Colleen DAILY Simonds '95, Interior Designer

Colleen DAILY Simonds is a Class of 1995 alumna and Ellis Board of Trustees member who recently moved back to the Steel City after thirteen years in the Big Apple. Following graduation from Duke University, Colleen pursued a career in merchandising which led her to positions at retail powerhouses, Gap Inc. and J.Crew. After seven years at J.Crew where she ultimately ended up running their wedding and womenswear divisions, she took a leap of faith and started her own interior design business. Now that she’s back in Pittsburgh for good, Colleen is figuring out what’s next for her business, while juggling life with two kids and overseeing the renovations and design of her family’s new Shadyside home.
Years at Ellis:Grade 9 to Grade 12
Location:Pittsburgh, PA
Occupation:Interior Designer
Education:B.A. French, B.S. Economics, Duke University

Why did you decide to leave retail and pursue interior design?
I have always been fascinated by entrepreneurs and business ownership, so I knew someday I wanted to work for myself. At the time, I was pregnant with my first child and knew I wouldn’t have the flexibility I wanted if I stayed in retail. So I decided to get my Interior Design Certificate from the Parsons School of Design.

How did your retail merchandising background translate into your new venture as an interior designer?
There’s a huge amount of crossover between fashion and interiors. Design is a lot about color, proportion, and style and so is fashion. My background in womenswear definitely propelled me towards interior design. At J.Crew, I learned a lot about design because I was exposed to and influenced by people with really aspirational style and taste.

Tell me about your experience designing the Lower School lobby and Gallery at Ellis.
We did the Lower School lobby in a weekend and the Gallery in a week, both on a pretty small budget. The experience really proved to me the power a space can have. People were so excited to see the change, even when it was just a coat of white paint on the walls! I like the problem solving aspect of design and figuring out the puzzle of what we can afford, what goes where. Ellis gave me a lot of creative freedom, so it was a really fun project that meant a lot to me because of the connection I have to the School.

How did Ellis shape the person you are today?
Ellis laid the groundwork for everything. During high school, I felt very safe and didn’t worry about what people thought of me. At Ellis, I never hesitated to get involved, and instead of shying away from opportunities, I seized them. Ellis taught me to be a leader and paved the way for me to go to Duke, which then prepared me to be successful in my career. It all started for me at Ellis.

How did you become involved with Ellis again after graduation as a Board member?
Director of Alumnae Affairs Elizabeth (Liz) SUCCOP Altman ‘70 asked me to be on the National Board of Alumnae Visitors about ten years ago. I was on that for a few years before I was asked to join the Board of Trustees, which has been a huge honor. I have loved being part of this group of smart, dynamic, and interesting people who I don’t think I would have met otherwise. It’s been so important and inspiring to re-engage with Ellis in this capacity.

Do you have a mentor? How has that relationship benefited you professionally? Can you tell me about him or her?
My first boss at The Gap, Jen Foyle. I moved to J.Crew with her in New York after she decided to leave The Gap and the West Coast. She always said, “you get more bees with honey,” which taught me that you can be friendly and have fun, and still advance and be successful in your career. She is incredibly smart, talented, and supportive, and has been my number one cheerleader and fan throughout my professional life. She would leave voicemails for the CEO of J.Crew telling him about good ideas I had, just to make sure I got that visibility and credit. She always had my back 100 percent and we are still great friends today.

For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Appreciate what you have at Ellis. I could not be more thankful for the opportunities that Ellis awarded me, and once you’re in the “real world” it becomes a lot more apparent how much Ellis does for its students. From the relationships you form, to the teachers who guide you and care so much about your success, Ellis built the foundation of who I am today.

What lessons has your professional path taught you?
How satisfying it is to do something you love. When you do something you’re passionate about, work hard, and surround yourself with a great team, it is a huge confidence builder.

What are you proudest of?

My kids, John, 5 and George, 3.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Creative. Opinionated. Loyal.