10 Milestone Moments

10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#10: The Big Dogs


The fun thing is that when you start your business young enough, you really grow up your clients. In ten years, we have gone from one-bedroom apartments to starter homes to the big dogs. 

Dare it to say…I think we are on the verge of entering a new level of design. 

It is humbling how much you thought you knew until you realize that you have learned that much more…

From Kentucky fieldstone and chippendale railings to groin ceilings and rooms encased head to toe in millwork to fireplace code and exterior landscaping in Aspen, I am humbled almost daily by how much knowledge we continue to accrue in our field of work. 

I’d like to say we have mastered the art of building a beautiful home but let’s be honest…in ten years I’ll probably say “I can’t believe I thought I knew so much then.”  

Stay with us!!  



10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#9: The Lake Forest Showhouse

April, 2015: Lake Forest, IL

We all have dreams. Ours has long been to be a part of the Lake Forest Showhouse. To us, it is the pinnacle of Chicago design - where the who’s who of Chicago designers get to showcase their work. 

I still remember exactly where I was sitting (at a nail salon in Richmond…don’t ask) when I received the invitation asking us to participate. Our naivety still makes me smile... I read the paperless post as a declaration that we were in. Little did I know at the time but it was actually just an invite to try out. Among hundreds of other designers. For 26 total rooms. 

Well thank the dear lord, we somehow miraculously secured a spot.

And then the challenge began. We had exactly 90 days to roll out a room, which anyone who has designed a home knows is not exactly the roomiest timeline. (Pun intended). We had a space to design, paint, wallpaper, carpet, electrify, furnish, accessorize…And we were responsible for supplying all pieces. Which anyone who has designed a home knows….can get expensive. Very quickly.

Which meant calls to our most loyal product suppliers with the aim of securing donated goods. And then there was the labor.

All while 25 other designers attempt to renovate their neighboring rooms ten feet from our team of laborers. It’s a bit of a madhouse for those few months.

We somehow managed to pull it together in time for the April kick off. Which especially felt like quite a feat with my first baby arriving two weeks before the showhouse opened.


We were now looking at seven thousand people passing through our space. And national shelter mags to photograph it.

It was most definitely a right of passage. We were now among the Chicago greats.

SWhit_LF ShowhouseEdit-077.jpg

10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#8: Ones to Watch 

October, 2014: The Merchandise Mart, Chicago

We were busy. Very busy.

We cranked out projects, the team continued to grow. The business grew at such a pace over the years of 2011 to 2014 that we landed on the Inc 500 list for fastest growing private companies. That was a welcome surprise. 


Yet there is nothing like being recognized by your peers. 

Then one day, we got the call. The showrooms in the Merchandise Mart - from Holly Hunt to Schumacher to Lee Jofa to Baker - had voted us the Ones to Watch. The epicenter of interior design in the midwest had recognized us - out of thousands of designers who used the Mart - as a design firm going somewhere. That was a pinch me moment. 

When the ones who interface with you everyday think you're a star on the rise, it means something.


10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#7: The Goggins

May, 2011: Pine Street, Winnetka

The thing about business is that you can’t really have one without clients. And frankly it’s not all that fun without good clients. Preferably kick ass ones.

Cue Milestone Moment #7 - The Goggins. 

One of the clients Meg had introduced us too were the Goggins. We hit it off immediately - all design meetings usually happened on a Friday night and involved at least a bottle of wine. 

Their project went off with a bang with everything arriving in time and looking pretty dang good. So good that we were asked to feature the home on the Winnetka House Walk…which I quickly learned translated to close to a thousand people from Winnetka and neighboring communities coming to see the home. 

It was an opportunity that didn’t come around every day. 

There was only one snafu - Danielle was due to have Baby #3 exactly one week before. Meaning not only was she being asked to open her house up to close to a thousand strangers but would have to clear out while they walked through literally every room of their home. With a newborn. 

I sadly assumed it was a definite no. Just recalling the scenario gives me anxiety. 

But cue Danielle the warrior, who is afraid of very little in life and knew what a big deal it was for us. Without skipping a beat she agreed to do it. 

I will have eternal gratitude for that move. Because that was when the North Shore met Sarah Vaile Design. 


10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile


february, 2011: Chicago, IL

With Meg’s black book of referrals, clients were pouring into our studio. We were bursting at the seams yet I couldn’t find it in myself to turn any project away. I was convinced Melissa and I could handle it all. 

