Dunn-Edwards Portraits: Fashioning A Career In Design
12/05/2023 | Danielle Kinahan |
Designer Rae Rockwell views her non-traditional career path towards interior design as an asset. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native recognizes that the disparate career choices she made along the way all came together perfectly to culminate in working full-time as an interior designer and content creator - a dream job she didn’t know she wanted while in undergrad but was always subconsciously working towards. For Rockwell, a career journey is about cultivating current abilities, pushing yourself to learn more skills and leveraging experiences to apply them in new situations. Following this principle is how she transitioned from corporate life to that of a creative entrepreneur.
“I’m a creative at heart but never held positions in creative roles - so I created it for myself,” explains Rockwell who recently launched her design studio, Rae Rockwell Studio, which focuses on short-term rentals (STR) in the high-desert area of Joshua Tree, California. From early on Rockwell pursued interests in creative fields, but found herself working in administrative or operational positions. As a college student, Rockwell dreamed of being in the fashion industry; she attended Kent State University in Ohio earning a degree in fashion merchandising, which focuses on the business of fashion - such as planning, sales, and marketing. After graduation Rockwell moved to the fashion capital of America, New York City.
In New York, Rockwell worked as the Executive Assistant to Sam Edelman, Founder of the eponymous shoe company. It was Edelman, Rockwell explains, who taught her fashion isn’t just what you wear, it’s a lifestyle. It was actually fashion, Rockwell shares, which informed her future career of design. “The root of my experience with interior design is through fashion,” she explains. As part of her position, she would book Edelman’s travel, and spent her time researching design-forward restaurants and boutique hotels. This exposure to well-designed spaces first sparked Rockwell’s interest in the design world. “He introduced me to Kelly Wearstler and Cy Twombly and all these artists - he always had design books,” Rockwell shares of Edelman. “I went from reading fashion magazines to reading AD and Domino.” After several years working in this administrative position in the fashion world, Rockwell itched for something more creative.
With her corporate foundation in place from her time at Sam Edelman, Rockwell felt confident trading New York and the fashion industry for Los Angeles and new ventures. In fact, the mentorship and on-the-job education Rockwell received at Sam Edelman is precisely the reason why Rockwell advises recent graduates to start their career by working for a firm or under an established designer for a few years before going out on their own. That type of experience is essential and priceless.
Rockwell’s path, like many, was a series of lessons-learned and fine-tuning career opportunities and professional skills to carve out the best path forward - one step at a time. This lesson in fine-tuning is one Rockwell learned acutely with her first independent venture - Meraki Narrative, a creative agency - which she launched in 2017 after settling in Los Angeles. In order to build an initial portfolio for the company, Rockwell recalls working on a friend’s brand for free and quite literally hitting the streets early on, going door to door at local shops to sign up new clients. “Overall, reaching out and selling your services is a ton of work and very little reward,” explains Rockwell. “We could send out 50 emails and maybe 1 client would sign with us.”
Photo by Cole Kiburz
Meraki Narrative, proved to be a challenge in another sense. As the creative agency grew Rockwell was spending the majority of her time managing administrative functions for the business. As a result, what started as an attempt to build a creative role for herself was becoming unfulfilling. “I started the agency to do something creative, but I was doing all of the operational side of things and nothing creative to keep my soul happy.” It was during this time, while still running Meraki Narrative that Rockwell began designing her own home, Flamingo Social Club, in Joshua Tree to nourish and develop her creative instincts. Simultaneously, she produced marketing content from the home to generate interior design work.
Photo by Cole Kiburz
Rockwell describes pushing through an initial bout of imposter syndrome before telling friends about her new design side-gig. Her big break came when she was contacted by a friend at Homestead Modern, a short-term vacation rental company in the California high desert, who asked if Rockwell might provide design services for one of their properties. That project led to another and then another - today Rockwell is the company’s preferred interior designer. Rockwell stresses that one should never discount their personal and professional network, revealing that when you share your goals and dreams with others, you never know which connection will lead to an unexpected opportunity.
Photo by Camryn Eakes
Rockwell eventually stepped away from the creative agency, which has since relocated to Austin, Texas, to focus on interior design full-time. And just like her experience at Sam Edelman, this time she would once again take with her the skills and lessons she’d gleaned from her latest venture. The designer shares that her roles in the fashion industry and with her creative agency proved invaluable educational experiences for the entrepreneur; dealing with issues from accounting, to marketing, to legal, to hiring, and communication. “I brought what I learned from working in corporate and start-up companies and combined it with new knowledge, which has brought me to where I am today with my interior design business,” says Rockwell.
Photo by Camryn Eakes
Having fashioned a career for herself in design, Rockwell explains that she pulls most extensively from her past knowledge on how to develop and sell a brand. That currently is most focused on STR brand positioning – creating an insta-worthy space ripe for content creation and repeat customers. A space to highlight her unique design approach. She points behind her to the wall in the bedroom of her Joshua Tree home, gesturing to her favorite Dunn-Edwards color. “This is Greener Pastures (DET529),” she says. She notes the stark difference between typical desert design that often involves muted neutrals like sandy desert hues and warm tans and her own colorful approach to branding a space. “I like to think about the total experience and what I can add to the experience for people. How do you create something where someone walks in and says, ‘I want to take photos of this, I want to be in this space?’” With color and curation, Rockwell’s goal is to design aspirational spaces that evoke an emotional response; spaces similar to the very ones that caught her eye all those years ago while working at Sam Edelman.
- Best Oranges for the Perfect Summer Beach Cottage
- Get Ready for Fall with These Trendy Color + Design Moods
- Try These Color Palettes To Nail A Tomato Girl Summer At Home
- Embracing Barbiecore: Popular Pinks Throughout The Ages
- The Color Yellow: Essential Color Theory, Symbolism and Design Application