An interior designer based in Pittsburgh, Colleen DAILY Simonds ’95
is known for her ability to mix playful patterns and vibrant colors to create beautiful, bold spaces
for her clients. A former merchandiser with Gap and J.Crew, Colleen chose to switch career paths, leave New York City, and pursue a creative career back in her hometown.
Check out Colleen's After Fifth Ave. session, Taking the Creative Road
, to hear her talk about pursuing a creative career, starting her own business, and all things interior design!
B.A. French, B.S. Economics, Duke University; Associates Program Interior Design, Parsons the New School of Design
How did you get into your line of work?
I'm an Interior Designer or you can call me a decorator, that's fine too! My first career was in fashion/retail as a buyer—I started at Gap Inc. in San Francisco right after college in an Executive Training program. I worked there for five years, then moved to New York City to do the same job at J.Crew. I worked there for seven years, working in Women's Merchandising and eventually running the Women's Division and Wedding Division. I left as I was having my first child and decided to do a two year program at Parsons in interior design.
Somehow I got my first client, and just started working, but it was part-time at first and kind of a slow burn. We moved to Pittsburgh almost four years ago and I've been working solo here since then. There is a lot of crossover between fashion and interior design so the career change isn't totally unorthodox, a lot of the same skills apply.
Is there a project or accomplishment in your career that you’re most proud of?
I would say our house here in Pittsburgh, which we renovated for over two years. It was a massive undertaking and my first big renovation. Not to mention, the first time I lived in an actual house as opposed to an apartment! So I only knew what I knew at the beginning, but I learned a lot along the way, and, having total creative freedom on a project is wonderful. This was my first press in a national magazine
which was exciting as well.
What do you like the most about interior design?
Being creative and figuring out all the pieces of the puzzle because that's all interior design really is. Every room is just a puzzle that you're trying to put together and figure out. Looking at beautiful fabrics and colors together, imagining and visualizing how spaces will transform, and ultimately seeing it all come together in the end. I love styling spaces for photoshoots and making them look good! I absolutely adore color and could probably talk about it all day. I find great joy shopping and finding things and sourcing, which is a huge part of this job. Ultimately, it's rewarding to create spaces and houses for clients who really appreciate what you do—a client telling me how happy their house or space makes them feel is fantastic.
What do you think is the biggest lesson that can be applied from your line of work to everyday life?
The biggest lesson is that environments matter. How you feel in a space matters, and design has the power to make you feel a certain way which is incredible. I think we've all learned this lesson tenfold as we've been stuck in our houses all year—your house needs to function well and it should make you happy. It should be comfortable and cocooning and feel like a refuge from the world. Your house or your space is a HUGE part of everyday life, so invest in it. What could be more worth it?
We often talk about girls developing into changemakers at Ellis, what does that mean to you? How are you a changemaker?
I think we all have the capacity to be changemakers by developing a strong point of view. That can apply to anything and everything, whatever it is you do. I like to think I am bringing something unique to the table, at least in interior design. I don't want my work to look like anyone else's, I think that's boring. But there's a lot of noise out there and so much information and 'content' coming at everyone from all sides—it's hard to not feel overwhelmed or be constantly comparing yourself to others. So I just try to stay very true to my own instincts, talents, and taste and go from there. I think everyone's power to drive change starts there.
What is the most important lesson you learned at Ellis?
I loved my time at Ellis, I learned to work hard there and I believe that paid off. I learned that I could try things and take risks and all of it was okay. I’ve never really felt scared to take any chances. Most of all, I learned what it means to have incredible lifelong female friendships and relationships. I cannot imagine my life without my Ellis crew, I just can't. This is the stuff that really matters in life and I am unbelievably fortunate to have the kinds of close friendships I do. I believe Ellis brought us together and I just don't think I would have formed these relationships at any other place.