Room Fu's Robin Callan Interview

Room Fu's Robin Callan Interview

I was looking for a specific email in my terribly overrun inbox today and stumbled upon an inquiry I received a year ago from a high school student here in Austin. One of her teachers assigned her class the task of interviewing someone in the career they hoped to pursue post high school. This student selected me as her interview subject, and since I’ve been interviewing so many other people recently, I thought it’d be funny to share this exchange.

There are about twenty questions my teacher made up that we have to ask in our interview. Here they are:

1. Tell me about yourself.
LOL, that’s a broad question. I’m 42 (I think…I keep losing track), I’m married and have a nearly 4-year old daughter. I have a BFA in graphic design. I moved to NYC when I graduated from college and lived there for 8 years (loved it). I used to travel the world by myself…loved that too.

2. Tell me about your experience.
I started out professionally as a graphic designer and spent 13 years as an art director and creative director. I worked for Worth Magazine and Golden Books’ entertainment division in NYC. Moved to Austin and worked as a graphic designer at National Instruments for 4.5 years. Was bored out of my mind with that last job so I took on two guinnea pig clients on the side…these clients let me do what I wanted with their rooms and I had such a blast. I did all the labor (sewing slipcovers, painting, building–everything) for free, in exchange for the opportunity to try it out professionally and build a portfolio. One of the guinnea pig clients hired me to do her entire house, so I was able to quit my job and start Room Fu.

3. Why did you choose this career?
I knew I would only be happy doing something creative. When I became bored as a graphic designer, I had an epiphany…”ordinary people” were becoming more aware of the value of interior design thanks to HGTV and shows like Trading Spaces. I realized there were a lot of resources for rich people, but not a lot of budget-friendly services. I saw a niche in the market and took advantage. When my first guinnea pig client cried over her makeover like you see on TV, I knew I was on the right path. I could design the most fabulous logo as a graphic designer but it would never move anyone to tears! It might sound stupid, but I take a lot of pride in helping people…almost like a therapist. Improving people’s daily quality of life by improving their home environment is a really powerful experience.

4. When did you decide on this career?
Crazy story. I was watching American Chopper (don’t laugh–this was when it was new and interesting) and lamenting to my husband about how I hated my job. I pointed to the guys on the show and said, “that’s what I need–I need to find that thing that I love that other people don’t know how to do and they’ll pay me money for it.” Pretty common sensical, right? As soon as the words were out of my mouth, they aired a commercial for Trading Spaces and the light bulb went off. I’d been obsessed with home shows way before HGTV even existed…shows like The Furniture Guys, This Old House, Home Matters, Before/After…shows you’ve probably never even heard of. *Gulp–maybe they even aired before you were born.* I’d learned basic construction during my own experience with an old house I bought…my grandparents taught me how to do framing and that sort of thing. I’d always had a flair for decorating. To me, it was a natural combination of my graphic design skills and home improvement experience. I just applied my design principals in 3D.

5. How do you personally define success?
I think when you can point to something you’ve done and feel proud of it, whether it’s a school paper or designing a room, or whatever, that’s success. If your kids grow up to be thoughtful, happy, contributing people, that’s a success. I don’t necessarily put a dollar value on it. I feel successful just knowing I was able to leave the corporate world behind and create my own professional destiny.

6. What do you think it takes to be successful in this career?
I definitely think you have to have solid, formal, design education. I don’t think you can truly develop your talent without some sort of design degree. You have to have a ton of confidence in what you’re doing, because people can’t accept your advice if you’re not authoritative. You also need the confidence to handle criticism and problem-solving skills so you can adjust your design plan if a client doesn’t like something. You can’t take criticism personally. You are often somewhat of a therapist and relationship counselor, believe it or not. When couples are involved, you have to know how to help them reach compromises diplomatically.

7. What accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction in your life?
Moving to NYC when I was 25, had no job, and knew no one…and managing to rise to top of my profession in that town. Taking solo trips all over the world. Starting my own business and making it successful. Winning Best of Austin two years out of the five that I’ve been in business. Was the first person on both sides of my family to graduate from college. I’m proud that I waited a long time (37 yrs!) for just the right guy to marry. It was lonesome at times, but I’m infinitely glad I didn’t settle on that front. I’m also eternally grateful to have been blessed with a healthy, amazing, brilliant little girl.

8. What motivates you?
I get really excited about each new job and the creative challenges. I love the whole process of transformation…of taking something ugly and making it pretty, or taking something that isn’t working and make it functional. I’m motivated by that feeling you get when the client is excited and pleased with your work.

9. Do you handle conflict well?
Better ask my husband that 🙂 I think I do. Sometimes you’re called upon to resolve conflicts between clients and vendors/contractors, so you have to be able to resolve these issues effectively with as few war wounds as possible.

10. Have you eveer had conflict with a boss? How did you handle it?
Of course, no one comes through unscathed 🙂 Every client is my boss. If there are design conflicts, I try to be objective. Is this something I want because I like it or is it something I think is right for the client? I believe there are infinite number of possibilities in the design world, so I feel there’s always a solution that will make both the client happy and myself happy.

11. Do you handle pressure well?
I have high expectations for myself, so I tend to deal with a lot of self-inflicted pressure. At the end of the day, you just have to separate reasonable from unreasonable demands.

12. What is your greatest strength?
A strong sense of independence.

13. What is your greatest weakness?
Seriously can’t think of anything other than chocolate. It’s not that I’m so cocky, it’s just that once I thought “chocolate,” it was hard to think of anything else.

14. Why did you choose to attend your college?
Ugh, I wish I had better reasons. (a) I didn’t know anyone from my high school who was going there and I liked being different; (b) it was in-state so it was cheaper than going out of state; (c) my roommate (from the college my parents made me go to my freshman year) wanted to go there. It worked out though, because the school had a really amazing art program. I certainly hope my daughter makes more educated decisions about where she goes to school!

15. How has your education prepared you for your c
areer?
I learned so much about design and art. If you look at my work before/after college, it’s scary how much growth of talent there is. I don’t think you can quite develop your skills to their full potential any other way. It’s also important to be able to articulate yourself well with clients. People want you to know more about design than they do–this is why they pay you. It’s not enough to just “have a good eye.”

16. What were your favorite classes? Why?
Design, printmaking, art history. I loved the creativity of design/printmaking and learned so much from all three.

17. How much training do you think you need to become a productive employee?
I think the best training you can get to become a productive employee is to work for an entrepreneur or small business. If you work for chains or in corporate environments, you’re too far removed from the passion of the company. I worked for a number of small business owners in college and think this is a big reason why I have such a strong work ethic. When you work for yourself you have to push harder to make sure the money is flowing…you can’t just sit back and collect a paycheck. If you’re someone who learns from other people’s experiences, this can be a great environment to learn a lot in a short amount of time.

18. Why do you want to work in the interior design industry?
The transformative experience, helping people, the personal connections you make with clients.

19. Is money important to you?
It’s important to the extent that I want a house and a car and whatnot. I don’t feel the need to drive a fancy car or live in palatial digs. I really appreciate that in Austin I don’t feel compelled to “keep up with the Joneses” like people seem to need to do in other cities in Texas.

20. How much money do you need to make you happy?
For me, “enough” means my husband and I drive cars we’re not embarrassed to be seen in, we live in a house we enjoy, we can take the occasional vacation, we can afford health insurance, and we can afford to pay for the things we need and often the things we want…

One Comment

  1. frogponder August 14, 2009 at 12:28 am

    Interesting!! I had someone interview me like that too I'll have to ask her if she still has the paper.

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