Bonnie Kespohl: Award-Winning Interior Designer
Bonnie Kespohl is the award-winning creative behind KASA Interior Design. Underwhelmed by her first semester of college as a pre-med major, Bonnie made a big leap into becoming an interior design student. The move paid off! Bonnie loves the unique combination of left and right brain tasks, project variety, and relationship building that come with being a designer. Read on to learn about how she followed her career intuition and why just getting started is better than succumbing to perfection paralysis.
Tell us about KASA Interior Design.
KASA Interior Design is a full-service boutique interior design firm specializing in residential new construction, remodeling, and furnishing projects. We excel at space planning, material selections, designing intricate details, procuring furniture, and finishing touches.
What was your first job growing up, and what did you learn from it?
Catering service at the age of 12 where I worked as part of a team preparing and serving food and beverages to guests at weddings. I learned many things about food safety, preparation and service, the effectiveness of delegation, and the social graces of how to interact with guests during special events. It was a super-inclusive atmosphere and gratifying to receive praise at the end of the night of an event gone well (and if we were lucky, maybe even an extra tip or two!).
Tell us about your career path before starting your own company, and how it got you to where you are today?
I wasn’t one of those people who dreamed of being an interior designer ever since I was a little girl. In fact, I didn’t know that was even a thing until halfway through my first semester of college as a pre-med major.
I wasn’t one of those people who dreamed of being an interior designer ever since I was a little girl. In fact, I didn’t know that was even a thing until halfway through my first semester of college as a pre-med major. My other jobs at the time were data entry clerk for a medical claims office, and a part-time health care provider for women with Alzheimer’s disease, pretty far from anything design-related. I had always intended to be a doctor of some sort, orthopedics or physical therapy and the like, but school was leaving me a bit underwhelmed, and I soon realized I needed a more creative career path.
How did you decide on interior design?
Through a college career counselor, I learned about graphic design, fashion design, and interior design. Interior seemed to be the best fit for me, an almost equal right and left-brain person, with its technical attributes, as well as the space for creative freedom. I should mention, an artist I am not, but I can draft floor plans with the best of them – just don’t ask me to draw your portrait!
Interior Design was the most sought-after and hardest program to get into, and since I love a challenge, I said, “sign me up!”. I then spent the next four years wondering if I had made the right choice. Everything was so subjective, and there were never any “right” answers, only “better” answers, I was used to choosing A, B, C, or D – you couldn’t memorize your way through studio class, that’s for sure.
When did you realize this was the correct career path for you?
It wasn’t until many all-nighters later and the start of my first internship that I realized this was the perfect career for me. All of my other work experiences centered around building relationships with people, teammates, patients, and clients, and that is exactly why interior design appeals to me. I get to build relationships with people and families and help them realize their vision for their home, which by many standards is the most sacred of places for us humans.
Tell us about your career path after college.
My internship in a small 3-person commercial firm developed into my first entry-level design job. From there, I moved over to a 12-person residential firm, Ramsey Engler, where I spent five years soaking up anything and everything I could about all things design.
The economy crashed in 2009, leaving me with a shortage of design work and a surplus of time on my hands. I took a brief break from design to focus on personal wellness as a fitness instructor and later returned as a ghost designer for the DIY Network show, Bathtastic!.
While filming Bathtastic!, I met my husband (one of the homeowners *blush*) and he happened to live next door to a project manager for College City Design Build, who was looking for a Lead Designer. I went to work for them for a few years focusing primarily on large remodeling projects and then later jumped into the tear-down, new-build market in Edina and South Minneapolis in a Lead Designer and Project Management position with Great Neighborhood Homes.
From there I decided to do my own thing and ended up doing some contract work for Refined Custom Homes. I wasn’t on my own for long, as I was scooped up by one of the associates there to start our own firm, called Blend Interior Design. During that first year as a Creative Director at Blend, I became pregnant and after having my daughter, ultimately decided to venture out on my own for good, starting KASA.
Tell us the story of why and how you started your business?
I’ve worked for a handful of firms and have seen many versions of the design process, as well as, many ways of conducting business. Through those observations, I often found myself wondering, “how would I do it?” It was an evolution; I had wanted to work for myself for a long time, but one great opportunity after another would present itself, and I would always take it. At the very least, it’s a growth opportunity, right? And I’m so grateful; I really am, I have had a fortunate path. Not to say without any struggles, but overall, a very fortunate career path.
After having my daughter in April 2016, I took four months off to adjust to life as a new parent (lol, no one told me I would need a lot longer than that – I’m still adjusting!). The further I got into maternity leave, the more I felt it was the right time to take that leap. I wanted and needed flexibility (number one), and the responsibility of only myself (number two). I could barely get myself showered, let alone be accountable for other employees. My husband was super encouraging, so I thought if not now, when?
On a 6-hour road trip to Illinois, I was throwing out business names to my husband. I thought of KASA, as “Casa” is Spanish for “home” and with my last name being Kespohl, swap out the C for a K and there you have it. I liked the architecture of the letters together, they are strong and angular, but with a warm meaning. Once I had the name, the rest was easy – just register a few formalities and get a website up and running and I was good-to-go!
What is a typical day like for you?
