Shea McGee on Designing a Beautiful Life

on October 13, 2020

Ever wish you could chat with a mega design star? Today is your lucky day! Shea McGee of Studio McGee stopped by The MomForce Podcast to dish on her life as a wife, mother, design studio owner, and author of her new book, Make Life Beautiful. Co-founder of Chatbooks and your fave podcast host Vanessa Quigley got Shea to spill all about her design tips and tricks, as well as give a sneak peek into what a day in the life of this design darling looks like! 

Did you always have an interest in design?

I am a terrible artist, so that’s what scared me away from majoring in design. My husband, Syd, truly was the one that really encouraged me to go for it. I was so scared of failing, being bad at something and especially being bad at school. I got this flyer in the mail for a community college in Orange County. It was only \u0024100 for a course, so I went for it. I could keep it a secret. No one had to know I was doing this. I could just give it a little test run. I started taking classes and really, really loved the work. 

How did a girl with a degree in PR end up a mega design star?

So I was taking classes and we ended up buying our first home. We were redoing a lot of the spaces and neighbors and friends started asking me to give them advice and help them rearrange their furniture. And then, one step at a time, I got bigger and bigger projects.

Is Instagram a good place to start promoting a business? 

I don't know about you, but these days, if I hear someone has a business, I actually look up their Instagram before anything else. It provides such a great visual. And I think that a lot of other people are that way as well. I was one of the very first designers to really latch on to Instagram and see it as an opportunity to promote my business. I really had to look to other industries for inspiration.

What is your number one tip for working with your spouse?  

My number one tip is we divide all of the responsibilities. There is no overlap. We consult each other, but Syd does not design the visuals for the company. And I do not touch the financial or the operational side of things. If he has a question and we will consult together, then great. But we have to have complete trust that the other is going to do their job. In the early days, when we didn't have that clear line of division between the two of us, that was when we started butting heads. So that is my best advice: separate the work.

Do you have the same distinctive division of responsibilities at home?

No! At home it's like a total free for all. Because we're running to so many places, we can't have the typically “no that’s your job” deal going on. It's just whoever is needed where, and has the opening in their schedule to run someone to lessons or help with homework, or do the dishes, whatever it is, you just do it! It's a total team effort. It takes a lot of coordinating to say, “This is what my day looks like. So I need you to do this.” We have to be able to do whatever the necessary job happens to be.

How do you carve time out for friends?

I think that that's one of the sacrifices I have had to make over the last few years and it's been hard. When you start to list priorities, it usually goes: family, myself, the business. Those kind of always end up as the top three. And by “myself”, I mean showering!  By the time you get through those three things in a day, to fit in anything else is difficult. I haven't seen my kids all day, so Friday nights, the most exciting thing for me is taking the kids to the park. I ended up saying no to the fun thing that maybe neighbors are doing, because I just want to see my kids. But, because of that, you stop getting the invitations. And so I think that when you're starting a business, it’s hard to have a social life. I’m so grateful to Syd, because he gets what it feels like! I think it wasn’t until maybe this last year that I’ve been finally able to start saying yes again. But for the first five years of our business, there were lots of no’s!

What is your favorite part of the design process? 

For me, there are two: at the beginning, when you have a million ideas and you're trying to figure out what direction or path you want to take a project or a space in. And then the other one has to be when you start to see it actually come together. Install day is my favorite because the finishes are done and it feels like magic.

Where do you get your design inspiration?

I always say that my favorite way to get inspiration is to step away from my screen for a second. I like to do this exercise, before I look at Pinterest, where I say: ”If I had I had just looked at this room, what would I want it to become?” 

How do you incorporate your children's style and tastes into your designs?

I like to ask my girls: What colors do you hope to see in your room? They will give me their ideas and then I come back with some options for them to pick. Or I will say: Which of these pillows do you prefer? I give them good options, that way I know I’ll be happy with what they end up choosing. 

What do you do with all of their stuff?

There's a basket in every single room of our house!  I also try to stay on top of cleaning things out. If they aren’t using it, we get rid of it. 

How do you handle the school papers and artwork that your kids bring home?

We have a pinboard in a little hallway off the kitchen. It becomes kind of a rotating display of all their things. When it gets full, it's probably time to get rid of a few things. We have a drawer where I hang lateral files. The stuff we want to keep from the pinboard goes into each child's file folder. At the end of the school year, we go through and they get to pick the things they want to keep forever. 

What do you do with a lot of open wall space?

I'm a big believer in a really big grid wall, specifically of family photos. I like to make sure that the color of the photos is cohesive throughout. If you're going with black and white, that's really easy — it makes for a beautiful wall. 

What is something that's worth splurging on when you're decorating your home? 

Your sofa! If you can only afford Ikea, then get the nicest Ikea couch you can find.  A couch really sets the tone of the whole room. Then you can fill the rest in with less expensive pieces.

What is an inexpensive way to elevate the aesthetic of a room? 

Paint. Always paint. 

If you are starting a new build, who do you hire first? The designer, an architect or a builder? 

I'd hire the architect first. Then I'd hire the builder and the designer around the same time. The architect helps you get the plan into place, but I would NOT finalize anything until a designer has looked over them. A designer can help spot potential flaws in the flow of the home.  

How do you make a home look cohesive and neat? 

Do the pillow test! Take a throw pillow from your family room and bring it into your main bedroom. If it flows nicely with the decor in there, then you can be pretty confident your home has a cohesive feel. 

So what is your style? 

I'd say that the one consistent thing throughout all of our projects is that we're constantly mixing styles. If someone comes to us and loves a very contemporary aesthetic, I'm still gonna push them a little bit to add some warmth and character through texture in their space.

Is it possible to mix timeless and trendy? 

I think so. I think that you always want the timeless pieces to be the really expensive ones.Trendy things should be your pillows, maybe even your rugs. 

What are your three favorite things from your brand new Target Threshold line that we should snag immediately? 

The ottoman cubes. They are the most versatile thing. You can use them as a coffee table. You can put them at the foot of the bed or in an entryway. We have some large scale artwork pieces that are so incredible at a great price point. And of course our Sherpa chair. It has this great nubby texture, with a curved back! Sleek and beautiful. 

So how did you end up with a book on top of all that you're already doing? 

I've found that throughout the design process, there are so many principles that directly apply to our lives. We are so excited to share what we've learned as well as admitting, “Hey, we haven’t learned everything!” This is not the end of our journey. We feel like there are so many people that are starting their businesses or are thinking about making a huge career change. And we can’t wait to share what we’ve learned through our process!  

Whether you’re launching a new product line with Target or running the kids to their after-school activities, it’s nice to know even mega design stars look forward to some alone time once the kids are in bed.For more on Vanessa’s interview with Shea, listen to the full episode here. Also, don’t forget to check out Shea’s new book, “Make Life Beautiful” and her highly anticipated Netflix show, Dream Home Makeover. And use code PODCAST20 for 20% off your next Chatbook product.