Bachelor of Science in Interior Design, 1993
Current City: Fairfax, Virginia
Hometown: Long Island, New York and Baltimore, Maryland
Served as Assistant Pledge Master and currently an Alumni Director.
Wellbe Bartsma: What did you pursue after graduation? Where did your career take you?
Michele LeTourneur: After graduation, which was during a recession, it was hard to find a job. I took a no pay, full-time internship for a firm in downtown Baltimore. After 3 months I was then offered a full-time job at another company, so I took it. I got married to another Alpha Rho Chi brother from Vitruvius in 1996, moved to the Washington, DC metro area, and have been doing Interior Design ever since.
WB: What was the breaking point when starting a firm was the only answer?
ML: I became frustrated with the current job I had at the time, I also didn’t like how you had to sneak around and have numerous ‘doctors’ appointments’ when interviewing for other companies. I ended up quitting this current job and stayed home so I can freely look for other work. One of my friend’s offices was expanding and offered me a position. As I was working at my friend’s company, I got hired by another client to do some work for them, and then another client, and so on. These multiple side jobs eventually turned into me having my own interior design firm. Currently I have two interns, one of them, Gavin, is from Olynthius, and another who is part-time. We specialize in commercial architecture and interior architecture.
WB: What type of work and dedication did it take to start up your own firm, and about how long was the process?
ML: While working at home, I was talking to a colleague who was a project manager at their own firm. He started telling brokers about me, and then they started calling me and asking me to bid on work. This is how I ended up getting work for my company; I never really marketed. I never really liked the idea of marketing. The way I get work is on my company’s good reputation.
WB: What’s your typical workload?
ML: For a company of 1 full-time and 1 part-time employees, even one or two jobs can be a lot. Last year I had 12 jobs, now I have six that are in construction so in a couple months I will have to start looking for more work. Any overtime and deadlines is all me, so I need to manage my time efficiently. Through experience, I believe that six to seven projects is a good number for us, even though it can be very inconsistent at times. For instance, one of our jobs is an office expansion, three are 4,000 square foot offices, and two are 15,000 square foot offices, so our work scopes can vary.
WB: Are you glad you started your own company?
ML: I will never go back to work for someone else. I know what I’m doing, but I of course still make mistakes. After working for myself so long and doing things my way, it would be hard to go back and do it someone else’s way. Having my own company allows me to be more flexible with my time, like having the time to teach classes at universities. There are also some negatives about having my own company. For example, I am on the clock all the time and it can be hard to turn off being available. I’ve had to learn to not answer my phone or check company email on the weekends. Having your own firm has great potential if you are self-disciplined and have a lot of experience, I would have never started my own firm with less than 15 years. I don’t regret having my own company, and I’m happy I did it. That said, I don’t feel a huge sense of satisfaction or feeling of accomplishment that it happened because it happened to me in a way, it wasn’t something predetermined. You can get the same amount of satisfaction and accomplishment by not having your own business, too.
WB: Where do you see your company going in the future? What are your long term goals
ML: The long-term goals are to work less, but I would then make less, which I am ok with given my other commitments. I like to touch every aspect of interior architecture and seeing it through to completion. I have been working for 22 years which has gained me a lot of knowledge even though i still continue to refine my tasks in the company. I had a lot of high goals when I was younger, but now i’d rather live my life then focus solely on my career, not visa versa.
WB: You’ve also been very active in getting other alumni together, regardless of chapter affiliation. How did this come about?
ML: In the early ‘90s, a lot of Brothers started moving to the DC area from other chapters, which is also how I met my husband. The Metagenes Alumni Association was pretty active in the DC area and we started an annual summer picnic that eventually grew into inviting any brother in the area. In some years, we can have as little as 15 brothers present and as large as 50 but typically we have between 25-30. Now the picnic has become a summer tradition and I enjoy meeting all the new brothers that come to his area and now with Hemiunu and Olynthius we have student brothers too which is fantastic.
WB: Besides Alpha Rho Chi and work, what do you do in your free time?
ML: Until last year, I taught classes for interior designers at the George Washington University in the graduate program. I’ve also taught at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and the Maryland Institute College of Art. Besides teaching, I am a Girl Scout troop leader and a mother of two. I loved teaching students and continue to be in contact with many and have become a mentor to some of them. I see the students I taught as the strongest contribution to my industry.
WB: Do you have any advice for any young professionals out there who dream of opening up their own firm in the future?
ML: My advice is that you don’t focus on glory or the end goal; owning your own business is a constant stress. First, get experience on every aspect of a project. There is a vast amount of knowledge to learn and you will often find something else you are really good at. The more you learn, the more valuable you are. I would say to work for 10 years, learn all aspects, then decide if you want to open your own firm and where you want to go. Also, don’t get the notion that you are better than your job – life experience will teach you more than a 3-credit class you took in college. I think that the route I did in my career was the exact route I should have taken. Good architects and interior designers know all aspects of their projects. A designer who hasn’t built a space is not aware of how to make it better.