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Interior Designer, Licensed Therapist & SoCal mama of three. Welcome to the blog!  I hope it brings you inspiration to create a life (and home) you really love.


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Becoming Gutsy: Interior Design Insights With Mikel Welch On Confidence, Budget Luxe Looks, And Relaxation Rituals

March 5, 2024

A well-crafted interior design leads not only to a comfortable lifestyle but a more relaxed mind and a deeply authentic self. Anita Yokota sits down with celebrity interior designer Mikel Welch, who shares how his work helps build his confidence and step into his unique power. He looks back on how a self-taught interior designer […]

A well-crafted interior design leads not only to a comfortable lifestyle but a more relaxed mind and a deeply authentic self. Anita Yokota sits down with celebrity interior designer Mikel Welch, who shares how his work helps build his confidence and step into his unique power. He looks back on how a self-taught interior designer like him found his way into show business, ultimately working for The Steve Harvey Show and Jerseylicious. Mikel also discusses on how scrappiness shaped his overall career path, the benefits of using inspiration photos when developing a good interior design, and his personal self-care robe.

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Becoming Gutsy: Interior Design Insights With Mikel Welch On Confidence, Budget Luxe Looks, And Relaxation Rituals

I’m beyond thrilled to have Mikel Welch with me. Readers, you are going to be blown away at all the wonderful tidbits of creativity and design but do you know what my goal is? My goal is also to get to know him better because he’s a wonderful friend, an amazing and talented designer. Thank you, Mikel, for coming.

Thank you. You’re so funny. I don’t even know what we’re going to talk about because we’ve talked so much on the phone I feel like we’ve covered it all, but now the world gets to know it all. I’m super excited, me and Bailey. I have my puppy here, just so you folks know.

I have to say, she’s a very good puppy.

Thank you.

Mikel’s Home Therapy Story

We’re happy to have her too. We’re dog lovers over here. I always love getting a better understanding. Maybe it’s my therapist mind. When you were a child, I know you grew up in Michigan. How did you find design as a kid? Where you already drawn to things? What’s your home therapy story?

My home therapy story, let me sit on your sofa. This is interesting. As a kid, I was always infatuated with like cities. I remember going to my parents at a very early age like preschool. I asked them all the Fisher Price toys that I could have because I wanted to create a little miniature city in the living room. I didn’t ask them to go to Fisher Price per se, but my parents got me all these Fisher Price toys. They made a community on the living room floor. From there, I started making little living room vignette and I didn’t know it then. It was fun. I was making houses per se and that was my intro into design. I just didn’t know it yet. Many years later, it would come back.

I love that so much because there’s always a reason that things happen. Nothing’s ever a coincidence. Even though it feels painful at the time, but there’s never wasted time on projects or experience. Anything is never wasted time. It’s always a lesson and a self-growth moment. For you, it started with your little preschool toys and building your cities, which is so cute. I love it so much. I know you grow older. Was there anyone at home that had design background as well or you were the anomaly?

You’re about to start some drama because I hope my mother is not reading because if I say anything other than yes, she’ll offend it. Sorry, mom. No.

It’s a God-given creative spirit within you.

It is a God-given talent. I’ll fast forward to after college. I graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta and it’s a liberal arts school. I had a degree in Marketing. I had a degree because I felt like that’s what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t know what I would do after. I love clothing and so I just took a job at Bloomingdale’s part time to try to figure out what I’m going to do after college.

While I was there, I was on a lunch break. On this one particular lunch break, I went to Crate & Barrel. Before I knew it, I had spent 40 of my 45-minute break in Crate & Barrel. I looked up at my watch and it was one of those scenes out of one of those RomComs. I’m looking and I’m like, “I have five minutes to eat. There’s no way I can like get to the food court.” That was my a-ha moment. I’m like, “You don’t have any money. You’re in this store searching for what? I don’t know because you can’t afford to buy anything.”

I started thinking about all the design magazines I had stacked up in the house. I love Metro Pollington Home back then. I would always buy accessories from TJ Maxx and Marshalls because home goods wasn’t a thing then but they were just sitting in my closet. I’m like, “You like design.” That’s what started it.

I am so impressed and it makes my heart tingle all of that you had a very poignant moment and a pivotal moment because as creatives, we all have a moment like that. For me, it was many years of doing therapy in the office and realizing, “I’m tired but I still want to be creative and help people at the same time.” That was my a-ha moment. I had a conversation with Gloria. You know her. Shout out to Gloria.

She’s so sweet.

