Profile of an Interior Designer: Courtney McLeod and Right Meets Left Design
I recently met Courtney McLeod through this site and was drawn into her modern sensibilities after looking through her portfolio. I thought it might be a worthwhile introduction to anyone interested in renovation and remodeling in NYC. I asked her a bit about her background and questions about her process.
Who is Right Meets Left Design?
Courtney McLeod, Owner and Design Director of Right Meets Left Design LLC, which was founded in 2012 and located in New York City, provides interior decorating and staging services to residential clients. Courtney currently has projects in Cobble Hill (a brownstone), Chelsea (apartment), and studios on the Upper East Side and Midtown West. Previous projects include a Greenwich Village apartment, two modern high rise apartments in Chelsea, a Madison Square Park 1-Bedroom Rental, and a Harlem 1-Bedroom Rental.
Courtney was born and raised in New Orleans and has lived in NYC since graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a BS in Economics. After 15 years in real estate finance, Courtney decided to pursue her passion for interior decorating and architecture. Having decorated eight apartments for herself while studying design over the years, visitors would always ask if she had hired someone to help design her spaces. Her career change got a foothold when she helped a friend redesign his apartment in a modern high-rise in Chelsea while also completing coursework at the NY School of Interior Design and Pratt. After successfully completing her first commission, she decided to pursue design full-time and began the Interior Design Certificate program at Parsons. Right Meets Left Design LLC was officially launched in November 2012.
We asked Courtney some questions…
What influence, experience, or moment guided you to have the business you have? What did you do prior to having your own business?
Although I enjoyed a long and successful Wall Street career, I always felt a pull towards design and can remember sketching floor plans and reading design books and magazines as a kid. When traveling, I always sought out interesting and important local architecture and design museums. In fact, during high school I debated whether to study finance or architecture. I guess you could say I ended up choosing finance for my first act and design for my second act.
Was there a major moment or event that influenced the start of your business?
There wasn’t any one moment but a gradual shift in thinking and priorities that led me to take the leap. I do think successfully designing the first apartment in Chelsea for someone other than myself provided the confidence to actually pursue design as a career. Early on, I applied for many internships and design jobs with limited success. During that time, I continued to take classes and also educate myself about the business of design. After securing my second and third jobs on my own, and given my business background, I realized I had the potential to start a viable small business.
In many ways it has been the scariest thing I have ever done, but I have never been more fulfilled and happy in my work. Spending your days doing something you truly love and are passionate about is a wonderful thing. And there is nothing better than having a client tell you how much they love their home and what a positive difference it makes in their lives. I feel very lucky.
Do you have a mentor, muse, influence, or inspiration for the work you do?
I don’t have a mentor…yet! I spend a lot of time attending industry events, lectures, classes, etc. so I have had the opportunity to meet some legends in the industry. In fact, I just saw Mario Buatta speak at the Avenue Antiques Show and briefly met him. It was a real treat. Personally, I am a huge fan of designer Amy Lau. Her book Expressive Modern is one of my favorite references. I also admire designer Darryl Carter – his work is thoughtful and beautiful, and he also came to design from a non-traditional path like myself. Finally, I think Jean-Louis Deniot’s work is other-worldly.
Describe your business, service or product:
I provide residential interior decorating and styling services for real people with real budgets. I work with owners and renters. My clients are generally people who appreciate design and want help developing their vision and bringing it to life within a budget. I help clients avoid costly mistakes, and also provide guidance on where to invest and where to save when it comes to decorating their home. I like to describe my approach as pragmatic creativity. I bring both creative flair and strong attention to budget and execution. Hence the name Right Meets Left Design – using both right and left brain skills in the work I complete for my clients.
What resources or tools do you find most helpful for running your business?
I find it is very important to allocate time to research and continuing education. I attend as many lectures as I can, and I also find it helpful to attend showroom events to meet the staff, establish relationships, and familiarize myself with what products are in the marketplace. I read and studied the textbook Professional Practice for Interior Designers on my own, and find it a great reference for the practical aspects of running a design business.
I use Design Manager software for project management and client billing. I use SketchUp for space planning and helping clients envision my ideas for their space. Given my background, I handle my company P&L and tax filing requirements. Going in, I didn’t realize how much I would use skills from my prior career in my design business, but I have found it to be incredibly useful.
What were your biggest mistakes when starting out with your business?
This will take a while! If I had planned better, I would have completed coursework or even a degree while still working at my previous career. I would also have crafted a better marketing plan for the business at the very beginning. This is something I am focused on currently. I would have spent more time early on developing my website and crafting an online presence. I also under-estimated the importance of consistent and quality branding – i.e., logo, business cards, letterhead, thank you cards, etc. In a service business, these small touches can speak volumes about your attention to detail and quality of your work.
Most importantly, it took me a bit of time to gain the confidence to promote myself and to speak with authority.
What have been your key successes in terms of generating business or creating your product?
My two keys are:
1) Know your target audience. This was the first step for me in deciding to start my business. I knew I wanted to help people like myself – people who could afford a reasonable fee for design services but who have real budgets. At this stage in my career, I am not a million dollar decorator nor do I have that aspiration. It is fun to admire their work though!
2) Have projects professionally photographed. I was very lucky to discover a wonderful photographer named John Dolan who does all my projects. I highly recommend him. A new client recently told me that she knew I was the right designer after seeing my portfolio on my website and Houzz. She contacted me and hired me on the spot. It is the easiest and clearest way to communicate what you can do for potential clients.
Speaking of which…
All Images Courtesy of Courtney McLeod – Right Meets Left Design
Do you have any advice for someone interested in being an entrepreneur or working in this industry?
While it is a fun and somewhat glamorous industry, it is a serious business and should be approached as such. Your clients are putting their trust in you, which is a big responsibility.
Also, prepare yourself for plenty of physical labor!
What specific part of your business are you most passionate about? Please be as detailed as possible.
I am so passionate about helping each client create a space that really reflects their personality and interests. And, it might sound crazy, but I find it really fun to create a design within a budget constraint. It requires a lot of creativity, the know-how to successfully mix high and low, and a bit of luck.
We asked Courtney some other random questions:
Favorite meal? LeVain Bakery chocolate chip cookies (technically not a meal, but so very good)
Recent purchase? Beautiful vintage Italian cream boucle fabric from Flair in NYC. Can’t wait to find the right project to use it.
Hidden talent? I make a perfect roast chicken.
Guilty pleasure? Law & Order re-runs
Book/Film recommendation? Movie – Auntie Mame is my all-time favorite movie; Book – Anything by New Orleans author Anne Rice
Restaurant recommendation (please included city)? Red Rooster, Harlem New York
Transformative travel experience? Every visit to Paris
Favorite neighborhood? Can’t pick just one – I love Chelsea, West Harlem, and the West Village
Dream holiday? Another trip to Paris
What publications do you subscribe to? I use the app Next Issue for the iPad for most magazines, great for the subway/bus. I read House Beautiful, Elle Décor, Architectural Digest, Dwell, Traditional Home, Coastal Living, Country Living, Real Simple, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, This Old House, and Veranda. I also like Lonny and Rue online. I miss Domino, wish they would bring it back as a monthly magazine.
Are you involved with any charities or support any philanthropic causes? Young Women’s Leadership Network (all-girls public schools in NYC)
What tech gadget can’t you live without? iPad
Any other information you would like to share about yourself or your company? I would like to thank you for sharing my story with your readers. I hope the advice is helpful and if anyone is interested in designing their space, feel free to contact me!
How to Contact Courtney and Right Meets Left Design:
2192 8th Avenue, #3E, New York, NY 10026