How Ginny MacDonald Went from Working for Emily Henderson to Starting Her Own Design Firm

Career

Love what you see? Take a peek at the talent behind the story… Interior Design: Ginny MacDonald · Photography of Kitchen: Jessica Alexander · Photography of Living Room, Bedroom, Kids Room, Guest/Nursery: Tessa Neustadt

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When the former Design Director for Emily Henderson comes knocking at your door (by way of our friends at The Identité Collective), you break out your best bottle of bub and welcome her right on in. Ginny MacDonald has long sat atop our list of all-time favorite designers, with a modern traditional style-fusing that emanates from her old English heritage paired up with her new California roots. Although she broke out on her own only a couple of years ago, her past experience primed her for pure success. Now a team of three, GMD is a mini powerhouse cranking out stunning spaces in the Los Angeles area and beyond. Ginny shares how exactly she got here, tips on hiring, the most valuable lesson she learned in her first year of biz and so much more—all paired with a handful of individually stunning spaces she’s designed.

Image: Jessica Alexander
Image: Jessica Alexander

Tell us a bit about how you got your start as a designer. How did Ginny MacDonald Design come to life?

I started my own company in 2017 after working for four years with designer, stylist, and blogger Emily Henderson. Before then, my background was in retail design in the UK which is where I grew up and studied interior design. I moved to the US in 2012. Transitioning from commercial to residential design ended up being a happy accident for me. I didn’t really know the commercial design world in the States and found it hard to find a comparable design firm to work for. That’s when I started to read a lot of design blogs and found Emily. I interned for her at first and by the time I left I was head of interior design working on residential projects and sponsored content for her blog. I now have a small team of three including myself and we primarily focus on residential and some commercial office spaces. We mainly cover remodels and decor projects across Los Angeles. We also just got our first out of state project commercial event space project in Colorado.

Image: Jessica Alexander
Image: Jessica Alexander

If you had to describe your design style like a cocktail, what would it be?

Even though I don’t drink this I would say my design style is a bit of a gin & tonic. It appeals to the young professionals with the modern flavours but at the heart, it’s a true traditional classic.

Image: Jessica Alexander
Image: Jessica Alexander

What does your design process look like in a nutshell?

If we’re doing a remodel, our design process starts by creating explorative layout options for space planning. That might sound super boring to some, but really forms the foundations of how the client will interact and navigate the space. My background is in retail space planning so I still do all the drawings, which I love. Following that, we produce a storied concept presentation that shows inspiration images, mood boards, and rendered elevations. We present this to our clients along with physical materials so they can really get a feel for what our vision is. Our designs take into consideration the existing house as well as the client’s desires and our take on the design.

Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt

Walk us through a day in the life of GMD…

There’s no such thing as a typical day at GMD, mainly because we’re working on a variety of projects at different stages. We do try to have some standards throughout the week, and Mondays are an office admin day, where the team gets together and looks over the week ahead. Tuesdays & Thursdays are generally for site visits with the remainder of the week being fluid for design.

Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt

What are a few things you do to get your day started off right?

I start my day around 6:30 and take my dog Gatsby out for a long walk. I’m forcing myself to do more exercise since I’ve gotten in the habit of work, work, work and less time for self-care. I check my emails as I’m getting ready to make sure nothing urgent need actioning prior to me getting into the office – which I try to be in for around 9:30. I’m more of a night owl but I love having an hour to myself first thing to mentally prep for the day ahead.

Image: Tessa Neustadt

What is your best advice for growing an engaged community on Instagram?

With the recent changes to Instagram, I’m sad to say I’ve become less engaged myself. I’m finding it a bit superficial and my growth has stunted somewhat. I know I shouldn’t let it bother me but it’s hard to not take it personally. We use this as a business platform and it’s hard to put yourself and your work out there. So now that they’re controlling what people see, it makes it tough to really build a platform unless you’re constantly on there. And, honestly, we don’t have the time as we’re focused on our projects. I’ve still made a lot of friends from all across the country on there which is really the beauty of this platform.

Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt

With a growing team, what is your best advice for others who want to expand their business and start the hiring process?

The first person you hire is always going to be scary, at least it was for me. Understanding what you’re looking for is really key. So writing down a list of every task that you could possibly need help with will help to understand what kind of person you need. For me, I hired a bookkeeper and a lead project manager who also has design knowledge. I then hired someone to help with more design-related tasks, admin and purchasing. I still do all the drawings myself and compile presentations but I’m starting to give some of that away.

Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt

What was the most valuable lesson you learned in your first year of business?

To let go. I’ve worked for many people over the years, so when I first started out by myself it was tough to give things to other people and not do everything myself. I felt really precious about relinquishing tasks but once I started I realised I could do more important things myself. That might sound obvious but when your head is on the line for everything it can be hard to trust people because no matter how committed your staff is.

Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt

What is your proudest accomplishment to date?

The project I’m most proud of is probably the first one I worked on as a side-gig when I was working with Emily Henderson. The clients found me through Instagram and I feel like they kick-started my solo career. They’d bought a cute English Tudor-style house and were doing a complete gut renovation and wanted my help with drawings and selecting materials. (It’s the 1929 English Cottage project on my website). We’ve since become friends and I’ve worked with many people they recommended me to which has been incredible for the growth of my business.

Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt

You’re on a flight across the country and your entrepreneur crush sits next to you. Who would it be and why?

It’s going to sound super cheesy but Lisa Vanderpump. This has by no means anything to do with the Real Housewives or Vanderpump Rules TV shows but I genuinely believe she has an insane business mind and is still extremely humble despite her achievements. She’s also a huge advocate for the LGBTQ community and has a dog rescue/store in LA. So she’s putting her success to really good causes that also resonate with me. She’s English and lives in LA too so that’s another reason I admire her.

Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt

We’re not a big fan of the terms ‘trends’, but are there any timeless design elements you’re currently looking forward to using in your upcoming projects?

I 100% agree, I don’t love that term but I am looking forward to people using more colour again. I personally prefer more colour and contrast and over the last few years, we’ve seen so much of the California casual layered whites that I’m now excited for people to move on from that.

Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt

Instagram account you’re currently crushing on:

@jhinteriordesign

Current favorite book and/or podcast:

How I Built This by Guy Raz

Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt

3 must-haves on every shelfie:

Books, something vintage, something sculptural

Favorite beats usually playing in the studio:

Anything goes except heavy rock and country music 🙂

Image: Tessa Neustadt
Image: Tessa Neustadt

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