This week I’m joined by special guest, Latoyia Smith, who is a graduate from our Academy program. I’m excited to share her journey and her career aspirations. I’m sure her story will resonate with and inspire you, because Latoyia has one of the most inspiring stories to come out of the Academy.
This episode, we discuss…
[2:15] Latoyia’s background and artistic interests
Latoyia is a disabled veteran of the U.S. Army, and she has worked for the government for 20 years. She worked with the Army Corps of Engineers as well as the NSA, and she also has a background in executive assistance and program management. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, she was at home because she has Lupus, which is an autoimmune disease. That time at home allowed her to do things that she enjoyed, to feed her soul, and to concentrate on what would make her happy. Latoyia was decorating her home and happened upon this podcast, and she went all in. She listened to every single episode, and she wanted to learn more about interior design.
When Latoyia heard about the Academy, it definitely piqued her interest. She started telling herself that she couldn’t do it. She went to the military rather than going to college, and she wasn’t sure if she could start over and do something so creative at age 41. Ultimately, Latoyia decided to invest in herself and see what happened.
Latoyia’s father was an artist and a photographer, and he told her that she had it in her. She had figurines and art displays in libraries when she was in middle and high school, but she didn’t take it seriously. Her dad was telling her to do something, so of course she didn’t want to do it. At one point Latoyia went into cosmetology and that came naturally to her as well. She also had experience doing party planning, bridal floral arrangements, and personal shopping. Latoyia worked in all these different creative areas, but she never felt it was exactly the right medium for her. As a creative, you have to hone in on something that really connects with you – and that is how Latoyia eventually honed in on interior design.
[7:53] Making the leap to interior design
Latoyia purchased her house, built in 1900, around the time the pandemic started. It opened her mind to creativity, and it became her canvas. Latoyia’s husband works with vintage clothing, so they were already going to estate sales and thrift stores. While she was there, she would find pieces of furniture that were beautiful, historical, and one of a kind. She could envision them being used differently in other spaces, and she had the time to work on things. Latoyia could take a $10 side table made of pure maple, strip it, paint it, and put it in her living room. Connecting it emotionally and artistically is what brought it together for her. She saw how these pieces made her home personal because she created them. She wasn’t limited to what was available at Pier 1 or Pottery Barn – the sky was the limit.
It was still difficult for Latoyai to commit to this passion right away, because when she first joined the Academy she was able to connect with so many different people doing different things. She considered doing staging, but it just didn’t sit right with her to have to build things up just to tear them down. Somebody was willing to give Latoyia their staging equipment and all the steps to build a staging business, but she realized she didn’t want to be constrained to someone else’s box. She wanted to find herself, curate her own collection, and own her own business. If she ultimately had to go back to working for the government, then she could live with that. She decided she could not live with someone just giving her the keys to their business.
[13:43] How Latoyia started and grew her business
After a few months in the Academy, Latoyia took on an interior design client. Doing that made her realize what part of the interior design process was really her leg of the race. By the end of it, she knew she wanted to refinish furniture. She wanted to keep furniture out of the landfills and to provide other options amidst the supply chain issues. People were at home, they needed home office spaces and work spaces for themselves and their children. She started telling people to give her their things. She would pull up to the driveway, drop off or pick up furniture, and she could refinish a dining room table or a dresser for them. She would go on Zoom, they would show her around their home, and she would tell them what could and couldn’t be used.
Latoyia also started buying $10 pieces of furniture from Goodwill and selling them on Facebook marketplace. She would flip the furniture, and then advise people on whether the piece would work in its intended space. Latoyia was working out of her home, painting and dragging furniture around on her knees in her basement. With her rheumatoid arthritis and her lupus, she was struggling to work in those conditions – plus she was scratching up her walls.
She started questioning things, and wondering if this was the end of her business. She wasn’t comfortable, and she wondered if she was credible. She asked herself how she was going to reach people? Did she have the tools? Was she doing enough? She started to think about how she had to get back to work because she had bills to pay.
Ultimately, Latoyia described going all in on her business as “like a sneeze”. It felt like it was something she had to do. She had to find a storefront space, and she found a place in an upscale location: The Shops at Kenilworth in Towson, MD. Although she could not afford to pay the typical amount to occupy the space, she called the manager and explained that The Shops needed to expand into furniture. The community needs it, and they don’t have access to furniture.
Latoyia did have a lawyer involved, because she was not familiar with leasing and she wanted to make sure she did it right. She negotiated with the mall, and got a significant discount on her lease. She worked out how to get the furniture delivered to her shop, and she opened Lavish Furniture Flips and Interior Designs on June 14, 2021 – around 6 months after she joined the Academy.
[32:53] Reinventing yourself in your forties
When you are discovering what you want to do in your forties, there is urgency involved. Latoyia was able to commit to the process of learning about herself without pressure from others. She was tired of waiting for Friday, or waiting until 5:00 to be happy. She asked herself, what happens on Friday when I get off work? What am I rushing to do? Because that pocket is where you find yourself. It’s when you really figure out what you enjoy. It’s so important to think about your freedom and happiness.
[36:25] Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Starting her business forced Latoyia to do a lot of things that she had never done before. She had never committed to or been open about this side of herself, but she finds comfort in thinking that who we are is already written. She compares herself to a book, and notes that this is just another chapter in the book.
[38:21] What is coming up next for Latoyia
Latoyia is currently looking for a place to expand, because she is running out of space in her pop-up shop. She wants to do classes for painting and refinishing furniture, and she wants to reach more people. She wants to encourage people to build spaces that bring them joy, regardless of what is popular or on trend. There is a way to design pieces that are aesthetically pleasing and unique without being expensive. Latoyia is doing a show house in Ellicott City, MD, coming up in May. In addition, she hopes to be able to bring on a staff member to assist her.
[41:47] Demystifying interior design
Latoyia felt like she knew she wanted to do something creative, and she had been interested in interior design for a while. She didn’t think it was attainable for her, and it wasn’t until she heard this podcast that it felt accessible. Joining the Academy opened up a whole world of possibilities for Latoyia and her new business.
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