 She’s funny and loves you very much. I had a conversation with her and there was a pivotal moment there. From college marketing, did you go into your design school? I know for me, I’m self-taught. Many wonderful designers are self-taught. What was your next step?

Full transparency, I am a self-taught designer but that is one of the things that I am most proud of journey-wise. I respect and get the need to go to design schools because honestly, there’s some things that I can’t do. I’m very honest about that because I can’t do digital drawings, so I have to hire out so I respect it.

I will say, as you know, there is something. To me, design is a feeling and more or less, it’s an instinct often but when you marry that with the book knowledge, it helps. To answer your question, I had this Oprah a-ha moment. After you experienced that moment, you’re like, “What do I do? What do I do with this information that’s been deposited into my head?”

I ended up going to work at a furniture store called Storehouse Furniture in Atlanta. I was working in the logistics warehouse. I would send out all of the products like accessories to the various showrooms. One thing that resonated with me is occasionally, I would get to send out press orders. Let’s say like Nate Berkes does a campaign with them. I’m sending out the product for the team to install and I said to myself, “I don’t want to send the product. I want to design.” That got the ball rolling. I stayed at that furniture store for months and I sucked.

You were probably my dream store clerk because I could see us walking the store and having so much fun. I can’t imagine you not being good at it.

I wasn’t pushy though. I just want to have the conversation. We’re talking about things. Either you want it or you don’t, I’m not going to try to force but I need to make my commission but I wasn’t good at that. I ended up applying for a job as an assistant on Craigslist for an interior designer. That’s what helped me cut my teeth per se. I got the job and it was just the two of us. He was a self-taught interior designer and we would stage model homes in Atlanta.

We would do a combination of model homes and also some residential, but when you work with someone and it’s just the two of you. You learn everything. I learned the art of how you do a consultation, put a presentation together, and do a budget. I learned all of those things in a year and that was one of the most valuable life lessons that I could have ever had. I soaked it all in.

After a year, I had a conversation with the designer and I told him, I said, “I think I want to try this on my own.” I went on Craigslist and I used to make my marketing degree kicks in and as you said, “Everything happens for a reason.” I’m like, “You don’t have clients. How do you begin to build a portfolio?” I went on Craigslist and I posted an ad where I would design one free room as long as the client paid for the furniture. I would charge them like to paint the walls because I would be the one painting. That’s how I would make my money off of smaller items but I would design one room then it would turn into two and three. That’s how I begin to build a portfolio back in 2007. Honestly, that’s how I started.

I love your creativity and boldness. What’s yours sign, by the way? Do you know your sign?

Sagittarius, so I’m a developer baby.

There might be a full moon. The first full moon of 2024. Full moons are a time for renewal. It’s a new start. I love how our personalities drive us forward in our creativity. Even though you are the kindest person in the whole wide world, I love that you’re scrappy like me.

I’ve been called scrappy so many times. That is the go-to word.

People think I’m super nice and I am, but I’m also an Aries. I love big ideas and I’m not scared to try something new. People describe me as scrappy and I’m like, “This is why me and Mikel get along because we’re scrappy together.”

You have to tell our story because it was just kismet. You have a great personality. I hope everybody reading or watching gets to meet you in person because the energy and the kind that you see on the screen is you in real life.

Working On The Steve Harvey Show

That is true. What you get is what you see. I also know you had a stint with Steve Harvey at the Steve Harvey Show. Is that something that’s okay to mention or we don’t have to? What was it like to be on a TV set? I know the TV production is fast various. Was that another great learning curve for you as a designer?

The backtrack before I talk about Steve Harvey, I’ll just talk about how I got to him. I ended up moving to New York and Los Angeles in my stint. When I was in New York, I applied for HGTV Design Star. I was on season seven of that show.

That’s right. Congratulations. That’s huge.

Thank you. That was nerve-wrecking, but after I left the show, because at that time, I had gotten my first job as a set decorator working for the designer Emily Henderson.

She’s so lovely. She wrote quotes to support my book. I love her so much.

Super sweet. She had just one design star. Shortly after, I got that job. Her assistant at the time was designer Orlando Soria. I was working at CB2 and he came into the showroom. He was returning a bunch of pillows and I’m like, “Sir, you are not shopping for yourself. You’re returning 30 pillows. Did you do something in television or design? Let me shadow you.” He is how I got to work with her. I always try to shout him out.

I tell you, scrappy. There’s Mikel again. This invigorates me but Orlando is so talented but so funny. He makes me laugh every time I see him. That’s how it got started.

