With our fully integrated accounting and project management platform, Studio Designer provides high-tech tools to the world’s leading designers to drive efficiency and growth, save time, and manage beautiful projects. Our Designer Spotlight series focuses on a singular Studio Designer talent, whose firm uses our platform to run their businesses and achieve their goals of growth, success, and creative fulfilment.

Studio Designer client Drew McGukin has an innate fearlessness in his design vision and execution that makes him one of most distinct and exceptional rising stars in the contemporary design scene in New York City. After a successful decade in real estate, he graduated from the New York School of Interior Design in 2010 and immediately launched his eponymous firm. Drew prides himself on his boundless energy for design, collaboration, and pushing the style envelope forward.

Drew McGukin spotlight graphic

In this candid and revelatory interview—Drew details how real estate paved the way to a formal education in interior design, how he uses Studio Designer to run his business, and how he maintains a superhuman drive to always go above and beyond for his clients.

Tell us a little bit about you. How and why did you decide to become a designer?

I started selling real estate in Georgia mid-way through college after buying my first condo and falling madly in love with the process, and excitement of getting inside the next door. After a successful 10-year run of selling, that same excitement translated into getting inside the next door to rearrange or reorganize—reimagine spaces! I decided to enroll at the New York School of Interior Design… and the rest is history.

Library-dining area

Describe your design aesthetic

I’m a contemporary dude rooted in traditional needs, function, and rituals. At first glance, you’ll may say “Wow, that’s fresh,” but what I think sells my aesthetic is the underlying timelessness (which feels like a more traditional approach to me). I believe that goes to DMc intellectual properties designed and woven into form, function through all the basics of design principles and elements.

Living room

Share some design references to turn to frequently to spark your creativity.

I have always answered this question the same way: “People and Places inspire me…” Imagine how that went down when both people and places were taken away during the Pandemic? Ouch. I’ve stopped reading magazines mainly out of boredom if I’m honest. There’s so much sameness in the world and it seems to be what drives advertising dollars, so there went the trade pubs. I look to artists and artisans a lot for inspiration and to be challenged. 1stdibs is a great resource to see who’s doing what all over the world.

Spacious living room with three pairs of glass doors

Who are the interior designers, architects, artists, or creative professionals you admire?

Gosh. That list could go on for a while. I’ll frame it differently—if I were going to work for someone else, I’d put all my eggs in Elena Frampton’s basket. If I was going to hire an interior designer, I’d choose Shawn Henderson to edit me down to my core, or I’m always messaging Barry Dixon on IG that I would hire him personally (he hits my inner Southern Gentleman notes). I love that both Wesley Moon and Ryan Lawson are “Designers” with a capital D. I wish my mind worked like Bryan Graybill’s when it comes to millwork and millwork detailing. If I were going to wake up in dreamscape, I’d be fine to do the whole sequence in a Tilton Fenwick surround with my fashion and jewelry styled by Nicki ClendeningBella Mancini is also a person I’d just hand the keys to and feel certain I’d be cooler, fresher, more honest, and more soulful for having done so…

Collage of two room photos - one featuring bold yellow accents, the other subdued shades of white and gray

What design project of yours are you most proud of and why?

I have several—my own home because it’s a total mash-up and it works. A ski-house project I’ve worked on for several years because it’s serene in every possible way and we managed to strike that balance. I also happen to love that client to the moon and back and we’ve worked together my entire career. Lastly, I’d say a project that I’m working on now in Mill Valley, CA. The kitchen millwork is all in copper and the client was inspired by my own personal kitchen. That feels warm and provoking.

Share a story about how you acquired an unusual item for a project.

Oh, I’ve definitely hauled oversized thrift store lamps onto planes and into overhead bins or traveled fun places to score great things. I’d say the more unusual stuff comes from things clients already own—making those work. We have one client with two homes and a collection of life-sized Star Wars characters. In one we have a switch on the wall called “The Lucas Lights.” When you turn it on, a spotlight over Darth Vader comes on red and the one over Yoda across the room comes on green. For that project, we developed a wall finish called “Tatooine Moon” based on the twin moons of Luke Skywalker’s home planet. Best part is that both homes feel totally elegant, and the cast of characters fit right in.

Bright and spacious interior of a house with fringe lamp and fireplace as bold accents

Share your advice on how to run a successful design business and maintain a creative edge at the same time.

Don’t say no. Sleep when you’re dead. Take it all in as much as you can and as far as you can reach—then ask yourself what would happen if you reached just a little bit farther? Rest as much as you need to for your own engine but push it like a top athlete. Be extra. Go harder. Travel. We must travel. Also, exercise 3-4x a week consistently and commit to (and hit) a savings goal every year. Drink coffee and martinis. Anyone convincing you to go lighter (unless it’s your doctor) isn’t doing you any favors.

The graphic with quote: "Make human connections within the industry. Find ways, large and small, to honor your creativity—only you know what works. No one can tell you this. The rest happens naturally."

How do you use Studio Designer to successfully run your business?

Studio runs all our accounting, billing, and budgeting. It’s an awesome tool and I’ve been using it since I first learned the program at NYSID. I think having a systemized billing strategy is perceived as more professional to the outside world. You need all those bells and whistles to underscore your value. It’s called a business—don’t limit the tools you need to run it, build it, boom it.

Kitchen with industrial design and artistic elements

What advice do you have for designers building their businesses?

Get a brand identity together day one that can last 10 years and stick to it like glue. Get Studio Designer going ASAP. Get Asana ASAP. Find a mentor (or several) ASAP. Have someone else manage your billing and expenses ASAP. Hire your first project coordinator ASAP. Stop comparing yourself to others—find your drum and figure out a beat that makes you dance. Don’t rely on social media as a lifeline. Make human connections within the industry. Finds ways (large and small) to honor your creativity—only you know what works. No one can tell you this…The rest will happen naturally.

Landscaped walls

What is a fun fact about yourself that you want to share?

This one is my favorite because no one believes me when I say it… except those who really know me: I am enormously shy. Another good one that really makes people scratch their heads: I am an aspiring minimalist.

Want to learn more about Studio Designer?

Email info@studiodesigner.com, or register for our weekly demo. We can’t wait to connect.

Studio Designer is the leading digital platform for Interior Designers managing and growing their design businesses. Featuring fully integrated project management, time billing, product sourcing, and accounting solutions for the interior design industry.