The 50 States Project is a series of candid conversations with interior designers across the country about how they’ve built their businesses. This week, Brookline, Massachusetts–based designer Cecilia Casagrande tells us why she always invests in photography, how one project has had nine lives in print, and why she has opted for a personalized process that keeps clients in the mix throughout the design phase.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
It took me a long time to get here. I grew up in the 1980s, and as a teenager, I got the impression that decorators were all like the one my mother hired—she put up mirrors and heavy drapery, complained a lot, and was so superficial that my mom said, “I could do this myself.” Even though I loved the idea, I thought being a designer was cheesy. My dad was in the hotel business, and I thought, This is how I’ll do it—I’ll be a hotel designer. One summer while I was in college, I worked at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, helping with the renovation of several floors of rooms, and it was fun. I was managing the subs and the checklist of everything that was getting done. But I still couldn’t get over the fact that, in my own head, design wasn’t an “intelligent” career.
Instead, I worked in France for a year, came back and worked at a student travel company, and then got a master’s degree in public health and social work. Between the three years getting my degree, doing internships and jobs in different areas of public health and social work, I spent about a decade in that world. My last job was at the Department of Public Health for Massachusetts.
What reignited your interest in design?
The whole time I was working in public health, I was renovating. First was my condo—I renovated it, and made enough money when I sold it to buy a house in a Boston neighborhood. The house needed a lot of work and I did it myself—I was the contractor and the designer because we didn’t have enough money to hire anybody. Then I flipped after four years to move to Brookline, which is when I realized I might be good at this. But that’s when I took 10 years off to raise my babies.
It wasn’t until I hired a designer to help me with my kitchen that it actually clicked. It opened my eyes completely to what this job can be. I said, “I can’t go get another master’s, I have two already.” But the designer …….