How This Mom Decided to Start a Design Business After Having Kids

Home Inspired

Love what you see? Take a peek at the talent behind the story… Interior Design: Valerie Wheeler Interiors · Photography: Krista Jones 

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Before having my son, I had this mindset of “I have to have it ALL figured out before I become a mom!”. Specifically speaking, my career path. Anyone else with me? That line of thought couldn’t have been more flawed. I’ve made more strides in the two years since becoming a parent than I did in the 10 years prior. That’s not to say parenthood is the only supercharged vehicle to motivation and success. It can be, sure, but I bring up that point more to illustrate that there are SO many mamas out there who began their entrepreneurial journey after their motherhood milestone.

Annapolis-based designer, Valerie Wheeler of Valerie Wheeler Interiors did exactly that. On a mission to make her first home kid-friendly, yet equally packed with style, she set out on a new journey of empowerment and solopreneurship. She and her family have since moved from their beautiful starter home, but we couldn’t help ask her for a peek inside along with a behind the scenes look at her business, too. Valerie is also the newest creative we’re welcoming to The List today, we’re so honored to have her join us!

Tell us a bit about how you got your start as a designer. How and when did you launch Valerie Wheeler Interiors?

My career as an interior designer has been an evolution of sorts. My background in fashion merchandising always fulfilled my creative side. But was a bit too fast-paced when I became a mother. Motherhood caused me to pivot my creativity into the design of our home. Looking back I think I always had that design bug inside of me, I just never realized I could make it into a career until I was home with my children. Those long days at home really make an impact on your mood and overall well being if your home just isn’t working for you. I became obsessed with making our home stylish and practical for our family. Long story short, I went back to school for interior design and launched Valerie Wheeler Interiors a month after graduation. I’ve always had the mentality that I would just figure things out as I go. The past two years have been quite the rollercoaster ride as a soloprenuer, but there is something so empowering about taking those big risks and watching them actually pay off.

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

Light, crisp & refreshing with dressed-up details. Like a fresh mojito with a fancy little garnish on top. We are big believers in pretty yet practical spaces so our cocktail would be delicious and super simple to whip up.

What does your design process look like in a nutshell?

My design process is always tailored to fit each client’s needs but the groundwork has been laid in a way that keeps things moving smoothly throughout each phase. Every project starts with an initial consultation where we go over the client’s dreams for their home, budgets, timelines and inspiration images. If we decide that the project is a good fit we move onto the design development phase where we really dive deep into our client’s personal style and how we can reflect that into their home.

We always recommend bringing in a designer early on in the construction phase of a project. Paint colors, lighting, hardware, flooring, millwork, even outlet placement have a huge impact on how the home will function when furnishings are in place. During this phase, we guide our clients on finish selections, custom details, even the landscaping! We always have the end design in mind so when construction is underway, we can help oversee that the design details are coming together the way we intended them too.

During the project management phase, we are also busy planning the finishing touches. Fabrics are pulled, furniture is selected and the decor styling is planned. We work closely with our vendors to procure a truly unique look for our client’s home.

Once all orders are received, we bring everything in for install day. This is the BEST DAY EVER as we see everything that we have been planning for months come to life for our clients in their home.

Can you tell us a bit about your previous home that we’re featuring today? What was the inspiration behind the design?

I’ll always refer to this home as our young, fun house! We were 25 when we bought this house, so we were just so excited to actually afford a home of our own in a great school district. Those were the years of organized chaos. My husband worked a lot and I was balancing a new business with 3 little ones at home. It was important that our house was pretty yet practical. The design was intended to be white, bright, clean and kid-friendly.

