We had the good fortune of connecting with Stephanie Nelson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stephanie, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
When my husband’s job moved us from Chicago to Dallas, I had to leave my Design Manager role with the Walgreens company behind. I was there for 11 years and it was hard to say goodbye. I helped create the position I held and I loved using interior design as a tool to translate the brand’s identity into a physical environment. Additionally, we were moving away from our friends and family, we had just finished remodeling our “forever” house, and neither my husband nor I had ever been to Texas before. It was a big leap of faith!
Soon after we got settled in McKinney, I started working for Corgan, a design firm located in the historic district of Dallas. I was eager to get back into the design industry and to start feeling like myself again. I quickly fell into a familiar routine of dropping my kids off at school, commuting over an hour, and not getting home until dinner time. Week after week, I couldn’t shake the feeling that God didn’t move us across the country to simply recreate what we already had back in Illinois…but that he had removed all of those things to make room for something new – something better.
So, after a lot of conversations and prayer, my husband and I agreed that I should try and start my own business. It didn’t feel like a good time to cut our income in half and dive into the unknown, but does it ever? I had over 15 years of experience as a designer, but I had no idea how to build a website, handle my taxes, or market myself. It was difficult without the resources large companies have, and lonely without the network I had been a part of before, but piece by piece it came together.
The name came easily – Ash and Ember Interior Design, from the bible verse in Isaiah “He gives beauty for ashes”. It definitely felt like I was searching for a single ember among ashes as I worked to rebuild everything around me. I also became passionate about helping other people find their fresh start, whether it’s with a complete new build or just a different paint color. The concept of giving new life to things extends to the vintage elements I try to work into every project as well. I’m drawn to items that have a story to tell and I believe their age and imperfections make them more interesting – what a beautiful thing to remember.
I always enjoyed being part of a design team, and I missed the collaboration that went along with that. Since owning my own business, I’ve been intentional about finding like-minded people and connecting with other small businesses who understand that we’re stronger together. Sharing our knowledge and resources helps us all create the best possible outcome for our clients. I’ve found the small business community around DFW to be extremely friendly and supportive of each other and I’ve met so many talented people. I’ve also been able to add other creative woman to the A+E team as well, and our different personalities and strengths really compliment one another.
This past year we added a retail side to our business by selling art and home décor at the Antique Company Mall in downtown McKinney. We love collecting vintage and unique items that bring character and life into a room, and it’s been fun sharing our finds with others. The next thing we’d like to add is a ministry element – where we’d help foster and adoptive families by providing free design services for the children’s bedrooms. It’s been so rewarding to see what started out as a little spark, grow into what it is today!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
What sets us apart is that we’re a team of licensed interior designers and marketing professionals with very diverse backgrounds that include: healthcare, retail, corporate, hospitality, model homes, and high-end residential projects. We bring the experience, level of detail, and professionalism that you’d find working with a large design firm, but in a more personal and bespoke way that makes sense for private homes and small businesses.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The reason we chose to live in McKinney is because of the amazing historic downtown! I always take my guests there to shop and eat. We’d grab coffee at Filtered and then wander through the shops. There are so many yummy places for lunch…but Patina Green is a favorite. Then more shopping! I’d definitely take them by The Antique Company Mall to show them our Ash+Ember booth – but there are so many great vendors, I never leave empty-handed! We love going to The Yard, so we’d end the day having dinner and drinks there.
Another great place in McKinney is Adriatica Village. I take guests there for breakfast there so we can see the beautiful view and the kids always have fun skipping rocks in the water afterward. The stunning scenery also makes it the perfect spot to snap some pictures together before guests leave town.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My mom’s advice that “life is short…start your own business and spend more time with your kids” played a big role in my decision to leave my corporate job and step out on my own. I wouldn’t say I work less hours as a business owner, but the difference is that now I can control when I work. My work day starts later so I’m able to spend more time with my kids in the morning and it’s never a problem if there’s a doctor’s appointment or practice I need to get them to. Occasionally I do have meetings or appointments that overlap, but my mom and husband are always quick to jump in and help out.
Their love, support, and encouragement has helped me so much along the way.
I also couldn’t do it without the ladies who have chosen to partner with me on this journey! They’re all so talented and I love that Ash+Ember Design is a place where they can use their experience and love for design to make money and still have the flexibility they need for their families.
Jordana Keel (headshot) Tammy Schriewer (brand tablescape)