It was starting to drizzle and I had just gotten inside from the rain at the cafe in Lincoln Park the first time I met Kira - she was a little frazzled from running around all day but still charming and beautiful. Kira is without a doubt one of the most fast paced and hardest workers I've met - moving around from worksite to worksite, constantly in contact with her vendors and clients, and always with a smile on her face. I was lucky enough to meet Kira a few months ago just as a way to connect other creative women in the area that I admired, before I'd even had the idea of the Inspired Chicago feature in mind. But once I started this feature, I knew I had to get Kira to tell me about her trajectory; how she got from starting off as a poised dancer that still shows in the way she holds herself, to being an incredible interior designer with a style that everyone wants in their life. Thank you to Kira for letting me into your workspace, letting me photograph and get to know you better, and to be able to share your story. :)
Q. How did you get into interior design?
Interior design for me, is a second career. I didn't go to undergrad or anything, I didn't set out to be an interior designer when I was a young girl. I always loved it and knew I really liked it, and kind of always had an innate talent for it. When I moved around a bunch as a kid, and in college, or for different jobs, I was always interested in making a space feel a certain way for myself and then sometimes friends would ask for help. So I was definitely always interested in it and had one toe dipped in it, but I was very set on being a dancer and I pursued that very seriously for 6 or 7 years. Then I met my now husband and we moved around a bit for his work and finally we moved back home to Chicago in 2015, and at that point I was doing event planning for the state, I’d moved away from dance entirely and was at a little bit of a cross roads of what do I wanna do. I could have probably stayed in the event planning job for a long time because it was a good job, but it wasn't what I was passionate about and it wasn't as fulfilling as doing something that I loved. I count myself super lucky to have gotten a job because a sustainable career in the arts isn’t easy, but I just couldn't see myself doing it forever. I’m sure you know from being a creative yourself and talking to other creatives, you kind of just have a pull in your gut and you have to follow it. Otherwise, at least in my experience, it just tugs at you. And it's not super comfortable to be having this pull and taking no action about it.
I felt like I had to follow that pull, so I went back to school at the School of the Art Institute. I was really fortunate, I had extra College Illinois credits so I used them to go back to school. I really, truly, believe that if we had not moved back to Chicago, I don’t know if I would have ever gone back to school.
So I went back to school and even then I was still like, we’re just gonna see how this goes. I’m not having to pay out of pocket for this tuition, I’m able to take night classes, I don’t have a kid - we’re just gonna see how this goes. We’ll see what it turns into and if it’s a viable option. It was great! I met a ton of people in the program, I met really great professors, and the stars clearly aligned - I felt like I was tapped into doing something I really enjoyed, I looked forward to doing my homework at the ripe old age of 30 on a Friday night, so clearly it was a sign that something was right. So I stayed in school and also in my event planning job because I was able to have a solid 9-5 and then take classes at night, and then halfway through my program I started looking for jobs.
It’s an interesting place to be at 30 and starting over. Because on the one hand you’re competing with kids just out of school we are just immersed in four years and their skills are so sharp, finely honed skill sets. And it makes you feel like a rusty 30 year old trying to catch up on whatever computer programs are used for drafting. But on the other hand, there is something that comes with age and experience, that’s just a very different skill. The best is when you can have a mesh of both worlds for sure, but I felt like I really had to lean on my experience and the different paths I’d been on, and I really had to lean into that if I was really going to get serious about trying to make a job change. A lot of jobs I was looking at were internships that either didn’t pay much or were free and I couldn’t afford to take them, we had a house, bills to pay like everyone does - which is a whole other thing.
The world of interior design is I think similar to a lot of different job markets and it’s also a bit unique - because there are some really huge firms, and your job duties and day to day jobs would look very different there than if you went to work for maybe a solo lady who just hung out her own shingle and is taking clients, and everything in between. I knew for sure I didn’t want to work at a big firm, just based on knowing the type of person I am and knowing how the job duties would look. I feel like for me that’s a little bit of a young man’s game, I don’t really have the energy to do that, especially if I have things on the horizon like starting a family someday and things like that, so I didn’t feel like tapping into the more cutthroat world of big design firms.
So I worked my butt off to network with smaller, solo interior designers. The reception I got from all of them was incredible - there’s a few women who have been particularly incredible, one of them is Claire Stasic who runs Centered by Design is her firm and she has proved to be an invaluable mentor for me. Before I even went back to school I reached out to her randomly because she had done something similar as I was setting out to do, and I was like hey I’m thinking about doing this too. Can you tell me about your experience, here are my fears and concerns, and from that point I’ve tapped her as a resource from anything like the emotional ups and downs of trying to embark on a second career to practical advice of like which accounting software is the best investment. I was really lucky, and I found a bunch of women like that who I knew I wasn’t gonna walk up to them and meet them and they’d straight up offer me a job, but I knew that if I invested my time in building a network like that that something would come. And I kept plugging along and searching online and ended up finding my current position at the remodeling company on Linkdin for an interior designer and project manager.
