Rachael Ownbey Gariano is an Interior Designer. As someone who has just finished her second degree, is working on her professional certification, and is starting her own business, she shares helpful insights on how to decide on a career that makes you happy; how to balance school, work, and marriage; how to overcome a burdened sense and stress; how to lean on God for everything.
How did you get interested in Interior Design?
My mother had an interior designer when I was growing up. She allowed me to sit in on the sessions. I always had a lot of opinions, so among other things, my mom allowed me to go to the wallpaper store and pick out samples. My mom encouraged me to do art early in life, so I’ve always loved the color, balance, beauty, and symmetry of art. During and after college, I had a number of jobs. I was a make-up artist working at the counter for Estée Lauder. I worked in art galleries, in a boutique, and even did substitute teaching. But I wasn’t fully satisfied with these jobs. There was something inside of me that wanted more. I needed to be more active in what I did. I didn’t want to work for someone else and feel unfulfilled in my creative endeavors. I realized I had to have a job that was creative. I had worked at an ad agency; but as an account manager, I wasn’t doing creative work. I was always thinking back to my mom’s interior designer: it didn’t seem like she was working because she loved it so much. I thought hers would be a great job. When I was first out on my own, I was really able to design my own space. I had complete control of my environment, which I enjoyed. I knew Interior Design wouldn’t be easy. I wanted to do something in my own time. My husband has been very supportive of me going back to school to get my Design degree. I don’t regret any of the jobs I’ve taken. I needed all of those jobs to bring me to the realization of what I really wanted to do. I’ve taken the good parts of those jobs and am applying them now. It feels nice to realize that this is the career for me, and this is what I love to do. I think I’ll always do this in some way.
Was deciding on your career a struggle for you?
There were always a number of things I wanted to be when I grew up. For awhile, after graduating from college and being on my own, I felt such a burdened sense of life. All of a sudden it was up to me to make a living, to put food on the table, cook, clean, and do all of these new things that had always been done for me. This, I have learned, was the wrong perspective because God is always the One taking care of all of us. I’ve also learned that we never really grow up; we just grow -- hopefully in a spiritual direction. There’s no place that we “arrive” where we know everything. God is infinite, and this life is all about learning more about our relationship with God. God gives each of us certain aptitudes, so it’s up to us to run with them and improve upon them. I feel interior design is a talent I’ve been given, and I’m open to improving upon it. Space planning, color, lighting, and design in general can totally alter the way a space functions and make it feel more welcoming, productive, or relaxing. I love helping my clients feel more comfortable, loved, and happy in their homes. I concentrate on residential design, but I’ve done commercial and enjoy that as well.
How have you developed your client-base and business?
Starting my own business has truly been God-directed because it’s happened through word of mouth. I am so grateful to be able to apply what I have been learning in school. Design is actually an applied science, so there’s a lot of drafting, measuring, calculating, and abiding by jurisdictional codes. I just became a member of the ICC (International Code Council), which helps to ensure safety for the public. My school’s department head advisor told me to work in as many places that relate to the interior design field as I could to pick up knowledge. That’s the thing about interior designers -- we know a little bit about a lot of things, enough to apply to our work and to describe intelligently what we have planned to those who will help implement the plan. There’s a lot to it. We’re the coordinators and the designers, but we may not be able to lay tile, for instance. I think God directs us to where we’re supposed to be, wherever will be the most fulfilling place for us. God wants us to be happy, and He is constantly communicating with us. It’s simply a matter of listening to God’s communication. I find I am most satisfied when I leave this line of communication open. This is easiest when I turn off the radio or TV and tune in to God. It can be easy to neglect this relationship. I’ve found that the times when I’ve felt the loss of this communication, I’m the one who has stopped the conversation. But the more we cherish our relationship with God, the more we find out who God made us to be. Listening to God is not really a choice for me. When life gets you down, you have to lean on something. So I lean on God, because I’ve learned that I can’t always lean on people. Giving our lives to God and allowing Him to take the charge that He already has is so freeing. It liberates us to take on more significant challenges with joy.
What are “more significant challenges” to you?
