People often ask me how I became an interior designer. My path into the interior design world was not a direct one. I did not decide I wanted to be a designer one day after watching a home renovation show on TV after school. In fact, there weren’t any design shows on TV when I was a kid. Instead, we watched Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Dynasty, MASH, and reruns of the original Star Trek. However, I did fall in love with the over-the-top 80s glamor of the Carrington mansion. We all like to daydream about living in a house like that, right? While my path into interior design had some twists and turns, it gave me a wealth of experiences that have better helped me serve my design clients. I may not have realized it at the time, but my mother guided my first steps on my path into design.
Learning Interior Design Lessons in Childhood
While I didn’t have HGTV or Pinterest as a kid, I did have a mom who taught me a thing or two about selecting and arranging pieces to make a comfortable room. She was a natural! I watched her rearrange our home many times. She’d buy a dwelling’s worth of furniture and always educate my sister and me about the antiques she picked up. Our classrooms were garage sales throughout Austin, Texas, where she’d teach us about design styles and periods through decorative items, jewelry, and art selections. She even had her own antique shop for a brief moment where we’d hang out and watch new pieces arrive. I remember I was obsessed with Laura Ashley as a kid, and my mom took note. One summer, I returned from camp to find a brand new bedroom with a white wrought iron bed, parquet floors, and new Laura Ashley bedding in the most beautiful pattern I’d ever seen. I still have an appreciation for Laura Ashley today. Through these little lessons, my mother taught me that a home should be comfortable and welcoming. That doesn’t mean it has to be pristine or photo ready. On the contrary, a welcoming home has permission to be messy. Our door was always open regardless of dishes in the sink or laundry on the couch waiting to be folded. I didn’t know it then, but the education my mother passed on to me would be instrumental down the line.
Moving to New York City
I studied theater in high school and poetry in college, and I just fell in love with all things art. So, I made up my mind to work in the New York City art world. I turned in my last college English paper, packed the U-Haul, and made my way to the big city without a job or any real plan. I just loved the idea of New York then, from the gritty street style to the Met. After many interviews at Christie’s auction house, I got an internship in the jewelry department, which turned into a job. I learned so much about design there, from intaking antique jewelry to working pre-auction viewings of antique furniture and rugs to pick up extra cash. I also learned a lot about stamp collections, but that was less exciting for me. This experience laid my foundation for Design History 101.
Eventually, my feelings about working in the art world were tainted, and my long-term career vision dwindled. I distracted myself by decorating my tiny New York apartment with trendy Moroccan boho pieces and perusing the “help wanted” section of the Times. I was looking for something in publishing, but the position that caught my eye was an administrative assistant at an architecture and interior design firm. It was a high-end firm that did traditional interiors and was in a pristine location at 67th Street between Park and Madison. Somehow, I got the job! So, I began spending my days in the beautiful townhouse office, admiring the designers’ gorgeous work.
Finding My Passion
In no time, I fell in love. I finally found my passion, my calling! I began assisting with selections and installations, as well as attending lovely industry events. I became friends with folks in the field and heard exciting stories of dramatic designs and even more dramatic characters. I was hooked. So, I decided to dive deeper. While working my design job, I went back to school at the New York School of Interior Design after work hours, and I took classes at Parsons as well. I put together a portfolio and eventually landed a position at Bilhuber and Associates, a very important and fabulous high-end firm with an impressive client list. It was like a dream come true!
Learning from My Mentors
In my new job, I learned at the heels of a master. Jeffrey Bilhuber was a fantastic and generous teacher, but of course, he was also demanding. I threw myself in headfirst and worked and worked and worked and learned so much — mostly by doing. Project management was the most important thing I learned, along with furniture arrangement and embracing customized everything. My time there was invaluable; I still think of Jeffrey as a friend and mentor. He has shown me kindness repeatedly over the years, and I adore hearing him speak when he is on a book tour.
The next position I moved onto was with Tom Scheerer. With Tom, I learned efficiency and diplomacy and how to do a lot with a little. Tom never made too much of a fuss. He made it all look so easy. He was just a natural at every aspect of the job. I was with Tom for six years. I would probably never have left if I had not had a child and felt the need to take some time as a stay-at-home mom. Working for Tom was heaven.
Starting My Own Design Firm
Soon, I decided to take the next big leap and started my own interior design firm in 2006. We were still in New York but decided to move back to Austin, Texas, in 2008 after my second child was born. After refamiliarizing myself with my Texas roots and spending time doing small jobs, I decided I was going to be serious about my work. So I founded Amity Worrel & Co. in 2012 and have experienced a wild and satisfying 10 years. I have the best staff anyone could ask for, and together, we’ve enjoyed lots of success. Throughout my career, I think the thing I’ve loved most about the interior design industry is its hopefulness. We get to work with people to make exciting changes in their lives while collaborating with teams of creative and passionate makers and artists. We create a home and life experience for people, and that’s a big responsibility and a joy to deliver.
Looking to the Future
As I look to the future of my career, I can’t help but reflect on the past. Lots of things led me to where I am at Amity Worrel & Co., from watching my mother create a comfortable home to the joy of learning about art at Christie’s to my formal education at NYSID and on-the-job learning in half-renovated NYC apartments. It’s all such a joy to look back on. I’ve had a love affair with interiors for a while now, and there’s one thing all these projects have in common — a sense of welcome.
Here’s to many more welcoming interiors ahead.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.