How long is the right amount of time to stay in a company before moving on? It’s one of those impossible questions to answer, right? When I think about my parents’ generation, it’s completely normal to find people who have spent the bulk of their careers at the same company. Today, though, millennials like you and I are far more likely to move around every few years, transitioning seamlessly between stints at big companies to period of self-employment too. It fascinates me, then, when I meet peers who have taken the more traditional route and moved up the career ladder within one company.
Audrey Margarite is a case in point. She has spent the past 11 years working under Bunny Williams – who is considered one of the most important interior designers of her time – working her way from an intern to her current role as creative director. During her time at the brand, Audrey’s experienced the kind of professional growth that many of us could only dream of – “I’ve certainly learned that even within the same company, sometimes the corporate ladder is not linear” – largely due to the incredible working dynamic that she has with Bunny. Theirs is the kind of mentorship relationship that many of us could only dream of. “When I started working for Bunny, I never could have imagined having the relationship that I do with her. I am beyond grateful to have a boss who is sincere, supportive, and genuinely interested in teaching those who work for her…. I often run back to my desk after meeting with her to quickly lookup a design term, a historic home, or a new brand that Bunny has brought to my attention. I am so inspired by Bunny’s dedication to her craft and her desire to continue to learn and push herself creatively.” They’ve worked on product development and design management from sketch to finished sample together. They’ve travelled the world side by side and launched entirely new limbs of the business together.
We sat down with Audrey at Bunny Williams HQ in Manhattan’s Fine Arts Building to talk about how to create opportunities for growth in the same business, why it’s important sometimes to leap before you’re ready and how she’s managing to juggle work with being a new mom.
HOW SHE MOVED FROM ARCHITECTURE TO INTERIOR DESIGN: I graduated with a master of architecture from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture just weeks before I started working for Bunny. I remember, my initial interview at Bunny Williams Inc. was on my birthday – I think that was particularly fortuitous! I realized pretty quickly that though I love architecture, I didn’t want to spend my days in front of a computer as a “CAD monkey”. I wanted to work at a scale that seemed more graspable. I wanted to be able to touch and feel and hold the designs I was working on. I wanted to be inspired by color and pattern. I am grateful for the foundation I have in architecture and I know I could not be where I am without that skillset. Through my education and experience in architecture, I was taught the importance of proportion and scale and most importantly learned to push the boundaries of design. To be honest, my first few months at Bunny Williams Inc., I wasn’t sure that I was in the right place. But, when I started to work on Bunny’s furniture line, and saw how smoothly my skillset transitioned to furniture design, I knew I was on the right trajectory.
ON HER CAREER GROWTH DURING HER 11-YEAR TENURE AT BUNNY WILLIAMS: Wanting to get my foot in the door of an interior design firm, I initially accepted an internship position with Bunny Williams Inc. In that role, I learned Bunny’s style through shopping for fabrics at the D&D Building and putting together scheme boards for clients. I saw firsthand, how Bunny would combine colors like a murky mossy green with a bright turquoise and how all schemes need to have a mixture of patterns at varying scales and a combination of textures. Because of my training in architecture, I started to work on helping all of Bunny’s interior design teams with CAD drawings of their furniture floor plans. Bunny so thoughtfully places furniture in her plans – everything needs to work in terms of flow, seating groups are arranged for conversation, and oftentimes symmetry is replaced with like but not matching items. I’ve learned so much from studying Bunny’s furniture layouts. Around this time, I also helped on design installations and learned a bit of project coordination. As Bunny furniture line, then BeeLine Home now Bunny Williams Home, was starting, they needed someone to help draw and revise drawings coming from factories. I moved into that role and realized what a nice medium it was between architecture and interiors. Over the next 9 years, I have worked on product development, design management (from sketch to finished sample), cultivation of vendor relationships, quality control and marketing management. I have traveled to factories across the country and around the world with Bunny and have become the day-to-day contact for our factories and licensed partners.
WHY SHE’S STAYED IN THE COMPANY SO LONG: That’s an easy question – Bunny! Though I have worked with her for nearly 11 years, I continue to learn from Bunny every day. I often run back to my desk after meeting with her to quickly lookup a design term, a historic home, or a new brand that Bunny has brought to my attention. I am so inspired by Bunny’s dedication to her craft and her desire to continue to learn and push herself creatively. Also, with so many projects in the works, my days are never the same – and that keeps me on my toes. One day I might be working on the latest collection for Ballard, the next I’m enveloped in details for the next Bunny Williams Home catalog photo shoot or helping design a client’s living room through our showroom’s designer services. When you’ve been in the same company for a long period of time, keep an open mind. I’ve certainly learned that even within the same company, sometimes the corporate ladder is not linear. And, don’t get hung up on title. Instead, explore any opportunities presented to you. Pursue what you’re passionate about, and the recognition will follow.