I won’t tell that scrappy story, but I ended up getting a job working on the style network. I worked on this show called Jerseylicious and I did the set decoration. My boss, Alex Duda said, “When you leave Design Star, if you don’t win, I have a job for you when you come back.” I go on the show. I come on Design Star. I come in 4th place. I get my job back, and she says to me, “We’re going to Chicago to shoot the Steve Harvey talk show.” Alex used to produce the Tyra Banks talk show, so she got Steve Harvey’s talk show. She now produces the Kelly Clarkson show, anyhow.

When I came up for that show, I moved to Chicago two months later to start filming to do the set decoration and just so everybody has a point of reference. Let’s say Anita is coming on to promote her book. I would talk to you and talk about your vision. You’re flying in from Los Angeles. You don’t have time to create a living room. I would create that living room based upon your vision and when you get there, you can judge. I’m constantly creating things for everybody from the property brothers to Martha. I got to do a little bit of everything. It was amazing. My first job on that show was to design Steve Harvey’s office.

That’s fun.

The very first job was to design his office. Can I just tell that funny story, please?

Please, I want to know.

In this conference room, it’s day one. You got to imagine, I get to work, there are about 60 of us in this conference room and HGTV Design Star is airing at this point. I’m excited I have this new job, but honestly, I was a little arrogant at the time because I’m like, “I’m on TV.”

You’re on fire.

It’s hard when you’re on TV then you have to go behind the scenes. It’s tricky. When I sat in the meeting on day one, I didn’t want to take the job because I’m like, “I just want to do television. I don’t want to work behind the scenes.” While we’re sitting at the meeting, Steve Harvey’s manager stops in the middle of the meeting. He says,Excuse me, young man, I know who you are.” I’m like, “Okay.” He’s like, “You are that boy on HGTV who painted that room green last night and you got sent home.”

I’m mortified. I’m like, “Why would you do this now? This is the first day of work. We’ve only been at work two hours.” I’m in front of everyone. Now, everybody’s looking at me like, “He’s horrible. Why is he here?” He says to me, “I want to see you after the meeting.” At this point I hadn’t met Steve Harvey and he says, “Steve Harvey’s makeup artist designed his office. He’s not a fan of it but that’s his wife’s friend so he doesn’t want to offend him. I need you to fix it.”

I go in and I meet Steve Harvey. We had like a five minute conversation and he said, “They told me you’re a great designer and you can turn this room around. I’m going to take Family Feud before we start filming the talk show. I’ll be back in a week and I need you to have this done.” I’m like, “Okay.” That was my intro into starting to do work on the Steve Harvey show. I call him Mr. Harvey to this day.

When he came back, we walked the space and he had a small entourage. He asked him to wait in the hallway and said, “I just want Mikel to walk me around the space.” When we got finished, he sat in awe and said, “I’m going to give you a hug.” I was like, “Okay.” He said, “What you don’t understand is I do my radio show from 5:00 AM until 9:00 Central time then we tape two talk shows. I’m here from 4:00 AM until 7:00 PM every day. It’s not just an office. I like live here every day.”

It’s his home.

I turned around to him as I’m walking out the door and I said, “God is telling me to tell you I don’t want to work for you.” I still get shivers when I think about that because that was the first time I had an outer body experience where I feel like those words. They came out of my mouth but I don’t know where they came from. The second I said it, it was like I came to and I’m like, “What did you just say to this man?” He turned to me and said, “What did you just say?” I’m trying to clean it up. It didn’t get any better.

When you tell say something truthful despite being in a strange situation, it feels like going on an out-of-body experience. Click To Tweet

I said, “I’m not enamored by who you are. Honestly, I have a television show that is currently running. Even though I got sent home, I want my own TV show. I just haven’t been given that platform.” I was in the last two episodes helping the designers do the last episodes. He turned around to me. I can’t say what he really said but he said, “You are crazy but like it. I’ve never had anyone have the courage to say what you just said to me.” He said, “I’m going to put you on TV.” The first episode was a walkthrough of his dressing room and they begin to let me do home makeover segments. That’s honestly how it started.

I have chills listening to that because talk about balls.

You said it. That’s the word he said.

You got some balls, Mikel, because can you imagine? In the out-of-body experience, it’s the spirit or the universe talking through you. Again, Mikkel, that is such an amazing story. For a while, were you sweating it like for a split second?

Yes, I was for that second.

You held your ground.

I used to have a poker face back then. I was adventurous then.

I love that so much, Mikkel, because look at courage. Otherwise, you would have worked in the background for probably a long time and nobody would have known.

