In this new Jefferson Today series, Get My Job, we interview alumni from one of the University’s 160-plus undergraduate and graduate professional programs. The latest installment features Crystal Russell, a 2009 graduate of the B.S. in Interior Design program.
How did Jefferson’s design program best prepare you to enter the field?
I always look back at my time at Jefferson (then Philadelphia University) and consider it the most important step I took toward my current entrepreneurship. The program was so intense and advanced. We all knew that the program was special, but it became more evident after graduation. I left the program with so much knowledge and confidence that starting my own company just a few years out didn’t seem very daunting.
What was your career path to land in your current position?
After I graduated, I moved back home to Denver to look for work. I started working at a small design-centric retail shop and met a lot of amazing creatives in the industry. This job was inspiring in a number of ways: I wasn’t utilizing my formal interior design knowledge, per se, but I was networking and learning the art of sales, which has benefited me endlessly since that position. I left that retail job to pursue a master’s of architecture degree and later a master’s of fine art in media design. I returned to Philadelphia to teach back at the University as an adjunct. I focused on interior design studio and visualization courses.
While working at the University, I took on a second job working for a remodeling contractor in the city. It was a small company, so I was able to move into a lead designer position almost immediately. The owner of the company is a general contractor, and he needed help on the marketing and design end. I jumped into that role—all while being on site often as the only design professional in the company at the time. On-site experience is how I learned to actually see construction. This experience empowered me in just about every way. I moved back to Denver in 2013 and didn’t think twice about founding my own company. It’s been six years and the rest is history!
Please describe your core job responsibilities today?
I wear a lot of hats at TVL Creative, and in my opinion, that’s the best way to really develop every part of your own company. From 2013 to 2018, I was the owner, CEO and lead designer. My job duties ranged from business expansion and hiring, to marketing, to HR and payroll management all the way down to design work. I had my hands in every single process the company produced.
This year, I’ve relaunched TVL as a full-service design and build firm. This means that we have two in-house construction teams that I hired to build all of our design work. Because this is an entirely new expansion for us, I’ve shifted over from the creative design realm to the construction management realm. I recently passed my national Class B Contractor Exam and am now officially the company’s general contractor. My titles now are owner, CEO and construction coordinator. My duties include writing all construction contracts, developing all construction schedules, overseeing and managing on-site work in partnership with my in-house foremen, pulling permits and reviewing construction sets, and generally handling everything having to do with construction. I still also manage the bulk of our in-house marketing. I design the graphics, make the social media posts and run the publications. I also still manage hiring, brand development and overall networking and exposure opportunities for the company.
What are your favorite parts of your job?
I know it sounds cliché, but I love every part, especially watching an idea become reality. That can mean watching a design concept be realized for a client or seeing a long-time idea of mine come to fruition in business. I also love making people happy, breaking down barriers and exceeding expectations, and being disruptive in this industry.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Similar to what I love about this job: everything. This job requires a strategic mind, an eloquent vocabulary, a wild imagination, a creative spirit and an ability to evaluate and understand the human mind beyond the average person’s capability to do so.
What’s your one piece of advice for students considering entering this major or profession?
The most important thing for any interior design student to consider is how competitive the marketplace is. We’re in a time where this industry is insanely competitive. School is the perfect time to hone skill sets and talents unique to the industry or that will offer a competitive advantage in the field. I always advise young designers to think about what will set them apart in this wild sea of creative talent. Is it technology? Adventurous conceptual talent? Amazing graphic representation skill? I encourage students to find, or determine, that one thing that makes them really tick and to fine-tune it into something that’s absolutely, unapologetically, undeniably attention worthy.