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Interior Design

Ryan Saghian

A Story of Love

Ryan Saghian

Location: Ryan’s Office, West Hollywood
Date: Friday, 2/7/2020
Title: Interior Design. A Story Of Love.
Profession: Interior Designer

Q & A

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do for a living?

My name is Ryan Saghian and I’m an interior designer based in LA.  I am a first generation Iranian American Jew.  I’ve been working in interior design for 13 years, which is a long time for a 27 year old, but I started when I was 15.  I’m obsessed with what I do. I am what I do. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

I have my own furniture line. We do wallpaper. We do plates.  We want to start doing rugs and bedding. We want to take over every aspect of design one day.

My style is a mix of California Modernism meets Hollywood Glamour. Take a mid-century modern home, throw in a maximalist decor, and old Hollywood persona. I’m not colorful, I’m very monochromatic, I like contemporary, but I don’t like too streamline modern.  I like layers and layers and layers, and I like telling a curated high end story.

What’s your backstory and what led you to Interior Design?

During my adolescent years everyone was playing video games on PlayStation 2, but my game was the Sims. The Sims was a game that allows you to basically build and design homes for virtual people.  I had every Sims you could imagine and I would play pretty much every day up until I was 15.  I liked perfecting floor plans and creating people.

I wasn’t your “normal” male teenager. I was very different.  I was very artistic. At the time, nobody in my community really knew how to treat me. I wasn’t doing what most teenagers were doing, and as a result I felt like I was missing something. I started filling that void with work at a very young age.  It was the only thing that made me feel valuable.

I remember watching an episode of Tori Spelling’s reality show on Oxygen, where she was shopping at a famous couple’s interior design store called Woodson and Rummerfield House of Design.  I quickly wrote down the name and google’d it.  I found their website and emailed them saying I’m 15 years old and I have no experience in design, but I have to work for you.  I offered to sharpen pencils and clean toilets just so they would let me work at the store.

I started just by organizing their library and cleaning the office for free.  My mom would pick me up from school and drop me off at Woodson and Rummerfield.  After two years they finally hired me as an office assistant.  They helped me apply to the Art Institute of California, where I ended up studying design for 4 years.  I continued working at Woodson and Rummerfield and wore several hats – I was their personal assistant, office manager, design assistant coordinator etc.

At 21 years old I graduated with my Bachelors in Interior Architecture.  I started doing small projects for my friends on the side and my dad turned our backhouse into a studio for me.  He built my cabinetry for me and everything, and in 2013 I started my own firm.

What drives you?

 I hate ego.  Any time I’ve ever been sad it’s because of ego.  But I’d be lying if I said a part of my success doesn’t feed my ego.  With that said, there is a part of me that likes the recognition, the complements, and the attention. Do I think it’s pathetic to say that at times? Yes. But at the end of the day, we’re living a human experience and the ego does exist to some extent.

I cannot explain what it feels like when a client comes home and feels so happy because of my work.  Someone once asked me, “Do you think you do God’s work?”, and I have a spiritual answer to this.  I believe that God is the love within you. I don’t believe there’s a God up in the sky looking at you and judging you.  I really believe it’s a love within you.  When you do what you love every single day, you’re co-creating with the universe.  Creatives are definitive people and I believe that’s the strongest form of connection to God, who is the creator.

It is so liberating to do what I love every single day.  I feel so elevated and deep because I’m feeding a part of me that needs to be fed. It’s like having a soulmate.  You can’t really put your love for that person into words, but you know you love this person so deeply. It’s crazy.  My career is my soul connection. It’s my soul mate.

Describe the process of launching your business. What was it like?

It was scary.  I’ve noticed in my life that when I feel incredibly scared, it means I need to face this. That’s always how I’ve viewed it.  I was incredibly scared to come out of the closet, so that meant I had to do it.  I felt incredibly scared to buy a house, so that meant I had to do it.  It was particularly scary starting my business because I did not have the financial stability that a lot of other people I knew had.  I had anxiety for a long time. I wasn’t making a lot of money.  When I started I was only charging $50 / hour.  I was completely focused on taking care of the clients and making them love me so much.

How did you go from just starting in your parents backhouse to getting where you are today?

I don’t believe in things just coming to you. I go after what I want and I drop all my pride.  They say you cant have love with pride – they don’t mesh.  You can’t have a successful career if you’re too prideful.

7 years ago I went to the grand opening for the showroom and office I’m working out of today.  I remember thinking how incredible the showroom looked and fabulous the office was.  From that moment my dream became to one day have a showroom and office in my store.

