Student Success: Ada Gonzalez
After spending several years working as a production project manager designing promotional displays for high-end stores, Ada Gonzalez realized that her professional life wasn’t leaving her with any emotional fullfillment. Wanting to work in a field she felt passionate about, she began to comb through newspaper classifieds in search of a job she’d love. After realizing one afternoon that interior design was the career she was truly drawn to, she decided to enroll at NYIAD. Years after graduation, we were able to get back in touch with Ada to discuss her time as a student, her success after graduation and her goals for the future. Here’s what we learned:
1. When did you realize that interior design was a field you wanted to pursue?
Prior to studying interior design as a career, I worked as a production project manager. I helped bring drawings to life from the engineering & art department of a company that designed and manufactured promotional displays for high-end stores like Saks 5thAvenue & Henri Bendel.
After 6 years I realized that I liked my job, but didn’t love it! As much as I enjoyed viewing the results of my work (that is… viewing the displays that were once on paper now at the stores), I wasn’t happy. A better word is “fulfilled.” I started looking at newspaper job classifieds and nothing stood out to me so I continued working, feeling unfulfilled. Then one day, sitting in a train on my way home from another long day at work, I asked myself a simple question that turned my life around. A question that never dawned on me to ask before, the question was “What did I want to do that made me happy”? The answer came to me surprisingly quick, perhaps because I was too tired for thoughts of fear to rise up. My heart answered “I want to be an interior decorator.”
I remember going from feeling tired to exhilarated, and I couldn’t stop smiling. Turns out that I had been searching newspapers to see what jobs where available, instead of searching my heart.
2. Have you always been interested in art and design? What is your educational background originally in?
After my AHA! moment in the train I remember thinking ‘oh it makes sense now’ when I realized that I was addicted to watching HGTV, loved arts & crafts since I was a child, loved seeing drawings come to life from my job, was a great project manager, and the only magazines I had at home were interior design magazines. Interesting enough I graduated with a BA degree in Law & Society but by senior year in college I knew I no longer wanted to be a lawyer.
3. When did you enroll at NYIAD?
I enrolled in 2004. I specifically looked for a correspondence interior design school because I still wanted to work at my job to build my savings nest before I resigned. The courses available at NYIAD (back then called Sheffield School of Interior Design) seemed fun, creative, detailed, and educational; and I was right – they were! I graduated feeling very secure of my ability to help people decorate their homes.
4. What was your coursework like?
Fun! Seriously, when a new coursework arrived it felt like Christmas day opening presents. When I juggled my job and school I would happily stay up until 2am working on my homework. The key word is ‘happy’. The coursework never felt like a chore. I stayed up, many times not realizing the time, because the courses were so interesting. On a side note, this question makes me giggle because when I took the course in 2005, don’t you laugh, the courses were still in cassette tapes since they hadn’t finished transferring the courses to CD/DVDs yet. Ok, you can laugh, it is funny.
5. Was your mentor helpful during the process?
My mentor was very helpful in providing feedback to my work; I always looked forward to her detailed feedback.
6. After graduation, how did you use this knowledge help you with a real world career? Or was your career already in the works at that point?
NYIAD nourished me with skills and confidence.
In 2005 I graduated, shortly after I became a design assistant to a high end interior designer and while I earned just $15 an hour, I received priceless valuable hands on experience. By 2006 I started my own interior decorating company focusing on economical solutions and in 2007 I had my first newspaper feature as an interior designer when I won (cue confetti) a loft project design which landed me on the front page of The Journal News’ Life&Style a well-known newspaper in Westchester County.
I managed not to faint that day from excitement and blushed often when I was recognized as the gal in the newspaper. Since then, I’ve been featured several times in newspapers as an expert interior designer, have appeared on a radio station in New York and Toronto, Canada, and have been a Subject Specialist for DEAC (Distance Education Accrediting Commission) twice – in amazing 2007, and wonderful 2011. However, the biggest badge of honor is my clients happy faces and thank you cards.