I tend to gravitate towards a neutral color palette in all of my designs. A neutral backdrop keeps things fresh and allows different elements like a really striking chandelier or piece of artwork to pop. My personal style at the time leaned towards more feminine details. This house had lots of pink, soft blues and floral patterns. I’m so lucky to have a husband that lets me have free rein when it comes to decorating. My style has evolved so much since that home. I still crave all the neutrals but with warmer wood finishes, lots of texture and a touch of black. We are in the midst of designing our new home, a forgotten cape cod by the water. This new home will have a more coastal chic look. It’s been so fun sharing the process of how a home evolves that we decided to start filming our renovation journey this time around!

Walk us through a typical day in the life of Valerie Wheeler Interiors…

That question has multiple layers these days! Since we are currently in the dog days of summer, I am craving the structure the fall always brings to my day. A typical workday at Valerie Wheeler Interiors usually starts off with the morning rush of getting the kids out the door. If time allows it I try to get in a workout before I hit the office. When I have site visits and client meetings I am on the road most of the day. I like to block off Tuesday-Thursday for client meetings, allowing Mondays and Fridays free for office work. I’m kind of a dork with alliteration so I like to call those days Marketing Mondays and Financial Fridays.

I am also a big fan of time blocking my days so I don’t get too distracted juggling all the things. The mornings usually consist of catching up on emails, going over design plans, gathering bids, placing orders… whatever needs to get done to keep our projects on track. Since my studio hours are 9-3:30, I need to get as much done as possible during that time so I often work straight through lunch. The afternoons include organizing our client files and scheduling out our social media posts for the evening. In order to keep up with our clients and all the things that go on behind the scenes to grow a business, I make a detailed to-do list at the end of each day. Being able to pick my kids up from school and take them to their activities was not something I was willing to compromise when I started my own business. Which means I put in a few more hours at night if I’m feeling overwhelmed. Hiring a design assistant has been a game-changer for me this summer. I’m happy to say I have been enjoying more evening cocktails and less restless nights catching up on work since bringing on help.

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

I am not a morning person. Coffee is essential for survival. After the morning rush, I try to squeeze in a workout or a quick walk to the water to clear my head. Every day is different but I always make the effort to put on some makeup and get dressed even if I am working from home. Getting myself ready instantly puts me in a better, more productive mood. It also helps to have a fresh face when I just want to pop in for a quick insta story. Being the face of my brand is just as important as showing up for my clients so I always carve out some “me time” to get my day started off right.

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

Surrounding myself with women who believed in my business as much as I did was probably the smartest thing I did for myself that first year. It is so hard starting your own business. When you don’t have the right people in your life to empower you in your journey it only makes things harder. Find your people early on. I was never afraid to reach out to other designers on Instagram, introduce myself at events and even stalk a few legends at High Point Market. Sitting two chairs down from Suzanne Kasler my first time at market and asking her how she started her design empire, is probably my proudest moment to date. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! It always pays off.

What does a ‘dream home’ mean to you?

A dream home is a place where your most loved ones can gather. My design style is always evolving but my home, will always be a place where my family seeks comfort, friends can linger and dreams are shared.

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

Shea Mcgee. Hands down she is the most inspiring designer in my books. I remember watching her launch Studio Mcgee with her husband when I was in design school just trying to figure it all out. Watching her share her story made me think if she can do it so can I.

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?

Timeless design always starts with the finishes. I am a sucker for the classics. My favorite design elements include a mix of softer elements like white washed oak with more modern trends like steel frame windows. It really gives a room depth when there is a mix of organic material with more tailored pieces. We also love using lots of millwork in our designs for the same reason.

Instagram accounts you’re currently crushing on:

I’ve always loved following other designers like @katemarkerinteriors, @briahammelinteriors and @juliecouchinteriors

Current favorite book and/or podcast:

Girl Wash Your Face spoke to my soul. I love Rachel Hollis’s no-nonsense attitude. My podcast listens rotate between The Ivy.co and A Well Designed Business.

3 must-haves on every shelfie:

Something living, something layered, and something sculptural.

Favorite beats usually playing in the studio:

Something moody is usually playing while I design, so it is a toss-up between Lana Del Ray and Brandi Carlile.

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