It Girl | HEATHER KNIGHT-WILLCOCK
Heather is another amazing badass lady I "met" via Instagram. I love the way it connects people from all over! In this interview, Heather shares about her business, inspirations, and insights that she has learned while running her business, CaliRose Design. She also shares the ever important "Community over Competition" mindset that has helped propel so many careers.
Name: Heather Knight-Willcock
Job Title/Company: Owner - CaliRose Design
Formal Education - BA in Fine Art & Design from San Diego State University
Additional Education - Freelance courses taken in Museum Education, Art Therapy, Curation, Design Installation & Pottery
1. Tell us a little about who you are.
I am a multi-disciplinary creative who focuses on fine art and interior design for my clients in Southern California. I spent most of my twenties & early thirties living in London where I was able to broaden my creative experience with a wide range of international clients who lived that very posh European lifestyle but have since returned to my boho roots in California because at heart I needed to be back in the sun and sand!
2. What sparked your interest in building your brand?
Returning to California with my husband in 2016 I knew that I didn’t want to work for anyone else. Plain and simple. My last experience in a large corporate setting left a bitter taste in my mouth in regards to most client interactions being heavily based on sales sales sales! This goes against most everything I believe in so I was very interested in creating my own brand and vision as something that I could tailor into exactly what I wanted and would have full ownership of.
3. Who are you most influenced by?
So many strong women! I am lucky that there have been enough female pioneers in the interior design world that I can look up to. Obviously there are the clear contestants like Joanna Gaines, Amber Lewis & Em Henderson but then there are other lesser known but equally dynamic and creative designers like Jenny Komenda and Lindye Galloway who inspire me every day.
4. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
My first job out of university was working for two years in the education department of the Long Beach Museum of Art. I created workshops, gave tours and worked with the museum partners to host interactive community events.
5. Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?
To be honest, landing my first solo job! When I moved back to California - choosing to go full time into interior design was a big leap of faith. My previous experience had been design led from an installation point of view - like how to create a plinth or a bookshelf that would best host this sculpture or painting. Branching out into the top to bottom design of a room was something that I had only ever done for myself. So when I landed that first gig with someone who trusted me to design and transform their home I truly felt like I had won the lottery. There is something so personal about going into someones private home, getting to know them and their aesthetic and then designing something that they will fall in love and grow with. My favorite part of the whole process is going back into a clients home months after the design has been installed and seeing how they have grown into the space and made it their own. When you see them truly using and loving the space - that is when you feel your most proud of what you do.
6. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
Initially, I just wanted to be working! I am not one to just sit around and I was open to the idea that I wasn’t exactly sure what my business was going to look like in a year, five years or even ten! I know that this is something that would freak a lot of people out but I decided to give myself the first few years to really dive into a variety of projects to feel out what worked best for me and my aesthetic. A year and a half into it all - I have been consistently busy and am now looking at how to diversify and open up multiple revenue streams. Working freelance means that you aren’t always going to be swimming in work - so I am investing time in figuring out how to fill in those gaps with other lines of design work to ensure the business is always moving forward. Currently I’m working on a line of hand painted pillows and curtains that are perfect for the customer who appreciates one-of-a-kind, heirloom-quality products at home. I’m hoping when these launch that the success can mean that I can be selective with my interior design projects moving forward and truly find my niche.
7. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned through your work?
Talking to people and actually hearing them. We are all pulled a billion different directions these days with our phones, laptops, smart watches, social media and the billion other updates we receive every minute of the day. Technology has become a major crutch in the world. Why call someone when you can text? Why go to the coffee shop when you can order it on your phone and have it delivered to your door? Genuine face to face interactions have become strained and confusing for so many people and I truly am concerned for the next generation. I think that is something I offer for my clients that sets me apart - I am 100% there to hear you and your needs. Even in the design world there are a ton of companies who offer e-design for your home where you will never even talk to a real human being. While this may suit some peoples lifestyles - the only way to achieve a custom design for a client is to be with them - in their space - hearing what they have to say about their aesthetic and desires for their home.
8. Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
In five years I hope to have amassed enough consistent large scale projects that I can build up a team of strong female designers around me. I love collaborating and being part of a group atmosphere - something I have lost since going independently freelance. In five years I’d love to have a team of 3-5 kick ass designers working as part of my brand empire!
9. What is a typical day like for you?
Like most small business owners - every day is different. The one constant is waking up at 7am and taking my dog for a walk and then checking my emails while drinking my first cup of tea! I’ll respond to anything urgent and then if I am not in client meetings or traveling - I can be face down on my laptop doing 3d renderings or I can be on my feet all day using my hands to work on my new textile line. At some point I will break for either a yoga class or to run out on vendor errands and then I try to wrap up my day around 6 or 7 so I can enjoy the evening with my husband. Usually I will be back on the laptop or my phone at some point in the evening working on my social media or doing research but we always try and get to bed by 11pm.
10. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?
Ugh - networking for sure. This is something that has always been a big issue for me and something I am actively trying to change. I know that it is so important in helping to grow your community and for ongoing referrals but I can be such a wallflower in large group settings. I do much better in smaller, more intimate events so I try and attend as many of those as possible. Instagram has been great in helping to seek out and establish a local group of creatives who’s visions are aligned with my own and I feel very grateful for those I have met through that social media network.
11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
“If it makes you uncomfortable - that means you need to pursue it.”
It’s very easy to come up with reasons and excuses why you shouldn’t do something - but I know if I am getting worked up and uncomfortable about an upcoming event, conversation or even work then that is probably going to be a fantastic growing opportunity for me! I’ll give myself a pep talk about pushing beyond my comfort zone and meet it head on.
12. When do you get your best ideas?
Ideas for me have always been compounded. Like if I start working on something then the ideas for other projects will really start for fly. The creative process for me is very much a snowball effect so often I will start something completely unrelated and get ideas about another project. But you have to make sure you always have a sketchbook at hand!
13. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
Absolutely! We once were asked to do a last minute high profile styling job for a magazine shoot. I hustled my ass off to pull everything together & set it up in time for this shoot only to have it cancelled on the day due to scheduling conflicts. I guess that wasn’t a complete failure on my part but it was a failure to have a great opportunity come to realization. It took me several days to get over the disappointment of not being able to complete such a fantastic opportunity that would have afforded me plenty of exposure but in the end I always come back to looking at everything as a combination of fate and a learning lesson. I learned exactly what I was capable of within such a tight turn around and also what I was not capable of. If the shoot had moved forward - it definitely wouldn’t have been my best work because I had compromised on one of my bottom lines just for the opportunity to get the exposure. In the end - there is no way I would have wanted that styling job to have gone to press with my name on it so I do think it was fate that it didn’t work out.
14. How do you unwind?
I have an avid yoga practice that helps to keep my mind at rest! Any sort of physical activity such as a long walk or a bike ride really can do wonders to reset my pacing mind.
15. What would you tell someone else who is interested in entering your field?
Try an internship first! Call around and see if you can get some hands on experience before you commit because it may sound far more glamorous than it is. It is very client facing, can be long hours and also involves a lot more salesmanship than you would imagine. Working for yourself also means that you wear many many hats. I am the accountant, the receptionist, the admin, the boss & also the only person doing the coffee run! If you can handle all of that - and also have a genuine eye for design then by all means pursue your dreams! There is plenty of room at the table for all of us!
16. What do you hope people take away from your story?
That there is no straight path. Although I’ve always worked in the creative field - I’ve held many many different roles in many different institutions. I wish there was a course you could take titled “Jobs you didn’t know about” but unfortunately it takes getting out there in the real world to figure that out. Try different things - break free of your comfort zone & pursue your interests because you never know where that will take you!
17. Anything we missed that you would like to share?
I touched on it briefly but it is so so important as women to be constantly lifting each other up! We all benefit if we all succeed and there is more reward from encouraging and supporting another female boss babe than there is from hating from the sidelines!