Ep 58: Secrets From 4 Incredibly Successful, Self-Taught Designers

February 12, 2018

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This is a very special episode of The Chris Loves Julia podcast. Instead of our usual banter about DIY, Home Design and family, we interviewed four successful interior designers that are all self taught. Amber Lewis, Jenny Komenda, Shea McGee and Brian Patrick Flynn all open up about everything from their education backgrounds (in some cases, dropping out of school) to advice they would give to anyone trying to break into the field.

Listen to this and other episodes on: iTunes, GooglePlayStitcher, TuneIn.

Here’s a little more about the four self-taught designers we interviewed:

1. Amber Lewis | Principal at Amber Interior Design and founder and CEO of the blog, Amber Interiors.

Based in California, but designing all over the world, Amber makes her signature casual California design look effortless, cool, cozy, eclectic and unique.

Find her (and her amazing work) at , @amberinteriors on instagram, and check out her shoppe to get her signature look in person (in Calabasas) or online here.

2. Jenny Komenda | Interior designer and the owner of Juniper Studio, Jenny’s Print Shop and founder of the blog, Little Green Notebook.

Phoenix based, Jenny has been blogging about interiors since 2007! Her style is approachable, eclectic and the perfect mix of splurge pieces with budget-friendly DIY (she’s the queen!) mixed in.

Find more of Jenny’s work at,, @jennykomenda on Instagram, and her digital print shop


3. Shea McGee | Co-Founder and Creative Director of Studio McGee and McGee & Co.

Utah based, Shea’s bright and clean aesthetic has attracted a wait-list of clients and originally, no idea how to handle the workload. Studio McGee was created in a spare bedroom with lots of big ideas and no room for fabric samples and has grown into a massive empire.

Find more of Shea’s work at, watch their web series here, through their McGee & Co Shop and on instagram @studiomcgee.

4. Brian Patrick Flynn
| Television producer turned interior designer. Founder of FlynnsideOut Productions, a full service production company specializing in lifestyle-related content.

Atlanta based, Brian’s style can best be described as soft-masculine and characterized by a unique mix of design styles, modern and classic art, unconventional color schemes and practical budgets. The designer primarily resides in Atlanta but frequently retreats his two alternate residences, the country home in the mountains of north Georgia and a Scandinavian pied-á-terre in Reykjavik, Iceland for creative inspiration.

Find more of Brian’s work on here, through his production company Flynnside Out, and on Instagram @bpatrickflynn.


The 6 questions you can expect to hear answered in this episode are:

• What is your education background?

• When did you realize design was something you wanted to do professionally and how did you make that shift?

• How did you grow your business, get clients, get noticed!?

• What role does social media play in your business?

• What’s something you still want to learn?

• What advice do you have for others wanting to break into the field?

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What do you think?

  1. Julia!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    I have been meaning to listen to this podcast as soon as you mentioned the content.I love and follow Amber,Shea, Jenny and Brian! I am an interior designer in Tampa Fl and currently have between 3-6 others on my team depending on each project Spaces By Leah takes on. The questions you asked were perfect and their responses helped me both reaffirm, as well as examine how we operate. I too, have received no formal training. Although I am registered in my state as a professional in my field, their are industry-only sources that will not allow me to shop in their store (i.e. fabric marketplaces) without an ASID membership or another affiliation, that require a certificate, for the certificate, lol. SO, we just made direct contact accounts with the product sources instead. The marketplaces lost out on their cut. Thats the end all of what happens. But I wanted to share that point, if I may, with other up-and-coming designers, don’t be discouraged if that happens to you. You are more than a certificate says you are. Client satisfaction is where the true mark of success is. Also, offer to style/stage a public area at no charge (they fund the modest amount of materials) and let your skill be shown. I.e., upscale hair salon, plastic surgery clinic, etc. Somewhere their clients can potentially afford design services. Ask to set up business cards in lieu of pay for your work. Voila! ~ Thanks again Julia for such a brilliant podcast!!!

  2. Erika says:

    Wow ! Best podcast! So eye opening and inspiring! Thank you for putting this together :)

  3. Chelsea says:

    I loved this episode so much!!! It was so neat to hear what happens in this industry “behind the curtain.” Thanks for taking the time to interview them; it was so interesting!

  4. Ashley says:

    Hey! Love your podcast, but I’m all caught up. I was just wondering if you have any favs you might suggest. Young House Love is already one I listen to. Thanks!

  5. Lori H says:

    Love your blog, Insta and the podcast most of all! Just listened to Episode 57 (Q & A) and wanted to see some of the things you referenced…#57 is missing on your list of podcast notes. Am I missing something?
    Thanks for making me laugh so hard – my commute to work flies by and I start the day in a great mood!