I would have left that room. He just would have said, “Thank you.” That would have been the end of it because that job was a blessing. Even to this day because I don’t remember who one of the first celebrities was like on their flight. They couldn’t get to Chicago because of the snow and we used to have that problem all the time. Somebody misses a flight and they would say to me, “Mikel, you designed that segment. Can you like feel in and do the demonstration on stage?” If we had an empty slot, they’re like, “Put Mikel on the stage.” That just helped me so much in starting my career out.

I say even to this day, my producer, I work on the Drew Barrymore Show and what people don’t know is I often design several of my own segments on the Drew Barrymore Show where I’m doing the behind the scenes shopping. They do a bulk of it but I send my vision but I still shop. My co-executive producer from the Steve Harvey Show is now the executive producer of the Drew Barrymore Show. It’s so funny how full circle many years later those relationships and saying yes and being open because you never know what’s going to happen.

Just be open. You never know what will happen next. Click To Tweet

TV Reveals Vs. Home Reveals

How inspiring is that? How do you help clients at home? How do you have that same spirit and bring that energy to helping clients feel more brave and courageous? I know, for me, my goal in designing for clients is because I have a therapy background. I want their relationships to flourish or even if they live by themselves, I want their self-growth to be fostered in the home. For you, you have such a strong instinct of helping people feel open. How do you design that in the homes to help clients have that energy in that same mindset?

It’s because I have that television background. Television is interesting because you do a big reveal unlike with residential clients. They’re living in the house. They get a reveal but it’s a little bit different because they’re living in it as it’s happening. Whereas, television we typically put them in a hotel and they come back and so there’s an emotional response.

That has taught me a therapy skill if you will with different with people and understanding that I’m not just creating something that’s pretty. I’m changing someone’s life, especially in television. It’s a little bit different because most of the time with our stories, someone has gone through something traumatic or some life-changing event where they need the help. You have to dig in and it’s got to be something bigger and greater than you. It forces you to dig deep and go into a different place where you have to emotionally connect with someone.

I would attribute a big part of that, dealing with the clients. That for one. Also, me as a Midwestern person who has lived in Chicago, LA, New York, and the South, it’s giving me the beauty of reaching many people. I feel like I can sit down with 95% of the people in this world and at least have a conversation. It doesn’t mean I have to agree, but I can at least have some type of common ground because I’ve lived in a nice percentage of the places in the US.

I can connect with those clients and I try to tap into what their issue is and their pain point and give them real solutions. I don’t want to use the word magazine worthy, but oftentimes, people want aspirational things that they see. They’re always like, “This is expensive,” especially people who told me, “You designed for Steve Harvey and Drew Barrymore.”

I do, but I also work in television where those budgets are not big like you would think they are. It teaches me the art of Illusion. There’s a lot of what I do, I call smoke and mirrors. I have learned how to get the look without spending the big dollar. That’s what resonates with a lot of clients. I can’t look that high-end look from that time background.

Through a smoke-and-mirrors strategy, interior designers can execute great-looking houses that resonate with a lot of people without spending huge amounts of money. Click To Tweet

Setting Up Clients For Success

Getting down to brass tacks. When you are working with someone who wants that aspiration but has a budget. This is something I deal with clients every day. Do you have a couple go-to ways to create that wonderful feeling but stay within budget? Is it through paint colors? Is it through going to certain stores or using certain home decor items? What are your go-to ways that you feel like beginners can start and help them feel like they’re set up for success?

The first thing, before you even start shopping, I’d love to tell my clients that they need a roadmap. Before you like willy-nilly run the home goods like Mr. Slowdown. I need you to find an inspiration photo, whether it’s your favorite hotel or your favorite restaurant. Whatever draws you in it and gives you that emotion. I tell people to like to make a canva board. I don’t care if it’s a PowerPoint, but find an image that you like and draw off of that first then shop what you have.

I spend so much of my time shopping at home like stores that give you the look, but you’re not spending a ton of money. It’s deciding what you splurge on versus things that I don’t need to spend a ton of money on. That’s just the biggest thing for me. Spend the money on the things that you’re going to use the most like your sofa and your bed.

Things that you’re going to use on a constant basis, spend the money on that. I would say like on the rugs and the coffee tables, those type of things you can cut back on. A lot of it is planning it out first and having that Bible and roadmap. When you get to home goods, you can narrow in on what it is that you want.

Great advice because I’m sure you’ve had clients, too, where you go in for the initial console and they’re like, “We bought this at HD Buttercup. We spent like $7,000.” It’s this big brown poop color looking sofa. You have to incorporate it because they don’t want to get rid of it because they spent so much money on it on a whim.

