The relationship between the design process and products is interdependent. Design involves utilizing and combining manufactured goods; however, even the most innovative or beautiful individual items used without careful consideration to the whole will result in discordant, inefficient interiors. Therefore, it benefits consumers when a retailer has an artistic, skilled background to help them select what is actually appropriate and not just what is on sale. Designer Denise Haddock is just such a retailer. Owner of Denise Haddock Unique Interior Designs since 1984, she offers extra value to clients through her educational background – an AA Degree in Liberal Studies and a BA degree in European and Modern Art History from California State University, Bakersfield – and her experience, which includes being a California Licensed General Contractor with a Specialty in Remodeling. Read on to discover how she balances merchandising to décor-loving consumers with handling large projects for her interior design clients.
How and when did your love affair with design begin”
I have a very funny story regarding my first experience with interior design. I shared a bedroom with my younger sister, Deena. When I was 13-years-old, my mom decided we needed to redo our room. We selected the paint, helped purchase the new “coverlets” (which is what they were called at that time) and my final defining touch was to take contact paper and make cutout feet and place them across my floor and up my wall! I also remember watching as my mom selected the sofa and drapes for our home. She worked with my aunts to select the perfect color of resin grapes (remember those”). Finally, I even remember the plastic flower arrangement that she designed for the kidney shaped coffee table. Loved the lines of that coffee table!
What was your first experience working in the design industry”
My first exposure with design was with our family business building custom homes, and then working with a client that needed to have some accessorizing done in their great room. The client also wanted for me to assist her with their master bedroom. We made drapes for her master bedroom, selected new linens and comforter. The referral was from a contractor friend. I enjoyed the project, but the extent of the project with a limited budget was frustrating. I have so many great interior design ideas, but with limited budgets you can only do so much.
What other interior design focused positions have you held and how they have shaped you”
Primarily, my work is residential, which I thoroughly enjoy. Other positions that I have held include designing for a retail furniture store, as well as professional medical offices. I have found that working within the retail venue or the healthcare venue is similar in that there are still issues of hospitality that must be considered. It is very important that the comfort of those visiting these offices is considered. Conversely, since these spaces are not a private home, the specifics of interior design become more complex. There are legal mandates that must to be followed for the public’s safety. Because of all these legalities, I prefer working with clients in a residential setting.
You now own your own company, which was nominated for the 2008 Home Accessory Retailer of the Year, Western Region and was named one of Home Accent Today’s 2007 50 Retail Stars. What led you to start your own business”
I believe there are two reasons that I started Denise Haddock Interior Designs. The first reason is that I love interior design, and I always want to share the concepts with people in such a way that they feel comfortable to invite people into their home. Most recently my tag line as been: “Your home must tell your story”. I feel that it is of utmost importance that a home is a reflection of its residents – hence, “their story”.
When my clients have guests into their home, it is my desire that the guests know more about them and who they are by the setting within their home. You might call me an “architect of ambiance”. Secondly, in appreciation of good design, I wanted to provide not only private consultation services, but also, product to the general public that reflected my love of good design. Along with that, I thoroughly enjoy the clients that come into my design studio. I invite them to bring in their challenging design issues (along with measurements and photographs), and we work together on them in the studio.
As you had mentioned, I was a finalist for Accessory Retailer of the Year, Western Region for 2008 and named Home Accent Today’s Top 50 Retailers. These are real honors for me. The process for the 2008 Accessory Retailer of the Year required me to really examine all the why’s and how’s of what I do. I found the process very rewarding. I think that I am a more successful businesswoman because of this experience.
PLiNTH & CHiNTZ has never profiled a designer who was so involved in the retail end of the business before, so please give our readers a little insight into the product / showroom / designer relationship.
As many of my colleagues have identified, I was curious about the retail side of the business. One of those opportunities that I could not refuse came my way. The process and the dance of both sides of the business has been a growing, life changing experience. This opportunity has given me new insight into both sides and has challenged me in many new ways. I have become more aware of economic trends, budgeting and the mystery of retail; knowing in advance what the general public will (or will not) purchase from me.
Finally, the contrast of retail versus private clients: Merchandise that I floor at my design studio is not what my private clients desire. The general public, often, does not have that large of a budget. My greatest resource as a designer/ retailer has been Accessories Resource Team, the organization that awarded me finalist as Accessory Retailer of the Year, Western Region. Our primary goal is to promote and support home accessory retailers in the public sector. We also accept product designers, manufacturers and sales representatives into our organization. Through networking, cross marketing and relationships, we grow our confidence as retailers/designers. Because I believe so very strongly in the importance of supporting each other within the trade, I am a member of the Membership Committee. (Should you be interested in becoming a member, please contact me through my website or contact Sharon Davis through accessoriesresourceteam.org.)
