What Level is Your Design Business?

Kathleen Jennison: From Trauma to Triumph in Interior Design

Episode 715 of A Well-Designed Business®
715: Kathleen Jennison: From Trauma to Triumph in Interior Design

Today with Kathleen Jennison

Welcome to a Well-Designed Business. Some of us come into this business because we’re naturally-born creatives that never imagined doing anything else. Others spend time in the corporate world but embrace an inner passion. But my guest today is unique—for Kathleen Jennison, a brain injury changed the way her mind functioned and opened the door for a new path as an interior designer. Today, she’s sharing her journey and the lessons she learned along the way.

Pick it apart:

[6:34] Kathleen shares her journey through trauma and how she grew her design talents from it.

[15:32] Kathleen discusses her decision to start her own business and how systems and organization helped her.

[22:39] Kathleen describes the way her business grew and the big decisions and leaps of faith she had to take as it did.

[40:38] LuAnn and Kathleen discuss evaluating projects and profitability.

[52:39] Kathleen discusses how marketing is always important, even when your business is thriving.

LuAnn and Kathleen Jennison’s Ah-Ha moments:

“You have to be willing to take a risk. Some people are risk-averse and some people aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with having a home office and working by yourself, because you can still be successful, but it just depends on what you want to do and how you want to feel.” -Kathleen Jennison

“I look at the profitability on the project before I even present it to my client. I do a spreadsheet and see if there are adjustments I need to make ahead of time. Maybe there’s a coffee table we specified that they can find on the internet for cheaper…so let’s pick a different coffee table that is available to the trade only so we can increase our profit on it before we present it to the client.” -Kathleen Jennison

“I love that you brought out the very real point of always be marketing, but as you are building the business and you’re fine-tuning who your ideal client is, you want to always be evaluating that marketing. So we’re not going to start whatever we’re doing, but as your pipeline gets consistently full we can say, ‘Maybe we have 15 active projects in the pipeline but are they all our ideal clients?’ When you do have those projects in your pipeline you can be a little bit riskier in your marketing and start speaking just to the ideal client.” -LuAnn Nigara

More about Kathleen Jennison:

About KTJ Design Co. Kathleen Jennison | Owner & Lead Designer

Hello! I’m Kathleen Jennison, and I offer interior design services for forward-thinking homeowners, regardless of whether they know what their style is. I specialize in helping people just like you create an environment with resources and materials appropriate for their needs and budget. As a full service interior designer, I use the Meticulous Method, providing plans with complete interior design specifications for both new and existing properties. My goal is to thrill and delight each client with every project.

In addition to my suite of interior design services, I also own a general contracting company. Because of this, I’m happy to provide general contracting services for your project as needed. I also welcome partnerships with any professional who is serving your project, including architects, other general contractors, and landscape designers. This multifaceted approach helps me provide creative and technical solutions while also enhancing the quality of life for my clients.

Before becoming an interior designer, I enjoyed a long career as a Certified Public Accountant and was an auditor of many large corporations. This highly analytical and technical career coupled with my (second) Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design ensures that I am well-equipped to handle any challenges that might arise during a project.

A traumatic brain injury propelled this talented interior designer to unexpected heights. . . .

When you are introduced to a person’s life story, you often can’t help but believe certain things happen by design. In some instances, this can be applied both literally and figuratively. For me, an unexpected and traumatic circumstance gave me one of two options: live my life by design or live it by default. I chose the former and have never looked back.

Up until 15 years agoI used to be a hard-charging, successful CPA. However, my career hit a detour when a car accident in which I was involved in 2006 suddenly changed the trajectory of my ambitions. After experiencing a traumatic brain injury as a result of the accident, my analytical mindset pivoted in a new direction. While my analytical processing did not necessarily diminish, it took somewhat of a back seat to this new, creative and innovative mindset that surprised me. However, I have not taken this for granted and, as a result, discovered a new purpose for my life that has opened more doors than I could ever imagine.

