Cori Magee’s Los Angeles home oozes creativity and fresh design perspective. Once you know her story, it’s easy to see why! As a freelance graphic designer with a background in interiors, Cori’s home is the perfect illustration of her simple, modern aesthetic with geometric patterns and plenty of fun details layered in.
After graduating from UCLA in sociology, she continued on the “path to success” and headed to law school. After realizing that law wasn’t where she saw herself in the long run, Cori altered her idea of success and decided to start studying what had always interested her: interior design.
Post-graduation, Cori landed a spot at a top hospitality design firm and happily worked there for a few years, only to witness the economy tank. As cliché as it might sound, this was ultimately the best thing that happened to Cori, as it led her to discovering the world of design blogs during her temporary unemployment. Now she spends her days working as a full-time graphic designer and saving her interior design savvy for her own home: a charming one bedroom with a mix of enviable splurges (we’re lookin’ at you, Eames chair) and thrifty budget finds.
Keep reading to find out more about Cori’s transition to becoming her own boss, how she and her husband both navigate creative, freelance careers, and the decorating approach she took on her own home.
Name: Cori Magee
Current Title/Company: Graphic Designer, Pretty Haute Mess
Education: UCLA, sociology major
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was at CAA, an entertainment agency in Los Angeles. It was a great job because it taught me how to be professional in a real workplace environment (versus the juice bar job in college). It was also fun wondering which celebrity would come in that day. All the agent’s assistants would send out a message to other assistants when their boss had a celebrity in for a meeting. It was a fun few years.
You studied sociology in college, and pursued law school before making the leap of faith to study interior design. Tell us about those transitions! What prompted you to make each decision?
I studied sociology at UCLA because I liked it and it was interesting to me. I wasn’t thinking beyond college; I’m not the type of person to apply myself to a major just to get a specific job. That takes too much planning! After working in entertainment upon graduation, I thought the next step would be a law degree and work as an entertainment lawyer. I thought I could be successful and work in a fun environment (Hollywood!). Turns out, Hollywood isn’t as fun as it looks on the outside and law school just wasn’t for me. I decided to make a big change and find a career I would enjoy doing, not a career that would be fun to tell others about. So I went back to school for interior design, which I had always loved, and landed a job upon graduation. It wasn’t until the economy tanked and I was unemployed that I discovered graphic design, and I couldn’t be happier where I’ve landed. I don’t regret the curvy road it took to get here for one second. Each decision, good or bad, contributed to where I am now. And I say this now even though I’m still paying for my short time in law school.
Before transitioning into graphic design, you worked as an interior designer at a top hospitality firm. How did your life as a designer then differ from your life as a graphic designer now? Would you consider going back into interior design?
Interior design, while a great career, was too much paperwork and hand holding for me. Clients who have the budget to pay for top design firms are not easy to work with. I found that my happiest time at work was when I was on the computer making digital presentation board. This didn’t fully make sense (in a graphic design sense) until I got involved in design blogs and then ultimately graphic design. I would not go back to interior design because I love working behind the computer. However, I am happiest when my graphic design work includes interior design content. Working on a design magazine would be my dream job.
When you decided to transition your career, you went back to school for a graphic design certificate. Did you find that that extra schooling helped you advance your career?
Luckily, I only had the finances to pay for a certificate at a state college because, honestly, I’m not sure how much it has helped me, other than being able to put it on my resume. I had already taught myself about Adobe Creative Suite and the graphic design education I wanted would have come with a higher cost. I’ve read many design books and taken advantage of every online resource I can to learn the history, basics, and practical applications of graphic design. I think it is entirely possible to switch careers, even a technical one, and not have to go back to school.
What do you think people would be surprised to learn about a career in design?
When it comes to interior design, it is so much more than selecting pretty furniture. And when it comes to graphic design, it is so much more than knowing how to use Photoshop.
What is the greatest challenge you face as a small business owner?
I left my corporate job to do work that makes me happy. Now, the challenge is making sure I take on jobs that make me happy, when I’m more worried than before about where my next check is coming from.
Not only are you a talented designer, but your husband is a writer as well. What are the challenges and benefits of navigating life with both of you working in the creative, freelance world?
