I Transformed My House After My Divorce And Started A $40K/Month Interior Design Business

Published: May 25th, 2023
Rebecca West is Seriously Happy
Seriously Happy H...
from Seattle, WA, USA
started November 2007
market size
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gross margin
time to build
210 days
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Canva, Fiverr, Wix.com
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Full time
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39 Pros & Cons
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Rebecca West, interior designer and founder of Seriously Happy Homes based in Seattle, Washington. We reduce the overwhelm for homeowners going through a remodel by helping them make confident decisions as they navigate through the million and one choices that come with creating a happy home.


We have two kinds of signature services: One is a single-session service where we’ll answer any design question someone has for their remodel or redesign project so they can move forward with confidence.

People ask us everything from what size light to get for their dining room, to what color to paint their house, to how to layout their new kitchen cabinets. This comes in both an in-person version (a “Quick Action Session”) and a virtual option (a “Design Helpline”).

The other service, “The Works,” is for folks who need us to help them create a comprehensive A-Z design plan that they can execute on their own or with a contractor.

We stand out from our colleagues because we have an extremely efficient design process that keeps momentum in our projects, keeps our clients Seriously Happy, and keeps our projects Seriously Profitable, bringing in average revenue of $40k per month without having to target the ultra-rich.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I never took interior design seriously as a career.

I never expected to become an interior designer, or a businesswoman for that matter. I thought the interior design was pretty much just helping rich people choose to throw pillows for their third and fourth homes. So, even though I had a talent for color and design, I never considered it as a career.

Divorce changes everything.

Then in 2007 I got divorced and found myself living in a house I’d once shared with my ex. Everywhere I looked I saw memories of my failed marriage - the paint colors we’d chosen, the hand-me-down sofa from his parents, the bed we’d shared… I felt trapped and miserable, even though I knew I was lucky to own a home in Seattle.

I wasn’t about to give up my home, but I also couldn’t keep living like that, surrounded by old memories and the remnants of my failed marriage. So one day I decided to make a change! I sold everything on Craigslist, repainted all the walls, and bought all “new-to-me” furniture.

Despite having a very limited budget, I was able to transform my house so that I was looking at my future instead of my past. You can see photos of that journey on my website here.

That’s when I realized interior design has a lot of power!

I went from thinking interior design was “just for rich people” to feeling determined to give other people access to the tools and information they needed to transform their own spaces.

Armed with just a talent for color and the redesign skills I’d learned from many moves with my military family, I started an interior design company. Eeek!


Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

What do you do when you don’t have a portfolio?

The challenge with starting an interior design business is that you don’t have a portfolio, so how are you supposed to convince people you know what you’re talking about?

Start small!

My solution was to start small. I priced my services low ($50 an hour when I started) and focused on color consulting and redesign. Then I took before & after pictures of everything I did, even the smallest transformations.

The more practical and buildable you can make your designs the more your contractors will refer you and the happier your clients will be.


Those photos helped clients see the transformation I could help them make, giving them the confidence to hire me. Little by little my experience grew, my services matured, my prices increased and, within 2 years and despite being self-taught, I had clients hiring me for full interior design projects!

Of course, there’s no comparing the shots I took of those early transformations to the beautiful photos pro-photographer Julie Mannell takes of our projects these days, but they did the job. Remember, as long as your clients can see the change you can make for them, that’s all that matters!

I didn’t do it alone.

I had a lot of support from really amazing people, especially some wonderful vendors and contractors (a big shout out to Aaron and the patient folks at Art Tile, Denee and her team at Seattle Tile, Tim at Phinney Ridge Cabinets, and Nik and Sam at Phinney Ridge Painting).

One piece of advice I give to aspiring interior designers is to ask your contractors lots of questions, particularly “What do you wish interior designers knew?” and “What design decisions can I make that will make your install job easier?”

Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

We’re starting a 100% FREE “Ask-An-Expert” series asking exactly those kinds of questions of master tradespeople in our industry. It’ll be a resource for both Designers and DIYers, helping them get the answers they need to design practical, buildable, on-budget projects. If your readers would like to know when that launches, they should get on the first-to-know waitlist, which they can do here!

The more practical and buildable you can make your designs the more your contractors will refer you and the happier your clients will be because their projects will stay on time and budget. (Yay!)

The best thing you can do is carve out a disruptive - or at least memorable - niche, and then market it based on the value of your service.

Describe the process of launching the business.

It would be a stretch to say I started my business with any kind of “strategy” lol.

I got my business license in November of 2007, then signed up to have a booth at a local home fair that was scheduled for January. That gave me a two-month deadline to build a website, come up with a logo and business cards, and figure out a way to wow people (and hopefully get them to hire me) despite having no portfolio beyond my own home.


While I didn’t get a single client from my first home fair, just the deadline itself made the event worthwhile! I ended up having a booth there year after year and, while I did ultimately get clients from those events, more important were the fabulous referral relationships I built with other vendors and contractors (like Phinney Ridge Painting mentioned earlier). It’s amazing how well you can get to know someone while sharing a side-by-side booth and waiting for potential clients to come over and chat with you.

