by Anthonia Akitunde
Interior design expert and freelance stylist Angela Belt is confident in many aspects of her life and career, but potty training her two-year-old daughter Brooklyn isn’t one of them—at least for right now.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Belt says, laughing. “Some days are really hard. I just keep telling myself she’s going to get there one day.”
And Belt, 32, has made sure she’ll be there to celebrate when Brooklyn hits that major milestone—and all the others that come after—by freelancing after years of working as a visual merchandiser for Room & Board. Belt, who you may recognize from her work on her sister Jeanine Hays’ global interior design brand Aphrochic, says it was the best decision she was blessed to make.
Belt chats about how she branched off from her corporate job to going freelance to launch her own one-woman brand.
Did you always know you wanted to be an interior designer?
I [went] to Howard University and majored in political science. I met my husband [Leon] in our sophomore year, really got into art with him, [and] ended up minoring in the arts.
I interned at the Studio Museum [in Harlem] for three to six months, and then I found a Craigslist ad for [a job with Room & Board] in furniture and accessory retail. I was 22 at the time [and] that’s when I started working for the company; I worked there for 10 years.
It was just an amazing place to work—you could really secure your own career. I started out in sales positions and ended up having my own showrooms in Washington D.C. I learned everything on the job: how to draw floor plans by hand, how to make a business plan, how to present… I’ve done model apartments for them, I’ve done the Hamptons Home and Garden show for them, open houses in New York… I just had an amazing experience.
When you started your own store through the company, did you have any hesitation since that wasn’t what you originally thought you would be doing?
(Laughs) Not really. I think a lot of people around me were concerned, my mom especially: “You went to school for political science, and now you’re getting into this furniture thing? This isn’t going to make any money, what are you doing?” But for me it just made sense and I loved it.
What challenges did you face when you first got started?
I’m pretty young. Right now I’m 32. So trying to do a lot of the things that I do, a lot of people are always asking who is in charge. People don’t think it’s me. (Laughs) People are always kind of looking around for someone else first, so I think I’ve always had to get over that barrier.
I really love connecting with people, love collaborating, so the barrier comes down probably after the next five minutes. I like making people laugh. Sometimes I’ll just go up to someone and say, “I know he may look the part, but I’m the one in charge”—just to break the ice. I don’t let it go too far out of hand; people need to understand I’m the one making the final decision. Let’s get focused.
How did you begin your transition into freelance styling?
[Aphrochic] became a really great project that Jeanine and I worked on together. We ended up doing a ton of collaborations; I’ve been able to work on projects with HGTV, we did a makeover together for Lonny Magazine, [and] I just recently helped her with her apartment for Elle Decor.
The collaborations always seem to go quite well; I get a ton of exposure. It’s just fun to give people a different idea of what modern and contemporary style is—[that] it does have people of color in the forefront of the design. I started getting more experience with working with other clients.
Then in 2011, we started working on the [Aphrochic] Remix book, and that was a really exciting process. We got to work with Random House and with some incredible interior designers in LA, New York, Philly… I got to travel around the country getting a very unique experience for two years.
When the book came out in 2013, I was pregnant with my daughter. I think once motherhood hit, I realized people tell you all the time that everything has to change, but I don’t think you really understand it until you go through it yourself. I think over the past year I’ve made some big changes, really saying “OK, if I really want to do this freelance photo styling, this needs to become my full-time job.” This past April I left Room & Board, I’m doing freelance photo styling full time, and this past December, I started writing and photo styling for About.com.
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