DESIGNING WOMAN: Jennifer Adams explains how she created her prized interior design brand and how you can too

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Jennifer Adams explains how she created her prized interior design brand and how you can too

Jennifer Adams may have gotten paid a pittance to clean houses for a living when she was growing up, but today, she has earned millions for decorating them. Adams grew up so poor that she had to help her mother literally make furniture for their 1,000 sq. ft. Oregon home. She was the oldest of four children and started a housekeeping service with her sister in high school making $50 per job. Realizing her passion for designing beautiful spaces, she worked as a receptionist to pay her way through design school, and by age 23, she opened her own interior design firm.

The former lead designer on HGTV’s “My First Place” and the current design expert on Hallmark Channel’s “The Better Show,” Adams says, “A lot of women don’t have the confidence to believe that they can start their own business while men, for some reason, feel more confidence in their business or their idea.”

Getting past the “mental stereotyping,” as Adams calls it, or overcoming our own mental barriers, and having confidence and perseverance are the biggest challenges to female entrepreneurs. “Women tend to believe that when they do start their own business, that they’re not going to be a good enough mom or a good enough wife or a good enough partner. That’s something I hear continually.”

While she hasn’t had children yet, the 40-year-old married designer says it’s something she still considers. “I don’t think you have to sacrifice [having a family], though. I do think it’s more of a mental thing, and there are ways you can do it and make it work. There are so many women who do. Look at Sarah Palin. She has five kids. You can do it and keep your family intact. I think the kids will be better off for it because the kids will learn from their mom’s entrepreneurial spirit, especially in empowering the girls.”

Adams feels that female entrepreneurs have more of a “unique path” than men, in part, due to the additional insecurities and guilt many women, especially mothers, have in trying to become successful in business. This is why she believes that having positive, supportive people around is pivotal for businesswomen.

“My sister and I used to sleep in the same bed together, and we cleaned houses together… We did every single thing together.” Still, she had to branch out on her own in business.

With little support, she launched her award-winning interior decorating firm in 1999. “When I started my interior design business, everybody knew I had been the receptionist the day before,” she recalls. “You shouldn’t look to your family, friends, and the people closest to you to support your new business. They’re too close to you. Look for other people in the field or the trade.”

At the beginning of her career, Adams admits that she second-guessed herself. “There were times like I think every woman goes through in their career, when we ask, ‘Am I on the right path? Is there something more that I should be doing? Is there something different I should be doing?’ We all have roadblocks…We all have extremely scary moments, no matter what. During those times, it so easy to bail and think that the grass is greener.”

She says there were so many times she felt “burned out,” but the solution wasn’t in abandoning her career. Instead, it lay in adjusting her course. I would think, ‘Where is my next client going to come from?’ I had those years for so long…When I would get to a real burnout phase, I’d go back to my goal-setting, journaling, and vision-boarding. I would write, ‘What is it that I really like to do and what is it that I don’t like to do? What do I really want for myself?’ I would also sit down with different mentors. A lot of older people who have been successful are usually willing to sit down with you and give you their time. They are a world of knowledge.”

At one point, she thought about being a real estate agent, and she even went to real estate school. What she realized in hashing out her thoughts is that she didn’t need a new career, but rather she needed to “delegate” so she was no longer doing some of the things she doesn’t like to do. She needed to focus instead on what she is good at doing. “It was a scary step to bring in more qualified people than I am in certain areas. When I did, then my business started to flourish.”

Here is something she says she learned: “If you hire people who have the same skillset as you, your business will never grow. If you hire people who have a unique skillset to yours, totally different, your company will grow.” That’s the best advice Adams says she was ever given.

“Oh my gosh,” she realized one day, “I have a bunch of me’s. Now, I hardly have anybody like me. Everybody is different, and it makes it so much better. Now I can really do the stuff that I love to do and not the stuff I don’t like to do.”

She proudly declares, “I’m so grateful that I stayed the course.” In 2009, she expanded her offerings to include her own signature, high-quality bedding, furniture, fabrics, and rugs.

“You can make your career what you want without [escaping] the industry you’re in.” She admittedly got emerged in being in people’s homes and the design aspect, so she started delegating that part of her business. “I’m really into the products that I bring into people’s homes and providing inspirational information for people to make home improvements on their own as opposed to me going in their homes and doing it. “

In focusing on helping people find the tools to do it themselves, she says, “I offer good solutions and practical products in the marketplace, and I love that.”



Inexpensive ways people can design their living space:


  1. Get rid of clutter. A lot of times people’s homes don’t look good because they have so much stuff in there. They have to strip it down and lose the emotional attachment to the items. Get the space cleaned up and organized before you bring in any new things or begin to change anything. Start with a blank slate.


  1. Paint or repurpose furniture. People get intimidated by this because they think you’re not supposed to paint or hurt wood. Chalk painting, for instance, is easy to do and it can quickly transform a wooden bed, nightstand, dresser or table. Simply changing the hardware is another solution for upgrading or enhancing a piece.


  1. Decorate the walls. Frame pieces of fabric or wallpaper that you love or even pictures from books and magazines. For instance, matching the fabric you have on pillows, putting the fabric in picture frames, and then hanging them on a wall, will create a unified room. In general, hang a series of pictures, 12 or so, with the same theme in one room. Adams has framed recipe cards in her kitchen.


  1. Reupholster chairs. Adams says this can be done in five minutes. In fact, it’s one of the easiest most inexpensive DIY room enhancements.


“Buy the best quality that you can afford,” Adams suggests. “Vintage is so chic now, so people can go to vintage shops, flea markets, garage sales, and online resources for vintage pieces. People can get a better quality, higher-end piece for a lesser price than some of the retail stores. Dig before you just go to buy something brand new. Be creative and don’t be afraid to repurpose or refinish pieces.”

An admitted online shopping addict but not a brand enthusiast, her favorite sites besides her own (www.jenniferadamshome.com) include:


  • One Kings Lane
  • Restoration Hardware



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