How I Got Started as a Designer & Landed Where I Am

I’m often asked how I got started as a designer and landed where I am when I have someone job shadowing me. I’m happy to share my journey as long as it helps someone else’s journey and I thought you may or may not find it interesting.

My undergraduate degree is from DePauw University in Sociology. The best parts of that college experience: my husband and my best friends. The worst part of that college experience: Southern Indiana and my major (Sociology). I begged my parents to let me go to art school, but it was 1984 and my parents would have absolutely none of it. I graduated in 1988 and my first job was in Advertising Specialty (pencils with company names on it… thrilling).

In 1989 I was working retail and waitressing in Chicago feeling frustrating and a little lost when my friend’s mother suggested that I go to a headhunter. It was pretty clear that I was underqualified to be an assistant, so she sent me to an office that had the job title: “Runner”. I put on my trusty blue suit, white collared shirt, and pumps and headed to Bruce Gregga Interiors (BGI) office in the Gold Coast of Chicago. I landed the job and was told to come in the next day with sneakers on and no jeans.

This was my big break. And I’m serious!  My salary was $15K which meant I was taking a pay cut from waitressing & retail, but it was worth it. My job was to basically run errands for the 9 designers and 9 architects as well as drive my boss around town. The staff was remarkable, and I was eager to work hard and learn. The errands that I ran were to the Merchandise Mart (Design Center), galleries, client houses (it was the REALLY high end – Oprah, Siskel, Ebert… the rich and famous of Chicago), assist at photoshoots and drive my boss wherever he wanted to go. Each errand had something to teach me and before I knew it, I was selecting fabrics and tile options at the Mart for the designers to present and got exposed to an industry that I completely fell in love with.

I decided to go back to school at night and get my master’s in architecture and the Architects at the office would come in early to help me learn drafting techniques and use their nice drafting tables. It felt like a team effort with support from every staff member. My boss was incredibly generous both financially and freely shared his abundance of knowledge and experience as I drove him around. I will forever be grateful for this experience!

Unfortunately, there was not a position for me to grow into so when one of the designers decided to go out on her own, I went with her as her assistant. I got married in 1990 before leaving BGI and in 1993 I got pregnant. This sent us into a quest where we would live and raise our children. After much research, heartfelt conversations, and dreaming, we decided to move to Maine.

Eventually, when my son was a few years old, I finished my masters and was working at Platt Hitchborn Architects in Exeter, NH when life took me on another turn, and I decided to start my own company in 1998 with the birth of my middle daughter.

Amy Dutton Home has had a few versions of itself and has always been a reflection of my family as it grew older and larger. Today, I am proud of the flexibility that my career provided me to work and be a mother – albeit it was a little nutty for a lot of years – and now I’m able to spend much more time focusing and being creative.

My advice for young designers? Work hard, stay true to what you want to do, make your career work for you (not the other way around), decide if you want to do commercial or residential, corporate or boutique, check your ego at the door, educate yourself in the field that you enjoy and be passionate while a patient. Most importantly, have fun because this isn’t brain surgery so you might as well enjoy the ride and put it in perspective.



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