Real Designer: Jenika Cuadra

All this month I’m interviewing real-life designers about what it is like to run a design business.  As you’ll see these ladies have all different backgrounds and experiences, but one thing they all have in common is that they have taken my course, The Golden Blueprint.  

"The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that the most important person to please is myself.  That’s why I started my business in the first place."

About Jenika Cuadra Jenika runs J. Kurtz Design in Los Angeles California.  Before starting her business of 1.5 years and being in the business a total of 13 years, Jenika earned a BA degree in Interior Design.  But even before that she grew up surrounded by construction and worked with her dad on a couple of jobs when she was younger.  After college she also worked in retail merchandising and retail furniture sales.

What traits or talents have made you successful?The trait that has given me most success is dedication. It’s just not possible for me to be hands off on any part of a project. I do all that I can to understand each facet of a project as fully and completely as I can to ensure that nothing gets overlooked, all I’s are dotted and all t’s are crossed. Of course, there are always hiccups but when I know that I’ve worked as hard on something that I possibly can I feel better about tackling any issues that might arise.

How do you charge? Hourly for any and all services rendered or flat fee with a designated scope and period of time outlined for more straightforward projects.

What is a typical project like for your business? It ranges dramatically. Some of my current projects involve strictly hourly consulting to guide clients in decision making and some involve complete interior design and interior architecture services for ground up construction and remodels. 90% are residential and 10% are commercial.

What has been your biggest sacrifice in running your business? I’m sad to say it but creativity. It’s not like I’ve lost it but I really have to dig deep and make time to nurture the creative process. I get so caught up in deadlines, administrative tasks, coordination and emails that the creativity seems to take a back seat sometimes.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned running your business? The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that the most important person to please is myself.  That’s why I started my business in the first place. If I take jobs for the wrong reason or if I schedule a meeting that conflicts with an important personal obligation then work suffers, it just does. Since realizing this I’d say that I’m happier and I work harder because it’s on my terms. In turn, my clients benefit immensely.

What does success mean to you? Success is making my parents, husband, family and friends proud. Period. They have done so much to support me and they believe in me so incredibly much that everything I do I do for them. Success is knowing that they respect and admire what I do.

When you stumble how do you pick yourself up? I reflect. Of course, I start with losing it a little bit, maybe screaming a swear word or two but then I realize that the only thing to do is move forward and fix whatever went wrong, however I can. Every time I have stumbled it has resulted in a lesson learned and lessons make the next time work a little better.

Do you have a favorite quote, motto, mantra, affirmation? I have two, both shared with me at a young age and repeated often by my mom.

  1. There is no stress in the world, only stressful thoughts.
  2. How does a mouse eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

This business is really tough a lot of the time and when I repeat these things to myself it’s a reminder that as long as I’ve done everything I can do within my capabilities then the rest is not worth worrying or getting upset about.

What drew you to interior design? I think it’s just really in my blood. Both sides of my family have a knack for design. Both of my grandmothers took great pride in their homes, most people do, but they took it a step further. There was a constant rotation of wallpaper patterns, furniture arrangements, paint color and carpet changes, strategic placement of artwork and accessories, etc. Visiting either of their homes was an experience. My parents followed suit. My dad is a contractor and my mom thrives on change so growing up we’d never stay in a house too long. We’d move into a fixer, doll it up and then move on to the next. Design is something that I have always been surrounded by.

How do you wish the design industry was different? Hmmm, that’s a tough question. I could really get in to some stuff here but it’s better suited for a conversation over a glass of wine.

Looking back, is there anything that you wish you could've done differently running your business? At this point, no; but I just started about a year and a half ago so that answer could change. I’m still learning. I will say that I’m pretty lucky to have had the previous experience that I did. I’ve worked with some incredibly talented and established designers and architects who taught me an enormous amount about the business.

What are you most proud of? The trust that I have learned from long time clients. There have been a number of projects that I have started with clients who had a tough time letting go of control and trusting that I would create something perfect for them. Eventually, they let me make more and bigger decisions for them and learned to trust my vision. There are a couple of clients who will send me funny texts or emails every now and then that say something like, “We’re only buying towels but we don’t want to decide on them without you!”

What is your biggest struggle in running your business? I hate to admit but it’s procrastination. Sometimes I can get into a rut and be so hesitant to start something because I over think it. I just read something in an email from a friend the other day that said, “80% of the psychological discomfort of a challenge comes from avoidance of the challenge.” Running things on my own is a challenge and sometimes it can be daunting so I avoid it for a minute...or a week. I’m getting better at conquering that though. I just get with the program, get something started and complete a task.  Even if it’s the smallest thing, I feel accomplished and that’s the cure. I’m starting to learn that feeling and channel it whenever I start to feel hesitant.

Any sage advice or words of wisdom to fellow designers? Do your best. Always, always, always go above and beyond and NEVER say, “That’s not my job.”

What is on the horizon for your business? Because my projects have run the gamut as far as scope and services I’ve learned a lot about what I like and dislike, what I lose myself in and what I can feel every second ticking away while doing, so hopefully that will guide me towards choosing projects that are perfectly suited for me.  Goals for the next year would be to plan more strategically (take a step back to study my current and future schedule whenever a potential project presents itself), do a better job of explaining the process to new clients so we’re all on the same page and work more cohesively towards the same goals and trust my abilities more.

Currently, I have a commercial installation happening. It’s been a fun project to work on because the client is one I’ve known for years and years so the design process was a blast. There have certainly been some pretty tough hurdles to overcome in the coordination process though so once everything is placed and functional and styled and pretty I’ll be pretty pumped.

How has your business changed since The Golden Blueprint? Oh man, it gave me so much more drive! It was like a cold splash of water in the face. It amped me up, got me excited and laid out a plan that was so simple to follow. I felt so organized and ready to do things. It helped me feel accomplished.

The best way to contact Jenika is or Instagram.  All photos courtesy J. Kurtz Design.