I would shop at this store all the time and I had been working out of my parent’s garage for about 6 months. The owner of that showroom was my friend Brandon Elghanian’s uncle, Joubin. Eventually, Aaron moved out of the showroom and I emailed Joubin expressing how much I loved the store and my interest in taking that office. I let him know I was currently working out of my parent’s garage and that I couldn’t pay rent, but if he would let me use the open office I would bring him business.  At the time I had about 10,000 followers on Instagram.

Joubin called me and offered me the opportunity to try it out for a few months.  Very shortly after I started my social media presence grew and more people started coming in because of me. Joubin quickly noticed that it was very advantageous to have me in the back.  I brought him so much business and he fell in love with me. After about a year I started my own line.  It’s been like that ever since and this store is now a part of me you can see by my name at the front.

What would you say makes you different than other Interior Designers?

I’m not entirely sure what makes me different.  I can’t say my style because I’m inspired by so many other interior designers. There’s not many young and successful persian designers in my industry.  No one is 27 years old killing it in my field.  I also think growing up with a persian background has made me somewhat unconventional in my approach, and a lot of my clients connect with that. Persians, Egyptians, Israelis and Russians are particularly drawn to me.

Through your career have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Sign contracts.  Have your clients sign off on everything.  Have everything in writing whether its text or email.  Collect 50-60% of your contract value upfront and never order anything without the client paying you before.  I still have trouble with that.  Collect payment and then order.

Another thing I’d say is don’t be too sensitive.  It’s a very personal job. You’re in people’s lives and in their homes, so it’s hard to do that, but I don’t take anything personally.

To what would you attribute your success as an Interior Designer?

It’s my love for the industry.  Anyone who follows me can see that I love it. I think as people follow me, meet me and converse with me about my job they can see the passion in my eyes and it makes them want to work with me. This isn’t just a job for me.  I love doing it, and I think people can feel that.  People tell me that I look like Interior Design.

What career accomplishments would you say you are most proud of and why?

I’m proud of the awards I’ve received.  I was just awarded Young Designer of The Year by Build in Europe, but I’d have to say my greatest accomplishment has been Top 50 Shaping Global Design. Just being listed amongst some of my idols like Kelly Wearstler and Joseph Dirand was so surreal for me.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome and how did you go about it?

24 was the hardest year of my life.  I experienced my first heartbreak, my sister moved to Israel, I became too actively involved in my parent’s marriage, my grandfather got really sick, I had a very bad falling out with my closest relative, my assistant quit, and my biggest mentor/second father sold his company and was leaving the industry.  I felt like I was on my knees and I didn’t know what to do. 

That was when I read my first book called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.  It was my introduction to this spiritual world. They say you have the seed of spirituality inside of you, it’s just about nourishing it and letting it grow. I had read the Secret in high school and I have and it taught me about manifestation, which really is a huge part of my life, but The Untethered Soul was  a more advanced level of spirituality. I also had never gone to therapy, so I decided to give that a try as well.

I started a whole year of transforming myself.  There was a lot of meditating and figuring out what was real in this world and what was not. By 25 I was a completely different person.

I grew up Jewish, but I never connected to it.  I never connected to religion in general.  I do not believe in it.  I love the traditions and culture, but I don’t believe in religion.  It divides us.  I don’t believe any parent would choose one child over the other, or any God would choose one group over the other.  The term that we’re the “chosen ones” makes me very uncomfortable. We’re all the same.

What was it like coming out of the closet and how did it affect your journey?

Looking back, it’s easy to say I knew I was gay my whole life, but when you’re in it you don’t know for sure.  I didn’t know how to define it.  Because of my surroundings the thought of anything gay was so repulsive in my mind.

My struggle with being gay was all before I came out.  I was called a faggot in school. I got bullied.  I was told I shouldn’t be decorating and doing all the things that are more feminine.  I dealt with all of my suffering before I came out of the closet.

I remember thinking that the more successful I become, the more accepting my parents will be.  For whatever reason, that’s what I thought.

A few years before I came out of the closet no one would discuss sexuality with me.  I also had no dating life before I came out and I was asexual. That’s probably why I filled that void with work.

When I was 21, right when I started my own company, my sister invited me out for dinner.  We go to dinner, she sat me down and says, “Ryan, I know you’re gay. I’m your sister and no one is closer to you than me.  I love you and it’s breaking my heart not to see you living your truth.  Everybody already knows it, and if you’re worried about what people are thinking they all already know.  So if you just say it along with them it will make everything a lot better.”

