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Day in the Work Life: Room with a view

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan is an interior designer in New York City.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Even if the real estate market's slipping a bit as Elizabeth Razzi said earlier in the program, a little TLC can go a long way if you're trying to sell a house. It's called staging, beautifying your home so it's appealing to buyers. It can take days. And it can cost thousands. Ironic considering many people won't work that hard to pretty up the house they live in. Well here's a guy who thinks that's a shame. On this week's A Day in the Work Life, we make house calls with an interior designer and his trusty tape measure.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: So just give me a second I'm going to pull out my pad before we walk around. I'll take notes while you talk.

My name is Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. I'm an interior designer in New York City. And I have a company called Apartment Therapy. I think of my job as very purposefully contributing to society.

When I graduated from high school, the graduation speech was on my school's motto, which was "non sibi," which was not for yourself. And I really took that to heart very strongly. And I've had a very hard time pursuing jobs that didn't have an element of service to society.

This job is to help people in their homes, which I think are essential foundations not only of personal happiness, but of their happiness in the world with others.

When I started, I used to tell people what things were going to cost and they were often shocked. A lot of people don't realize how expensive furniture is. It's a lot more expensive than buying clothing, for example. And it's not always as much fun either.

So now what I do is I ask people what their budget for the job is. And I force them to tell me the bad news. And I'll always tell them I can work with their budget. And I can. I'll simply say we're going to buy less. And then they'll tell me no, no, no, no I want to buy more.

The toughest thing about my job is that it's very service heavy. People get cranky. People get, when the job isn't finished and they can't see the end of it, I can see the end of it but they can't see the end of it, they can get very out of sorts. And there's a lot of hand holding that goes on.

One of the strangest things that ever happened was I had a client, who was so incredibly attached to all of her stuff that we couldn't make anything happen, even though she wanted this new feeling in her apartment. There was no way it was going to happen with all her stuff. So I told her that I was going to take all of her belongings and take them to my office. Meanwhile we'd work on her apartment. We did do that. And seen in the light of office lights it looked hideous, it was awful. And to this day she hasn't come back and gotten it all.

My salary has gone up and down tremendously. The first few years I actually lived off savings. The company lost money. About a year and a half ago we started to break even. Right now my salary is about $45,000, which isn't super exciting, but it's very exciting to me because the curve of where it's been and where it's going feels very positive.

The smallest budget I've every worked on and which I absolutely believe in is basically zero dollars because most people can do a tremendous amount to their homes if they just clean up and de-clutter and get rid of things and do some rearranging. Honestly, that is the heart of renovating and redecorating.

RYSSDAL: A day in the work life was reported by Sally Herships.

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