Andrea Surtel: Award-Winning & Warm Interior Designer
Andrea Surtel is the award-winning designer behind Andrea & Co. Interior Design. Client-focused at her core, Andrea places a strong emphasis on building relationships and treating everyone with kindness and respect. While her career has had a few bumps along the way, she prides herself on brushing herself off, learning from mistakes, and standing tall to try again.
Tell us about Andrea & Co. Interior Design.
Andrea & Co. is a full-service boutique Interior Design firm based in Minneapolis that works primarily with residential clients. Each project is unique, and we respect our clients' varying needs, budgets, and timelines.
We are passionate about each stage of the process. Our ultimate goal is making each home feel like an extension of the clients’ personality and family.
Letting a designer into your space is a personal thing, which is why we place just as much emphasis on building relationships with our clients as we do on materials and furniture selections.
What was your first job growing up, and what did you learn from it?
My first job growing up was working at Lakeside Swimming Pools, owned by my family and located in North Smithfield, Rhode Island. I worked in the store. People probably assume working for family was easy, but in my case, I didn’t receive any special treatment. (Except maybe a free lunch here or there.) I learned two vital lessons that I carry with me to this day.
1). Exceptional customer service, through clear communication and being personable, is key in any profession. I remember my Papa always saying, “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.”
2). The second is to keep busy. If you finished the tasks on your list, look for something else to do! I guess this boils down to having a strong work ethic.
Tell us about your career path before starting your own company.
I went to college without any insight into what I wanted to do as a career; I just knew it was what I “should” do. I tested out a lot of potential areas of study during my first two years of general ed classes.
I found myself drawn to Psychology, which I chose as my major; not looking at the whole picture or thinking about what a career in Psychology looked like. After graduation I found myself either needing to pursue a Masters Degree (the thought of this gave me a migraine) or working a job that didn't suit me.
In the past, I looked at my first college experience as a waste of time and money. However, now I'm grateful for the experience and the way it helped shape me into who I am.
After college, I became a nanny, and the family I worked for was highly educated and entrepreneurial. The mom was in the construction field, and she gave me guidance about what I wanted to do. I felt pulled toward the design field, so she suggested I shadow her designer friend.
Fast forward to the following week; I signed up to get a degree in Interior Design.
Tell us the story of why and how you started your business.
I worked for Martha O’Hara Interiors for six years before I had my son Parker. After maternity leave, I decided that a four day work week was what I needed to feel like I had the right balance of work/family time.
I saw this baby growing up so fast - I wanted to be able to take it all in. I thought to myself: you can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.
Still, with a short week, I always felt stressed and rushed. I was often racing to work and daycare, not wanting to be the last parent to pick up their child. Just the drive alone was taking a toll on my sanity.
I decided I needed more flexibility to stay home with a sick child or take a random Tuesday off and go to the zoo.
At this point, I decided to open my own firm. I bought a business with a co-worker from Martha O’Hara Interiors, and that partnership lasted about six months. We did not work well together, and the relationship became unhealthy.
One huge mistake was not having an initial agreement put in place. We were friends, so I thought we could work on the details after we started the business together. Lesson learned: treat any partnership as a business transaction, even if it involves a friend.
Feeling embarrassed and defeated, I took a position at another firm and worked on some great projects and met some awesome clients. After being with this company for a year, it closed. It was then that I decided to face my fears and go after my dream.
In many ways, it's more work to have your own business. But at the same time, it's rewarding to be doing what I love every day while having the flexibility I need at this time in my life.
What is a typical day like for you?
One of the many reasons I love being a designer is because there is no “typical day.” What we do depends on what phases projects are in, and where we are needed.
Tell us about a hard time in your life.
Two years ago, my older brother became very sick with sepsis.
I flew home to Rhode Island to be with my family and brother in the ICU. I was constantly asking the nurses and doctors questions - I am sure they couldn’t wait for me to leave!
I don’t have the best faith in western medicine, and I wanted to make sure that everything was being done to save my brother’s life. I knew he needed someone to advocate for him when he wasn’t able to do it for himself, and knew if the roles were reversed that he would do the same thing for me.
The situation was strangely empowering for me. I'm the girl who won’t send her meal back at a restaurant if there's something wrong with it.
In the end, I learned the power of prayer is real, and that life can change at any moment. I try to live every day like it could be my last.
I'm happy to report that today my brother is on the road to recovery; he is getting stronger and healthier each day. He spent a total of four months in the hospital and nursing home after he became sick. We are grateful to still have him with us!
What advice or tips would you give to a new business owner?
- Stay focused on your dream and do not let anyone deter you from it.
- Don’t let fear stop you from reaching your goals.
- If you do fail don’t give up; brush yourself off, learn from your mistakes, and stand up tall to try again!
What’s next for your business?
My business is still in the infancy stage so I have a lot I would like to achieve. I love setting goals because they give me motivation. One short-term goal of mine is to build my client base and enjoy the process of slow growth.
Another short-term ambition is to build a network of other women business owners that empower each other.
My primary long-term desire is to have a studio/storefront where I can offer clients just the right hostess gifts, birthday gifts, or perfect home accessory.
What do you believe is your single strongest skill that’s helped you succeed?
Treating everyone with kindness and respect, which is the impression I hope to leave with people.
Tell us about your life outside of your business.
Outside of my work day, I try to put the phone down when I get in the door. It's easier some days than others, but I try to be present and just mom at home.
Weekends are a lot different when you have a toddler, so you can find us biking, playing at the park, or getting away to the cabin for a little dose of the laidback life.
I also love spending time getting my hands dirty in the garden planting yummy food and herbs for my family. It is my favorite way to slow down and appreciate the beauty of nature.
QUICK FUN FACTS
What’s your favorite charity?
I love Bridging! I often direct clients who have extra furniture they're donating to this organization.
What age do you want to retire at?
I am passionate about what I do so I hope to be working in some capacity into old age.
One travel location on your bucket list?
Oh so many great places to see, this is hard to choose just one! At the top of my list would be Italy, to see where my ancestors came from and eat some amazing food.😊
Are you an introvert or extrovert?
I would say I am a mix of both… however, I love my alone time.
What is your favorite blog, podcast, or book?
Right now on my nightstand are: “Girl Code” by Cara Alwill Leyba and “What I Know For Sure” by Oprah Winfrey. They are two completely different books, and how my day has been will determine which one I grab.
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