About Me

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I have 20+ years experience in Home Furnishings and Interior Design, specializing in Kitchen and Bath Design since '01. I work for Bilotta Kitchens in the A&D Building on East 58th Street in the Mid-town Manhattan. I have a passion for learning and love the opportunity to collaberate on projects of all sizes. My strengths in the field begin with my design background, use of color and texture to bring interest to a room, spatial relationships, organizational skills, innovation, decisiveness, and planning. I have had the thrilling experience of helping hundreds...?maybe thousands of people with their projects, and what I love is it never gets boring, and no two are ever the same. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Diary of a New NYC Kitchen Designer

I have spent the last 9 years making my living as a kitchen and bath designer in the "Greater NYC" area...mainly Northern New Jersey and NYC, but occasionally in Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, New York State, and even a project or two in Vermont, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Texas. Business for me has always been good to the point I never gave "job security" too much thought, I just gave my job my all and was rewarded with repeat business.
To go back in time, I had only accidentally "happened" into kitchen design. My background in home furnishings and interior design had put me in the right spot at the right time, just after the break up of my marriage. I was noticed by a store manager in a Home Depot as I raided his wall paper department. I was on my way to a client appointment and looking for materials. I was busy with my own project but also fielding questions from his customers. He liked my style and ability to juggle the task at hand while catering to many demanding my advice and guidance. He approached me and simply said "I need you here in my store."

And so it was done, I went back for an interview and then spent the next 6 months self training on his floor. John hired me in at a living wage, which was a huge relief. I never wore an "in training" button, I pushed myself hard, and I spent the first year running around like a mad woman satisfying customers, I was dedicated. I would finish my shift at 8pm and then head home to tuck my kids into bed. When they were asleep, I would sneak back to Home Depot to work on the 20-20 design program so it became like breathing to use it, I'd crawl into bed around 4am, and then start all over 3 hours later with the kids. I'd wake up in the morning calculating imaginary counter tops in square inches and costing them in various materials. In that first year, I hadn't seen the inside of the employee break room five times, and as I cruised through each day, I would chant in my head: "I'm gonna get fired, I'm gonna get fired", smiling all the way, because as hard as it was, it was the most fun!

While my mantra was my way of self-motivating, I also thought it was possible I could be fired, after all everyone is replaceable. And every kitchen designer stubs reputation along the way, we're only human after all.

One day my department manager took me aside about my sales. Anthony told me I was on track to be the top sales specialist in the country. I was taken aback, speechless, and for the first time in a year, I felt the tension leave my shoulders. I knew I was going to make it, and my pay scale began to reflect my success, I was given huge creative control over my projects and my time. I did kitchens for people in the entertainment business and major league sports players, and was respected throughout the company for the business I had built. I called depot my home in one form or another until November 2007.

In 2007, I began working for a small home improvement company that was striving for bigger and better, I was offered a very desirable compensation package to join his firm. The owner had worked for The Bil-Ray Group, a large scale remodeling company, and he aspired to have the same or better for himself. He concentrated on company growth and dedicated resources towards branding, lead generation and fleet expansion. I had my hands full trying to keep the clients happy, and deciphering the contracts. As summer and fall 2008 dished out increasingly terrible economic news which was compounded by the crisis in the panic stricken banking industry, this already unstable company was snagged by the undertow and dragged out to sea.

Leaving me, a self supporting single mom creative type, contemplating the next step for me and my family in the face of what seemed the worst times, with skyrocketing unemployment numbers and the friends telling me that things couldn't have blown up worse out there and no signs it was getting better soon.

Downsizing the year before had been a huge stroke of good fortune. My kids and I had previously been out numbered by our bathrooms, and it occurred to me this was way out of balance. Now, with much less to manage, I took a look at my situation at hand, and decided that the economy had given me permission to slow down and enjoy the children I had been working so hard to provide for. We cut back on the non-essentials, and we biked and swam all summer long, I forecasted my budget and how long I could survive, and tried to keep it real for the girls without causing them to have my worries. With no cabinets to haul, I let our big SUV go, and let my 10 year old pick out the family car: a Beetle convertible.

I networked and researched, and stayed in contact with clients of the failed business I had worked for. I did my best to see they got what they had paid for, and then offered of myself and my services beyond that. I established my own LLC, built my website, and made tough decisions. I stood with a friend,  a Cancer Survivor, battling the disease since she was 10 years old and again now. She has all my support, and in exchange I get great advice from her unique perspective.

January-February 2010, was crunch time for employment, I pulled out all the stops, and after one month of all nighters on Monster and LinkedIn Career pages,as well as pounding the actual pavement, I had four viable offers in my field. This was great news, and I think a sign of the turning times. I had applied beyond the scope of my field, and while I had interest and opportunity in other areas, the offers in the construction field were a relief and gift. With my children, I made the bold decision to become a full time commuter and chase my dream in NYC daily.

So, like so many others in the wake of the new economy, I am working harder, taking on some additional risk, willing to reinvent myself, push to new limits, and make a little less for a while, all to be on the up escalator once again. My new showroom is the Manhattan Center for Kitchen and Bath , an upscale and simply elegant design center, with experienced, helpful, and friendly staff, operating at the highest ethical and quality standards. It was a huge pleasure to join their ranks, and I will be chronicling my experiences and adventures in and around the city, the trends and the business direction.
Now that you have a little background, and a few of the characters, I hope you will join me.





7 comments:

  1. Great story Aston! Best of luck with your new venture --you are a real inspiration.

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  2. Good for you Aston!! I am happy you have landed where you want to be!! I can relate to your journey very much as mine started the same way... Being faced with providing for 2 little girls! I begged and borrowed to start my own business and made oodles of mistakes along the way but somehow have managed to grow and prosper and move now to bigger location. Which I hope and pray will not be a mistake!! Just got to go with your gut and at some point have to grab the brass ring I think. We don't get a second go round at life! If you ever need any help with anything , call me! ~~~cheryl

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  3. That's great! MCKB is lucky to have you!

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  4. Lovely post Aston - sounds like you fell into the perfect career for you that day in Home Depot. I'm sure your new venture will be a success - you deserve it and have the drive to succeed. I look forward to reading all about it - very best of luck, too --Sarah

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  5. Beautiful kitchen ideas,thanks AUSTIN for such an amazing an inspiring change...but I must confess my eye was actually catch by showing the picture.I must know everything about it! please!
    Kitchen Remodeling Contractor

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  6. Just stumbled upon your Blog. Your story is inspirational. Good Luck in you new venture. These are scary times. Every time the phone rings with a new client I am so thankful.

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  7. Really an inspirational story and yeah best of luck for your future...

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