When the uber-talented Donna Mondi agreed to be interviewed for my Current Design Crush series, you know I was beyond thrilled. Even though Donna and I have never met in person, she has been such a huge resource for me as an aspiring interior designer. I’ve asked her questions about everything from which classes I should be taking in school to what kind of jobs I should be looking for and applying to. She continues to amaze me with her desire to give back to the design world and mentor young women in the field. Her work has been described as a unique blend of European Classicism and American Modernism, and her spaces never fail to find an edge. Read on for my full interview with the talented and brilliant Donna Mondi.
1. Why did you decide to go into interior design and how did you begin your career in the industry?
It all started after having two babies and the feeling that I was losing brain cells daily. I started going to school at night to challenge myself and those classes eventually led me to a degree in Interior Design. When I was about halfway through school, I craved working in a firm so I stalked and begged my first boss for a job and WORKED FOR FREE. Yep. True story. I told her I would work for nothing until she thought I was worth paying. I kept going to school at night and worked during the day. Not an easy path but I had this drive to learn as much as I could and I’m not a super patient person.
2. What is your top tip for aspiring interior designers?
Do what I say, not what I do…be patient. My path was so much harder because I wasn’t. Looking back, I would have spent more time learning from the best in the industry. I started my company too soon and had to learn the hard way how much I didn’t know. I’ve also learned how much I love the collaboration that happens in a larger firm and wouldn’t want to be a solo practitioner again. Being a designer in a prestigious firm working on the best projects is far better than being President of yourself and picking paint colors and pillows for next to nothing. Trust me…I’ve done both.
3. What is your favorite part of your job? Least favorite part?
The beginning of a client project and the end. I love developing my vision for a new space with my team and on the other side when we install at the end, it’s the coolest thing to see our designs come to life and hear how it’s affected our clients’ daily lives. The hardest part of being a designer is when we don’t get our way. Sounds silly, but the clients have the ultimate say on the design and many times are too nervous to take what they see as risky because they haven’t seen it before. Visualization tools do help but many times they defer to what’s being done and can be found on Pinterest.
4. If you weren’t an interior designer what would you do?
Aspire to be an Interior Designer. Truth. This is my dream job.
5. Your work is bold and fresh, yet it feels timeless and cool. How do you strike a balance between taking a risk but not going over the top?
It’s definitely a balancing game. I am super comfortable being uncomfortable if that makes any sense. As a designer and an entrepreneur, I have trained myself that if I’m not uncomfortable then I’m not growing. Once you embrace that…there’s nothing holding you back! On the design side, my best work is when I have the feeling that this idea I have is either going to be fabulous or hideous. Nothing in between. Of course, it’s always fabulous in the end :).
6. Where do you draw inspiration from for your work?
Literally, everywhere. When other people are at a restaurant taking pics of their food, I’m taking pics of the crown molding or interesting lighting. I travel a good amount and love the effect the European cities have had on my own design aesthetic. It’s never been easier to find inspiration with all that Instagram, Pinterest, and design blogs are creating in mass amounts. You still can’t beat a good Architectural Digest though.
7. Do you prefer to work with clients who have a specific aesthetic in mind, or would you rather they give you complete autonomy?
I like people who like me. The ultimate goal is to have clients that trust my design expertise and allow me to do what I do best. I approach each job differently taking into account the architecture of the space and the clients’ style and lifestyle. I’ll push them past their comfort zone but not so far that it becomes more about me than them. With that said, I can’t do anything that I see as dated. “Traditional” design today is very different than it was 15 years ago. I can do Traditional but it better be the current version.
8. What is your most-used paint color?
Sherwin Williams SW7003 Toque White and SW6990 Caviar. Sorry, I needed two colors. Black and white are the colors that run through my veins.
9. What is your biggest design pet peeve?
Hobby-est “designers”. I’m ok with a “decorator” with natural talent helping people with the surface parts of designing a home. Calling yourself an Interior Designer is reserved for professionals who have the degree and accreditation to earn that title. It takes a lot of hard work to get there and I don’t like being pooled in with the non-professionals. Clients should always know the difference and hire accordingly.
10. Do you have any big goals or projects you’re working toward in 2017?
This is like asking if I want to keep breathing this year. YES! My “theme” for 2017 is “Refine”. I am so grateful to have accomplished so many amazing things in my career and to be at a place beyond my dreams. I don’t want to always want more. I want to be better. If I can tweak what I’m already doing or already have to be just that much better, that’s what I’m looking for. In a practical sense, my number one goal is to focus on my capsule collection of furnishings that I’ve been wanting to create. I’m planning on having a selection ready by fall of this year and couldn’t be more excited for this new adventure!
A huge thanks to Donna for making time for this interview, and for always being such a wonderful resource and mentor! I can fully attest that she is not only a great designer, but a great human being as well 😉 I can’t wait to see what she does in the future – whatever it is, it will be exciting and push the boundaries for sure!