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Published: Monday, 4/9/2001

Sylvania decorator finds design for success

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

``I've always had a great interest in design - fashions, interior design, architecture, all of it,'' she said.

So it was no surprise when she earned an associate degree in design and started dabbling in interior design about six years ago at a floor covering business in Blissfield, Mich., formerly owned by her late husband, Robert.

But in 1998, she made a bold move. Without any clients or an established reputation, she took out a small business loan and opened her own interior design studio in Sylvania.

``It was a very busy time, trying to set the studio up and establish myself,'' she said. ``No one knew who I was.''

But the move paid off.

In three years, her Interiors by Christine design shop has accumulated a stream of residential and commercial clients, a solid reputation, and about $450,000 in sales in 2000.

The bulk of her business - about 50 projects annually - is from referrals in the Toledo area, but the studio gets walk-in business too. Besides creating interior design plans, the company provides floor coverings, wall coverings, furniture, drapes, accessories, and specialty services, such as faux painting effects.

Ohio has 337 interior design firms with $163 million in annual sales and the United States has 9,612 such firms with nearly $5 billion in sales for the latest year figures are available, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Designers are nearly four times as likely to be self-employed as are other specialty professionals and most work in small firms of one to five employees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Interiors by Christine decorated entries in the upcoming Spring Parade of Homes.

``She's young, she's got great ideas and she's very, very good at what she does,'' said Tim Swiergosz, vice president of Prestancia Building Co., a local home-building firm that hired Interiors by Christine to decorate its entries in the Spring Parade of Homes.

``Christine seems to understand what people's lifestyles are and she does a fantastic job of decorating a home to fit those lifestyles.''

Determining how a client lives and uses a home is the top priority, Ms. Neuman said.

Sometimes the job entails resolving a clash of styles - the husband likes modern styles, the wife likes a country look.

At other times, a client can be too reserved about he or she wants.

``A lot of people are intimidated to work with a designer because they think it means they don't have good taste,'' Ms. Neuman said.

That's not true, she added.

``We give people our honest opinion about what works and what doesn't,'' she said.

While design has come easy, starting a business from scratch has been a challenge, Ms. Neuman said.

She said she has learned to delegate duties, but continues to do design work, buy inventory, and meet with customers. The staff meets with sales representatives and takes on other chores.

``The hardest thing is to keep control over how fast you are growing,'' Ms. Neuman said. ``The thing I have to remember is you never take on more projects than you could do to the best of your ability.”

Small Business Profile is a weekly feature on local companies. To be considered, send information about your company to Small Business Profiles, Business News, The Blade, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, Ohio 43660.



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