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Meet Trailblazer Sarah Montgomery

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Montgomery.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Originally from the Midwest, I headed to Savannah College of Art and Design to study textile design where I focused on embellishment and product design. After graduation, I moved back home and took the first job I was offered as a Display Coordinator for an Anthropologie opening in Madison, WI. I went from doing tiny embroideries to large-scale sculptural installations and it was definitely a learning curve.

During my time in Madison, I also did freelance art/display/installation work for photo shoots, events, homes, and businesses. I knew I was somewhat of a big fish in a little sea, but I always had my eye on Chicago where I could be around more diversity and a more robust art and design scene.

I finally made the move in 2010 and I sought work that was the closest to what I was doing at Anthropologie- the theater. I quickly found a home at Redmoon theater as a freelance artist and intern project manager where we built quirky objects and grand spectacle for the community.

I was at the end of my rope with unstable freelance work and it was the end of 2011 when I applied at Eastern Accents, a high end, to the trade, bedding, and soft home furnishings company that designs and manufactures in Chicago. This was also when I started teaching sewing classes at Lillstreet Art Center and I was home- to fabric!

As a product designer for Eastern Accents, I loved the hands-on aspect of how we designed and being so involved in the manufacturing process, but that was also a huge learning curve. I went from “hot glue it” and “wrap it with rope”, to filling out very detailed specification forms and designing for items to reproduced.

My favorite part of the job at Eastern Accents has always been planning and setting up our trade showrooms and booths. It wasn’t until 2015 that I started to think about interior design as a career after helping my parents make some updates to their house. Going back to school wasn’t really an option because I already had a design degree and student loans so I didn’t know where to start.

It wasn’t until I started listening to LuAnn Nigara’s podcast, A Well Designed Business in the spring of 2017 that I finally got some clarity. The information on the business side of interior design was out there! So, I set out to build my firm from scratch. I put together the little portfolio work I had into a beautiful website that my boyfriend set up and branded. I started a blog and set about aligning myself with other designers in the community. I spent the summer of 2017 checking off the boxes and got my first client to Sarah Montgomery Design in November of 2017.

I’m still at Eastern Accents where I’m transparent about my business plans and have luckily found support, after all, I am a big customer there now!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I was lucky enough to find a job in my niche field while graduating college at the start of the Great Recession. I have had the privilege of doing lots of different types of work and being exposed to many different talented artists and designers. I spent a few years in my late 20’s floundering a bit, knowing I wanted to change, but not knowing where to start, feeling like I had no resources. The road wasn’t too bumpy, I’ve never had a job I dreaded, but it was long and winding.

My advice to anyone starting their journey is to set an intention and set attainable goals for yourself. Realize that timing is everything and you don’t have total control of it. Focus and work hard but take care of yourself too. It’s your life and you won’t get this time back to enjoy the journey, the little victories- says the most impatient person ever! Listen and contribute where you can. I have endless questions about running an interior design business, but I know a lot about color, pattern, and fabric. Find a way to be a resource to those you aspire to. Pay attention to what you like to do and are good at in your business and figure out how to mold it around your strengths and hire out the rest!

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I am a designer and stylist who creates rich interiors blending new design and vintage finds with a tailored use of color and pattern. I specialize in using found, thrifted, heirloom and artisan pieces combined with layered pattern and color through textiles. I teach my clients how attainable it is to work with local artists and trades to create custom furniture, fixtures, and textiles that reflect their taste and personality. I like to create a dynamic balance of styles with shape, finish, color and texture. It’s all about the mix!

A well-designed room is one with something old and an element of surprise. Something that says, “I wouldn’t think to put that there, but it works.” High-end design that doesn’t have this element of soul just doesn’t appeal to me and my clients. They appreciate my resourcefulness and out of the box thinking.

I’m most proud of the fact that I actually started a business and blog. After doing freelance for a year or so after moving to Chicago, I was sure I never wanted to be on my own again. Building my brand has been a constant evolution and there’s always work to be done and opportunities to hone in on it. I’m a huge animal lover and when I started to blog I knew for me to have success at it (meaning actually do it) I had to make it fun for me. I started a series called “House of Cutes” where I design a room inspired by an internet famous animal. There’s nothing better than design and cute animals in my book and I found a way to combine the two. I’d love for it to gain traction and work on a local level to promote animals up for adoption!

Do you recommend any apps, books or podcasts that have been helpful to you?
If it weren’t for A Well Designed Business podcast, I would never have started my own interior design business so I guess I owe it all to LuAnn Nigara! I also love Kimberly Seldon’s Business of Design Podcast.

There are so many specialized business coaches and blogs out there and many offer amazing freebies in exchange for your email address. One even did a complimentary five minute once over on my website which was super helpful.

I use Ivy as my project management software and I look forward to using Airtable as my projects grow. I’m getting all of my ducks in a row, so I have the systems down for when I make the leap to it full-time in the hopes to scale quickly.

I have my ears to the ground when it comes to any new business resources and apps and I like to try new things, but I don’t hold myself to any one thing as I get started. Businesses are as different as the people that run them so I like to watch, read and listen to as many things as I can, test them out and see what works for me.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Emma Fialo, Petra Ford

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