Teal Michel on how reinventing yourself leads to fulfillment
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
How did creativity/design show up in your childhood?
Growing up, I was always drawn to creative projects. Some more successful, like when I hand-decorated all the Christmas balls for our tree because I found the ones in the store were too boring. Others not as memorable - like when I tried to make a collage of fall colored leaves that eventually faded and got crumbly. Little did I know, this creative trend would continue throughout my life.
As you entered adulthood, was your career path clear?
Two events directed me toward where my life and career took me: a BS in fashion merchandising from Drexel University and my love of clothing, dressing stylishly, and accessorizing stayed with me as styles changed over time. However, the desire to enter the apparel work world did not. So I found myself at a crossroads after graduating, wondering what I should be doing.
How does life sometimes take you on an unexpected journey?
My summer in Europe after graduation impacted my career path. I stayed at a spectacular Swiss villa for the summer and made forays into the adjacent countries to experience all aspects of the different cultures and cuisines. Upon return to the States, I dove into learning to recreate some of the delicious dishes that I had tasted.
Tell us about the catering business that you started:
A lawyer at one of my parties was so impressed with my creations that he suggested I start a food business. He would be my marketing agent due to his wide client list. Just as I was about to start the business with him, he moved away. At that point, I decided it was a good idea and that I would have to do it on my own. I lined up feature newspaper articles on my cooking school, catering business and special events. Once my business grew, I knew I was ready for the next step and moved to a storefront in Madison, New Jersey. I operated my business for 14 years from that storefront and was a frequent lecturer on cooking and new food equipment techniques. During this time, my favorite aspects were always designing my store windows, as well as the food displays at the events we catered.
Why did you decide to reinvent yourself and change career paths?
After some time, I realized that this was not what I really wanted to do any longer. I had traded fashion for food but had not found my true passion. Because of name recognition, I had to wait until I relocated to Charlotte to start in a new direction.
That direction was interior design, which made sense since my mother had been an architect and my father a landscape architect. I obtained my second degree in interior design and was excited about entering the field. I thought having a prior business background would help me find a job but it wasn’t that easy. So once again, I decided to go out on my own - this time as an interior designer
How did you break into interior design?
The opportunity came when I was meeting with a friend, sharing my disappointment on not finding a job. She then said she could use some design help. Immediately following that meeting, I came up with a name and set myself up as a business. That was in 1994. Name wise I thought, keep it simple: just use your name “Teal Michel.” And from there, I would be asked to do interior design projects with people I met.
We hear you have the ASID designation!
As soon as ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) would allow, I took the rigorous and extensive tests to be a professional level interior designer, which goes by the designation “ASID” after your name. This designation indicates extensive knowledge and skill in interior design.
Have you won any awards in interior design?
Over the years, I have won many awards from ASID and the Charlotte Home Builders Association for my interior design, furniture design, and remodel/renovation design. My work has been included in seven large colored coffee table books and numerous magazines. Also, I wrote many columns for the Charlotte Observer and Davidson news.
Any interesting or notable design projects?
I have had many interesting projects. I was asked to stage a large house that had been on the market and had received bad reviews. This was before there were so called “stagers.” The listing real estate agent hired a woman to be my assistant that afternoon. Their collection of furniture was all over the board, color and style wise. It was quite a challenge but at the end of the two hours, I had actually made the house presentable.
I did not hear anything further until six months later when I received a phone message. The message was from the couple who had owned that house - who I had never met. They said they loved what I had done and wanted to fly me to New York City and help them with their new apartment. I flew to New York City and not only decorated their new place but then helped them decorate/design two other future apartments.
Any advice to other business owners?
So as I used to say to my employees, the small clients are just as important as the large clients because you never know what or who they know.
How is art present in your life?
I have taken numerous courses and have visited many museums in many countries. I continue my love of art at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art as a part-time staff member in the galleries and lead tours for school groups.
What’s in your future?
Today, I love design just as much as when I started and look forward to many more design projects. And golf! I love to play golf!