Since my job is two-fold where I’m doing the design work but I’m also overseeing the project, it’s really important to have a solid set of people skills because you’re dealing with people all day long. You’re dealing with clients, contractors, vendors, the owner of the company - you’ve got a lot of people to keep happy and manage. You could be the best designer in the world but if you don’t have great people skills then you’ll still struggle in a job like that. So I felt like it was a good fit - is it what I wanna do forever? Probably not. When I thought about going back to school and making that transition I really saw myself one day starting my own thing. Today I actually feel less certain of that I think because I’ve met so many incredible women, and I love the idea of partnering with someone because there’s just so many great women out there who are doing great things and running great companies and I’d be really happy working for them I think.
Q. You said you always sort of knew you like interior design - was it always something you wanted to pursue in the back of your mind & was it difficult to make that transition?
The seed was always there of knowing that I liked it, but I think especially because I was pursuing this career in dance for so long and was hyperfocused on that. When I left the dance world and had time to slow down, it really reemerged and was on my radar then. It for sure was something I loved since I was a little kid. I grew up on the southside of Chicago and my parents were kind of crazy, I love them so much, but they bought and renovated like 7 homes. Old, old homes, that they would buy, gut, and renovate. Really, it was all my mom - she had these visions of these spaces which were so incredible and I remember the first time I experienced it too. Where I walked into a home that hadn’t been cared for for years and was borderline falling down, and see past all of that to the space itself and what the potential for the space could be. My mom and I were looking at this house and I was maybe in middle school and I remember walking in, looking at the staircase and it was the most beautiful curve of a staircase. It was such an old home, and even though it was carpeted and gross I was like that would be so beautiful. Same thing in the entryway - you could see through into the dining room through these wrought iron gates that had stuff hung on them but I was like that’s such a beautiful view. And I turned to my mom and was like, this house could be so beautiful. I think that moving all those times and living through those renovations and seeing the transformation of a home, a space, kind of primed me for when this bug came back into my life. I was like, oh I actually have an innate draw to that. It was difficult to transition but also doable. Once I'd’ made the decision, to go back to school and take the shot, it was just taking action. Signing up for classes, turning in homework, researching networking events, maybe fear still cropped up where I was like what am I doing - but if I just removed the emotion and took the action then I could do what I had to do.
Q. Why did you choose Chicago for interior design?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I’m from Chicago and my husband is from Rockford, and after I’d stopped dancing and we were focused on his career, we spent five years in Springfield, Illinois, but we moved back to Chicago for his work. If we didn’t have to worry about his job and we could move anywhere in the world that we wanted I guess I would consider other cities, but I’m a Chicagoan at heart. Even just living in Springfield which isn’t that far away, I missed this city. And not just any city, I missed living in this city. And there are so many great cities in the world - for example my sister lives in Florence, Italy and that’s a great city I’d love to live in but at the same time Chicago just has so much heart. Even these women that I reached out to, I don’t know maybe I would have had the same response in New York, Boston, LA, whatever, but my gut feeling is maybe not. My gut feeling is this city has an open armed aspect of we want each other to succeed, at least in the experiences I’ve had in making new friends and reaching out - people want to connect. I think that’s unique to Chicago. There’s a lot of heart here, and I think that given the option to pick up and move anywhere in the world, I don’t know that I’d wanna practice interior design anywhere else. I feel that a different city might not lend itself so much to the support of something smaller but has more heart in it and is less cutthroat.
Q. Are you connected to a creative community in Chicago and if so, how do you feel it’s helped you?
Yeah, a thousand percent. I don’t know that I would even say it’s a specific community, and really, I think the place that helped us all connect was social media. It’s insane what an incredible tool it is for connection. There’s a group of us that connected on Instagram and we’ve stayed in a chatroom with each other - some of us are interior design, a couple of the girls have their own storefronts where they sell home goods. It’s like a common thread of home, design, and space, but they’re clearly all creatives and all creative minded people. It’s been so great because I feel like creativity is discussed a lot, but the business aspect of it, or the real world application of it is much less commonly discussed. So sometimes we’ll ask each other anything, and I think that’s the case with most solo entrepreneurs - having a network is so important because you just don’t know a lot and you’ve gotta throw out what’s going on or you might be doing a disservice if you aren’t, say, charging enough. If you’re not valuing yourself enough you might be doing a disservice to your colleagues where now the client pool is thinking these people charge more than they’re worth, but they are worth it. You wanna be on the same page, like this is what our skill set is worth, and maybe yours is different or mine is, it doesn’t have to be a baseline number for anyone. Having other creative business people to bounce that stuff off of has been invaluable - not to mention the emotional side of it of having a tribe of women who care what's best for you.