It is such a pleasure to introduce you to Julie Dillon, the creative force behind Ampersand Living. Julie has built an interior design firm that is equal parts creative and collaborative. Every project is a partnership. A unique approach that her clients truly appreciate. Enjoy!
~ Mike Anderson
Life is Better Done Together.
This is the first message delivered to every visitor of AmpersandLiving.com. For Julie Dillon, the owner of Ampersand Living, a Carlsbad based interior design firm, this is much more than a clever hashtag. While current culture tends to highlight and reward individual influence and achievement, Julie believes that working together produces a much more satisfying result. And this belief – that Life is Better Done Together – guides not only her business, but her life as well.
Growing up in rural Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Julie and her brother were raised by an ever-entrepreneurial father (his side hustles included a courier, a restaurant, and now a drug and alcohol rehab center) and a mother she describes as a “tireless helpmate”. Both were super supportive of her endeavors and encouraged Julie to live life on her terms.
After high school, Julie earned a degree in business and marketing from the University of Guelph near Toronto. “[After] I graduated college, I proposed my business plan to start a marketing consulting business and was confronted with the statement, ‘Who would want to hire you?’ (implying I couldn’t have nearly enough knowledge or experience to be useful). That moment changed my life, derailed my plans…”
Julie was disappointed by the implication but decided to heed the advice of this trusted and respected friend. Her marketing dreams would be put on hold.
Not one to sit around and wait for opportunity, Julie basically said, “I’m moving to Whistler! I’m going to give snowboard-for-a-living a try.” She headed west, planning to take a year to figure out her next move. Towards the end of that year, Julie met her future husband – a high-profile professional snowboarder. They were married shortly thereafter, and settled in Vancouver, B.C. Her husband traveled a lot and encouraged Julie to join him as often as possible. Foregoing her professional aspirations was tough, but she initially agreed. At the same time, she discovered Vancouver’s thriving interior design culture, and found herself intrigued by the role physical environment could play in emotional well-being.
At this point her new interest was more an exploration than a possible vocation, but a seed was planted, and began to take root.
After a couple years in Vancouver, the couple relocated to Carlsbad. Julie continued to cultivate her interest in interior design, but recalls, “I didn’t really know that being an interior designer was a career, so I began working in real estate. Selling homes, I fell in love even more with interiors and renovation. We built a vacation home – I loved every part of the process. And I curated a collection of beautiful things.”
It wasn’t long before friends and friends-of-friends were asking Julie to apply her designer’s eye to their spaces as well. She enthusiastically took on every project, enjoying the opportunity to develop her craft. It was a perfect way to start. There was no business at this point – so she was just having fun.
As her reputation grew, she began to charge a nominal fee; but having no formal design training, she felt a bit insecure to charge the typical rates of other experienced professionals. She was operating on her own, lacking the confidence necessary to grow the business much past the paid-hobby stage.
But in 2016, sitting with her bookkeeper and reviewing the previous year’s financials, Julie felt a very strong internal prompting, “There is a really significant chance that in the future you are going to need to be able to support yourself.” That realization was the push she needed to take her business to the next level, but she knew herself well enough to know she couldn’t do it alone. Enter the power of one-plus-another.
“I’d always wanted to develop my business and build a brand, but lacked the confidence to do so. Having willing individuals walk along side me and encourage me in my endeavors ended up being the pivotal point allowing me to move forward.”
Julie explains, “A close friend and long-time cheerleader, one day in particular, sat me down and gave me a basic play-by-play for how to start my business. I knew all these things but I was like a deer stuck in the headlights – it was all the basics, but she reminded me of the essentials and reminded me that even though some of these things seemed inconsequential considering my lack of volume and experience, that they ultimately would be what would propel me forward… she was the first to instill in me the concept to not despise small beginnings. Everyone starts somewhere.”