Just what is it about bringing on your first hire that is so terrifying? Landing a partner in business feels a lot like finding a spouse - it makes every challenge ahead a little less scary. But yet making a first hire...it feels a little more like having your first child. Suddenly there is someone largely dependent on you for their future, their wellbeing, their happiness. I wasn’t looking to expand anytime soon. 

Yet somewhere between hanging drapes and a gallery wall, I found myself confessing to our client Debbie that I was drowning from all the work. 

The next day I had a text from a new number. 

“My mom mentioned you might need some help. Drink this week?” 

See the thing about Hayley is that she is extremely charming. In the most genuine of ways. The girl could sell ice to an Eskimo.

We left that night agreeing she would help us part time. What was the harm in that? It felt like a good way to get our feet wet.

I think it was two weeks before our part time girl was a salaried employee and only a few years before she was a firm partner.

The night Melissa and I asked Hayley to be a partner, she confessed that had long been her game plan.

Little did I know that one drink would turn into Hayley hiring me.


10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#5: Meg

September, 2011: Chicago

When the stars align, they just align. One of the best gifts of the fortuitous fall of 2011 was Meg.

We had first met years before when I worked as the Sunday girl in her shop. The Design Shoppe was my first peak inside the profession of interior design and I had loved everything about it. Enough that I dragged myself there bright and early Sunday after Sunday dreaming about a world outside of my current career in advertising.


Meg’s demeanor was contagious. She was the definition of fun. Every conversation was better had over a drink and no conversation was out of bounds. You spent an hour with Meg and felt like you had just tapped into the depths of your soul. And happened to hatch a brilliant design or business plan while you were at it. Everything about her embodied the world I wanted to be in.

I didn’t confess until years later but it was my short stint at The Design Shoppe that gave me the courage to pick up and move to New York City to pursue my dream career.

Fast forward 3 years and I found myself back in Chicago with a promising business in tow but no prospects of work on the horizon after completing my friends’ Lincoln Park home.

Then one day I got a call from Meg.

“Sarah, you can’t tell anyone but you’re about to find out that I won Design Star and am getting my very own HGTV show.”

“Holy &%$@ Meg, that’s incredible.”

“Right? I need your help. I have a million design projects that I don’t know what to do with. I am booked filming for the next 6 months and need your help!”

And that is how Chicago took off for us.


10 Milestone Moments over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#4: Time To Expand

July, 2010: chicago + cincinnati

The smartest thing any entrepreneur can do is to realize once they’ve outgrown herself.

I’ve had my fair share of missteps but but one thing I’d like to think I’ve done pretty well is recognized once it’s time to expand. And just who the right candidate should be.

My sister Melissa and I had learned years earlier that we balanced each other well. I always sought to push harder. She tended to err on the side of caution. She was the yin to my yang.

Thus Enter Melissa, Sarah Vaile Design’s left brain. 

She is very much the reason we are still operating ten years later. You see, most designers don’t specialize in the only-buy-what-you-can-afford, don’t-spend-like-your-first-record-just-broke, are-you-sure-we-don’t-need-that-expensive-antique-for-inventory type decisions. We love to spend. And collect. And acquire. What can I say, it’s the very nature of the biz. Every designer should just hope they bring aboard a Melissa before it’s too late.


10 Milestone Moments Over 10 Years by Sarah Vaile

#3: Chicago Bound

February, 2010: Lincoln Park, IL

I lived and breathed for design in New York. I was among the greats of the greats. I can’t tell you how many days I would skip class to attend a seminar at the D&D only to find Bunny Williams and Albert Hadley leading a group of thirty people. I wanted to hear how it was done straight from the racehorse’s mouths. 


I spent a spring interning for Celerie Kemble, who shared the elite design world’s ins and outs with the fullest transparency and enthusiasm of a professor…a brief apprenticeship that I will never take for granted to this day. 

I would run to go grab a sample and meet John Robshaw. I would bump into editors everywhere. New York was no doubt the epicenter of design. 

Only one small problem - my heart and soul still resided in the Midwest. I always knew New York was just a for-now thing and well….and could sense the time was up. There are not many things scarier than moving a private practice to an entirely fresh city but I could sense that it was now or never. 

A fortuitous phone call from my best college friend and I had my first Chicago project - a single family in Lincoln Park, Chicago.