By Michele Cohen
Fifteen years ago, Kia Weatherspoon ’10, Interior Design, joined the U.S. Air Force, was deployed to Doha, Qatar, and was living in a tent with 13 other women. She felt alone and scared, as she had never been away from home or out of the country before.
“I wanted to cry so badly and I wanted some privacy,” she said. She hung some string from the top of the tent and ran bed sheets around it, constructing three sheet walls and creating her own personal space. “It gave me a sense of ‘place’ and space. I learned that spaces are not about fancy finishes, but about how they can make you feel something powerful. I live by that motto today.”
Flash forward to 2016, and the lessons Weatherspoon learned during her multi-year military stint have propelled her forward into a burgeoning career as an interior designer, business owner and motivational speaker. “I literally joined the Air Force to pay for college, but it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said. “I learned so much and I became fearless.”
After returning home, Weatherspoon earned her associate’s degree in Computer Aided Drafting from Community College of Philadelphia and soon after accepted a job as a receptionist at a hotel management company. But she gravitated to a room filled with materials and fabric, which quickly led to a design coordinator position. “The CEO gave me the option to work at the company full time or go back to school and finish my degree. I went back to school.”
Weatherspoon enrolled in the BFA in Interior Design program at Moore, graduating in 2010. “Moore was the right place for me to be part of a community of women where we could encourage each other and see each other grow,” she said. “There was never a sense of competition at Moore, just camaraderie.”
Weatherspoon went on to earn her master’s degree from Corcoran College of Art & Design in Washington, DC, where she currently resides. After graduation, she spent long hours working in an office, Carlyn & Company, but something didn’t feel right.
“The next week I gave my two weeks’ notice and decided to start my own business,” she said. “Whenever you are working, you should love it. I thought, ‘Why am I at an office, building someone else’s dream, when I could build my own?’”
Weatherspoon went full steam ahead with Determined by Design, LLC, an interior design firm she created in 2012 that specialized in multi-family and hospitality design. She picked up a part-time sales rep job and did some consulting work for other design firms, but her firm wasn’t gaining momentum.
“You have to decide what is your priority, a paycheck or your passion?” she said. “My first full year my business flourished and I brought in $65,000 in design revenue. I did a lot of research and reached out to developers who were doing the projects that I wanted to do. I was aggressive, but it showed them I was persistent. That’s how I got my clients.”
Weatherspoon worked with a nonprofit domestic violence organization during her second year in business and that shifted her business model to focus on making interior design a standard in affordable and supportive housing buildings. Today, she focuses solely on working with developers on these types of projects.
“The people who need access to well-designed spaces the most often don’t know they need it or how to ask for it,” she said. In the future, Weatherspoon hopes to design and develop her own properties — and become the first black woman on the cover of Hospitality Design magazine.
“I want people that I design spaces for in affordable and supportive housing who are predominately minorities – the one black student in design class, the young female in a male-dominated office – to see that someone who looks just like you can do it! You just have to decide to work hard, be committed and relentlessly determined to go after it!”
When she’s not busy with her clients, Weatherspoon likes to give back to the interior design community. She’s currently the student advisory chair for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and previously served on the national board and was a founding member of the Emerging Professional Advisory Council for the society. She also sits on the board of directors for Room to Rebloom, a nonprofit organization that provides design services to women who have been victims of domestic violence to help rebuild their lives. She teaches interior design at Marymount University and is a sought-after motivational speaker, having given talks for the National Executive Women in Hospitality (NEWH) and at the SPARC Interiors conference.
When she served on the ASID national board, Weatherspoon was asked to speak to college students at Colorado State University and the Art Institute of Denver. The positive response she got from students surprised her.
“The students were coming up and asking for a picture, saying I was inspiring,” she said. “To me, it just felt like I was telling people all the things I wish people had told me. It just snowballed into a public speaking gig and different opportunities opened up. I didn’t set out to be a motivational speaker, but I guess I am.”
At Moore, Weatherspoon served on the Board of Managers, she was a resident assistant and ASID student chapter president. She was recently invited back to Moore to help interview candidates for the Happy Fernandez Women’s Leadership Prize. She also spoke to Interior Design students at a portfolio review event held by the ASID Pennsylvania East Chapter at Moore.
“For Moore I always say yes. I have to give back to the place and the people who have poured so much into me and shaped the woman I am today,” she said. “…Whenever I come back, there’s a certain energy about the place that gets you excited. You just know there is a lot of talent in that building. I feel like ‘Wow! I went here?’ That’s how I feel when I leave Moore.”