Her Story with Kiera Murphy: A Life by Design

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If you just skimmed this interview, you’d see Kiera’s gorgeous outfits with decor-envy backgrounds and think this is her life as an interior design. And while this certainly is a piece of it, Kiera was super honest and real that it is far from her day-to-day.

If you are thinking of taking the leap into working for yourself or are in it and wondering if there’s something wrong with you because it doesn’t seem as glamorous as you imagined, keep reading because our Her Story Spotlight this week with Kiera Murphy, owner of Willow Park, gets real with what the behind the scenes of her business really looks like, what investments she made that have been worth it and some of her challenges getting started, but she makes it clear that, for her, it’s all been worth it. <3

Meet Kiera - Fun Facts:

1) I have three pets (2 dogs and a cat) and have always had animals in my life.

2) I am a foster for the KY humane society and several times a year get to have kittens and puppies come stay with me for a few weeks while they get bigger.

3) I love to travel, and especially love warmer climates and places with a beach. As often as I can, I try to go to new places. Summer 2017 I even took a solo trip to Spain.

4) I worked in a gourmet deli for years and learned a lot about cooking, catering and the culinary arts. I don't make as much time for it these days, but I still really love to cook and bake and try out new recipes.

5) Relationships are so important to me and many of my friends and I have been close for many years. Including one of my best friends who I met in preschool and we continued our friendship and education in the same schools through college.

Tell us about Willow Park Design!

I feel like the idea of hiring an interior designer is really intimidating for most people, and they don't even know where to begin or if they can afford one. I wanted to reach a younger clientele (specifically millennials up to those in their early 40s), who might be apprehensive to seek out design help, but who are too busy to work on their homes themselves.

By taking it room by room, step by step, great design is achievable and affordable for the working young professional or family. Hopefully by hiring me, I will not only relive some stress and confusion for them, but I can help create an environment for them they're happy to be in and proud to call their home.

My favorite part about design is the transformation. It's seeing the potential a space has, working through the design process and options with a client and seeing the end results. I'm just as amazed and happy at the end of a project as a client is. It's such a satisfying feeling to create something that not only looks great, but makes those who live in it FEEL great too. It doesn't matter the size or age of a home, each home has the potential to be a beautiful reflection of the people who reside there.

How did it get it’s start? 

Starting from an early age I had an urge to design spaces. I had a knack for organizing, was naturally drawn to matching patterns with colors and was fascinated by transforming the ordinary.

As I got older, my interest in interior design and developing my skills continued to grow. This led me to studying visual merchandising and interior design while attending The University of Kentucky. In my four years there, I was challenged by the curriculum and projects but rewarded with indispensable knowledge, amazing travel opportunities and the chance to meet and work beside a group of peers who shared my same passion and goals.

Since graduating in 2007, I have been working within the interior design community in Louisville and pursuing my dream. After several years of learning from and working for designers in my hometown, I knew I was ready to make my own mark in the interior design community. So I started my own design studio--Willow Park.

Photo by: Susan Jordan &amp; Co Branding Photography

Photo by: Susan Jordan & Co Branding Photography

What are some experiences you had to go through in the very beginning to get here and what did you learn from those?

Like most college students or recent grads, I was an unpaid intern. The two internships that I had were for a large furniture retailer and the other was a smaller design firm. I learned a lot at both, but it's a struggle to work without pay, and is a practice I would like to see change in the future. There are several other industries and companies that pay their interns or give them a living stipend if they have relocated to a new city for the job. Hopefully one day, more interior design firms large and small will be able to compensate these designers-in-the-making while teaching them valuable knowledge of the field. So often when you're starting out or not being paid, you feel like a glorified "gofer", and I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that it is a really discouraging feeling sometimes.

One of my other challenges when I was first starting out was that I graduated right when the recession hit in 2008, and interior design took a big hit and was extremely slow. I had to take some time away from the field and I went back to work in catering and food service at the gourmet deli I worked at part time in high school and college. It was wonderful to be back working with close friends every day, and I was so thankful to even have a job, but I definitely missed the creativity of being a designer.

