The interior designer, who co-founded her design firm alongside her partner Rafe Churchill, says her creative approach is anchored by her parents' artwork and personal décor.
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portrait of heide hendricks sitting in chair near fireplace
Credit: Courtesy of Hendricks Churchill / Jordan Tiberio

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

Some entrepreneurs' businesses are born out of working inside a different industry first. That was absolutely the case for Heide Hendricks of Hendricks Churchill; interior design, she says, is "a second career for me." She started off as a publicist for arts and cultural organizations, and she bought, renovated, and redesigned houses with her partner, Rafe Churchill, on the side. "We each had our day jobs and then we'd cash our checks, head to Home Depot, and strap on our tool belts all weekend," she recalls, adding that the most enjoyable part was getting to the finishes and furnishings. "After we decided to start a family in Connecticut, I left my position in New York City and soon was asked to furnish one of Rafe's clients' homes." Those first "clients" expressed their admiration for Hendricks and Churchill's own home and wanted her help to recreate that vibe inside their own abode. Thanks to the side-hustle projects Hendricks tackled in the past, designing a space for that couple came naturally. "I knew my way around scaled drawings and construction schedules—and I could run a mean spreadsheet from my days organizing PR projects," she says. "After I finished that first house in 2008, requests started coming in from friends of the homeowners, wanting me to work for them. I quickly amassed a full roster of projects, and it's been steady ever since."

Merging Businesses

Hendricks managed her own interior design company before officially creating Hendricks Churchill with her partner in life and business. In the early days, she worked with a part-time bookkeeper, her only employee, and had "a lot of very long days" as a result. "I remember many nights putting the kids to bed and then heading back into my studio to address the administrative part of projects," she says. "I soon realized that if I didn't want to burn out, it was time to hire help." She evolved her team by taking that bookkeeper on full time and bringing on her first assistant. In turn, her profits rose—and her clients were happier, since she could farm out menial tasks at a lower billable rate.

Six years in, Hendricks had an idea. "When I was running my own interiors business for six years in parallel to Rafe's design business, we sometimes worked on the same projects: He would do the architectural design and I would do the furnishings and then we would overlap in collaborating on the finishes—lighting, paint, tile, etc.," the creative says. "Eventually we looked at each other and thought, 'Why aren't we doing this together under one roof?'" Their decision to merge their respective companies in May 2017 came as no surprise to their clients, who thought they were running a joint venture all along.

hendricks churchill interior design entry way
Credit: Courtesy of Hendricks Churchill / Tim Lenz

Familial Design Inspiration

"My approach and style are a direct offshoot of my upbringing," Hendricks says of her interior design technique. She credits her parents as her greatest influences; she draws from their experience as artists inside New York's Bohemian art scene in the 1950s and '60s. "They raised us in a house they built out of logs milled from trees on the property and filled it with artwork and unique finds from estate sales, flea markets, and thrift stores," says Hendricks. She adored her parents' eye for design in addition to the simple, memorable moments they created at home: Guests would often come over for a cup of coffee in their studio space (which also happened to be their living room). "Everywhere I lived as a young adult—my dorm room, first apartment, the cottages and homes that Rafe and I built together—I gravitated toward remaking my original home," she says. "I didn't even realize I had a talent for creating spaces with character and color until it was pointed out to me. My efforts were simply attempts at recreating what I had been taught comfortable spaces should feel like."

hendricks churchill interior design even chen dining room
Credit: Courtesy of Henricks Churchill / Chris Mottalini

Working with Clients

When she takes on a new project, Hendricks works alongside Churchill to first study the space and speak with their client. They learn who they are and how they want to occupy their home. "We love reviewing their inspiration images, finding common threads, and helping them discover or articulate what they love," she says, noting that these early musings become the manual for the project's aesthetic direction. Then, they take on the schematics by mapping out furniture and deciding on lighting. Mood boards, they say, help them curate each space; the designers then present these collections to clients once they approve their creative direction. "Each presentation becomes an ongoing dialogue of refining and tweaking the aspects before moving into purchasing," Hendricks says. "As the furnishings arrive, we then strategically install spaces—and that's when we have some real fun and bring in surprises that inevitably make the room sing." As for how she knows that the job is complete? "When the client walks in and says to me, 'It feels like we've already been living here!'" Hendricks shares.

hendricks churchill interior design bedroom
Credit: Courtesy of Hendricks Churchill / Chris Mottalini

Maintaining the Vision

Since the dawn of Hendricks Churchill, the interior designer's mission as an entrepreneur has remained the same: "Run a respected design firm while living in a rural community and receive accolades in order to attract the next generation of talent and the clients who hire us for our vision," Hendricks says. As for what is on the horizon? She and Churchill hope to expand their business with books and a boutique hotel down the line. Hendricks' advice to fellow entrepreneurs who are looking to get their business up and running is to follow the mantra that there is no "Plan B"—and she recommends putting "all your focus into making what's in front of you work and don't be afraid to ask for help!"

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