Hailing from Philadelphia, Nicole McQuade and her husband brought their design talents to Chicago six years ago when they settled into agency life as graphic designers. Fast forward and you’ll now find them running their own business from their inspiring loft space, perched in the heart of the windy city. Their soulful and creative talent translate not only in the graphic work they produce, but also in their home which includes a few key investment pieces (like a stunning Room and Board sofa) layered with vintage treasures and savvy eBay finds. (Yes, we’re referring to you, amazing $400 vintage rug.)
We’re no stranger to the trials and tribulations of working from home, so we were eager to hear Nicole’s tips and tricks for staying productive while creating a functional work environment, even when working a hop, skip, and a jump away from her bedroom. So, Everygirls, whether you’re in the process of designing a home, moving to a new city, or transitioning out of your “day job,” Nicole has plenty of insight to share. Enjoy!
Full name: Nicole McQuade
Location: Chicago, IL (soon to be Philadelphia)
Current title/company: partner/designer at McQuade Inc. and blogger behind Some Kitchen Stories
Education: BFA Graphic & Interactive Design from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia
You and your husband are both talented graphic designers/illustrators. Does your graphic design aesthetic also translate to your interiors?
Yes, I think we’re attracted to things that are interesting and well designed. Whether that’s an old map, giant numbers, or a sleek couch we definitely choose things because they’re designed well or inspire us and our work.
You moved to Chicago from Philadelphia six years ago for your career. What are your favorite elements of each city, and how have they influenced your work?
I love that Philly is old and rich in history and I think a lot of the textured and/or vintage elements of our work are referenced from things of the past. I think Chicago is very well designed from a functionality aspect and has a lot of great modern architecture. I’d like to think that our work is a mix of both, combining visual interest with design that functions first.
An open loft space leaves endless possibilities for layout, but it’s also a challenge to define separate spaces. How did you design your home to function best for you?
It took a while to get our place divided up in a way that feels good and functions for both work and life. Having no walls is great, and we love the open space, but that also means that everything has to go together; you can’t create different feelings in different rooms since everything is always visible. At first we had pretty much everything against the walls, but realized that placing furniture in the middle of the space actually helped create “rooms”. We bought some open bookshelves that we use to divide the studio from living area which also helped a lot.
You and your husband are both freelance designers working from home. What tips do you have for fellow entrepreneurs to stay productive when working from home? Do you find it difficult to keep “regular” hours?
If it was just me working from home I’m sure I’d be on the couch most days watching TV while I work. But since it’s the two of us, I think that helps us get up each morning, shower, make coffee, and be at our desk by 9ish. Having a separate area for work also helps a lot, instead of working on the couch or at the kitchen table. It’s still hard to keep regular hours, mostly because we’ve been busy and as a self-employed person it’s hard to turn down work when it comes. That’s something we are trying to work on, as the last few months we’ve been working more weekends and evenings than not.
How was the transition from working with an agency to working for yourself? What advice do you have for Everygirls who are considering a similar transition? Have you considered going back to an agency?
I was definitely scared to take that first step, wondering if I would be able to stay busy and make a decent salary. After a few rough nights at my agency job of entering product numbers into excel (not something a designer should be doing at all and certainly not until 11pm) I decided to jump and see what happens. The worst case scenario? I would get another full-time job. I reached out to every single person I worked with in the past few years and let them know I was available for freelance and then waited to see what would happen. Almost immediately I had work lined up through connections I had made at my agency and full-time jobs prior.
My advice would be to work hard and do a good job, no matter what the task because people will remember that and reach out to you when they need someone reliable. You also never know where work is going to come from. One of those people I initially reached out to was a creative director I had worked work for about two days on a very small project at one of my agency jobs. I didn’t know her very well, but figured I should let her know I was available anyway, just in case. She reached out to me not long after with a project that has turned into a 2+ year ongoing project that has given me great work and great relationships. So don’t dismiss a connection just because you don’t think it will turn into anything, you never know.
I haven’t considered going back to agency life; I like the flexibility, fairness and ownership that comes with running your own business. Obviously if something happened and I stopped being busy I would consider going back to a full-time position, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon.
How long has it taken to design your loft since moving in? What was the biggest challenge of the decorating process?
Our space has slowly evolved since we moved in two years ago. I would say after about three or four months we pretty much had it set up how we liked it, but we’ve added pieces of furniture over the 2 years and rearranged slightly.
Will you continue to add and change things throughout your home?
Our space is definitely always changing a little. Furniture is one thing that we typically don’t change too much just because we’ve collected pieces over the years that we like, and we don’t really need any additional big pieces of furniture at the moment. Things like blankets, artwork, candles, etc. are always changing though.
Your loft is full of thrift treasures and savvy eBay finds. Did you begin decorating with a budget in mind or find deals along the way? What did you splurge and also save on?
I’m a cheapskate at heart so I always look for the best deal. We also like the look of older things which conveniently tend to be cheaper. For example, our living room rug was inspired by a rug I originally saw on Anthropologie’s website, a “vintage-looking” throw rug at $3,000. There’s no way I would spend that much for a rug, but I found ours (that is actually vintage) on eBay for $400. I will splurge on certain things though—things I know we will have for a long time, or things I know will be used everyday (like a couch or bed). I also generally stay away from thrift upholstered furniture unless it’s in really good condition.
What is your favorite budget-friendly piece in your home and why?
Our dining room table was bought the first summer we moved to Chicago at a yard sale for $100. It’s a solid, heavy wood table that weighs a ton and has been moved into three apartments with us. I think it’s my favorite piece because of all the memories we have around it. We bought it before we really knew anyone in Chicago and have since hosted many dinners, late night drinks, and game nights around it. We’ve made friends sitting around that table, and Mike and I also share most of our meals at it, so it has a lot attached to it.
Nicole McQuade is The Everygirl…
Best moment of your career so far?
Quitting my full-time job. It was such a scary moment, but the minute I did it I already felt empowered.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully in five years our studio is doing well, maybe we have a small office in the city where we can employ a few designers. I’d also like to be doing more photography/styling for clients as well.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I’d like to have lunch with Malala Yousafzai. I read her book this year (I am Malala) and her story is incredibly inspiring. She’s brave and wise beyond her years and I’d love to hear more about her journey. I would let her choose a place to eat, I’m not picky.
If I weren’t a graphic designer I would be a…
Photographer or a baker.
I know it’s overused, but I generally start with Gotham when I’m in concept mode just because it’s versatile and basic. Then I’ll explore fonts more once an idea is figured out.
The perfect Chicago weekend?
Saturday sleeping in and breakfast at home. Then maybe take Lola (our dog) to the dog park for a bit and get some fresh air. Then have friends over for dinner, drinks, and late night conversation. Sunday brunch at Publican and then a lazy afternoon at home reading or looking for recipes. We’re homebodies.