We recently sat down with Duet Design Group Co-Founder and Principal Miranda Cullen to chat about our company’s recent boom, the challenges of co-owning her own business, her partnership with Co-Founder and Co-Principal Devon Tobin, and why she thinks personal connection is so important in the interior design business (especially during a pandemic). Read on for our in-depth conversation.
Did you ever imagine you’d be the Co-Founder and Principal of a women-owned design firm, with 16 employees and two companies? (That just so happens to be in a huge growth phase in the middle of a pandemic)? What’s that like?
The simple answer is “NOPE”!! It is very surreal to be doing what we love and what we were born to do every day, and it is amazing that we are able to share our experience and passion for design with our employees and clients. Fast forward to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic – having our most solid months of growth was not even a thought in our minds during this unthinkable time. In fact, it was sheer panic the first couple of weeks, and when things just kept getting busier, it blew our minds. It just goes to show that the environments we create as interior designers are so impactful for function and well-being. We have always known that, but now the masses do as well!
Besides being top of your game in design, how has it been as one of two women owning your own business? Any unexpected challenges?
Unexpected challenges happen daily! I always say our main job description is “problem-solver,” and you never know what issue will arise that needs attention. As for being a co-founder of an all-woman + 1-man firm – it’s not easy, but it’s very rewarding. It was never my personal intention to have a company this large, it just happened organically. I am grateful every day for our team and the amazing projects that our clients entrust us to work on. It’s very surreal when you stop to think about it.
How does Co-Founder DEVON TOBIN complement you and your management style in running a business? How would you describe your relationship and partnership?
We are work wives – haha. And with that close of a relationship you can only imagine what we have been through together. We are very different people and approach management from different angles, which is nice. I am quieter and more laid back, with a bit of a softer approach. Devon is more animated and forthright. So it’s perfect, because when there are issues, we come at them from different angles to solve the problems at hand. We come at things so differently, but we are always respectful of each other’s position and sometimes have to agree to disagree.
With all the craziness of owning your own business and employing a whole team of designers, how do you stay inspired and energized for your own design work?
When we are mired down in the day-to-day business “stuff,” it tends to weigh on us. When we get to sit back at the design tables and create, we are in our happy place. I personally gather inspiration from magazines, social media, and visiting spaces both indoors and out. We also both LOVE to attend High Point Market and other trade shows. This helps to be sure we are inundating our minds and library with all of the latest and greatest ideas and products.
Miranda at High Point Market and in the zone in at the design tables
Can you speak a little about the culture that you’ve aimed to establish within Duet Design Group and why that’s important to you?
My family mantra is “treat others as you would want to be treated.” I raise teenagers right now, and this is oh so important! This also translates to my goal for those that enter our work environment. Whether you are a client, employee, trade partner, etc, you should always feel respected and heard. Honesty, transparency, and accountability are my top three cultural asks and what I personally live by. I tend to be a very trusting person and will continue to trust unless one of these cultural asks is broken. It’s very hard for me to come back from disappointment when this happens.
In your own words, what are some of the key traits that set Duet Design Group apart from other small businesses?
I think we treat our employees with kindness, and we are fair. We respect our personal time and spaces and try to leave it all “at work” when possible. We give our employees nice benefits and time off, and we were also very thoughtful about the spaces we designed in our office. Making sure our “home away from home” really feels and functions like a home is important to us. We spend a lot of time together here.
2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have especially stressed the importance of personal connection – in life and in business. Why do you think personal connection is so important in an industry like interior design? How is it important to Duet Design Group’s business?
How can you go about life without personal connection in every aspect? Everything we do in this industry has a personal interaction. Being able to listen to our clientele to ensure we are addressing their personal needs is the only way we as interior designers can be successful. Anytime a designer or architect in our line of work has a personal agenda you can bet the project will go sideways.