  6. Sarah says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the comments from interior designers here. I studied interior DECORATING, and one point that was absolutely stressed to us was the difference between an interior decorator and an interior designer. We were told that technically “interior designer” is a legal term, and using that title without the proper accreditation is akin to someone practicing law or medicine without the proper education, certification, etc. All this to say that coming from the other side (meaning, a decorator, not a designer), I too recognize that this distinction is SO incredibly important to understand and remember. I get so frustrated watching people tout themselves as “designers” on HGTV, on blogs, etc. It’s a disservice to the people who have studied and worked so hard to earn that title. Not to mention the work is so so different.

  7. Josette says:

    I love these podcasts! Funny story. My husband introduced me to Preston’s music 7 years ago and I was so pleasantly surprised that he was hosting your podcast! I love his song, “Headphones” that he uses in the podcast.

    So my husband Chaz actually knows Preston. He was mission companions with his brother Matt in Taiwan and I guess he and Preston did a few things together back in the day. Anyway, he is actually the reason I started listening to your podcasts! I love your blog but haven’t ever gotten into the Interior Design Podcasts. But I remember when you announced your podcast and I read the name Preston Pugmire. I was thinking, “I think I know that guy!”

    Preston is really fun! I am glad he is hosting the podcast. I don’t think it would be the same if it were someone else.

    Small world!

  8. Shelley says:

    As someone that recently decided to go back to school to study interior design, I just wanted to say thank you for this podcast. I feel equal parts excited/anxious about my decision and this episode felt like just the encouragement I needed!

  9. Stacy says:

    On a technical note, while I enjoyed listening to the episode I really disliked this format. The whole “we asked them a question, this is what they said” thing made it sound like you emailed a list of questions and each person recorded themselves answering them. It just felt sort of cold? And more like a one-sided “this is how I got started” blog post rather than a conversation. I’m sure it was more difficult to organize and condense into a coherent episode than your usual stuff, but this style just ended up falling flat for me.

  10. Nole says:

    Loved listening to this episode! So great to hear the experiences of self-taught designers!

  11. Andrea says:

    I really enjoyed this episode. It was very informative and I always like to hear people talk about how they found their passion in life and made a career out of it. With regards to interior design, my one piece of advice for anyone wanting to get into the field would be to make sure that they check with their state regarding regulations. For example, I live in the state of Florida and interior designers must be licensed (which involves getting an interior design degree, working for an interior design firm for a certain amount of time, and then passing a rigorous test). An interior design firm must have a lead designer who is licensed and can oversee all projects. There are other places that don’t necessarily say interior design in their name or use interior designer as a title and technically those people are interior decorators. It doesn’t mean that they are any less talented, interior designers in Florida are just required to know technical things like building codes in order to do commercial design as well. So once you know the exact regulations in your state, that can help you figure out the right path for your situation.

    • Jenna says:

      THANK YOU!!! Exactly this! I’m a commercial corporate (i.e. offices) interior designer and really wished they would have addressed the decorator vs designer aspect. My colleagues and I are constantly trying to lift the stigma that interior designers only deal with pretty finishes and furniture. Boiled down an interior designers main job is to ensure that the space is safe – health, safety, and welfare of its occupants. That means code and accessibility guidelines, research into sustainable construction practices, finishes, etc. We do so much research so we can help our clients engage their employees more, and help ensure office environments be healthier, etc. I by no means am saying that you absolutely have to have a degree – cuz there are definitely talented designers that don’t and ways to get licensed without one (in some states) – but you learn more than color theory and autocad in school and need to know more than just picking out paint colors. I get so upset re: this because people think my job is like what’s on HGTV and it’s not at all about those things. It hurts the profession as a whole because it makes us seem less credible (anyone vs do this! You don’t need an education!) – we constantly have to fight against the assumption that we don’t know anything except for finishes/furniture and stuff like this (barely a mention of codes, accessibility, etc) just reinforced this.

    • Ryan says:

      I’m glad you mentioned this! I enjoyed listening to this podcast so much and found it to be very inspirational, which I know was the intent. However, as a licensed designer, it’s a hard knowing all the things I had to learn (building systems, building structures, codes, drafting, documentation, material properties, etc) and having people compare decorating in such a close way to designing. I also, like you mentioned above, live in a state where one cannot legally call themselves an interior designer without being licensed by going through the steps you listed above.

    • Paige says:

      Agree 100%, as a decorator coming at this from the other side. I went to design school, but skipped working for an accredited firm and sitting for the exam because I wanted to focus specifically on decorating. There is a HUGE difference between an interior decorator and interior designer and it always gets overlooked. They’re completely different specializations.

    • Kara says:

      YES to everything all of these designers have said!!! There needs to be some education on the difference between decorator and interior designer!

      • Julia says:

        Let’s do that episode next!

      • Kara says:

        I think that would be great! Seeing these bloggers work is inspiring (and personally influences many of my designs), and I have so much respect for the work you all do. I just think it’s important for non-designers/readers to understand that there’s more to it (like codes, accessibility, etc.). I appreciated that you called yourself an “Interior Design Blogger”, and also that Shea brought up how she has taken some extra courses to know the field a bit better.

  12. Kristen says:

    I’m so excitied Shea McGee is one of the designers. I love her work. Can’t wait for everyone to leave the office so I can listen to this!

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