Kate Miles: Interior Designer
Charleston, South Carolina
WFU Class of 2007
Major: Art History
Kate Miles has traveled various paths leaving Wake Forest, including work in galleries, auction houses, interior design, and most recently, starting her own business. We caught up with Kate to learn all that's happened since undergrad.
DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? How has your career unfolded since?
Kate Miles: I majored in Art History and minored in Sociology. I did not go to Wake thinking I would do that. Honesty, I didn't know what I would study when I got there. I took a lot of liberal arts classes, and really enjoyed an Art History class. I had previously been interested in fashion, and I thought that I wanted to work in New York in the fashion industry. I dId an internship with Nicole Miller when I was at Wake, and I realized that’s not what I wanted to do.
Once I got into art history, I was thinking I would work in a museum, but I wasn’t really sure. But eventually, art history led to interior design. My parents were building on a house in Kiawah Island, and they hired an interior designer that went to Wake, Tammy Connor. She has been very successful. I started working with her, and I was watching the process and really liked it. After Wake, I figured I would do an interior design program. I applied to SCAD and a few others, and heard good things about the about Sotheby’s Institute. I was accepted there, and moved to New York to do the Sotheby's year long Masters program in American Fine and Decorative Arts. I learned a lot about antiques, and I spent time at the auction house. I was also able to meet well known people in the industry. During the program, we traveled to London, Boston, and Charleston.
After the program, I decided to move to Charleston and write my thesis on one of the historic homes there. I focused on the Aiken-Rhett House. I wrote about the textiles and how the family selected them in the 1800s and their inspirations.
Soon after I got married, and my husband took a job in Las Vegas. I had a hard time finding a job since Vegas was not a great market. I was looking at small design firms, and then I started looking at the arts in general. I ended up getting a job at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. I worked there and gave tours. There was a Monet exhibit most of the time I worked there, and it was a really cool experience, but it was not what I wanted to do.
When I got offered a job at Ethan Allen, I immediately accepted. I would have preferred to work with an interior design firm but I figured it would be a good experience and it definitely was! I was there for two years, and then we were transferred to Memphis, and I was able to transfer with Ethan Allen for two more years. Sadly, the market in Memphis wasn't quite as good. It was commission based so i wasn’t as successful in Memphis as I was in Vegas. I took a break to have my son in 2015, and then we moved to Charleston soon after. I have been home with my son for the past two years, but my neighbors recently asked me to help them redo their kitchen. After working on that project, they recommended me to another client. I have started my own business, Kate Miles Interior Design, which will hopefully continue to grow!
DL: Would you mind telling me more about the interior design practice you are starting?
KM: I plan to focus on residential interior design!
DL: What’s the hardest part about starting your own business?
KM: Getting clients is a big thing. I haven’t totally delved into that yet, but I have been lucky with word of mouth so far. Getting my ducks in a row has been the hardest part, and it hasn’t always been easy to feel confident and ready to do it! I saw a quote recently that really spoke to me. “Great things never came from comfort zones.”
DL: How much did your time at Wake inform your career path?
KM: I do think it definitely did. I was able to take a bunch of different classes, it it was great that the school gives you two years to decide on a major. Studying art history was very fulfilling. I feel well versed on art and I enjoy going to museums and being able to appreciate art. I also did a summer business program, which prepared me a little bit to be ready to do accounting and think about owning my own business.
DL: How have you found the different jobs you've had?
KM: I would say networking has been the primary way. I mentioned Tammy, who worked on my parents house. I interned with her for a month in Birmingham. She connected me with another person in Charleston. Ethan Allen was an application or email or email process. They weren’t hiring, but I just reached out and said I was job searching. My first job for Ethan Allen was more of a front desk role, and not a design job. However, I just took it since i knew I wanted to work in the industry and I needed to start somewhere.
DL: The interior design field seems to be a popular career option for art alums. What is the hardest part about breaking into this field?
KM: Your education gives you the background and the fundamentals, but working with someone gives you a look into the ins and outs of what you should be doing. In this field, people see the end product and just think it's fun. But the crunching numbers, researching, tracking, and logistics can be a hard part of the job.
DL: What’s the one kernel of advice you would give to current students?
KM: Take a chance and follow your passion. I do think that the art history studies really prepared me for a lot of different things!
DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?
KM: Since I knew I would be doing a graduate program, I didn't spend too much time in the career office. But, I would think maybe having people working in different industries coming to the art department to speak etc. might give students more ideas of opportunities in the art world!