Today we’d like to introduce you to Leah Atkins.
Leah, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I have a piece of paper from when I was in second grade that asked the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. I had written down “interior designer”. I’m not sure exactly where that answer came from, but I like to think that it was from my mom encouraging my creativity and allowing me to redecorate my bedroom when I would get tired of the wall color or decor.
It was always my dream to be a designer and own my own business. I was lucky enough that when I was in high school, they introduced an interior design course. I immediately jumped on the opportunity and added it to my schedule. I excelled in the class, and this only confirmed my dream.
I went to a university and obtained a four year degree in interior design. I always told myself that no matter what, I didn’t want to work at a furniture store. During my senior year, I was driving down from Tennessee to Atlanta for interviews with one company. I think I made three separate trips to interview with them as well as completed an example project. In the end, they told me that “they didn’t have enough money in their budget to bring on a new employee”.
Of course, I ended up working at a furniture store. I was there for a few months before selling furniture to a couple that wanted help designing their nursery. I had no idea what to charge or how to start, but I was so excited about the opportunity that I couldn’t say no. They were so kind as to trust me and work alongside me as I figured everything out. I ended up completing their nursery and master bedroom, then another nursery, sitting room, bathroom, and kitchen. The husband was a lawyer and he ended up helping me start my own business, officially forming an LLC and reaching my lifelong goal of owning my own interior design firm. I honestly owe everything to them!
Less than a year after graduating college and starting my job at the furniture store, my business was doing well enough that I was able to quit my job and support my husband and I as he attended grad school. He was also a huge help in getting everything up and running by working as the office manager in his free time (not that there was much of it!). My favorite part of the story is that on the last day of my job at the furniture store, I got a call from the firm I had interviewed at the year before saying they would love to hire me. I was thrilled to be able to tell them that it was too late, and I had already started my own business!
A couple of years after that, I was so busy that I needed to bring on another designer. I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard that one of my former roommates and fellow interior design majors in college had moved to Atlanta, and I immediately called her up. Kaila has been working with us for four years now, and we couldn’t do it without her! All of the clients love working with her, and she brings such positive energy to the business. Now, we are well known in the Atlanta community and have been featured in several publications as well as an episode of HGTV House Hunters Renovation. I absolutely love this community, and it has truly supported me and my business on every step of this journey.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Some of the biggest challenges for me, in the beginning, were having to prove myself at such a young age. I had to prove to people that, at 23 years old, I was capable of owning my own business, and I was capable of designing their home from beginning to end. Even though interior design is a women led industry, it can still be a challenge to be a young woman and be the boss. I have had to make sure that all of my vendors and contractors (mostly male) know that I am in charge and I get the final say. This industry teaches you to stand up for yourself and your worth. It also teaches you that when an older male client questions your capability and the necessity for your services, he isn’t worth your time. I have definitely had to learn how to turn down projects that aren’t right for us, and sometimes that means even putting mental health above profit.
Leah Atkins Design – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are a full service interior design firm based in Atlanta. We do everything from furniture and decor selection to completing new builds with architects and contractors. We are known for designing to the client’s style instead of our own. When someone walks into a client’s house, I don’t want to hear that it looks like “Leah Atkins”. I want to hear that it feels like the client, that it envelops them in an overall feeling of the client’s personality and who they are. We love getting to know our clients, and they often become great friends! So many things set us apart from other designers in the area, but I think one thing is truly how young we are. We have been in business for six years now, but I got started early on in my career. I think this gives us an edge above others and allows us to see things in a different light.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I define success as being happy. Of course, success also means being financially independent, but to me the biggest marker that I am successful in life is my happiness. In the future, I also hope that success means I have time to run my own business as well as spend plenty of time with my children and family. If I can do those two things in unison, then I will be truly happy and successful in all that I do.
- Website: www.leahatkinsdesign.com
- Phone: 770-676-2796
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: leahatkinsdesign
- Facebook: leahatkinsdesign
Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn, Interior Shots
Todd Hull, Portrait