The only thing “typical” about my day is the time I wake up (7 am) and the time I go to bed (10:30 pm). Every day is different depending on what type of project I’m working on at any given moment, which is why I love design. You can find me in a coffee shop meeting with a potential client or at a showroom making tile selections. Reviewing construction progress at a job site, sketching cabinetry details in my office or at the gym for a midday workout. Selecting furniture and fabrics at International Market Square, shopping local retailers for accessories, or in my kitchen starting dinner before daycare pickup.
My work is extremely mobile, so I’m able to adapt my day to just about any schedule and location. Plus I can access my files from my phone or tablet, so I can keep designing on the go! I try to wrap up my workday around 5 to spend the next three hours with my husband and daughter before bedtime. After her bedtime, I may or may not spend another hour organizing (her toys, my thoughts, my office, my closet… anything really, I like to have order before I go to sleep) or chilling with my husband watching Netflix.
Tell us about a hard time in your life, career or personal. What did you learn from it or how did it make you stronger?
There was a point in my life where everything was turned upside down – everything I thought, everything I was, everything I wanted to be. I had always been a “planner.” I was 29 and had been on what I like to call “the conveyor belt of life”: you finish high school and go to college, graduate, find a great job, get married, buy a house, and have babies and grand-babies. Poof! There’s the rest of your life in one sentence.
I had never even considered stepping one foot off the conveyor belt or if I liked where it was taking me.
The economy crashed, and I found myself unemployed with a lot of extra time to take a breath and examine my life, and even toy with stepping that foot off the belt. It was then I realized I was in a marriage that wasn’t working, so I made the brave decision to leave to try to find happiness...much to the shock and dismay of my family and friends, let alone myself.
It was a long, hard year, but also one of the most freeing and exhilaratingly joyous times in my life; it just depended on the day. I could be seen in almost every coffee shop around town crying in a corner with a friend lending an ear, so much so that I eventually coined a mantra that helped me through: “just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s bad.” I can’t even tell you how often I had to remind myself of this.
I eventually coined a mantra that helped me through: “just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s bad.” I can’t even tell you how often I had to remind myself of this.
What did you learn from this challenging period in your life?
I had to go through some of those really awful days to be where I am today and to allow the personal change necessary to find fulfillment. I was true to myself, handled each turn of events the best I could, and ended up right where I belonged. Now, those “exhilaratingly joyous times” were in large part due to meeting my now husband, Casey. He was unlike anyone I had ever met before, and it’s fair to say he completely swept me off my feet – a true, undeniable connection. With all of that said, I will not spend my days planning out the rest of my life. I’d rather be surprised as to what’s in store for me, nor will I settle for “nice” or “mediocre.” I want great; I want excellence, I want joy; I want it all, and I will do the work to get it, no matter how “hard” it is.
What advice or tips would you give to a new business owner?
#1 - Surround yourself with people that lift you up and support you, and then go for it! Give yourself some grace and some room to fail. If you can let go of all expectations and take the chance to grow, whether the business is successful or not, you have succeeded and learned something more about yourself - what you like, what you don’t like and what you need. Starting a business is scary, and exciting, and nerve-wracking, and fulfilling – it’s a rollercoaster that’s definitely worth the ride.
#2 - The other tidbit I might offer is just get started. Don’t wait to have the perfect logo and the perfect letterhead and the perfect website, just get started, don’t let those things paralyze you, as they will all fall into place.
What do you believe is your single strongest skill that’s helped you succeed?
Loyalty. Once I commit to something, I see it through, and I won’t let you down. It may not always be a smooth ride, and I may not have all the answers, but I work tirelessly on behalf of my clients to advocate for them and to help them realize their vision for their home. Their happiness and fulfillment with how their home project turned out are where I find my greatest value.
Tell us about your life outside of your business? What do you like to do?
I love spending time with my family – my husband, Casey, and my 19-month old daughter, Cameryn. We love to hike, jog around the lake, take naps, and watch movies. I love to cook when I have the time and have this fantasy of going to the farmer’s market each afternoon before dinner to gather fresh ingredients for the night’s meal, lol! This part-time designer and full-time wife-mom definitely does not have time for that, but a girl can dream, right? I also love fun dinners out with friends, and dancing – at a party, at a club, in my kitchen in my pajamas – if there’s music playing, I’m dancing.
How do you balance your career and family/personal life?
This is always a struggle, as time is the most sought-after luxury. I choose to work three days per week so that I can exercise my design-mind, but also be there for precious moments with my daughter the other two weekdays. It’s been a really good fit for me. I feel accomplished in my work, and present with my daughter. Both of which are important to my husband and me. (Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the day, he’s the one who has to work 50+ hours a week to keep the lights on around here, and I love him for that.) I try to maintain some sort of exercise (sweat, really) a few times a week to clear my head – it gives me better focus and quiet time for just me to enjoy.
Quick Fun Facts...
What’s your favorite charity? Fraser (serving children and families with special needs)
What age do you want to retire at? 55
One travel location on your bucket list? Twin Farms Resort in Vermont
Are you an introvert or extrovert? Extrovert, or so I’ve been told
What book would you suggest to our readers? Hmm… would love to have a great offering here, but truth be told, I’m a little short on the free-time for reading right now. However, I do enjoy a good issue of Cooking Light Magazine.
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