What has been your toughest challenge as an entrepreneur” Is being your own boss all that you expected – harder, more rewarding, etc.”
My toughest challenge, but yet my greatest asset, as an entrepreneur has been my non-confronting nature. I am definitely a person that has an opinion about my client’s interior design. I convey that in such a way that it is easily accepted. The difficult thing for me to do is to communicate what will be needed financially to carry out this design plan. I am an artist, and I do not like being my own CFO. I understand why we are called “starving artists”. We like to create and not have to deal with getting paid for our designs.
I also think that “taking on” the design studio as a retail venue has really required me to manage my time carefully. I find time management very difficult. It would be easier to just stretch the hours in my day. I do not like to accept that some things will not get finished at the end of the day. My husband recently told me to let a potential project go and not pursue it any further because I did not a have a place in my schedule for it. While I know that he is completely right, I can hardly let those types of things rest.
What is a typical day like for you”
Typically, my day includes time with one or two of my private clients in their homes. I usually make a million calls regarding orders for my clients. I make calls to my seamstresses at my workroom. I contact my upholsterer regarding a custom ottoman I have designed. I visit the local paint store to select new paint and pick up a sample quart for a client. We have a former Woolworth’s store that has been converted into an antique store; I may peruse their stock for interesting finds. These finds may be for my private clients or for props in my design studio. Wednesday afternoon, Thursday and Friday are spent in my design studio, greeting walk-in customers and focusing on design work for my private clients. My client list includes many professional women who work during the day; therefore, in the evening, I usually have a consultation with one of these women.
What was biggest work-related mistake that you have ever made and how did you deal with it”
Each year I am involved in the Bakersfield Showcase House of Design. This annual event is a fundraiser that provides funds and a summer camp for disadvantaged inner city youth. On one occasion, as part of an attempt to cross-market with a local glass company, I arranged to have a new to the market shower door installed for the homeowner at cost. Unfortunately, I did not communicate well with the homeowner about them paying for the shower door, they refused to pay and I paid for the shower door. For me, integrity is the most critical part of my business.
What did you learn in school that you feel prepared you for a career in design” What skills and wisdom have you learned only through all of your experience”
College taught me to see projects in parts, not as a whole. Each design project that I work on has a personality unlike any other, as does the home owner/client that I work with. Therefore, I have learned to be patient and enjoy all the parts of the design project and not be overwhelmed by the whole of the project.
My education did not teach me the business side of interior design as well I wish. Subsequently, experience alone has taught me how to deal with people. I have taught myself how to resource product around the world for my clients, private and retail. I have had to research for myself how to draw up contracts and how to carry them out. As for retail, I have been on a steep learning curve this last three years. Trying new things – sometimes they work and sometimes they do not. I have often said that knowing how to be an interior designer does not automatically make someone a retailer.
What’s the best advice that you could give a student emerging from school”
Find an interior design firm where you can learn the business side of interior design and become a sponge for the information they have to share. Students must be willing to accept that they are not going to be paid well while gaining this very valuable experience. I recently spoke with a design student who was “whining” about not having an internship. In almost the same breath, he told me how the designers he interviewed with were so wrong in their approach to interior design. I reminded him he would never get a internship if he was not more open minded to what an expert could teach him. Once you are on your own, no one will share “trade secrets” with you.
Now for the lighter side…
What is your favorite season and why”
I love spring. I love the fresh renewal. I love the reminder that we can start over again and things can be beautiful. I love the garden and nurseries full of fresh new fragrant flowers, especially stock – they are so fragrant.
Which film did you think was robbed of an Oscar this year and why”
As part of my studies in Art History, I have studied movies for their artistic quality. I particularly enjoy the subtleties of film; there are always filming techniques that give underlying messages and/or greater impact. For these reasons I think Bourne Ultimatum was overlooked for their well deserved Oscar.
What is your favorite comfort food and why”
Seared tuna and couscous. I enjoy the flavors and the texture of the tuna. I enjoy the fact that it is cooked only on the outside. (l love sushi, too!) The couscous is a perfect complement to the seared tuna. Finally, it is fish, and fish is very good nutritionally!
What the one thing that you wish you knew more about”
Marketing. I have two friends who are naturally savvy marketers for their businesses and for others. They very generously suggest ideas to me all the time. I always tell them I wish I could think of ideas for marketing my business. For them, marketing seems to come so naturally. I’d like to know how to get my ideas and my work published.
If you have questions for Denise, contact her through her website, denisehaddockdesigns.com. One last thing – Denise wanted to be sure and let readers know about two favorite links: Komen.org and inky-dinky-do.com.