How this Tennessee designer handles client billing fatigue

The 50 States Project is a yearlong series of candid conversations with interior designers, state by state, about how they’ve built their businesses. Today, we’re chatting with Nashville, Tennessee–based Laura Thurman about why the timing of her bill matters just as much as the amount, how she sets interns up for success, and why she doesn’t want to play the influencer game.

What was your path to starting your own firm?
I always wanted to be a professional dancer—I danced for 10 years, went to a performing arts high school, and wanted to go to a performing arts college and then join a professional dance company and travel the world. But like every athlete, I knew that you can’t do that forever, so I always thought that I’d be a designer [after dancing]. That was always plan B.

But when I had to decide which college to go to, I had to choose between a school that specializes in interior design versus dance—they’re not going to be in the same arena. I knew what it would take to be at the top dancing, and I had a lot of successful dancer friends, but it was just a lot more than I wanted to give, so right then it was like, OK, I am going to do interior design. The college I picked—Woodbury University [in Burbank, near where] I grew up in L.A.—had an interior architecture program, and I got a five-year degree there.

After graduation, I didn’t have any intention of starting my own firm. My friends would ask all the time, “Are you going to go do your own thing?” And I was like, “Heck no! That’s so much work.” I was content to work for someone else for so long as I felt like my voice was being heard and I was continuing to learn and grow.

And you felt that way for a long time.
I worked for a few firms in L.A., then moved to Nashville, where I am now, and worked for two firms out here. But ultimately, I outgrew it.

How did you know it was time?
As designers, we’re all so opinionated. It’s our job to have an opinion. So it’s really hard when you can’t [make the final decision] because you’re not the boss. I felt like I had a good voice, a gifted voice, and it wasn’t being heard. So it just kind of transpired naturally. There are firms that have employees who have been there 10 years [or more], and I’m always fascinated by that—because that means you’ve found a very special synergy to keep that going. It takes a very special group of creative people to work cohesively and effectively together.

How long did it take to lay the groundwork to start the firm?
It took a couple of months. My boss already knew I wanted to go out on my own—it wasn’t a secret. She actually beat me to the punch—I was planning on quitting the next couple of weeks when she laid me off. So that was it. I sent out emails to all the clients to let them know that the winds had shifted, I no longer worked there, and they should direct their emails to her. Then some people called and were like, “What the heck? What are…

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