Before the accident, I was completely engrained in being an accountant. After the accident, I struggled for a couple of years. I had been on medical leave for about six months and went back to my CPA job too early.

After the car wreck, I was in the hospital for 17 days and subsequently went back and forth for additional surgeries and treatments. In all, I suffered from short-term memory issues, lost the vision in my right eye, and sustained multiple fractures, including my skull, eye orbit, hand, thigh and all of her toes. I found it extremely challenging for a while to cope with my disabilities. I endured extensive rehabilitation and even had to attend driving school to learn how to drive with just one eye, an issue to which she has had to bravely adapt.

Before my accident, being in the accounting profession translated to a very competitive and fast-paced environment for me. I traveled the country meeting with CEOs of big companies, specializing in auditing work. It was a high-pressure position but I thrived in it. However, the brain damage I sustained from the accident made it challenging to navigate within my profession as easily as I once did. I did manage to work for a year at my job, and my employer was super great about it.

Recurring headaches and issues with cognitive rehabilitation measures, along loss of vision in my eye, forced meto re-evaluate my professional goals. At the urging of my ophthalmologist, who advised me that putting pen to paper helps retrain the brain and aids in depth perception, I enrolled in an art class. This just so happened to pave the way to an unchartered, yet equally exciting, territory for me.

“I had this desire to draw and paint, which I thought was rather strange for me. As such, I enrolled in the Art Institute of California – Sacramento and took a Basic Drafting and Color Theory Class. This provided the first steppingstone on my new journey. Moving slowly but deliberately, I eventually quit my CPA job and began to acquire enough course credits over a period of a few years to ultimately earn a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design, which was a great complement to her previous Bachelor’s degree in Business.

By 2011, I was eager to find a new job, sending out myriad resumes to potential employers. My efforts, though, appeared to be somewhat futile. As a result, I looked within myself to discover my next plan of action.

I realized I knew all about business and figured I could just start my own.

Fortunately, I began a personal project during my rehabilitation that created an initial customer base for me. While I was in school, I started a blog about my injury and subsequent recovery. Several of my former CPA clients and colleagues followed me in that space. When I announced my new business through that platform, many of them hired her to do interior design work.

Initially,I opened a furniture boutique eight years ago called The Shoppe at KTJ Design Co, located in an old candy factory in midtown Stockton in the Fremont Corridor. From there my business began to grow, and today I have found myself in demand and continually inspired to flex my creative muscles.

Through interior design I have happily discovered my analytical abilities transition seamlessly and are highly applicable to the work I now do.

With interior design, we draft plans and rely on geometry and dimensioning, along with laying out and organizing projects. My experience as an accountant plays into that. I can visualize spaces easily. However, I still stumble on my words sometimes.

Along with the assistance and talent of my lead designer, Sandra Van Slack, I continue to expand her portfolio and is affiliated with the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). I have also served as past President of the ASID Central California/Nevada chapter, of which she is a current member. She is also a member of the National Association of Remodeling Industry (NARI) and the National Kitchen and Bath (NKB) Sacramento chapters.

When not tending to my business, I enjoys practicing yoga and experiencing adventures in travel. I also enjoys spending time with my husband, Bob, our two sons and our two granddaughters. A native Californian, Kathleen has moved about the state during her life but has found strong roots in the Central Valley.

In addition to operating her business, which also includes a general contracting company, I delight readers regularly with my “Ask the Expert “column for HERLIFE Magazine. My expertise, insight and creative genius inspire, entertain and educate readers about all things interior design.

I intend to keep on doing what I am doing for as long as I can. I love what I do and believe we have a pretty good system in place. I am happy with where I am today. I have good people around me. I like to think the Universe was correcting itself for me. I probably would’ve burnt out otherwise. I truly believe things happen for a reason.

Connect with Kathleen Jennison:





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