An inspirational story of overcoming adversity and achieving success!
Los Angeles based Interior Designer, AARON B DUKE recently caught up with his college classmate to find out how she has created her own niche in the interior design world.
My name is Sharon Copeland, I am an interior designer. I have always been creative. I have always had a passion for music, dance and yes, even interior design as a young girl. My interior design journey began about ten years ago while working as a floral manager and designer. I did floral designs for every occasion underneath the sun. I did baby showers, weddings, and proms - and yes funerals. I had been a floral designer for more than 20 years and after a life altering surgery decided to make a change that would still let me be creative.
I loved color, movement and working with God’s many creations. I was bit of a clotheshorse, and I was hooked on Style TV; but, my husband pointed out to me there was a new channel I should watch. I was hesitant at first but gave it a try. It was called HGTV, and I loved it. The first shows I got hooked on were Sarah 101, Divine Design, and Designers Challenge. I was also a fan of Kenneth Brown Design, as well. While I was in the process of healing from surgery I looked around my new house and decided I wanted to change my country kitchen. I picked out the paint colors and had my husband take off the doors of the cabinets and had him paint where I needed. I used broken plates, glass, and marbles to change the look of my cabinets and color to enhance the room. All the work was done on the floor. I was so proud of the finished product I showed the pictures to a local designer. She was so impressed. She told me go to a local design school to become a proper designer, but where would I find the time? I took design classes at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online. At the time it was frowned upon. Who designs a room online? (Who’s laughing now?) By the time I finished it was CIDA certified. So it was perfect. I worked really hard…forty-five hour weeks, staying up late at night. I graduated June 2007 with a residential planner’s degree. My very first internship at a kitchen and bath-remodeling place was a success - I even won an award. So things were looking up or so it seemed. I had a hard time people believing it was my work.
Because of Texas’ regulations I still wasn’t a designer, so I went to the Art Institute of Dallas to continue my education. I felt overwhelmed and even though I had the technical talent of a designer and architect, hands on I was a novice. My classes at the AID were fun and educational. I had great teachers and my skills flourished. The money on the other hand did not.
I didn’t have enough money to continue at AID.
I felt alone most of the time and my friends had the gift of their parents who paid for their tuition, room and books. They had the opportunity learn overseas in the U.K. and Paris. Plus it was hard at the time to find another internship at larger firm because I didn’t fit the “mold”.
So, I took another route, and I learned at furniture retail shops. I worked for Restoration Hardware for two years, and I learned hands on about color, texture, and how things are made. Not textbook made! REAL LIFE, in person made. I learned about lighting and drapery. I LOVED working there, and they saved my life it seems.
I will never forget that experience.
Being African American is another challenge as I began to finish out my degree at El Centro College. I didn’t see my face…ANYWHERE. There was no one I could talk to about my challenges as a designer. No one who really helped me; they’d criticize me sure. I had panic attacks thinking I’ll never make it. You think you are talented, but there are fifty people more talented. Sadly some of the teachers reach out to them more to cultivate their talents. Happily I had one teacher in particular who took me aside and actively encouraged me. You just need one person beside yourself to believe in you; just one. He told me what I did wrong of course, but also how I could improve and when I succeeded. He made me evolve into the designer I am.
I graduated in 2012 with my associates in design. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college. I am proud to say that.
I cannot emphasis how practicing your skills and reading every design magazine and book helps. I am a visualizer, I have to see it. I learned going to the design markets, show houses really trained my eyes made me a better designer.
Being told the word no helped me, too. No one puts baby in the corner. I had a few bad experiences on my way becoming a real designer. I interned for places that used the N word on a daily basis. I interned with firms with a couple of people who were on a power trip and hurt me on a daily basis. I had people who talked down to me because of who I was and called me stupid. I was told I would never do a home in Texas because I was black. I would never get through the door. You become brave, and you walk away from anyone who uses and abuses you. Close that door.
Every story has a happy ending. Through social media I discovered e-design as a way to get through the door. I worked with two e-design firms and not only did I do e-designs, I did interior design on the ground in client homes. Not only did every single design turn out great and the clients were happy, I made long life friends. After 20 turn key designs and more than 40 virtual projects, I opened Traditional Edge Designs I have so far this year done six turnkey projects and 12 virtual ones on my own. The road has not been an easy one; I am still growing and learning. I’ve also been learning about marketing, and that takes more than savvy social networking skills; it takes money. That’s the journey I’m on now. I am with a fantastic group of women, Black Female Interior Designers (BFID) group. I have also won my first design competition. I won outstanding upcoming designer held by Design Star winner Tiffany Brooks, and I went to my first convention, Black Interior Designers Conference in August.
Here is my advice for young designers especially who are struggling to fit in and find their voice…because I was once like you. Believe in your abilities, work extra hard and be brave. If anything be brave.