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Exploring Life & Business with Chelsea Smith of Chelsea Design Company

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chelsea Smith.

Hi Chelsea, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I was born in Chicago to a young mother who was an aspiring painter; she encouraged me to regard my enthusiasm as my career, because she didn’t feel she had that opportunity. My mother had four children before she was thirty, with an abusive partner who traveled all but two days per month and was constantly moving us from place to place. I attended nine different schools before college and learned to adapt to my constantly changing environment, by making my bedroom my safe refuge. I would spend most of my time in my room, rearranging and decorating as an escape.

When it became time to apply to colleges, I only applied to one place, Harrington College of Design in Chicago. I knew I wanted to be an interior designer, as soon as possible and a specialty college would get me there quicker. I craved my independence and control over my own life, so I moved to Chicago and started college a month after graduating high school and went all year round. I ultimately graduated honors with my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Interior Design in less than three years.

Although, my plans changed the semester before I graduated when my Mom passed away suddenly at forty years old. My young siblings moved in with my grandparents in Chesterfield and I decided to move back after I graduated to help raise them; my youngest was only eight years old.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Once I received my diploma, I moved back to St. Louis, and began rubbing shoulders with any designer I could meet and attended all of the “design speaks” and ASID events that I heard of. I finally landed three unpaid internships, and one part time paid position with a local designer. I quickly realized how wonderful my education was in Chicago when I was teaching my employers what I had learned. At my paid assistant job, I completed a set of construction drawings for a master bathroom. She was not confident in designing bathrooms, so we brought our drawing set to a kitchen and bath designer friend to review what we had done before presenting it to the client. She was so impressed with my drawings, she offered me a job.

I started at the kitchen and bath firm as a part time design assistant, then quickly began taking on my own clients, and expanding her firm to also include the finishing touches and designing of adjacent spaces. Her business doubled in profits every year that I was there and soon, I was encouraged by a few of my clients to take the leap on my own. I was hesitant at the ripe age of twenty-three and fresh after purchasing my first home, but with a change of circumstances at the firm, I decided it was now or never and opened my own design firm in 2016.

The reason for going out on my own started with a harsh lesson in business that I had not yet experienced; I learned that everyone was looking out for themselves, and I needed to do the same. I was a little jaded at the time. As I was getting my business legalized and off the ground, I worked part time for another interior designer who looked incredible on paper, but ultimately was not the nicest person to her trades and was constantly burning bridges or being fired by her clients. I quickly ended that experience but took detailed notes of what not to do. I promised myself to never treat my partners in the trade with frustration or hatred and to view every individual on a project as a necessary team member.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I set out to grow a team that I could operate with over and over again, so the installations went smoothly, and we skipped over the learning curve of getting to know each other or inspect each other’s quality of work. I wanted to find the best trades and build a relationship with them, so we could support each other year after year. I also wanted to build a family of designers that would never feel like I did not have their back, I wanted to teach them all that I knew and give them the opportunity to follow their passion every single day.

We have grown exponentially every year that we have been in business, both financially and as a design team. I give credit to my emphasis on strong, transparent relationships with both my trades and my clients, and an enjoyable design process. Every trade that we align with shares the same vision and is extremely passionate, communicative, and skilled in what they do. We work with specialists, so everyone knows their role, and we have become a giant family. This is also very obvious to our clients as we are working on their projects. I believe the end result is apparent when a project is run by a happy, functioning team.

Our firm approaches every project by first getting to know our clients on a deeper level and ensuring their home reflects their family and how they intend to live their life. We want to cut out the unnecessaries and bring functional beauty into their lives. We do not feel successful unless in the end, our clients tell us that we surpassed their expectations and changed their lives. That is simply why we do what we do, and why we are so fulfilled doing it. We are changing people’s lives and firsthand by remodeling their personal spaces, their homes.

I learned early on as a child as I searched for stable ground, that design can be therapeutic and ultimately life-changing. That is why our design mission is “Design is Therapy and everyone is deserving of it.”

Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
I guess you could say that I manifested it, but as I was growing my design team, one of my most thorough and skilled carpenters became my partner in life, Konnor Sincox. When we first met, I was working at the kitchen and bath firm, and he was in landscaping. We both were on the verge of broke, but so in love. I quit my job and opened my own business shortly after he moved in, and he was nothing but supportive of my dream.

As my business was taking off, his landscaping job began to fizzle out and he got the opportunity to work with an old friend flipping houses. He was already experienced and resourceful, but he learned so much at that job. He also met someone who had been in the business for over twenty years, who became a close friend and mentor and whom he still works with every day. Soon he took the same leap and started his own business and grew his team, clientele and mastered every task put in front of him.

Right before the pandemic happened, we began working together more frequently and he took on larger projects of mine and surpassed my expectations. We worked on a project right as the pandemic hit that could have gone ten different ways of wrong and he handled every obstacle with ease, and the clients were beyond thrilled with the end result and team effort. Since then, Konnor has become one of my most thorough, skilled, and requested contractors and I couldn’t be prouder to share this unbelievable dream with him.

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Image Credits

Alise O’Brien Photography
Emily Rose Studios

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