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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why I am a Designer- Caroline DeCesare

I know that this series has been very Los Angeles centric, so today I am featuring a designer who is based in Mesa, AZ, who I met a few years ago at a conference. Caroline is one of those quietly confident people that creates an impression from the moment you meet. I really enjoyed reading her essay, the thing that struck me was the sense of responsibility that she has for her own life and how she faces her journey with a fundamental belief that things will work out.

The ability to see life as a puzzle to be solved or a maze where you just need to find the door, are the very skills that make for a great designer....enjoy!

Life Not According to Plan

I am a designer because it was inevitable; despite my best intentions to be anything else.
An overachiever in all things academic, I had my eye on an Ivy League education and a brilliant law career (complete with designer suits and a fabulous Hermes briefcase.) Never mind that every aptitude test I ever took pointed to a career in Interior Design. As the saying goes, “Man plans and God laughs.” 
At the age of 14 I was in a boating accident and suffered major trauma to my left leg – after weeks spent in the hospital, months recovering and years in a lawsuit – spending my life in courtrooms around other lawyers was the last thing I wanted to do.

Life Lesson #1 Life, most often, does NOT go according to plan.
After two  and a half years in college I found myself in a guidance counselor’s office investigating ASU’s Interior Design Program.  The highly competitive program was a 5 year Bachelor’s Degree. I left in tears, realizing I had just wasted the last 2.5 years. I called my mom and said,”If I do this,I will be 26 years old when I graduate!!” Her response was “You’ll be 26 years old whether you do it or not.”

Life Lesson #2 Time will pass, best to get on with what you were meant to do.
Like most of my fellow classmates, I was brainwashed into believing the only “real” design career was with a huge firm doing commercial design, although, in my heart, I secretly loved residential design. This led me to accept an internship at a boutique residential design firm in Scottsdale vs. a large hospitality firm in San Francisco. I took no end of crap for this decision from my classmates (and I detected a few rolled eyes from my professors as well). Result: I was the highest paid graduate in my class. (at the advanced age of 26).

Life Lesson #3 Make your own choices. You’re the one who has to live with them.
The next ten years were filled with amazing projects from high-end golf clubs and luxury spas to grand estates. I had all the creative freedom and responsibility – without the stress of having my name on the door.  Then, one day, everything changed. My sister and I were driving past a building for sale. She jokingly suggested that we buy the building so I could open my own design firm. We didn’t’ buy that building but the seed had been planted and within nine months, I had opened the doors to my own firm; during the biggest economic meltdown in history. It was January 2009.

Life Lesson #4 The timing is rarely perfect to make a life-changing decision.
So now I get to go to my own office and meet with glamorous clients, design their luxurious homes and, when I’m not meeting with clients, I’m off shopping.
That made me laugh just typing that.
But really, Why am I a Designer?
I am a designer because I love to solve problems.
I put myself in my client’s shoes and figure out how they live their life and then translate that into a home that functions for them and their family.
I love knowing that the decisions I make will shape the environment where my clients will raise their families and spend the best moments of their lives.  
It’s honoring who the client is and helping them tell their story in a way that is tasteful and stylish but still THEM.
It’s never perfect, even when you start from the ground up. You have to make the best decisions for this client at this time in their life and be willing to adjust as you go. I once heard someone say that the key to mental health is flexibility. Sounds like the best Life Lesson of all.


Tanya Shively, ASID said...

Fascinating story! Thanks for sharing your experience- and I'm secretly (or maybe not so secretly) glad to hear your confirmation of what I always believed - and tell others who question why I am in residential rather than commercial design- the pay is better. Plus of course, that is really where my passion lies as well.

Denise McGaha said...

I know Caroline and this is truly the most refreshing essay I have read. She does live her life in just this way and her clients are the recepients of one of the most talented firms around. Thanks for sharing with everyone Mark the Caroline I LOVE!!