Rhonda turned her passion and natural talent into her lifelong career
My passion for designing spaces began as a child. My sister and I would construct elaborate Barbie Doll houses occupying the entire living and dining room of our home. We made the furniture by reconfiguring small boxes and covering them with fabric or paper. Our babysitter taught us how to draw house plans, including strategically placed furniture in each room. This became a regular Saturday activity around age 10 and I still have those plans today. My eleventh birthday request to my mom was to take me to the local “Tour of Homes”. How many eleven year olds want to do that?? My college roommates still talk about coming home the night before I had an exam to a completely rearranged apartment! Each of the homes I have owned through the years has undergone renovation and redesign because I could never stop myself. My family and friends have always teased me because once I would finish a home, I would either have to start over again or buy a different house! The passion is deeply entrenched.
I was always somewhat artistic growing up and wanted to become an interior designer. I took as many art classes as possible, and somewhere along the way, I was encouraged to take “sensible” classes like math and science so I could pursue a “viable” career. I landed at University of Oregon and then earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Oregon Health Sciences University. After working as a critical care nurse for 8 years, I was recruited by a medical device company and moved into the business aspect of healthcare. I worked for 3 major corporations in various training, education, marketing and management roles. I delivered, designed and developed sales training and built a medical education department to train physicians and nurses. Throughout a successful career, there were many aspects that suited me well, but my longing to do something creative became increasingly pressing. To fulfill the need to create and design outside of my career, I’ve taken countless art classes and workshops throughout the years, exploring various mediums like jewelry/metalsmithing, painting, bookarts, assemblage, etc. However, my career was too demanding to allow enough time for enough creativity and interior design remained the unfulfilled dream. I knew I would eventually make a change, but kept putting it off to maintain “financial security and stability”.
At one point last year, I just couldn’t breath anymore. I knew that if I didn’t immediately detach myself from this safe and conservative way of thinking to pursue my longtime goals and aspirations, it would simply never happen. Something had finally snapped. I resigned my position without fully knowing my path and it was the most risky and exhilarating thing I had probably ever done. I had about a year to figure something out and was going to take my time. I had been researching interior design programs and getting discouraged by the time and money commitment to obtain another bachelors degree. I had looked at the Heritage School of Interior Design website a few months back, but sort of disregarded it at the time because I believed I needed another “formal degree” to become a credible designer. My last day at work was April 15th. I looked at the Heritage website once again the following Thursday morning, April 21 and thought, “why don’t I just give them a call”. At 1:00 pm that very same day, I was enrolled in the program and found myself doing a drafting project that had begun the week prior! Once I met with Stephanie, there was no doubt in my mind that this was the school for me and this was the time for me. I quickly caught up on what I had missed the previous days and have never once looked back or questioned my decision. It is an amazing program that is teaching me realms of interior design I never knew existed. There are so many options within one profession. I am now very clear that you do NOT need “another formal degree” to gain the tools necessary for most aspects of interior design. This has provided a very applicable and “real life” knowledge base and I am confident in my abilities to begin working as a residential interior designer once I graduate.
A love for vintage furniture and objects has also fed my longstanding creative design need. I’m so drawn to the history, the character and the story that comes with a vintage piece. I especially like treasure hunting for these kinds of items on my travels because you find such incredibly unique things. If I love it and it speaks to me because of its patina, form, color or potential function, it will find a way home with me no matter which continent I am on. There is nothing like rescuing dilapidated furniture or items in junk stores or at flea markets, imagining a new life for it, then actually making that vision a reality. It might involve having a metal piece media blasted, then sanding it and waxing or painting it. It might be an amazing chair I see with sculptural qualities, but sagging cushions and very worn fabric. I’ll find a fabulous updated fabric and haul it off to my workroom to give it new life. Furniture is art to me.
As my passion for vintage and antiques has evolved, I have imagined combining it with my passion for interior design. I have always dreamed of having a fabulous shop full of both custom and vintage home furnishings and using it as a base for doing design consulting work. A couple of weeks into my design program at Heritage, Stephanie mentioned she had a retail space at Grand Marketplace. Several days later, I had consulted with the owner, whom I had talked with previously about a space, but the timing hadn’t been right. She now had one small space open. Thinking this would be the perfect way to start “small”, I signed a contract, got some advice from my CPA, registered for a business license, printed business cards, and my new vintage retail business, “Velvet and Burlap” was born. I unearthed the collections from my designated “warehouse” space in the basement which has been the receptacle for items I knew I would place in a shop someday and moved them in – all in the midst of an intensive interior design program. Three weeks later, I am now moving into a larger space at Grand Marketplace! Eventually, I would like to have my own shop. Eventually, I would like to design homes for other people. I feel like there are so many potential directions I could go at this point and I want to do it all – I love it all! One step at a time.
Stephanie almost didn’t answer my phone call on April 21st. After all, the coursework had already started. I am truly grateful that she did. The opportunity to complete the program at Heritage has provided a platform much richer and more promising than I imagined. It has given me knowledge, confidence, industry connections and new friendships. Once you give yourself permission to do what you were created to do, it’s magical how everything can fall in line. I’ve never felt more like myself in all my life. I’ve never been this excited about what I get to do next. Dreams really do come true. Sometimes it takes longer than you think, but there is usually a reason. Never, ever, ever give them up. If your passion is true, it will prevail. My favorite quote is: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’. I feel like I am now closer to being able to say that.