It’s no secret that here at Design Manager, we’re huge fans of Michele Plachter. A former sales and marketing executive turned interior designer to the glitterati, Michele has a fascinating story and a deep well of wisdom on how to pivot and follow your passion to the creative career of your dreams. Michele graciously offered to chat with us to take us through how she became an interior designer and how she manages her successful firm, Michele Plachter Designs.
The Long and Winding Road
Given the scale of her talent and the confidence with which she operates her business, one would be surprised to learn that interior design is a second career for Michele. Like so many creatives, Michele recognized her artistic spirit at an early age but felt the weight of expectation to follow a traditional path in life. “I’ve always been an artist at heart,” she says, although she put her singing talent on the back burner to pursue a career in the corporate world as an adult. Michele quickly worked her way up the ranks of Fortune 500 companies such as Xerox and Aetna and learned to find satisfaction in her success.
Michele soldiered down this road for years, continuing to climb the corporate ladder after getting married and having her first two children. But after welcoming her third child, she decided it was time for a change. She and her husband had been following the real estate market as a side interest and decided to get into the business of rehabbing homes. She found the process to be refreshingly creative and noticed that she had a natural ability to imagine how spaces would look once walls came down. She could easily envision the true potential of a space.
“When I started in the business of residential development, I never could have imagined what it would turn into,” says Michele. “One thing lead to another and I started my own firm in 2012, and it really evolved. Although I’m not the rockstar singer I dreamed of being when I was younger, this industry was an easy second choice that satisfied my creative passion.”
The Value-Add of a Corporate Career
At first glance, one may have a hard time drawing a line from a career in sales and marketing to one in interior design. However, Michele says her past experience has been invaluable to becoming the successful interior designer and business owner she is today.
“It's amazing how much from my corporate background has been helpful to what I do now,” she says. “It's a lot more business than people realize. All of the work is done behind the scenes. Through my corporate background, I learned how to negotiate, communicate, and insure I understand my clients' needs.”
She explains that while design school teaches important technical and interior design related skills, students should never underestimate the importance of understanding business etiquette and protocol. She cannot stress enough how important professionalism is in the business of interior design, which is why she invests her time and resources to keep her business organized and her client communications crisp and error-free. Michele relies on Design Manager, a project management and accounting software created specifically for the interior design industry, to help make sure she stays on top of every detail of her business.
Interior Design is About Client Service
One thing we admire about Michele is her talent for designing in the spirit of a particular location. If you look at the Michele Plachter Design portfolio, it’s clear that she can bend her aesthetic to the traditional or modern side, depending on what best suits the project, while always maintaining a signature aesthetic. When asked whether her style is traditional or modern, Michele says it’s not about her style, but her clients. However, there’s a definitively modern touch to everything she designs, and she has a unique talent for guiding her clients to a fresh aesthetic that she can integrate seamlessly into the most traditional, even historic, spaces.
To find inspiration, Michele discerns what’s valuable to her clients, whether it’s a piece of art or a family heirloom. “It's all about the clients, all of the time,” she says. “They have to love the space. I’m always up for the challenge if our preferences are different from out clients. It’s my job to educate them and introduce them to the many possibilities they might not have even known or considered. I minored in psychology in college, so I use that a lot in everything I do. I'm a therapist as much as I am a designer!”
A Diligent Approach to the Creative Process
While there’s no such thing as an average day at Michele Plachter Design, there is certainly a standard operating procedure. Michele has determined a winning formula for her design process that she and her team follow to ensure every project has a successful outcome. Her first step is determining what is important to her client and how she can take their style to the next level. After the initial discovery phase, she has her clients share pictures of what they like and don’t like, which Michele says is very important to her creative process.
Next, she and her team begin measuring the space, working on space planning, and the initial furniture plan. They put together what Michele calls the Creative Development Presentation, which they use to finalize concept design and the space plan. During this phase, Michele and her team bring a lot of ideas to the table to make sure they capture their client's true vision for the space. “We introduce them to many samples, finishes and images,” she says. “We want to determine what they like and don't like so we can take all of that feedback and curate what we will use in our Design Preview Presentation.” This client presentation includes realistic renderings of what the space will actually look like, which Michele says is very important to clients.
By the time they present the Final Presentation, they’ve distilled their design to the point that they’re ready to begin ordering. The Final Presentation includes every last detail, including freight and delivery. That wraps up the design phase, and then Michele and her team move on to procurement.
Michele always addresses budget with her clients early on, and won’t sign any contracts until she and her client have discussed the various potential costs, design fees, and agreed on a budget. “There has to be trust,” she says. The only way to establish trust is if everything is on the table. I get that conversation out early in the process. I present detailed, itemized budgets to show these numbers are based on real world costs.”
Michele knows that part of the process is educating her clients about the products she wants to use, and the importance of quality. She uses the analogy of shopping for shoes, saying, we all know we can buy a pair of shoes for say $100, and they're cute but they might fall apart after a season and feel uncomfortable to wear all the while. Whereas, if you spent another $100, you could get a pair that would last and be comfortable.”
Balancing Work and Life
Balancing work and life is an ongoing challenge for Michele She credits her team with making it all possible. “I'm so fortunate to have an amazing team. If I'm needed elsewhere, my staff does a great job managing the daily demands of our company and keeping the engine moving. she says. You can't do it on your own. As you hire people, they give you the support you need to grow. My role has evolved over time. Although I’m always involved in the oversight of all of our interiors as well as our client relationships, I’m also working on the business development of MPD to continue to look at opportunities of growth for my company.”
Like so many women in business, sometimes Michele feels like she is being pulled in many different directions, so it’s important to find a moment for herself when she needs it. A quick jog, a walk with her dogs, or even a few minutes of meditation can help her stay centered. A dinner with friends can also do the trick.
The number one thing that keeps Michele motivated is her love for creating environments and beautiful spaces that change her clients’ lives. “It might sound silly, but I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by such beauty in this industry. Having the opportunity to pass that on to our clients and watching how a beautiful space positively impacts them is the true reward.”