany Ambridge

“I wish I had known that when you discount design you are discounting your worth. You should get paid what you need to get paid and not be greedy about it. Figure out how much you want to make a year and how many clients you want to work with, then figure out how much you need to be paid to make that happen. I wish I had the confidence then to tell people that if they want to pay us less than another client who is paying full price we will never feel the same about them. They can decide if they want to be a priority.

“I’ve learned that most mistakes (and there will be many) usually happen twice but very rarely three times.

“I wish I had known to measure elevators and make every client sit on every sofa, and to always be generous with your time but never be on call.”

A Waterfront Miami condo, designed by Bella Mancini

Richard Ouellette

President, Les Ensembliers, Montréal and Toronto, Canada

The New York apartment of Richard Oulette and his partner Maxime Vandal | Photo: Brittany Ambridge

“I’ve learned that the more you surround yourself with hard-working, passionate, savvy, intelligent, successful, and wiser people with grit, you will succeed better in life. … When you do [meet these mentors], make sure you listen and take every gift of knowledge they can give you. It won’t always be what you want to hear, but that usually means you need to listen even closer.

“I wish I’d known about the importance of having a fabulous PR firm by your side to introduce, push, open doors, and position your brand. Had we known and signed on with a PR firm earlier, our lives and short-term successes would have had a better outcome. Our money would have been better spent and invested.

“If you want to create traction and business opportunities for your brand, you need a PR firm. It’s as simple as that. Figure out how much you want it, how much it will cost you over the years, establish a strategy, and then jump in. It’s so much more exciting and exhilarating to jump out of a plane…with a parachute!”

A New York City penthouse, designed by Les Ensembliers | Photo: Brittany Ambridge

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FEATURED IMAGE: Design by Corey Damen Jenkins