Taking care of others! Once we allow God to take care of us, we stop focusing on ourselves. The verse, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa. 26:3) has become very important for my husband and me and the care we give our dogs. It also helps with work. People ask me to come to their houses and give them ideas. Even though I’m super busy with school, I love to help them. But there were times when I felt I couldn’t do it all. I was trying to hold on too tightly, and I wasn’t happy. I’ve had to give it all up to God. You want to say “Yes” to the opportunities that come into your life because they’re jobs God is giving you. But I’ve also realized that you’ve got to say “No,” too. You’ve got to please God more than other people. You can’t be all to all people. Pleasing God ends up pleasing you. You end up opening yourself to all these great blessings, and your life is better.
How have ideas from the Bible helped you overcome the sense of burden of trying to balance school, work, and marriage?
I know that the Shepherd’s always leading me, one of His sheep, to bigger and better things. So when I feel frantic and want to pull my hair out when there’s too much to do, God reminds me that He leads me by “still waters” (Ps. 23:2). At one point, I was working for someone else, going to school, and designing my own backyard, and it was just too overwhelming. God terminated the job and took me in another direction. I’ve learned to trust in the constancy of God as I balance work, home, marriage, church, school work, and board duties. I’m learning that it’s not about a lack of time because God’s time is eternity. If I lean on Him, He unfolds my day perfectly, and I don’t get stressed. Merely willing things through doesn’t work. If I’m feeling stressed, I’m not concentrating on being blessed. I can feel the second that I start to get stressed out, and I say, “I’m not going to go there.” I take a deep breath and let God take over. I’m doing this much better and not letting the stress go on for hours. I’ve spent many late nights on school assignments. I never know how long they’ll take because I can go into as much detail as I want, trying to bring about the best design solution. An artist’s work is never done, but usually there’s a deadline. And if I’m procrastinating, I’m not letting God take over. I’m saying, “No, I don’t want to do this now,” rather than listening to God telling me I need to start this part of the project. I’ve really been trying to follow what God is telling me and plan further in advance in case I run into a problem along the way.
What challenges have you faced with your projects, and how have you overcome them?
Starting is sometimes the hardest part; I don’t always know where to begin. So, I ask the Father. Ideas come on a moment-to-moment basis, and I have to trust them. When I do, everything unfolds beautifully. It’s already done in God, Mind, and He just has to show me. It’s like puzzle pieces that fit together: I have to learn how to place them. The more I listen, the less laborious and the more fun it is. It becomes more like a symphony. God’s way is harmonious, and if I’m all frantic and frazzled, then I’m not enjoying the moment-by-moment process of what God’s giving me. It’s gratifying to see the results when I let God’s ideas flow through me. A lot of times I can hardly believe how harmoniously something’s turned out. Then I thank God for taking me all the way through the long process, even if I’ve had doubts along the way. Also, my work with my clients proves that God gives us all ideas that work together, even if they’re different ideas. Designing a space is not all about my vision. I don’t want to force my opinion on my clients and have ego get in the way. I want to hear their ideas and enjoy meeting their needs. It’s kind of a co-partnership: sometimes the designer will lead; sometimes the client will lead. But it’s really nice to know that whether I’m working on a school project or for a client, God is the Great Architect.
Has it always been easy for you to lean on God?
I would have to say that leaning on God is a scary thing sometimes because you can’t see Him. There have been times that I’ve struggled with feeling disconnected with God. The idea that’s helped me through those times is, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). The real trouble is with our thinking. When our thinking is troubled, that makes anything seem troubled. But trusting God to give you the thoughts you need to understand the situation makes you feel closer to God and less disconnected. My dad gave me a wonderful Bible verse (which he kept in his wallet) when I was going through a difficult time: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7). For me, this quote is probably the most powerful one in the Bible. I have leaned on it throughout my life. It’s helped me feel safe about traveling. Another idea that’s helped is “H-O-M-E,” which to me means “Harmony Of Mind Expressed.” That’s where my home is. I dwell in God and not in a scary physical universe where we never know what’s going to happen. I’m reminded of the story of Peter when he saw Jesus walking over the waters and walked on the water to meet him. Even though Peter began to doubt, Jesus was there to pull him up and save him (Matt.14:22-33). Our lives can be a lot like that when we feel overwhelmed. But we can trust that God is always there to save us.
What would you say to people looking to find their own career niche?
- Stay focused on God until you feel convinced of His presence and direction. Then work diligently toward your goal.
- Study the Bible -- every day. No matter how many times you read a story, new insight can come if you are seeking: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt 7:7).
- Follow your heart, but think with the mind God gave you, and everything will turn out even better than you dreamed.