There’s so many great places like living spaces and all of these great places where you can get the look, but you don’t need a $3,000 sofa. Everybody can’t afford that. Maybe you can get a $900 sofa and save a couple of checks. At least get something of quality that looks good and that’s a fraction of the cost.

Preparing that vision, or at least having some categories pre-planned is very smart. Most people, when they move into their apartment or first home, they feel the urgency to fill up the spaces. “I got to fill it up. I just moved in here, it’s empty.”

Can I give one more resource because I can fill it up as you were saying. Another thing that I love to do is use the site Houzz. What I like about Houzz is you can search for inspiration by zip code. Chances are, you can find someone in your neighborhood who has a similar living room or dining room or bedroom, whatever setup you have. Maybe they’ve hired a designer but you can at least shop or look by zip code. You can at least get the orientation of how you set your space up. I promise you, someone has it similar. Unless you have a custom home, but if you have a custom home, you probably aren’t worried about budget anyhow.

Self-Care Robe

I love that because say master plan communities, same zip code, most likely the builder was similar or the same, so the blueprints are very similar. We’re winding down a little bit. I love to ask my guests how they find self care at home. Is there a spot in your home that you intentionally designed for you? Where is it? What does it look like? How do you find rest?

For me, I’m a city dweller. I live between New York and Miami. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of space per se, but my safe haven, honestly, is not even like one particular piece of furniture. It’s my robe.

I love that. This is what I’m talking about. It doesn’t have to be furniture per se but it’s how you live. Is there something or a lifestyle that makes you?

I’m going to do something. Brian Patrick Flynn did the same thing to me. I’m going to show you because I stayed in this robe. This is my solo house robe. I had it on the Drew Barrymore Show. I talked about it. I lost the relationship because my ex said I reminded him of his grandma because I always have this robe on. I put this robe on. It has a hood. This is my happy place. I don’t care if I’m getting the mail or out on the balcony. As soon as I put this on, I’m in my calm zen place. After I get off with you, I’m going to put this on because I stay in it all day.

I have a Taylor Swift sweatshirt that I call my serotonin sweatshirt but this is your serotonin robe. This is your dopamine robe.

I’m going to send you one of these.

I can’t wait to get one. We share a great friend, Brian Patrick Flynn, which I hope he can come on my show as well. Once you have that robe described like do you just veg? Do you like to have tea? Are there any things besides wearing the robe that makes you feel good?

I’m a big coffee drinker. I don’t do anything fancy. I put it inside of my Yeti cup and I lounge around the house. In my head, I’m an old English gentleman. Randomly in my house, I’m looking like I have old fashioned glasses. This is clearly something I was sipping on but I love to envision myself in the English countryside.

I’m big on the comforts of that English Cotswold lifestyle. I will honestly sit here. I’ll light my candle. I’m a big Santel person. I love my Lay Lobo. A lot of it is sitting on my sofa. That’s my comfortable place. Me and the dog just chill as you said. I watch a show called Midsummer Murders. It’s like a murder she wrote for the British and I just watch that all day. I’ll just sit on that sofa and most of the time, eating some popcorn.

I love that. I’m a true crime fan for sure. There’s just so many reasons why we’re friends. If we ever hang out, I picture us in robes, on a couch with the TV on with true crime. We’re not even talking to each other. We’re hanging out in silence with the TV on the background and binging. That’s what I see us doing.

If you can add a thin crust pizza into that.

I love pizza and coffee. I love dessert. I love chocolate.

I’m down for it.

Closing Words

Mikel, thank you so much for sharing your time with us. We’ve just learned so much more about you. We mentioned scrappiness but it’s beyond that. It’s having the faith and the vision of where you want to be, who you are and stepping into your power. That Steve Harvey story, I’m never going to forget it. Thank you for shaking your heart.

Thank you, again. I appreciate it. I want to say thank you to you because you came into my life and it was so unexpected. You were so gracious. I can tell everyone, I now have a book deal because of Anita. You randomly put my name out into the universe to your book agent and now it’s our book agent. Thank you for the sight unseen. We never even had a conversation.

That’s the special part. Readers, Mikel and I had not met each other in New York when I had my little book dinner party. That was so lovely and your assistant James as well. Prior to that, it’s kismet. It was meant to be and we’re going to have some even bigger and better things together, hopefully. Let’s see how the universe brings it to us. There’s always a reason why people meet each other. Nothing’s ever a coincidence. I’m excited to see what we’re going to do together next.

I can’t wait.

Thank you.

No problem. Have a good one.

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