It's so easy to look at people's social media "highlight reel" these days and think we're the only one that "failing miserably" or going through a tough time. Would you be willing to share a business challenge you have you had to overcome to get where you are now? How were you able to overcome that or what are you doing now to overcome that’s working?

I think in general people glamorize being an Interior Designer. Let me tell you, it is physically challenging and mentally draining at times. Other than dressing up for a new client meeting or presentation, I am normally in work out clothes covered in paint, fabric lint and bruises. You're moving furniture, opening boxes, continually cleaning and sorting fabric samples, and making a million runs to the hardware store. On job sites, its dirty, dusty and messy and definitely not a place to wear heels.

I also feel like because designers work with high end clients and beautiful, expensive items, that we somehow convey the image that we live that lifestyle too. For some, that may be their reality, and that’s awesome! But for most designers, especially in Louisville, it is lots of hard work and hours that we don't always get paid for or where we have had to continually negotiate our pricing and rates with clients. It's wonderful to be able to get beautiful fabrics and furniture at cost, but I definitely don't live an extreme lifestyle.

Especially now that I work for myself, a lot of what I make goes straight back in to the business and there are definitely months where money is extremely tight. I have had lots of doubts and tears in the past several months of getting my business up and running, but I know it is something I am passionate about and has been a dream for a very long time, so I owe it to myself to give it my all. There are of course days, though, where I envy my friends who make three times what I do at their corporate jobs, and have paid benefits. There are tradeoffs to working for yourself vs. a bigger company and some days I feel lucky to be an entrepreneur and others I feel discouraged, but I know it is a "grass is always greener" situation and am hoping with time and hard work, those tradeoffs won't feel as extreme.

Photo by: Susan Jordan &amp; Co Branding Photography

Photo by: Susan Jordan & Co Branding Photography

What would you say has been the main key so far to helping you get to where you are now in your business?

Keeping an open mind and gathering as much knowledge as I can from those who have walked this path before me. I have friends and family in several industries of business, and I found it helpful to ask for their advice and expertise as I have been going through this process. Having your own support network and being able to ask for help, has been the biggest key to getting where I am right now. Determination doesn't hurt either.... and being open to the fact things may not always turn out or look how you first envisioned, but to just keep your end goal in mind and adapt when needed.

What are some things you've had to do as a business owner to get "out there" that may have seemed scary at first (or still do!)?

I will say, I am not the best at traditional "networking" type functions. I feel like it's so awkward and never feels authentic. I like connecting with people in different ways, that don't feel as forced. I love going to the lecture series, Creative Mornings once a month and chatting with other creatives in Louisville and getting inspiration from the featured speakers. I also think volunteering can be a great opportunity to get your name out and meet new people.

What are some of your top tips for marketing on social media that have worked for you?

I ultimately always think about "would I want to see that?" when I make a post. If it's a photo I would scroll past or caption I would skim over, I won't share it. I think it's important to create authentic content and by posting what’s interesting to you, can help do that.

There is so much of the same out there, but there is room for all of our creative visions and the stories we want to tell via social media...why not be different from the rest and share what actually represents you and your business in a real way?

What are the investments you've made into yourself over this process to set you up for success?

My two largest investments have been having my branding and website professionally created (including professional photography) and buying CAD and bookkeeping software. I wanted to make sure I had a website that looked and worked great and I knew I didn't have the time or skill to accomplish that myself. The graphic designer and I worked together to come up with my brand values and then a logo and eventually entire website to convey my brand identity to consumers. We hired a professional photographer for head shots and content for social media and I had a few of my marketing friends help me with copy for the website.

Learning the new software I purchased is an ever evolving process, as technology is always changing and updating. But I needed my expenses and client information organized and easy to access, so I invested in Ivy, which is a bookkeeping program for interior designers. For presentations and architectural drawing, I use a few different programs, and even sometimes do things by hand.