ON NATURALLY TRANSITIONING TO HER CURRENT ROLE AS CREATIVE DIRECTOR: While being Creative Director for Bunny Williams Home is certainly my dream job, I wouldn’t say that it is a role that I necessarily envisioned myself in 10 years ago. These days, many people might give you tips about using social media or job hopping to advance your career. Not me. I’m a true believer in hard work. If you put your head down and focus on your work, it will speak for you. If you’re not particularly ready for a role, don’t “fake it ‘til you make it”. It’s okay to admit that you are learning. In fact, I think you’ll be respected for your honesty and commitment.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS & BALANCING DESIGN AND BUSINESS: We launched Bunny Williams Home in 2008 with 30 products. Since then we have grown the line to well over 150 items and constantly have new products in the pipeline. At the start of each collection development, we’ll analyze our best sellers and see where we may have gaps. From there, we’ll turn to our inspiration files. Bunny and I cull images from travel, auction catalogs, and images from Bunny’s design work. We’ll take an antique and update it by changing the finish, modifying dimensions, simplifying carving or painted details. I oversee a team that takes Bunny’s directive and produces renderings and CAD drawings. After Bunny approves the drawings, I create specs and send them to our factories. I communicate with our factories daily. We work mainly with photos over e-mail and skype. But, when enough samples are ready for approval, Bunny and I will travel to approve the samples in person. (We’ve had some memorable factory visits together, from hot and humid Vietnam, to freezing cold Beijing and wonderful little towns in Georgia and North Carolina, to name a few!) We aim to be a true lifestyle brand. In 2013, we started to partner with select companies to create licensed collections in categories that complement our private label furniture. Today, these include rugs, mirror, outdoor furniture, tabletop and decorative accessories, fabric and lighting fixtures. The creative process for our licensed collections is a bit more paired down, but nonetheless every drawing and every sample still passes through our hands for approval. Together with our licensed collections we want Bunny Williams Home to be a one-stop-shop to fill your home. I think it’s important to stay informed regarding our business statistics and decisions, but thankfully I do not have to worry about the details. I work hand-in-hand with our wonderful COO, Jen Potter, and certainly could not do my job without her.
LETTING GO OF HANGUPS & OVERCOMING CHALLENGES: I feel there is a stigma attached to decorating among architects – an unspoken perception that decorating is less complicated, less big picture . . . and that anyone can be a decorator because it doesn’t require a degree or license like architecture. For me, with a foot in both worlds, I have had to brush off this notion and move forward with the confidence that I KNOW it takes disciplined organization and an enormous skillset to create beautiful, comfortable homes. Also, by nature I am a quiet person and a happy homebody. But, I’ve learned the design industry is very social. Several years ago, I decided to make a conscious effort to attend parties and meet new people. At first, one of my design besties would attend all the events with me, so we would have each other for support and company. Over the years, I’ve met wonderful people who have since become good friends. And now, I view these social events not as something I dread, but as a fun part of my job.
JUGGLIING WORK WITH BEING A NEW MOM: It’s certainly bittersweet to leave my little guy each morning. But, I know that he is in good hands while I am gone. My advice to all mothers transitioning back to work is get care (daycare/nanny/family member) in which you feel completely comfortable. If you’re not constantly thinking of your baby while you’re at work, you’ll be more productive during the day. In turn, you’ll be less stressed when you return home in the evening.
HOW BEING A MOTHER HAS INFLUENCED HER WORK: Most people think of Bunny as working in a very traditional style – something that may not appeal to everyone, especially a younger audience. I’d like to think that my input into the furniture we design makes the products even more appealing to someone of my age. My needs and wants at this point in my life, are very different from those of Bunny, but we are both working to create our products. As a mother, I want to live with beautiful furniture but it needs to be practical for my family as my baby grows, and in a smaller apartment. Now more than ever, I hope to show a younger audience that Bunny Williams Home is furniture that has the style and durability to transition with you throughout the years.