That was incredibly scary for me. After a few weeks I gradually told other members of my family. One after the other showing more and more support. I was going to tell my dad, but my sister beat me to it.  She told me his response was something like, “Yea, I always knew, but I don’t want to talk about it.  In the army they say don’t ask, don’t tell. I don’t want to talk about it.”

There was definitely a transition period for several months, but now everyone’s a lot more comfortable talking openly about it.  I tell my dad he has to throw me a wedding when I eventually get married.

After I came out, I started to experience what it was like.  I met a guy who really filled a lot of voids for me and that became my first relationship, which lasted until I was 24.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like? What’s your ultimate goal?

I feel incredible.  I am exactly where I want to be and I’m becoming exactly what I want to be. This last year was an intense year for me.  I had a lot of growth and I feel amazing. My plan is to dominate the design world – Television, Home Shopping Network, my products everywhere and be a design authority.

Software & Tools:

What software do you use for interior design?

I use AutoCAD, PhotoShop, and SketchUp.  That’s it.

I use AutoCAD to do space planning, furniture layouts, bathroom elevations, cabinets, work elevations, etc.

I use PhotoShop to do presentations.

I use SketchUp to do renderings and shop drawings.

What software would you recommend to someone starting out in your field? Why?

If you want to teach yourself I’d start with SketchUp.  It’s easy to learn and it’s basic floor plans and renderings.  You can communicate your vision pretty well to your clients with that platform.

If you want to be more advanced and be able to work with architects, you need to become familiar with AutoCAD.  Knowing AutoCAD is the difference of being a decorator vs. an interior designer.  If you want to know the science of design you need to learn it.  You can learn AutoCAD at your local community college or just teach yourself on YouTube.

If you could wave a magic wand and create any kind of software to help you scale your business up – what kind of tool would you build?

A rendering tool that is easy to use.  People hire designers because they have a hard time visualizing a space and they need someone to show them a vision. Most clients need a tangible rendering in hand and this is really hard to do.  So if I could easily draw something into a program that could quickly take my vision and bring it to life that would be a game changer for me and our industry.  We have to hire renderers who are expensive, take a lot of time, and don’t always render your vision the right way.

Resources:

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources you’ve learned from along your journey? Why?

Books: The Untethered Soul, A Return To Love and The Power Of Now.

The Untethered Soul gives you a basic introduction to spirituality and as a result gives you a deeper connection to yourself.  I think it’s important to read because we’re so caught up with our egos that we forget the real purpose of life and why we’re here.  We forget out

A Return to Love is all about love.  It teaches you to lead with love instead of fear.  My favorite quote from the book is, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is probably the most sophisticated of these books.  I believe Eckhart Tolle is a modern day prophet. This book is all about how important it is to be present.  It helps you observe your thoughts from an eye opening perspective.  This was really helpful for me, especially in what can be a very pretentious industry.

Podcasts: Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Oprah interviews all of the greatest spiritual teachers of our time.

What courses have you taken that have been beneficial to you?

Design History and The History of Architecture in college. You can take these classes at your local community college.  If not, I recommend reading books or watching documentaries on those subjects.  They’re really interesting.

Where would you steer someone looking to learn more about business and interior design?

 I’d start by reading magazines.  I would get a subscription to Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, and Domino. AD Pro gives you all of the Architectural Digest issues from the moment they started until now.  It’s like a newsletter and has updates on everything design.

I would familiarize myself with every designer and every style out there.  I would educate myself, train my eye, learn, buy books, go to the home decor section in the library, go on blogs (Le Dulce Vida and Apartment Therapy).

Once you have enough education you I’d say to either get a job or go to school.  I highly recommend getting a Bachelors or at least an AA certificate.  It will help you a lot.

What are you doing to continue learning and growing in your business as well as personally?

I love getting out of my comfort zone.  Anything that scares me, I’ll do.  For example, I’ll take on a project out of state.  I know it’ll be more stressful and more work, but it will push me and I’ll grow from it.  I’ll do a project that is out of my comfort zone like a hotel in South Beach.  Hotels are a different monster, and A.D.A. is a whole other thing. The finishes are all about durability, it’s not like residential.  All of this broadens my knowledge.

Personally, I just like to put myself out there and be as vulnerable as I can be. More vulnerable you are, the more you’ll grow.

Final Question:

What’s one piece of advice that you’d like to share?

Love people and stand beside them. Watch how the universe will shift in your favor.

Ryan’s Special Message to You


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