Top 5 things I learned this decade

Ok, a decade is a long time. Ten years ago I was rocking my best top from forever 21, bad hair extensions, and a lot of student loan debt. To give you a little more perspective, in 2010, I had just gotten married and was living in an apartment with my husband. Our lives were different. We lived paycheck to paycheck and our biggest triumph that year was scoring an apartment by the beach with a washer and dryer inside. (If you know, you know- this is kind of a big deal.) My husband was just starting out in his career, and so was I. We were adorably young, dumb and wrinkle-free. (And still eating carbohydrates without worry.)

When a decade wraps up, I think it makes you want to look back and really ponder all of that time carefully. For me, there have been so many changes and so much growth each and every year, it would be hard (and probably boring) to put it all in to a single blog post. To save you from my endless rambling, and because studies show people love a good “Top 5”- here are the five things I took away from the last decade that I thought would resonate most with you guys.

Designer styling Living Room
I am always working. Photo by Lauren Pressey


In 2010 I was 29 and working as a design assistant’s assistant. I had a degree they didn’t care about from USC in business (not design) and I had just left a pretty lucrative corporate gig to be a fabric sample gofer. More than one person told me it was too late in my life to change my mind. I had already selected my “path” in life, and changing that trajectory would be a disaster. Not only did I disagree, but since I hate being told what to do, I had to prove them wrong. I am actually pretty vocal about my story, so I get these questions a lot. “How did you transition?” “How did you get the good design jobs?” The answer to that is that I didn’t. I ate a lot of top ramen, I learned everything I could from the designer I worked for, and I worked really, really hard. Then, I took little side projects until I realized that on the weekends I was making more money doing said side projects than I was working for that designer. This sounds simple, but it wasn’t. I worked every day. Nights and weekends too, and the projects I took were hardly ideal. The moral to this story is that it’s never too late to change your mind, but you better be prepared to work for it.

Farmhouse Kitchen
My very first published project. I learned so much professionally and personally on this one. Photo by Amy Bartlam.


Remember when your biggest life problem was another girl having the same prom dress as you? I know, it happened to me too- and at the time it was earth shattering. This is that concept, but bigger. A year can change everything. This has resonated with me in my personal life as well as my business career. A project you didn’t get, or a custom sofa that was made incorrectly may seem like it will break you, but when you look back a year later you realize it taught you something about yourself you may have not known before. Whenever I am struggling with something personally or professionally I really try to keep this in mind. Now, after living this mantra for a solid 10 years, I can absolutely say that reminding yourself of this when you think something is going to break you helps you get through it and reminds you that sure enough, a learning experience is on the other side.

Clients who trust you and the process are a game-changer. Photo by Gray Malin.


This is probably one of the most important things I learned over the past decade. You can’t always rely on people (or clients) to know your worth, respect your time, or trust the process. In my design firm, setting a clear outline of “how we work” before clients sign on, was a game changer for us. Not only do we talk about business hours, billing minimums and budgets upfront, but we also discuss our polices on shopping, how we present our design concepts, and our delivery and installation process. All of this now happens before our clients sign on, so that there is a clear line of communication and a set process from the beginning. This has completely changed the game for us and I find that having those tougher conversations upfront creates a dynamic of mutual respect throughout the project. Maybe in 2020 we’ll make t-shirts that say “Trust the process” and had them out with our welcome packet. Not sure, but it’s always a good reminder, so I am thinking about it.

Just do you… and own it! Photo by Amy Bartlam.


I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but stop looking at other people and asking yourself why you are not as pretty, wise, or successful as someone else. It’s draining and exhausting and an absolute and utter waste of time. It is one thing to admire someone, but another to compare. With social media always showing perfect snapshots of everyone’s lives, it’s virtually impossible to know if you are comparing your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 10. My advice is to save your envy energy and channel in into killing your own game. In fact, a few months ago I was speaking to a group of up-and-coming designers and one of them said, “Ok, please tell me the secret to having Kate Lester confidence…?! It’s like you give ZERO fu*ks about what everyone else is doing.” I laughed, and then thought about putting that on my business card because it’s true. I believe that if you do you, and the rest will follow. Wake up, work hard, do better. Every single day.

Me, circa 2019.


When I look back, what I’m probably most proud of is coming into my own this decade. As I started my company I constantly struggled with what MY style looked like or what MY niche would be. I didn’t think I looked like a typical interior designer. I hated fancy pantsuits and heels, and my hair was never perfect. I was a beach girl at heart, and wanted to create spaces that felt curated, not decorated. Quickly, I discovered that my candor and casual demeanor resonated with my clients, and they even found my lack of filter “hilarious” (thank. God.) My work got better, because it reflected me- not another designer or a vision in my mind of someone I was supposed to be. The bottom line is, I curse too much, I love a good Target find, and I have an obsession with ridiculously expensive handbags. I am an anomaly who doesn’t fit into any one box, and that’s ok. I speak my truth, create spaces that I am proud of, and keep looking forward. To prove this to you below is my headshot from 2011, and above is an image taken in 2019. I’ve come a LONG way.

OMG me, circa 2011. Wow.

I compiled this list because, well, I love lists. But for real- I hope it resonates and you take something from it. I’ve made so many mistakes, but learned so much in the past ten years, it’s crazy to look back on it all. This decade maybe I’ll slow down. I’ll work less and rest a little… haha yea right. I already have some amazing new adventures planned for 2020 and I hope you do too! Happy New Year! xo k.

Kate Lester Interiors