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, Portland, Maine–based designer Tyler Karu tells us how flipping homes got her business going while the economy was in slump, why she added an art advisor to her team and how hiring a project manager changed her firm’s trajectory.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
I always knew I’d enjoy being in the real estate industry in some capacity, but my journey into design wasn’t linear at all. My father was a real estate developer—he built spec homes all over the east coast, as well as our homes, and my mother helped design the homes that he built. We lived in Washington, D.C. and Florida for a time, but I primarily grew up here in Maine.
After high school, I went to George Washington University and studied English, but I had very little direction. I was an English major because I loved reading books and writing, and I was good at that, but I hadn’t really thought about the actual “career” part until I was like, “Wait, I need to get a job.” I moved to New York and worked for a real estate company, where I realized that while I don’t enjoy selling real estate, I do enjoy houses. That’s when I went back to school—I went to New York School of Interior Design for a two-year associates program
How did NYSID set you up for success?
They do an incredible job with the fundamentals of design. It was so exciting to me, because I was learning both the why and the how—why we practice the way we do today because of our history, and how to practice based on their pragmatic curriculum. Whenever anyone asks me for advice on how to get into design or how to be a designer, the first thing I tell them is to go to school or an online program to get a design education. Unfortunately, this is a career where a lot of people think they can be a designer because they have good taste or they love Pinterest, but that’s just not how it works when it comes to construction, scale, proportion—things that you realize are rooted in mathematical fundamentals from the 17th century.
At the end of the day, I think interior design is a trade, and my choice was to get a trade school education. I’m a huge advocate of trade schools and community colleges now because they’re so imperative in my work and it puts …….