Our greatest challenge is financial. We’re both trying to balance taking on work we enjoy, while making sure we can pay the bills and that our savings is always above a certain number. But the benefits are so much more; we are both creative but in different fields, so there’s no competition, just respect and support. There’s an understanding that comes with both of us being in a creative field. We can relate to each other’s challenges (like creative blocks) but also celebrate each other’s breakthroughs. For us, there’s lots of laughing too.
Now, let’s talk about your awesome home! How did you find your current home? Do you rent or own? Tell us about the search process.
We currently rent. The search process in Los Angeles is hell. Especially because we had both been unemployed and our savings (not to mention our credit) was horrible while we were searching for a home. I found our home on Craigslist, but we were also paying a search fee for another site (Westside Rentals). I actually had to beg the owner of our current place to let us live here and promised him we would pay on time. He still wasn’t having it so I did a little negotiating and offered to pay an extra $100/month. We’ve lived here for almost four years and paid on time every month!
With your background in interior design, did you approach designing your home much like you would a client’s home or do you figure it out as you go along?
I think I hesitated to make any decisions for a long time because of my interior design background. Instead of doing a little at a time whenever I saw something I wanted to buy, I waited until I had the whole picture in my head. Then, over the course of just under a year I put this place together. I knew how I wanted everything to look, but we slowly made purchases and integrated the new with the old.
Did you decorate with a budget in mind or find budget-friendly pieces along the way?
Of course! As a designer, the one thing I don’t mind is a challenge. That’s what design is, and those challenges are what make the end product more interesting. When I was designing the place in my head, I was considering what we could re-use, DIY, or transform. This was both to save money but also to maintain some of what made this our home. I think the end result looks stylish, but also lived-in which is important to me.
How would you describe your personal decorating style?
I love a modern, Scandinavian approach to designing a home. It’s about appreciating the basics, making sure the design is functional, and then throwing in geometric patterns and fun details.
What is your favorite splurge in your home?
I would have to say our Eames Hang-All, especially when you live in Los Angeles and coats and scarfs are more for decorating than a practical feature. But hey, it’s awesome. If something will make you happy when you see it in your home, it’s worth the splurge.
Tell us about life in L.A. What are the challenges and perks? Advice for those who might be new to the area?
The perks are endless. There’s so many places to see (including the touristy spots) but also the hidden places only locals know about. The resources are endless, regardless of what career you’re trying to break into. But since it is the home of Hollywood, you can smell the creativity in the air. I also love the diversity. My husband and I feel comfortable here. I’m half Mexican and he’s Black. Believe it or not, we don’t feel comfortable everywhere we go, even in 2015.
Take us through a day in the life of Cori Magee.
I should mention I’ve still very new to this freelance life. I left my corporate job at the end of January so I’m only now starting to settle into a routine (and not totally abuse my freedom). I like to start the day with a workout. Then, I eat breakfast while scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest. It gets my mind working and I feel inspired. Next, I work down my list of priorities while listening to the news on any one of my favorite podcasts.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old-self?
Make every decision for you only. Not for Mom or Dad. Not for the goal of “success.” Just for you. If you’re always keeping your needs in mind, even bad decisions will ultimately lead to the right one.
Cori Magee is The Everygirl…
Favorite way to begin the day?
Freelance resource you can’t live without?
Teux Deux (designed by Swiss Miss) keeps me organized.
Dream purchase for your home?
Huge custom shelving unit
Happy hour drink?
I’m more about the happy hour food, but I’ll also get a beer.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Frida Kahlo. I would order lengua with fried plantains and then tres leches cake with coffee for dessert.
Eames Wall Hooks, DWR
Glass Boxes, Vintage
Task Lamp, Ikea
Woven Ottoman, Thrifted
White Coffee Table, Crate & Barrel
Eames Chair/Ottoman, BD Talmadge
Pillows: Hem, Ikea, Marimekko
TV Console, Ikea (Wood Top: DIY)
Glass Bowl Vase, Thrifted
Area Rug, Urban Outfitters
LA Typography Art, ORK Posters
“Small Talk” Art, One Must Dash
String Lights, Target (DIY – painted black)
Pendant Light, West Elm
Sconces, Triple7Recycled (Etsy)
Area Rug, Fairfax Flea Market
Art (above bed), DIY’d wedding gift
Art (dresser wall), Society6, Garance Dore