An Interview with Sone’ Ehabe’

Sone Ehabe Interview

Soné Ehabé’s love for all things design stemmed from an early age with her natural inclination towards fine art. Turning this love affair into a career began after graduating from Drexel University in 2005. Soné’s foundation for design was established at luxury brands Ralph Lauren and Hermes, where she was able to explore the aspects of design through window displays and visual merchandising.

In 2008, friends and family began approaching Soné, hiring her to take on independent design projects under the guise of her own brand, and thus, her own freelance company, Soné Ehabé Interiors was born.

Apt. 30 Design allows Soné to design and oversee projects for residential and commercial spaces, with a focus on boutique hospitality projects. Soné lives in Old City, Philadelphia and continues to draw ideas and inspiration from her favorite contemporary artists as well as her everyday surroundings.

In this interview with Startup Savant, Soné shares about following her creative passion, which later lead her to forming her very first design studio. She explains her competitive edge, her experience in finding and retaining clients and much more cool gems.

Her advice to entrepreneurs starting a business:

Reach out and help someone else whenever you can. Helping other people can really benefit you as well. Whether it’s helping to sharpen your skills or it changes your perspective, enabling you to see things in a new light. Helping people encourages self-growth.

What motivated you to start Apt.30Design? How did the idea come about?

In 2011, I was working for a small residential design studio. My duties drastically changed from head designer to office manager, bookkeeper, and marketing manager. For 2 years while I was happy to have a job during a recession, I was extremely unmotivated and depressed.

My creative skills were barely being utilized. Although disappointing, I turned this lack of design stimulation in the office into positive. I began writing and collecting inspiring design images. This collection of random design morphed into my blog: Apt.30Design.

I named the blog after the apartment I was living in at the time. It became my safe place, sanctuary, and my personal design bubble. This was the only creative outlet I had at the moment which I took full advantage of. A few weeks after creating the blog, I was laid off. That night, I began a business plan for Apt.30Design—The design studio.

What is unique about your business? Is there a competitive advantage that you have over the rest?

Apt.30Design is unique because I approach every project as though they were my own personal passion projects. I want to help people see their meaningful endeavors come to life. The design process is organic. The execution of every plan is unique per client and their needs. I don’t ever want a client to think, “Wow, she really didn’t hear me!” or “I guess this is ok, but I’ve seen it before”.

Design should empower people to create and be their best selves when they inhabit the space. Apt.30Design wants to inspire that empowerment.

In your experience, what is the best way to find your ideal customer? Are there any mistakes that our readers can learn from?

The best way to find/gain clients for me is through word of mouth. Working hard and being nice to people will take you further than any mass marketing/PR campaign in my experience. When people trust your work ethic and, know you stand by/believe in yourself and your brand they will call on you.

There really isn’t a shortcut to success. I think paying too much money for PR too early is a big mistake. Nothing is guaranteed and so you shouldn’t move forward with that sort of plan until you’re established and know your brand inside and out.

Another mistake is saying yes to everything. You interview your clients just as much as they interview you. Not everyone is a proper fit. I know and understand everyone has bills. But for long term, the better you and a client fit, the better the outcome, a better professional relationship is built, guaranteeing more opportunity for growth, portfolio expansion and more work.

Have you ever gotten a disappointed client or customer? If so, how did you handle the situation?

Interior design is a very subjective service industry, so disappointment is inevitable in some cases. I have disappointed a client due to miscommunications and over-promising what could be done using their suggested timeline and budget.

When I was in the situation, I was upfront and apologized for any misgivings. I also usually came to them with a solution before the problem became a larger issue. Hindsight is 20/20; but that just further reinforces my point of interviewing clients—fully understanding their needs, wants and properly managing those expectations.

What do you attribute your success to? Is there a trait you have or a person who helped you along the way?

My success is solely due to hard work, the ability to ask for help when needed; knowing my weaknesses and admitting them. Not forcing something that just isn’t working. You can’t shove a square peg in a circular hole.

Also, I always want to keep learning. That is one of the most important attributes you can have as a business owner. I try to remember while I may not be reinventing the wheel, there’s always another way to approach a situation. Stay inspired and listen, read and absorb everything you can.

Several people have helped me along the way. I’ve had wonderful friends and family that have been crucial to keeping me motivated and moving forward. Without these wonderful people that inspired and encouraged me every day, I wouldn’t have the confidence to keep going.

Did you have a hard time starting your business? How did you handle time and resources constraints?

Starting this business took a lot of time and dedication. Because I am a “right brain” thinker, writing a comprehensive business plan was a challenge. Time is always an issue because there are never enough hours in the day. Do yourself a favor and create two schedules, one for day to day events and the other is for short term (weekly or monthly goals)—these will help you with time management.

I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. I’ve also learned that you should take advantage of as many free resources as possible. Reach out to Universities with great MBA programs—they may have Small business development workshops you can attend to. Also, speak with other entrepreneurs and ask questions relating to your business and outside of your profession.

When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.

Knowing I won’t eat if I don’t work for it is a major motivator! Also, I love my profession. It’s very important to me and I take every job personally. When I see each task as something I have to complete because I’m passionate about it, that helps me keep moving forward.

There are days I hit the snooze button (several times) but I try not to be too hard on myself. No one is perfect and you have to become okay with having bad days occasionally. I really feel it’s about how you bounce back from those bad days. For me, it’s most important to know that bad days come and go. As long as you stay focused and appreciate the good days, forward movement will happen.

Is there a type of marketing that has worked amazingly for Apt.30Design? If so, how did you stumble upon it?

Word of mouth, networking through trade association events has been helpful. Meeting people at events and asking them to go for coffee so you can learn more about their business even if it’s not directly related to your own.

I’ve also found introducing yourself to individuals that host the event (when given the opportunity) is always helpful. The host of the event usually knows everyone that was invited to that event and they can be great at connecting resource.

Where do you see Apt.30Design in the next 5 years? Any new products/services in development?

Within the next 5 years, I’d like to explore custom textile product design: wallpaper, fabric, area rugs etc. I’d also like to be designing more hospitality spaces like hotels, restaurants, etc.

What are the three best pieces of advice that you would give to anyone starting a business in Philadelphia? What do they need to know from the very beginning?

Start with a business plan. There are a lot of work and you may not follow it to a “t” because life happens and plans evolve. But it helps keep your both feet on the ground and figure out if you really want to get into that particular industry.

Work hard and be nice to people, Philadelphia is a small city and everyone knows someone. Bad mouthing and bridge burning can only hurt you. Being kind takes minimal effort.

Reach out and help someone else whenever you can. Helping other people can really benefit you as well. Whether it’s helping to sharpen your skills or it changes your perspective, enabling you to see things in a new light. Helping people encourages self-growth.

Lastly I’d say, know from the beginning. No one owes you anything and nothing worth it is ever easy. Owning a business is WORK but if you love what you do, you won’t mind it so much. Also, get someone to help you with Taxes and Quickbooks—you’ll thank me later 🙂


If you want to discover Sone’s creative side, follow her boards on Pinterest, connect on WordPress or say ‘hi’ on Facebook!