Passion and talent: Claire Staszak lists these qualities as the reason she was able to start her own business, and judging by her success she has no shortage of either. Centered By Design is the culmination of her years spent in marketing, philanthropy, and event planning—it is her own creative endeavor, and an inspired one at that. She sums up her transition to small business owner best: “It still feels like a risk, but I have worked enough to know and believe that if you have passion, talent, and drive you can make just about anything happen.” And at age 30, she is certainly making it happen.
With an eye for design, Claire’s own abode speaks to her talent in interior design. Clean lines and an unfussy, yet homey aesthetic, Claire’s home exude character with its vintage vibes and “good bones.” It’s a beautiful space that she’s made work even with its challenges, in true renter fashion (Carpet! Layout!). But, as always, Claire made it work.
Claire’s design philosophy had us reevaluating our own spaces: “Taking the time to re-center ourselves and find a personal sanctuary is more important than ever in today’s fragmented and fast-paced world. I believe that sanctuary is much closer to home (literally!) than you think.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Name: Claire Rose Staszak
Current title/company: Owner/Designer – Centered By Design
Education: Dual Bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Psychology; currently obtaining my Associate’s degree in Interior Design
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
The summer after college ended, I moved from the Midwest to San Francisco as an Americorps volunteer. It was determination and past experience as a volunteer with a local Habitat for Humanity chapter that helped me land the role of Volunteer Coordinator for the Greater San Francisco Habitat for Humanity. I spent one year organizing volunteers, events, and building houses. It was an intense but wonderful experience. I highly recommend international and domestic service programs as fabulous opportunities to gain life and work experience to jump-start your career.
You’ve worked in various roles in marketing, event planning, and community outreach. What gave you the confidence to go out on your own as a small business owner?
I could write pages about this question, but to sum it up quickly here are the three main reasons I decided to go out on my own:
Finances: My husband finally got a job! I was the main breadwinner supporting our family while my husband was in graduate school. Now that he is working full-time we have the flexibility for me to return to school and begin to grow our own business.
Passion: I realized that everyone I was following on the Internet and looking up to, as role models, were women who owned their own creative businesses.
Talent: I learned that having a good eye for design, color, space arrangement, and the like is a unique talent that not everyone possesses.
Tell us about the process of launching your own business, Centered By Design. Best parts? Biggest challenge?
Launching Centered By Design has been really fun! My background in marketing helped me have the skills to strategically craft a brand identity. The best part has been working with my husband and several of our most creative friends to develop the web site, logo, photography, and overall business concept. Working with my interior design clients also brings big smiles to my face! The biggest challenge is having the confidence to change careers at 30. It still feels like a risk, but I have worked enough to know and believe that if you have passion, talent, and drive you can make just about anything happen.
What has been your favorite project to date? Why?
My favorite project was also a major, “Aha” moment for me. I was working for a large art center here in Chicago, helping to transform a rundown loft into a creative event space. At that point, my role was more project manager and less designer. I began to realize how much I wanted design input! After seeing the completed space transform and witnessing how happy the space made people feel, I was even more certain I wanted to be an interior designer. It was exciting to see our intended use of the space working in real time.
What is the best advice you have for other female entrepreneurs? What have you learned about what it takes to own your own business?
As a brand new business owner I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I know in my gut that collaboration is king. You can’t be afraid to ask for help, or to reach out to friends (or strangers!) with collaboration ideas. As I grow my business, the best and most exciting moments have come during collaboration. Don’t be afraid to send that blind email. Imagine the best possible scenario that could come from that email while you hit send, it might just come true! Also, be prepared to grow a thicker skin, especially if you are sensitive like me. Putting yourself out there is a big risk / big reward game. You’ve got to be prepared for a little heat.
Tell us about going back to school! What gave you the push to pursue an interior design degree?
Interior design is an interesting industry. From my research, the typical standard degree in interior design is still a bachelor’s degree. But many people return to school for an associates degree (like me), and many others opt for no formal degree at all. All I know for sure is that I wanted more education and a degree that would allow me to sit for licensure exams in the future. I’m a rule follower by nature. Having a diploma and passing some tests don’t necessarily make you a talented designer, but they sure as heck give you the tools you need to be successful – and that’s the path I want to be on.
What are you career goals once you complete your interior design degree?
Right now if feels like there are lots of possible directions, which is exciting! I would like to see Centered By Design grow steadily as I continue to help people design and decorate their homes. My husband also makes custom furniture and helps with installations. I think someday we picture a business location, which includes a retail shop, wood shop, yoga studio and our headquarters! Wouldn’t it be fun to meet with your designer, check on that custom table you’re having built, squeeze in a yoga class, and pick up an accessory for the house? (Can you tell I love to multi-task?)
Yoga is certainly a big part of your life and career! Tell us what you love about your practice. How does yoga help you in your daily life?
Yoga is really a lifestyle for me. It didn’t start that way, but I’ve been practicing and teaching for almost eight years now. It’s a spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional practice for me. During college I thought I might become a therapist, and I’ve realized over the years that I think teaching yoga is my way of helping others (and myself). No matter what kind of day I’m having, making room to practice or teach yoga/meditation creates more balance and less anger/stress in my life, and I think the lives of my students as well.
Now, tell us about your home! Do you rent or own? How did you find your space? How long have you lived there?
We rent our home and have lived there about two years. We were scouring listings trying to find something we loved, and I think I saw a posting in the Reader (never hurts to try the good old newspaper). I called and could just tell we’d like the landlady and she’d like us. We came to the tour with all our financial records (especially because Luke was in graduate school at the time) and we signed before walking out the door. In the Chicago rental market my advice is if that you see something you love don’t leave without signing on the dotted line!
