Has someone wished you a “healthy and happy New Year” in the last few weeks? Probably so. Have you ever stopped to think why this phrase is so common? We think that it’s due to the fact that, in life, there’s really nothing more important than our health and well-being. Carolyn Tierney fully understands this concept, and she has built her interior design practice around it. With an Interior Design Degree from Parsons School of Design and a Sustainable Building Advisor Certification from The National Sustainable Building Advisor Program [NaSBAP], this former dancer, busy mom and active volunteer also wears the influential hat of Principal Designer of ECOterior Solutions. The residentially oriented firm focuses on creating the healthiest of home interiors, providing clients a secure sanctuary and allowing them to live their best lives.
How and when did your love affair with design begin?
I grew up with parents who didn’t let having kids hold them back from hitting every museum, antique store and historical home they could find while traveling in Europe and state side. (They did always find an amusement park on the way!) I think that this exposure as a young child trained my eye in art and design, which later blossomed into a profession in the design world.
What was your first experience working in the design industry, how did you get it, and what did you think of it?
My very first experience, which led to me getting my design degree, was a retail job at a home store. I loved assembling rooms and vignettes and thought this would make a great career. After design school I then found a small design firm with a principal who took me under his wing and was a great mentor. What I learned from him was as valuable as school was. The big lesson I learned was that being an interior designer isn’t an easy job just picking out paint and fabrics – it is so much more!
Please tell us what other interior design focused positions you’ve held and how they have shaped you.
Each of my jobs layered on the skills:
- retail home store – mainly accessories and single furniture sales but learned that I liked working with people’s homes
- store front decorating shop – more details were learned and started the training to assemble a whole “finished room” or look
- luxury residential interior design firm – did everything soup to nuts and worked on entire homes’ decoration: paint, furniture, lighting, and the artwork that eventually finished the spaces
- started my own firm – took my experience one step further and developed a knowledge to be able to work with architects and contractors during design and building phases to detail interiors, kitchen and bath design, and now sustainable design and advising
You now own ECOterior Solutions, which concentrates on eco friendly design in the residential market. What kind of services do you offer, what led you to start your own business, and how long have you been in operation?
I started my own business in 1997 and started focusing on sustainable design work in 2007. In 2010 I realized my dream and opened ECOterior Solution to focus solely on sustainable residential design. We offer sustainable building consultation through decoration.
In 2005 I bought a home that had “eco” and sustainable elements, and it started my reading and comprehension of what it all meant [like REGREEN]. Then in 2008 I had my first child and again started my search for more knowledge [like Healthy Child Healthy World], but now I was focusing on items beyond the shell of the building and looking deeper into what we should do in our home.
I believe that consumers are now understanding the benefit of sustainable construction but don’t realize that the interior decorations have a huge impact – not only on our environment, but also on our lives and health as the inhabitants. It isn’t enough to build a sustainable home – to keep it functioning optimally you need to address what you put in the home.
My personal philosophy is that you can’t ever be perfect, but taking small steps or doing what you can makes a huge difference in our lives. This also pertains to the design of our homes. Results can be seen, and having a healthier environment to come home to at night can make a stunning impact on your health.
So many people who dream of starting their own business are unaware of all that is entailed. What has been your toughest challenge as an entrepreneur and being your own boss?
The hardest part of starting and having your own business is managing time and efficiency methods. With out a system in place, it doesn’t take much for things to get out of hand. Each project has its personal challenges and each has its issues, but if the back office is together, then it is manageable.
What is a typical day like for you?
Being a designer and working with clients’ personal environments makes each day different, which I love. I can be sitting in front of the computer and on the phone with my project manager hat on, or out in the field checking on jobsites, or shopping in beautiful showrooms. I generally carry a spare pair of shoes in the car or my bag as you never know when you’ll need to climb a ladder on site or to shop the entire day, neither of which work well in heels.
What was biggest work-related mistake that you have ever made and how did you deal with it?
Clients and I not being on the same page as to project timing and schedule. As projects get rolling, my workload increases and my clients need to move in increases. Clients often don’t realize or want to realize that when they make changes (and there are always changes), it affects not only the cost, but the timing too. If scheduling isn’t clearly discussed up front, then it can go badly. Over the years I have learned to have repeated conversations to clarify, but a client is always eager for completion that the end of projects is always very hectic for our office.
What’s the best advice that you could give someone who is thinking about pursuing a career in furniture design?
Education. The days of housewife decorators or some one with a good sense of style being enough is over.
Now for the lighter side…
What time of day are you most productive and why?
Not being a morning person, I would have to say 11am-3pm. When I have to make those early jobsite meetings I do, but I love a great 11am meeting with coffee!
What are your resolutions for the New Year?
Focus and manage time better. As I get older and wiser (ha-ha) I realize that you have to have a well-rounded life. There was a time when I worked all hours, but now I want to maximize my working hours so that I can enjoy the down time with family and friends and hobbies. Thank god for technology!
What is your favorite holiday dish and why?
My childhood favorite is mashed potatoes, but as an adult I think I don’t want to ruin the memory, so I have never served them. As far as food, I am now enamored with Indian food and its spices.
What the one thing that you wish you knew more about?
Everything! OK, gardening. A few years ago I got hooked, but as a weekend gardener there is never enough time to execute the grand plans that I have, much less learn what goes into making the grand plans. Since having a child I have an undeniable need to learn to knit and sew clothes. Haven’t done it yet but I bought a beginners knitting book and needles.
Want to connect with Carolyn or see some of her work? You can do either through her website, ECOteriorSolutions.com.