If you’re a decor fanatic like I am, chances are you’re a huge fan of following all of Studio McGee’s endeavors. The married design duo that started their business out of a spare bedroom in 2014 has rapidly grown to 30 employees, over half a million Instagram followers, and a rapidly growing Youtube channel. They’ve now expanded their digital empire to include an e-commerce shop and work with clients across the country. We were lucky enough to catch up with Syd and Shea to chat about running a business, creating a signature style, and staying inspired (and sane) when work and life blur together.
Tell us how you got started with Studio McGee.
I was working at an advertising agency when the economy tanked, so I spent a lot of time at work reading design blogs. I became obsessed with interiors and decided to sign up for a few classes. During this time, Syd and I were renovating our first home and neighbors started asking me to consult and take on small projects. My business grew through word of mouth and I was able to quit my day job and run things out of our guest bedroom. A few months after we had our first baby Wren, Syd’s company was acquired and he was out of work. I had to take my business to the next level to support us, so I signed up for an Instagram account because it was a free way to market myself! That was a hard year for our family, but I put my head down and it worked. Syd and I finally came to the realization that we should join forces, and we agreed that if we were going to “go for it” we were going all in. We sold our home (and many belongings) to provide the funding to start Studio McGee. Three years later and we have grown significantly in more ways than one.
Tell us about all the services Studio McGee offers, what do you specialize in?
We specialize in upper-mid to high-end residential design that is beautiful but still feels approachable! We design and manage new-builds, renovations, and spec homes nationwide.
Describe your design style.
My aesthetic is bright, clean, and collected. I like to mix and match styles, but I’m always drawn to spaces with lots of natural light and textural layers.
Shea and Syd, how have your roles grown since the inception of Studio McGee?
Syd and I have very different roles at Studio McGee and our skill sets balance one another really well. When we first started, I was the one and only designer and we had a few assistants. My role now is Creative Director and I don’t manage a single project, but I work really closely with our design team through the creative process. Our designers now manage the nitty gritty of the day-to-day implementation. I also work really closely with our marketing team to ensure our voice and vision stays consistent. One thing that remains the same is Instagram – I can’t let it go! Syd’s role has changed the most significantly with the growth of the company. In the beginning, he took all the new business calls, did the accounting, HR, and ordered all the products for clients. Now he manages the teams that do all of those things and is very involved in the e-commerce side of our business.
What is it like working with your spouse?
Surprisingly, it’s really great! I get to do what I love alongside the person I love. We’re working hard to build a beautiful life for our family and owning our business allows us a lot of flexibility. Of course, it can be difficult at times, but the good outweighs the bad. The key for us is to have our very distinct roles and respect each other.
Tell us what a typical day in the life of Studio McGee is like?
My day starts with designer meetings – I sit in a rolling chair and move from desk to desk as we discuss selections and make edits. I’ll take a quick break to post on Instagram and check in with the marketing team. From there, I will run to a site visit, project install, or film a webisode. I head home at 2 and then hop back on for a few hours after the kids go to sleep and I can focus!
I noticed you have about 30 people working for you, what type of projects are they managing?
Our design team manages residential projects all across the country – everything from new builds to remodels and furnishing projects. We also have teams that manage e-commerce site development, ordering, customer service, marketing, accounting, and new business.
Tell us about your new e-commerce store, when did you launch and what do you specialize in?
Since launching our e-commerce store in September of 2016 it has been a wild few months. It feels like we started a completely new business and it is growing very quickly which is exciting and very busy. We specialize in designer home decor and the shop is curated in the same way we design – a mix of styles and price points.
What do you attribute your immense growth to over the past 3 years?
Social media is where 98% of our clients and customers find us! We have always been committed to producing great visuals for both our clients and followers. Our behind the scenes are also just as important – we are constantly reassessing efficiency, workflow, and how to structure a creative business to scale in size.
What are your plans and goals for the future of Studio McGee, where do you see yourself in 5 years? 15 years?
We want to grow a home decor empire! In 5 years I want to be producing more exclusive products and have a second design office running in Southern California. Syd and I ask each other about the long term plan all the time and I’m not sure if I can commit to anything! I love that the business evolves in an organic way.
Are there any fun projects you are working on right now?
We are designing an entire neighborhood of high-end spec homes right now! There will be 19 homes all designed entirely by our team.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
I would tell them to not compare their beginning to someone else’s middle, but to use that as motivation to keep working hard.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received from someone?
Two cliches that have proved to be very valuable are “listen to your gut” and “it’s okay to say no.”
Who are your favorite people or companies to follow on IG for inspiration?
For home inspiration, I like to follow @mydomaine and for color palette inspiration I love to follow floral designers like @tingefloral and @tulipinadesign.
How do you manage work-life balance with children?
This one is SO hard. I think you have to go through some trial and error to find what works best for you and not set expectation based on what you see other parents doing.
Who is your biggest design influence?
Nate Berkus has always been my design idol.
I know owning your own business is 24/7, how do you unplug?
I’ll be honest and say that we often don’t unplug. We try really hard to put work out of our minds in the evenings when we’re all together, but sometimes we’re not perfect. We’ve found that 3-day-weekends are the best because we can completely step away for just a second.
How do you go about sourcing everything for your shop, and where are the majority of your items made? Is there a method to your madness?
Typically, we fall in love with products that we’d use in our own homes and/or projects. If we can’t find exactly what we’re looking for, we’ll design it. Right now, we’ve got a line of textiles that are made in the US and exclusive doormats designs. We’re also about to launch some very exciting collaborations!
Clockwise from top left: Madeline nightstand / Geode objects / Gold wire basket / Wooden vase sculptures / Inked botanical / Scribble in gold / Lebon floor lamp / Milo rug / Natalie chair / Gold feather magnifying glass / Trophy urns / Crew sofa
Image sources: Studio McGee and 2ndTruth Photography
BY Kate Arends - August 15, 2017
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Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
What an amazing journey with humble beginnings! So inspirational.
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
I can’t be the only one who wants to know where these houses are going to be! I’m dying for more info!!!
Love Studio McGee, and love getting to know more about them. Their journey, their inspiration and their team…great interview!
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Really enjoyed reading this. It provides a great insight into the interior design industry and how social media is a great way to get out there. You also get a sense of the human aspect behind the brand – which isn’t something you always get with larger furniture retailers for example.
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