Colleen Lora’s down-to-earth approach has made her a success in the interior design field, an industry not often regarded as being down-to-earth. "Beauty doesn’t have to be expensive," said Lora, owner of Colleen Lora Designs in New Albany. "Design should be obtainable for just about anybody. You don’t have to spend $50,000."She said that when she first meets with a potential client she wants to make sure they have a good personal relationship.
"I want to make sure they like me because we’ll be communicating so much," said Lora.
In a similar vein, she also takes the approach with clients that they don’t have to follow what’s trendy to have a nice looking home.
"A lot of people want to follow trends rather than what they really like. ‘Is that color in?’ It doesn’t matter, if you love it, it’s in," Lora said.
Though she’s always had an interest in interior design, her career didn’t start out that way.
A native of a small northeastern Ohio town, Lora earned her bachelor of arts degree in Youngstown State University.
She then worked in marketing and, for 12 years, as a lobbyist in Columbus for various organizations.
But closing in on 40 she decided it was time for a career change and turned to a passion she’s held since she was in eighth grade and redecorated her bedroom, helping her father with the wallpapering.
"For creative people, it’s just in you. You’re always creative and I was always drawing and things like that," said Lora.
Eventually she left her lobbyist job and aligned with an interior decorating franchise. Four years later she decided to go out on her own, which has allowed her more flexibility on pricing and options for buying products – she thinks it’s important to support local businesses.
"In the beginning it was tough, but now I’d say about 80 percent of my business is referral, by word of mouth," said Lora. "I’m a firm believer in marketing and networking, but you get spread so thin."
Early on she realized her strengths and weaknesses and soon hired someone to take care of her bookkeeping, calling it "one of my best decisions."
While she loves the decorating, the paperwork side of running the business is less enjoyable, Lora said.
"The paperwork was a big shocker. The paperwork in this job is unbelievable, with purchase orders and something’s always being damaged (in shipping) it seems. You really have to think on your feet," she said.
Another decision she’s glad she made is to have her own studio, in the building that was the first home to Bath & Body Works, as opposed to working out of her home, as many other interior designers do.
She said one of the biggest mistakes homeowners make is learning "scale," often buying furniture without measuring for space and the furniture eventually takes up too much space in a room.
Insufficient lighting is another common mistake among homeowners, she said.
"You don’t just flip on the overhead light. By lighting everything you’re not lighting anything," Lora said.
Instead, she recommends three sources of light in most rooms and table lamps should be taller than what many people have.
In the past couple of years, Lora noted, she has seen more clients scale back on their design projects, doing one room instead of perhaps an entire floor in order to save money.
Lately she’s been getting a lot of requests for family rooms and bedrooms.
As for making recommendations and giving advice, it’s not something she generally just gives away.
"Sometimes people want you to come out for free, but it’s not my hobby. It’s my job and I take my job seriously," said Lora.
She said that like most other industries her business has suffered from the economy, but in recent months she’s seen an increase in interest, which she hopes bodes well for the future.