7. What did you learn working in the real world that you wish you could’ve learned at NYIAD?
Frankly, I can’t think of anything. Hmm, I guess the only thing I can thing that comes to mind is getting hands on experience, which I eventually did getting as an interior design assistant. Hands on experience builds up your endurance and fuels your passion even more when a real client is depending on you. Like when I carried a $10,000 light fixture down a New York street in the rain as I tried to flag a taxi to meet an installation deadline. I hire interns from colleges near me and I love seeing their faces light up with excitement of receiving project tasks.
8. Tell us about Ada’s Interior Design.
My company specializes in beautifying homes throughout the United States with economical solutions without compromising the elegance of the design. I have a great team - wonderful interns, an accountant who keeps telling me that I can’t write off my Starbucks’ caramel macchiato addiction as a company expense (darn!), + contractors that help me bring my full service designs to life! My e-design service brings my customized affordable designs to clients’ fingertips throughout the USA.
9. If you had to pick one, what was the most memorable project you’ve ever completed?
That’s a hard question because each project has been so fulfilling and memorable. Hmm, ok, it’s the 1st project that I ever had walking into the home as a business owner (Ada Gonzalez from Ada’s interior Design) vs a freelancer. I must admit, I still get an internal giggle when doormen announces me, it’s a giggle from pride, gratitude and love for my career choice.
10. Describe a day in your life at work!
It’s caffeinated, adventurous, exhausting, and exhilarating fulfilling. My day varies per project and appointments and whether I will be taking measurements at a new clients’ home or at the photoshoot of a completed interior design project, or fighting with my nemesis (the hot glue gun) to produce a DIY project for a paying sponsor. Or it can be filled with painting an abstract art for a client which is process of several days, and meeting a contractor to review the design in person, or drafting clients floorplan on my computer, and answering emails and social media questions and comments, or looking for furniture and accessories for my e-Design clients, and mentoring a budding interior decorator. Did I mention that my day is caffeinated?!
11. How has blogging and social media helped you as a creative professional?
It has helped tremendously! I no longer have to drag my large portfolio case to show my work since my blog has not only turned into my online portfolio showing before and after photos of my design and DIY projects, but I also get to tell the story behind each project. And social media is amazing for sharing my work at a wider range. Just 2 weeks ago I met a new client who turns out found me from Facebook. Yeah, social media is awesome!
Oh that reminds me, I have a secret (psssst come closer), you are the 1st to know that I will also be launching sales of my economical abstract painting (the print version!). I am counting on social media to help spread the word when I launch this year. Quick history – when I couldn’t find economical abstract art with happy colors for my clients I decided to roll up my sleeves, dust off my painting easel, and create acrylic art for my clients myself and the outcome was that they all LOVED my art! So, while the original acrylic abstract art on canvas are no longer available because they are happily hanging at my clients home, I have decided to sell printed version of art that I have painted so other people can add happy vibrant colors on their walls as well. Feel free to sign up for my newsletter at my website to be one of the 1st in line to get details before it launches. Here’s a photo of one of my art pieces – I call this one ‘Cotton Candy’.
12. What’s the most rewarding part of your career?
The most rewarding part, besides seeing the joy in my clients’ faces, is the day we photograph the completed interior design project. This is the day I walked into the home and see the design I created in paper come to life. It is an amazing feeling! My clients are often not at home for the photoshoot, but they usually give me their keys for entry; then I leave the key in the home (door locks behind me). At the end of the photoshoot there is usually a beautiful quiet moment when I place their keys on a table , I then open the front door, then I turn around right before I am about to close the door to take a final look and I smile. A soft rush of joy, pride, and gratitude fills me up and I remember – this is why I became an interior decorator.
13. If you could give one piece of advice to our current and prospective students, what would it be?
The best project that you will every work on is you, so do what makes you happy. Here’s a pretty pendant lamp that I created using paper shades + glue gun + coffee filters. Yes, coffee filters. Before I graduated from NYIAD I would had never thought to create something so out of the ordinary. But, here I am standing on a table holding one of the softest pendent lamp shades that I have ever felt bec I trusted myself and took a leap of faith. And I believe you are extraordinary too!
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