As they began to put business systems into place and develop the brand – small step by small step – Julie couldn’t help but see the powerful effect of partnership and encouraging one another. This realization was a game changer. The power of one-plus-another would be Julie’s new way forward. Life is Better Done Together, would be her mantra.
And in the same way, Life is Better Done Together would guide other areas of her life, including being a mom.
Unfortunately, about a year and a half ago, her marriage of 17 years ended. Obviously, divorce is extremely painful, and the timing is never good. But this was especially hard for Julie. Her new business was growing steadily. She was building her brand. And while not completely blindsided, after the split, she found herself responsible for the full-time care of her two children – logistically, domestically and financially. She could have panicked. She could have been bitter. She could have quickly hired a nanny and kept pushing her business forward. All of this would seem reasonable under the circumstances. But doubling down on Life is Better Done Together, Julie committed to being present for her kids.
As with Ampersand Living, family success would require systems be put in place. The purposeful structure of Julie’s day allows her to drop her kids off at school, meet them after school, play taxi mom, cook dinner for them each evening, and go to sleep along with them, each night. Lights out at 8:45 pm. Then she’s up at 4:30 am to get a jump on her day, before she and the kids head out for school.
“My downfall is a tendency for perfection and so, desiring to [provide well for my family] I was forced to enact true margins in my life, [enabling me] to sustain both full time work, and be a full time present and loving mom, meeting my children’s physical and emotional needs. So, while I pretty much have no social life, God promised me if I kept this margin and didn’t fall prey to the hustle, that He would fill in the blanks – and He did. Work got done, the business grew, clients raved, and yet I cooked meals for my babies, snuggled them in bed every night, read stories with them and adventured well with them. Nothing was left out.”
And don’t kid yourself, the clients do rave. And for good reason. Julie’s enthusiasm for collaboration is a unique philosophy in the design world. And it is much appreciated by those she serves.
Not too long ago, Julie was contacted by a homeowner who had just concluded working with another interior designer and was left with an over-budget, six-figure disappointment. It seems this designer was concerned more with getting done quickly and sharing the results on social media, than consulting with the family on desired outcomes and staying within their budget. As Julie began working with the new client, discussing options and offering some initial suggestions, she remembers the look of fear on her client’s face. “I said to her, ‘Friend, no matter what we choose. No matter what we work out, it’s going to look amazing. We have many options.’ And I remember her face just softened. She was like, ‘Really, I have a say? We’re going to do this together?’ She didn’t expect there would be any back and forth, or any regard for what she wanted.”
Clients want to be led, of course. That’s why they hire a professional. But Julie harnesses the power of one-plus-another by first seeking to understand how her clients live. Then she continues by casting a vision of the positive impact a well-designed space can have on their life.
“Being able to take a guess at what somebody is wanting, identifying that in them, and then helping them bring that to life, is really a big part of how I see partnering. Because partnering isn’t saying, ‘You want green on the wall? Oh great, I’ll put green on the wall.’ That’s not the partnership I’m talking about.”
“I aim to communicate the benefits of peace, calm and function in life that can be achieved through our physical environment. Visual harmony really does enable a positive, encouraging, and catalytic mindset. Helping them get that is seriously the greatest high ever. There’s nothing better than that. It’s an honor to see that happen for people.”
A truly beautiful perspective that guides every effort.
At the end of another recent project, a client sent Julie a text, gushing about how pleased she was with Julie’s work. Not surprisingly, Julie responded with appreciation for the opportunity to collaborate.
It was then that Julie received what she considers to be one of her highest professional compliments – a testament to her belief that Life IS Better Done Together, and confirmation that her clients buy in to the power of one-plus- another.
The complimentary reply was simply…
To learn more about Ampersand Living and to partner with Julie, please go to: https://www.ampersand-living.com/
To check out her portfolio of beautiful design projects, check out AmpersandLiving on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ampersand_living/
If you enjoyed this article, I am sure Julie would love reading your comments below. And if you know another business with a Crazy Good story, let us know. We may feature it in an upcoming article.