In addition to these investments. I have also invested in my health more. As I said before, this job is very physical and I have unfortunately injured my back over the years. It's been a huge struggle for me and a major hassle to deal with, but I am on the mend finally. To keep myself and my body strong, I make sure to get acupuncture, massages and go to physical therapy with a girl trained in medical yoga. As I get stronger I will be more regimented with my exercise and plan on getting back in to Yoga and Pilates more regularly.

I've also made my mental health more of a priority too by journaling and daily meditation and seeing my therapist when I am dealing with anxiety or under a lot of stress. It is a constant process, but one I feel like is important for me no matter what field I find myself in, but especially in this one. Working so closely with people on projects that are personal to them is rewarding but emotional. Then adding the stress of deadlines, construction and managing finances...can be a lot to deal with at times. Having ways for me to decompress and step away from work and technology is important, and the more I practice it, the more beneficial I feel like it is to my wellbeing and my work ethic.

Photo by: Susan Jordan &amp; Co Branding Photography

Photo by: Susan Jordan & Co Branding Photography

What advice would you have for someone looking to launch their own business in 2019?

Do as much research as you can. Look at your competition, the market you're wanting to work in, your customer base... everything. At the same time though, don't be afraid to just start. I thought about doing this for years before I actually pulled the trigger. Sometimes you have to just take that first step, even though you might not have all the details worked out yet. There is definitely an element of 'trial by fire" when you want to start a business. The more you think about or stress with the little details though, the less likely you are to ever take the leap. You'll always stay where you are unless you take that first step.

What are some tools that help make life easier/better for business or for personal development?

I have definitely liked the user friendly interface of the Squarespace website that the graphic designer created for me. It is easy to update and change as I need it and I am slowly learning how to utilized the other information it gives you.

As far as expenses, I use the Mile IQ app on my phone to track my milage...tons easier than writing it down all the time.

Having a business bank account and credit card was also a game changer when keeping my finances and business expenses organized. My Ink credit card also earns cash back points, which is great for free flights and other perks.

I think being a part of several design groups on social media has been helpful too. It is so much more helpful when you have a community of peers to talk to about problems or questions that may come up. I never like to see other designers as a threat, even though technically they are competition. I think there is space for all of our creative visions and there is always room to learn something new from someone. It can be a great resource and you can also develop connections and friendships through these groups, which is always a wonderful thing.

What is a book(s) and/or podcast you would recommend for others looking to start or grow their a business or just for general positive mindset motivation?

I love podcasts and was continually inspired by several... the first one being Skimm'd from the Couch, by the creators of The Skimm.

I also like Oprah's Super Soul Conversations, Creative Pep Talk, The Chaise Lounge, Proof to Product and A Well Designed Business.

As far as books, Shawn Achor's "The Happiness Advantage" was a great and helped put things in perspective for me.

Photo by: Susan Jordan &amp; Co Branding Photography

Photo by: Susan Jordan & Co Branding Photography

What are you looking forward to with your business in 2019?

I definitely hope to get new clientele outside of Louisville. Like I mentioned, I love to travel and always enjoy the opportunity to do so. I also think it's fun to work on projects outside of your area for a change... different tastes and trends keep things interesting.

I'm also hoping to work on painting and refinishing furniture more. I have taken a hiatus from it because of my back pain, but I am slowly starting to work on pieces again. I love being able to use them in clients designs, but I also hope to sell some online and maybe even to special event coordinators.

How can people find out more about you and your work?

I am on several social media platforms (Instagram is my fave) or they can go to my website, willowparkdesign.com. I am slowly but surely adding project photos to my portfolio, so you all can see what I've been up to. I'm always open to chat or meet out for a cup of coffee (if you live locally) too.

Leave a comment below with your biggest takeaway from Kiera'’s story!