The hustle is real.

But that was just one piece of the hustle in those early years. Among many other experiments, I gave presentations to real estate offices (the team at Lake and Co were just wonderful to me!), attended every networking event I could find, and offered free color consultations at my local Benjamin Moore paint store (shout out to Jim at the team at Mallory Paint in Greenwood!). I made ends meet by offering painting services to the people who hired me for color consults.

It was about two years before I had enough design clients that I didn’t have time on my calendar to offer painting services anymore. That was my first big, scary milestone when I had to eliminate one service to make room for a higher revenue service!

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Ask for reviews!

While some designers work hard to develop robust client-referral programs, our success has come from lots of online social proof from reviews.

That worked for us because I run a design-only firm (we don’t buy anything for our clients, and we don’t install or project manage). That means we get to help a lot more people than the average interior design firm, and thanks to that high-volume business model (and a system for asking for reviews) we’ve been able to gather a remarkable number of online reviews as compared to our colleagues and competitors.


We find that our best customers are ones who never actually thought they’d hire an interior designer so being on Yelp, Google and Houzz is a much better marketing fit than, for example, advertising in glossy luxe design magazines or other places targeting the ultra-rich.

We love helping folks who got seduced by home improvement shows to think designing was a fun walk-in-the-park, and then find themselves overwhelmed by what they’ve gotten themselves involved in.

Those clients are a nightmare for artist-designers who want to grace the cover of Architectural Digest, but they are our favorite people to help!

Contractors love our files!

Aside from all that social proof, we also developed a design file template that captures all the details needed to build the design as intended. That turned out to be a great marketing move because our contractors LOVE our files and recommend our work just because of the quality of the files we create.

There’s no bigger compliment than a contractor referral since it’s not uncommon for contractors to sigh heavily when they hear a designer is involved in a project. (Designers don’t always make it easy for contractors to do their job.)

That said, it took a while to develop our design-file template, so don’t panic if your designs are light on details in the beginning. Just keep improving! (BTW, I offer a design-file-review process for designers and DIYers, so if you need an extra set of eyes on a design you’re creating for a client, or want some help learning how to present your designs in a way that helps your clients make quick, confident decisions, you can sign up for a Design Helpline right here!)

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We’re doing great, which is a funny thing to say because we’re also going through an intentional but huge transition!

To date, we’ve generated between $20k and $40k per month (it fluctuates based on the size of our design team). I pay myself on payroll just like I do my employees, and still have an 8% profit margin. That’s all thanks to a 70% conversation rate and our super-efficient design and decision-guiding process.

Despite all that success, we’re in the process of moth-balling some of our highest-revenue services to make way for something new! (Yes, crazy.)

You won’t be surprised to hear that the Covid years made us reexamine what we were doing. We used The Pause to improve our systems (for example, transitioning to Chief Architect’s Home Designer Pro software) and to develop a virtual service (our Design Helplines).

The new software elevated our designs and helped us design even more efficiently and confidently than before. And our virtual service expanded our reach. We’ve always been a hyper-local firm, helping clients within a tight 9-mile radius from our office near Greenlake in Seattle. Since launching the Design Helpline we’ve helped folks as far away as Finland, England, and Brazil!

At the same time, some of our team members had Covid-babies, my Design Director shared with me her dream of going to grad school to study architecture, and my hubby and I started talking about his dream to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (a dream he’s had since he was a kid).

So, despite having built a perfect revenue-generating machine, we’re shifting gears!

Starting in 2024 we’ll be focusing entirely on our virtual service (Design Helplines) helping DIYers navigate those million-and-one decisions and make bold, courageous choices for their home projects. I’m excited because, as remarkable as our full “The Works” process is, my heart has always been happiest helping regular folk, and not everyone needs (or can afford) a full design to get happier at home.

Time to focus on helping other interior designers grow their design biz!

At the same time, we’re expanding our business coaching for interior designers, teaching them the skills we developed for helping our clients make quick, confident, profit-protecting decisions so that they have happier design businesses full of happy clients. I have a book on how we help our clients make decisions coming out in 2024, too!

Will we still be able to generate nearly half a million in revenue? We’ll have to see! But life is too short not to take risks, especially in business. Our work has to make us happy, just like our homes!

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Oh, the lessons I’ve learned in over 15 years of being in business lol.

Lesson #1: Learn to say no.

While most of my online reviews have been glowing 5-star testimonials, I remember well the first 2-star review I got.

It sucked. There were tears. So. Many. Tears.


I shouldn’t have taken on the client. They wanted a style of design that was not my strength, and even though I tried hard to deliver on their vision, it was still too informed by my aesthetic. The client wrote that it was a beautiful design, it just wasn’t the design she wanted.

That broke my heart, but it taught me an important lesson about making sure I’m a fit for the client and their project. It showed me that it hurts a LOT more to miss the mark and have an unhappy client than it does to disappoint someone when they are trying to hire you.

