When we talk with designers about how they started their businesses, for some it is a mid-career shift to finally doing what they love; for others, it has always been their passion. They were “that kid.”
Dann Foley, Partner and Interior Designer at Foley & Stinnette Interior Design, in Palm Springs, CA, says he was ‘that kid.’ “My parents were afraid to go out to dinner because the furniture would be rearranged when they got home,” he says. “And my mother had a decorator.”
He continues that he was always fascinated by old movies, but not in the way you would expect. “My interest was really in the background,” Foley says. “It was the lifestyle, the design and production. I loved that you could bring a story to life through set design.”
Foley has always been drawn to beautiful things, like the furnishings on those movie sets. “It can be furniture, art, clothing, architecture… I find beauty in everything. I don’t ever remember being pulled in another direction,” he says. He’s turned that love of beautiful things into a multi-faceted business centered around design.
Foley started out as, and continues to be, a designer. He is also a prolific product designer and has recently added author to his resume, releasing his first book this coming January — It’s All in the Mix — where he shares beautiful interiors as well as tips related to good design.
A Real Job?
Foley’s mother encouraged his passion for design early on — letting him take off from school to visit the design center in Philadelphia when they were renovating, for example. However, when the time came, his parents didn’t really want him to become a designer, Foley adds. “For the first 10 years of my career, my parents kept asking when I was going to get a real job,” he chuckles.
Foley had other plans. He began his design career before he even left design school, starting his first business as an extra credit project his senior year. As a school project, Foley consulted on home design, some with family friends and some through the family of his business partner at the time, another student. Her father was a resort developer, and as a result they landed three projects out of the gate — a hotel lobby, three model homes and a hospitality project that incorporated 12 rooms in a garden hotel. It was enough to keep the business going right out of school.
“I figured I had nothing to lose and it was now or never,” Foley said. “When I look back now, I think I might have been insane. I’ve been very fortunate though. I work hard and I’ve been lucky. And I love doing this on my own terms.”
When that partnership ended, Foley found a new partner with a fashion background and ties in the Middle East and Asia. “I was 24 years old and designing a palace for a prince!” he exclaims. That partnership lasted for four years, and from there Foley went out on his own. Fast forward, and he teamed up with Bo Stinnette, who he’s worked with for 22 years of his 35-year-plus interior design career. Stinnette started as a project manager in Foley’s firm, and now, as a partner, handles much of the interior design side of the business.
Getting to Know You
In everything he does, Foley says, his aesthetic is eclectic and sophisticated. “I want to be inspired and excited, and feel the passion every day when I sit down to work,” he says.
One way he does that is to connect with his clients. Whoever he’s designing for, the goal is to create personal, intimate interiors. “I want to show them that their vision, their idea for their home can be so much more than they ever even considered. I exude that excitement. I tell my clients that we’re going to give them everything they asked for but in a way they never dreamed possible,” Foley says. “It’s a story we help them tell. Most people are living with blinders. My goal is to help them remove those blinders and see how big and personal their ideas can be.”
The ups and downs he’s faced in his decades-long career have prepared him for where he is now. “I have no problem saying that I’ve failed,” Foley says. “I’ve made a lot of money and lost a lot of money in this industry. I’ve learned lessons along the way, and some I had to learn more than once. Talking about these things helps me to understand it better.”
That understanding has also helped him carve his path beyond designing homes. Foley has worked with home furnishings manufacturers for the past decade, introducing collections with several companies — some successful, some not as successful. His most recent collaboration is a full lifestyle collection with Stylecraft, where Foley has hundreds of skus with more to come at High Point Market next month.
One of the things he enjoys most about his Stylecraft partnership has been the ability to tell the story of his branded collection in his own way, through merchandising and being on hand to share his enthusiasm with customers. “One of the most exciting things for me with Stylecraft is the number of buyers who come in and say, ‘I’ll take the whole thing,’” referencing the lifestyle merchandising Foley works hard to achieve.
Sharing the Love
His enthusiasm for design, product design and so much more is central to Foley’s authenticity. Even his new book, which he wrote himself, shares his story. It’s partly autobiographical, sharing how his, his parents’ and grandparents’ travels have influenced him; it’s also partly a how-to, sharing design ideas, before-and-afters and helpful tips on how to achieve good design. “A lot like my brand, the projects, the inspiration and the ideas are attainable and adaptable,” he says.
While Foley has been in business for some time, he brings a freshness to interior design and product design simply by sharing his love for his craft. As with everything else, there are layers to contend with. “You have to learn to run a business where you’re making multiple people happy at once,” he says. Juggling aside, Foley says that even on the difficult days, he loves what he does. “For me, it’s about that passion and excitement I get every day from the work I’m doing. Even on bad days, I’m so lucky. I’ve had 36 years of wonderful, with a few days that sucked.”