What is your favorite part about your home?
I love the character, vintage vibe, and all the natural light in our space. It has what designers would describe as “good bones” with tall ceilings, big windows, fireplace and mantle, hardwood floors. It really aids in the decorating process when the space appeals to your aesthetics already, especially if it’s a rental and you can’t do any construction.
Were there any design challenges you faced in your home?
Our landlords are very strict about making changes and painting, so we weren’t able to make as many design changes, as I’d like. I’d say the kitchen is pretty much an eyesore and the carpet in the bedroom is my biggest nightmare (is that dramatic?). The other biggest challenge was how to arrange the living room and dining room. We originally wanted the living room near the fireplace, but with the couch we had and the layout of the walls in the apartment it just made more sense for the dining table to be near the fireplace.
What are your tips for decorating on a budget? What items do you recommend saving on? Are there any items that are worth the splurge?
Decorating on a budget is not hard, especially if you embrace vintage style or don’t mind a good DIY project. We literally stop the car every time we see furniture tossed aside in the alley, with a little TLC that might be your next favorite piece! Paint is also great for decorating on a budget. It’s high impact change at a low price. As for saving versus splurging, I don’t have any hard and fast rules, but I think it’s important to have high and low pieces in every room. If you splurged on your sofa and lighting, then maybe your chairs and artwork are vintage or upcycled.
Have you made any major changes to your home since moving in? Do you feel like your space is “finished?”
I feel like our apartment is finished for the time being. We are looking towards the future and saving money for a home that we can really make our own.
How do you approach designing a new space? What tips do you have for starting the design process?
I think practical tips include the following:
- Create a mood board with imagery of spaces you like (and include elements of items you already own as well). For instance, if you are thinking about redecorating your bedroom but you know you’d like to keep your bedding, start with that fabric as your inspiration for the color palette and décor.
Make a list of the pieces you already own that you love. Then make a list of what you feel you really need, and then a few splurge items that you’d love if you can afford them. A budget helps too! You probably can’t do everything at once, so making a timeline and budget can help you be more realistic about when the space will be complete.
Get outside of your comfort zone! Don’t be afraid to alter your style, or buy that leopard pillow you swore you’d never own. If an item makes you feel happy/smile, but you find yourself talking yourself out of buying it – think again!
What do you love about living in Chicago?
The best part about living in Chicago is that family and friends surround us. I also love biking riding to teach yoga at the Lincoln Park Zoo on summer days, and the fabulous and supportive creative community I continue to meet here!
What is your design philosophy?
Taking the time to re-center ourselves and find a personal sanctuary is more important than ever in today’s fragmented and fast-paced world. I believe that sanctuary is much closer to home (literally!) than you think. My approach to working with clients blends my intuitive nature as a yoga instructor with my passion for interior design. I see on a daily basis how the connection between the body, mind, and our physical environment can have powerful influences on personal well-being. As a designer, my purpose is to make clients feel at ease during the design process and help them discover their own idea of sanctuary.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Seriously everywhere! I also love Instagram right now; it’s so easy to connect with creative people who are doing amazing things.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
You should become an interior designer! No really, in my mid-twenties I started to remember the first jobs I wanted as a kid and they were all creative. I wanted to be a Disney animator or a fashion designer. By the time high school hit I forgot all about those dreams. I’d say listen your heart and if you can’t hear it you need to listen harder.
Claire Staszak is The Everygirl…
Café Au Lait
Dream travel destination?
Favorite yoga pose?
Parsvottanasana or Pyramid Pose
9am – wake up after sleeping in and have coffee with Luke and the kitty
10am – vigorous yoga practice
Noon – explore one of the city’s art museums or a new exhibition
2pm – late lunch at new restaurant
4pm – squeeze in some shopping at a favorite local boutique
7pm – dinner and a movie date night with friends
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I grew up watching Oprah on TV every weekday with my mom. She has roots here in Chicago, and I can’t help but imagine how interesting and spiritual a conversation with her could be. I think we’d honor her southern heritage with lunch, and I’d order my favorite southern meal shrimp and grits. I’m not sure I’d be able to eat though because I’d be so nervous to really meet Oprah!
Couch, Roy’s Furniture
Black side chair, Vintage Garage Chicago Flea
Metal side chair, Oak Park Vintage Market
Coffee table, Crate & Barrel Outlet CB2 design
Side tables. vintage finds
Record storage, Container Store
TV cabinet, Nadeau
Bar cabinet, Bed, Bath & Beyond
Pillows, Territory Designs (http://www.shopterritorydesign.com)
All plants, Alapash Home & Terrariums
Paint color, Martha Stewart Arrowroot (color over fireplace)
Table, made by Centered By Design (http://centeredbydesign.com)
Glass Front Cabinet, World Market
Chandelier, West Elm
Chairs, Restoration Hardware Outlet
Lanterns, Alapash (http://www.alapash.com)
Clock, Vintage DIY by Centered By Design (http://centeredbydesign.com)
Pillows, World Market
Curtains, made myself
Desk, Ikea top, handcrafted bottom created by Centered By Design
Chair, Vintage DIY by Centered By Design
Magazine Rack, IKEA
Closet Curtain, DIY by Centered By Design
Hand made curtain
Bedding, Calvin Klein
Furniture, Vintage or Hand me downs
Mirror/bench, flea market finds
Bed, vintage frame
Glass Front Cabinet, flea find + DIY by Centered By Design
Painting by Veronica Bruce
Curtain, West Elm