I’ve gotten very good at saying no to clients, and I see it as my professional responsibility.

Lesson #2: Have courageous conversations.

I remember the first time I had to fire an employee. I found myself avoiding going into the office because I didn’t want to deal with the challenges of working with this team member, and I didn’t know how to address the issues we were having. I let it go until I just couldn’t avoid it anymore, and then one day, out of the blue, I let her go.

Surprise-firing a team member is The Worst.

That was such a horrible experience for both of us. While the job wasn’t the right fit for her, I could have done a much better job of setting standards and expectations in the beginning, creating benchmarks and measurable metrics for success, and having regular check-ins and evaluations. Instead, I just surprise-fired her, and I feel bad about it to this day.

Luckily, every team member since has benefited from that #lessonlearned, and no one has ever been surprise-let-go again.

Lesson #3: Track everything.

I’m not a numbers person. I’d guess that many interior design professionals see the world more in color than math.

But numbers don’t lie, and they can help you make really good business decisions if you’re tracking your data.


Over the years I’ve done that well in some areas (like tracking all our projects and business time to make sure we’re running profitable projects) and poorly in other areas (like when I hired too many people at once and found myself about to fall off a financial cliff because new designers cost a lot more than they bring in!).

So I’ve learned to get along with numbers, and to track everything so that when I need to make a business decision about what service to market, who to hire and when, or if I can afford to give a team member a well-deserved raise, the math can make the decision rather than my “gut.”

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our systems are pretty straightforward: we use Chief Architect Home Designer Pro for our floor plans, elevations, and 3D rendering.

We use Apple’s Pages for creating our design files and materials lists (which we share with clients as a pdf).

We use Dubsado for our CRM and for onboarding clients, QuickBooks for our bookkeeping, Asana for project tracking and follow-up, AcuityScheduling for our self-schedulable services, and of course the Google Suite for email and all other calendaring.

My favorite tools are Loom and Asana. Loom is just wonderful for explaining a design concept or detail waaaay more efficiently and effectively than through a written email!

Asana is great for project tracking and client follow-up, but the real reason I love it is that it gives you unicorns when you check off tasks! LOVE IT!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I might be slightly addicted to business books and podcasts!

I’m a big fan of the podcast How I Built This - it makes me feel much less alone when I hear the challenges bigger companies faced and overcame. I especially love the episode with Stacy Brown about Chicken Salad Chick.

The very first book I read about the business of design was called The Business of Design by Keith Granet. It’s not just full of understandable information, it’s also a beautiful book. That’s important for us designers since we respond much better to things that are both functional and beautiful!


A few years later, when it was time for me to grow my team, I remember how happy I was to find Bruce Tulgan’s It’s Okay to Be the Boss - he makes managing people feel so much more human and possible than a lot of other approaches to team management.


Another one dear to my heart is Julie Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. It’s always been a touchstone for me, especially when I felt my creative well running dry. The way she included exercises for self-discovery inspired the way I included exercises in my book Happy Starts at Home.


If you only read one book…

And perhaps the most important book I’ve read is Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. Like most entrepreneurs, I suffer from shiny-object syndrome lol. While I’m still terrible at only pursuing one goal at a time (there are SO many fun ideas to chase!!) at least I can see when I’m starting to say yes to too many opportunities (again).

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Don’t be generic.

Whether you’re starting an interior design business or some other kind of service company, the best thing you can do is carve out a disruptive - or at least memorable - niche, and then market it based on the value of your service (both the experience and the end result).

Interior designers who start out with the same generic menu of services as other interior designers struggle to get traction. The sooner you can distinguish yourself from your colleagues with a unique service approach, the faster people will be talking about what you do and sharing your service with others.

So, aspiring designers, think about who you serve and figure out what would create the perfect design experience for them.

Are you excited to help busy, stressed-out moms?

How will your service make the design journey a success for them? Is it about making it fun? Easy? Is it about creating a design experience that feels like self-care, not just design? Does the value you’re offering (including and beyond the end design result) align with what they would value paying for?

Are you eager to help create healing spaces for caregivers who are sharing their homes with aging parents?

How will your service make their caregiving lives easier and their parents more comfortable and safe? Is it about making it affordable? Easy to execute? Is it about finding solutions that are both practical and pretty (no one wants their home to feel like a hospital)? How does the service you’re offering bring more value than it costs? How will you be careful with their money, and still create a profitable business?

Are you going to help C-suite executives have polished spaces that reflect the success they’ve worked so hard to achieve?

How will your service appeal to them? Will it be fast and efficient, demanding as little of your client’s valuable time as possible? Will you be the go-to resource for creating wow-factor interiors perfect for the cover of Luxe Homes? Why should this high-level professional trust you with their 7-figure budget?

It doesn’t matter who you serve or what you offer - just make sure it aligns with your secret-sauce skills and stands out from the crowd. Otherwise, you risk staying a very generic, tiny fish in a great big sea, and that’s no way to build a successful design business.

It takes courage, but you’ve got this. If I can do it, so can you!


Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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