Interview With Jamie: Talking Interior Design & Living Abroad As An American
I met Jamie Daley outside a fabric showroom on Rue du Mail in the 2nd arrondissement. We walked through the stores as she showed me the fabrics, patterns and pieces she sources for her clients. As a residential, luxury interior designer - Jamie has built a successful, bi-continental business working with individuals in both Paris and New York.
We find a quaint alley, with a beautiful courtyard and sit down on some steps to discuss her business and life abroad as an American woman in Paris. Here is our conversation:
Why Did You Come To Paris?
I lived my whole adult life in New York City, obtained my undergraduate and graduate degree there. I was working for a designer at the time and came to Paris for a friend’s wedding.
I came from London and got in the Metro and just had this gut feeling inside of me that I wanted to live here. It was a reaction like, “You have to live here, I don’t know why - but you have to.”
Now looking back after 5 years of being here, I realized it wasn’t just one thing. I’ve changed a lot, quit my job, have my own business, I’ve had many relationships and grown in ways I didn’t realize. So, there were many reasons why I was supposed to live here.
It sounds weird, but I couldn’t have done this in New York. I knew everything about that city, every street, every bar. Even if the people change - everything is still the same and recognizable. There was no more room for growth for me.
Here, I’m learning French and learning how to be completely vulnerable. I knew I had to put myself out there and not just stay in my little comfort zone.
When You First Came To Paris Were You Self Employed?
I actually wasn’t employed at all. I didn’t know anything about visas - I just told myself I’m moving to France and I’ll find a job.
So, I applied for a year and was looking for jobs while bouncing between the US and Europe for 3 months on the tourist visa.
It wasn’t really working out. I was dating a guy who I had met here and would keep asking me when I was coming back, what was going on with jobs. And, I was ashamed that I hadn’t found a job yet.
But, then I thought - maybe I should just start my own thing. And, something in my clicked, knowing that was the right decision. I came back here and started my business.
How Do You Find Your Clients?
All networking. I came here 5 years ago and it’s all through connections. It’s taken time for me to learn French, get to know people and build relationships. There’s a huge Expat market here and those are my clients.
I work in luxury interior design, so it’s very insular and specific. I find that Americans are willing to spend on such services. Unless it’s a large sum of money, most French people aren’t spending money on interiors. It’s just not a part of the culture.
How Did You Network Here?
I put myself in a lot of uncomfortable situations and went to things where I didn’t know anyone. The first time I was here, I went to this business networking event.
I’m this super tall, American woman and it was full of all men. Someone asked me if I was a model or waitress for the night and I felt so out of place,
I went to the bathroom and told myself - you’re staying for one drink and then you’re leaving. And, I ended up having a drink and talking to several people. It was a big step for me and helped me push myself more.
There’s a lot of Expat real estate agents in Paris, so I network with them for the insight. In America, a lot of houses, apartments are brand new or have renovated features. And, on the other hand - everything here is older. Not that American standard. So, there’s a lot of people who want to make changes and a lot of my work comes through these agents.
How Did You Establish Relationships With Vendors?
I actually built relationships with vendors before landing clients. I made a website, business cards and I went to start meeting people. At the time, my level of French was negative.
It was difficult and I would never even do that in New York. I would just ask vendors if I could go see their studio, their wood shop, what they do for upholstery. And, they were actually very welcoming. Because they want business and they’re a small business.
I knew I had to start somewhere and get the wheels turning. I didn’t have any clients, but I knew I just needed to do something. I went to all the stores in Saint Germain, all the furniture stores - introduced myself, asked for catalogues, and told them I’d be back with clients.
I don’t even know where it came from, but it took so much courage. I knew if I wanted it, then I just had to go and put myself out there.
How Often Do You Do Projects in New York?
I’m in Paris 50% and New York 50%. I have an assistant in New York and I go once a month. Sometimes more depending on how much work I have. My assistant can go to construction meetings for me, but not those for design.
I’ve been an interior designer my whole life, but for some reason for the last year - my work has shifted toward interior architecture. And, I’m just following it.
I’m used to picking out fabrics for window treatments, benches. But now, I’m doing more installations and building out spaces.
What’s Your Process of Working With a Client?
My first meeting I go to see them in their existing home or new home. I rely on my intuition to really know what they will want and like. I usually can tell by the way someone dresses, the car they drive - I can assess their budget level and where they are at.
I ask them if they have any pictures or images they have saved, if they have a favorite piece of jewelry, anything to get into their head a little bit.
The second meeting, I bring mood boards and then show them ideas that they may like. They’ll say I don’t like that bed, but I love that sofa. Little comments that let me know what direction I should continue to go with. And, from there I refine it.
What Did You Study To Pursue This Career?
I went to FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York. I switched around a lot went from Graphic Design to Fashion to Advertising. I tried everything.
Then, I went to Parsons for Interior Design.
Where Do You See The Future Of Your Business Going?
Right now, I like that my business is both in New York and in Paris. I’m also open to other areas of Europe. If there’s a client in Italy or someone has a house in Switzerland, I would love to expand here.
That’s why I wanted to come here too because in New York, I knew what my market would be. The city, Connecticut, Hamptons, possibly California, maybe Miami and that’s it.
Here, I can work in Paris and anywhere in Europe.
Her Thoughts On Work And Continuing To Live Abroad
I feel like work is work and it’s always going to come. If I live in Paris, but have to travel to New York once a month - I’m okay with that.
I just know that my quality of life is good here. And, it works for me.
I may have started my business here, but my foundation is in New York. My network, my connections, my base was there. Once I established that, it made coming over here much more of a reality - knowing that I could continue to live where I wanted and keep my work connections strong.
I feel like in a network base business, you have to go out and meet people. Yeah, there’s the language barrier, the visas and all the headaches that come with living abroad, but you just have to do the same you would do anywhere. Which is be vulnerable and ready to make connections and build your own network of people.
Knowing that I put in the work in New York and that anytime I can go back and land a client - makes living here a more relaxed experience for me. I would say if you’re thinking of living abroad, build up a strong base in your city. It will take off the pressure and allow you to enjoy your life abroad much more.
To take a look at Jamie’s interior design work, check out her company, JDaley Concepts, on their website.
You can also find her on Instagram.