Designer Takes the Scenic Route to Independence

NEWARK, CA— Mollyanne Sherman is a living, breathing example that careers, like life, are as much about the journey as the destination.

A second generation Certified Kitchen Designer, Sherman “grew up around industry icons and my father as a role model.”

After earning an Interior Design Degree, she learned the ropes in high-end design showrooms. But when the economy took a downturn, she was forced to go in a new direction.

She took on a role of designer and then trainer with a home center, teaching others about what made kitchen designs work.

With her CKD, CBD and CID credentials, Sherman has always been an advocate of education, and her experience training others taught her a lot about the kitchen and bath design business. It also instilled in her a lifelong interest in mentoring, something she still does today.

Additionally, working at a home center taught her some valuable lessons. “I learned another area of the market and that helped my business as I moved forward in the future,” says Sherman. “I was working with a clientele who didn’t even realize someone like me was out there.”

Eventually, however, she was ready to move on. “I had spent 18 years of my career working for someone else, and I realized it was time to be on my own,” she says.

Going Solo

Sherman formed her new firm five years ago. MAC Design now serves a primarily middle- to high-end home design business in the San Francisco Bay area.

“The majority of my projects are for upper middle end clients who have worked hard to get what they have and are excited about their new project,” Sherman says.

She doesn’t have a showroom (“My home is my showroom,” she explains), which frees her up to balance motherhood and family life with her business, she notes. She meets with clients by appointment, and in some cases encourages them to bring their kids, providing a comfortable setting.

“I was afraid initially to do it on my own,” she says. “I know in this industry, there are up years and down years, and I had seen them both, so the fear was real. It was a little scary but also very freeing.”

Despite her initial reservations, Sherman has made a name for herself, and has won numerous awards that include NKBA Excellence in Kitchen & Bath Design, First Place Kitchen and Best Bath awards from Dupont Corian, and Kitchen and Bath awards from Kasmar Publications. But she believes that her real niche, the talent that sets her work apart, is improving “the function and flow of interior spaces with elegance and luxury.”

The Design Process

Sherman generally begins the design process with a visit to the client’s home to assess the space available and the customer’s needs. Product options are considered, based upon the available funds for the project. At this point, Sherman uses a series of hand-rendered or computer-assisted drawings to relay to the client an image of the project. Sherman says she bases the building and installation process on the needs of the client, and offers guidance in choosing a local contractor to work on the project. She is also glad to work with a contractor that the client has previously selected, and, doesn’t mind working with those homeowners who wish to tackle the job for themselves.

Sherman also recognizes the importance of creating designs that work for the individual needs of the homeowner. For instance, she worked with one recent client who wanted the feel of an old farmhouse, incorporating collectibles and family heirlooms were a priority, as was the ability to entertain friends and family. To address this, the kitchen was moved from the original location and an exterior wall was pushed out to increase the living space. Some interior walls were removed to provide a Great Room for entertaining. Sherman then created “conversation areas” in strategic locations. The open plan allowed the family to display its treasures from the past. These clients invested about $220,000 in the project.

Design Focus

“When I started working independently, in addition to helping homeowners, I was partnering with showrooms and manufacturers providing design display, and supporting sales people who didn’t want to do design,” says Sherman.

“What makes me unique is that I don’t focus on the sale of product but rather, I focus first on the design. My home serves as my showroom, where I show people a bit of what’s possible,” she adds.

Most of Sherman’s business is done through referrals and her Web site. She credits her membership and involvement in the NKBA as a major factor in generating business and industry contacts. She does some print advertising, as well.

Her business philosophy is simply “to provide the customer service that people deserve and require.”

MAC Design makes available a wide range of products. The products include everything from sleek contemporary lines to Old World style, and Sherman notes that she also actively promotes the use of many exceptional “green” products. Her product lines currently include Holiday Kitchens, Aristocratic, UltraCraft and HomeCrest, et al.

She says she’s happy providing clients with only the design aspect of her services, and has also moved into designing all areas of the home, such as bedrooms and media rooms.

She’s branched out in other ways, too. Sherman is devoting a portion of her time to mentoring design students and consulting with other firms. “It’s reaffirming every day why I do what I do,” she says. “Both teaching and my work in my business confirm that I’m doing what I want to do, and I enjoy helping other people to be successful, as well.”

Sherman teaches design courses at West Valley College in Saratoga, CA in addition to her design business and working with other firms as a consultant. Her students enter the program with the intent of becoming interior designers.

She believes in her efforts at the local college to reach a new generation of designers. “[Design] is a new business, really, as a whole,” she states. “And we need new blood to keep it strong.”