Q: What university or college did you go to and what did you study?
A: I attended McGill University, in Montreal, and did a double major in Political Science & English Cultural Studies. I also attended Lasalle College International, in Vancouver, for Interior Design.
Q: How did you land in your industry and where you are now?
A: I took a long and windy road to arrive at Interior Design. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated from McGill, so I tried different career paths. For me, trial and error were integral to understanding where my true passions lied.
First, I tried teaching as I was considering applying to Teacher’s college but wasn’t ready to commit. I also had the itch to travel and improve my language skills. And so, after a few months of working retail and living at home, I traveled to Spain and taught ESL for 2 years – after which time I decided teaching wasn’t for me. I was grateful to have tried it before spending time and money on more school. My time in Spain was an incredible life experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
After completing my teaching contract in southern Spain, I decided to return to Canada but wasn’t ready to move back to Toronto. So, I applied to film school in Vancouver and then settled there for 4 years where I studied and worked as an actor. My biggest passion as a child was the theatre and it was always nagging at me, so I needed to give it a shot. I got an agent and worked as an actor while waitressing to pay the bills for a few years. I had some success but ultimately recognized that I wasn’t passionate enough to really pursue acting for the long haul. There was too much uncertainty for me. I came to realize that I was passionate about communication, performing, and television. I wanted more control over my career and my future.
This decision led me back to school, a student once again, for interior design. I completed a diploma at the age of 28 when most of my friends already had their “good” and established corporate jobs. I felt “behind” but also settled knowing that I had tried other avenues and passions before finally settling into what has turned out to be a dream career.
After I graduated design school, I returned to Toronto where I worked as a designer’s assistant for nearly 5 years before going out on my own. I launched Rebecca Hay Designs in 2013 and right away had the opportunity to merge my passion for television with my work as a designer on HGTV. I designed for The Property Brothers and then for Scott McGillivray on Income Property. Since then, I have been running a full-service interior design firm in Toronto, servicing new construction, full home renovations, and furnishings, throughout the GTA and cottage country.
Q: What’s your greatest piece of advice for those looking to break into your industry?
A: Be prepared to work hard and do the small jobs to get your foot in the door. Persistence is everything. Join Facebook groups and attend industry events or virtual programs where you can meet other people in the industry. It’s so much about networking and finding the right opportunities to let your talents shine. Be prepared to intern or even volunteer to gain experience and contacts.
Q: Who do you look up to in the interior design/design arena?
A: There are so many designers I look up to. I have always loved Sarah Richardson. I think what she has done as a businesswoman and leader is amazing. She has a loyal team and that says a lot about someone. I also love Kimberley Seldon and admire what she has done with her career and how she gives back to the design community. I too, love to share my experience and give back and so she has truly inspired me to also pursue this passion for teaching.
Q: What do you love most about what you do? What do you find most challenging?
A: I love hunting for vintage and unique finds, playing with fabrics, and seeing a project pull together at the finish line. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, this is the smallest part of my job! The most challenging part can be the people component. It can be difficult to work with clients when they are unhappy or have different ideas than we do. It’s also challenging to deal with trades that don’t see eye to eye. SO much of what I do is managing expectations. Communication is the most important skill in this business. It’s a people business more than anything else.
Q: Favourite quote?
A: “The details are not the details. They make the design.” – Charles Eames
Q: If you weren’t an interior designer, running her own firm, what would you be doing?
A: A personal and business coach. I have learned sooo much about business and mindset along the way. In fact, I’ve started doing this on the side to help other budding designers learn from my mistakes and share my knowledge on what works – and what doesn’t – when growing a design firm.
Q: What do you look for in new hires for your team?
A: Personality & organizational skills. Honestly, there are so many great designers out there, but I am always on the lookout for someone who presents themselves well, who can read the room and adapt their behavior, as required, by the situation. They will need to be able to deal with clients on my behalf. They also must be supremely organized and have keen attention to detail.
Q: What is a common question you are asked when being interviewed for an interior design project by a potential client?
A: How much will it cost? HAHA. I sometimes wish I could just say… “it will cost what it costs”! But in all honesty, most clients are concerned about staying within budget and with the time frame. they are much less worried that we will make it beautiful. Anyone can make a space beautiful, it’s your process and ability to stay on budget that they will remember.
Q: In your opinion, how important is hands-on learning in interior design to be successful?
A: Extremely important! School, alone, did not prepare me for the chaos of running a design project or managing client expectations. All the important skills that set me apart I learned first-hand on-site. Time management is critical, but managing multiple design and decor projects is nothing like managing a class and exam schedule. It is so layered, and you need to be ready to change direction at a moment’s notice. It’s very fast-paced and the only thing that can prepare you for that is through hands-on experience.
*If you feel inspired by Rebecca’s story, please feel free to share it with your family, friends, and peers. We could also use some inspiration these days, and success stories like these prove that with a little vision, hard work, persistence, and gained experience anything is possible and every graduate can fulfill their potential. (But, we think Muhammad Ali, put it best when he said, “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”)