6 Secrets of Collaborating with Friends

Collaboration in design, decor and style is everywhere. We asked San Diego designer Katie Gebhardt how to make it work.
Katie Gebhardt collaborating with friends

Designer Katie Gebhardt in the kitchen she designed for friend Kevin Newberg. Read our April cover feature on Katie’s design work — and Kevin’s Bird Rock home — here. Photo, above, by Chipper Hatter.

Six Secrets of Working With Friends

Katie Gebhardt of Solstice Interiors thrives in collaborative, creative and interconnected groups. And she has an impressive, growing network of clients, colleagues and connections to show for it. Whether commissioning art, DIY elements, working with friends as clients or developing longer-term, multi-project relationships with clients, here’s her advice on how to make collaboration work:

1. Set boundaries between your friendship and your work relationship.

2. Be sensitive to the relationship. From a design standpoint, be prepared to put your foot down to maintain a strong vision and portfolio, but acknowledge that some things require more sensitivity.

3. Err on the side of not collaborating, especially if the design, project or brand is too far outside of your wheelhouse. “If it’s not something that I could see myself doing an amazing job for them, I don’t do it,” Katie says.

4. Regularly step back—and encourage your friend to do this too—to make sure the project remains in line with your ideas.

5. Carve out separate design or work time, and honor it. Make specific work meeting times, not just for efficiency but for financial clarity. Reel it in, and always try to stay focused.

Accounting tip: If a conversation switches to social or personal topics, consider billing the client a “negative” chunk of time as a professional courtesy.

6. Answer as many questions and outline as many expectations as possible up front. Define the specs, restraints, inspiration details, deliverables, billing and payment process and timelines in advance. “Then you can get to the fun part, the creative part,” Katie says.

collaborating with friends katie gebhardt juneshine

Bringing in the creativity of people in your life makes your living spaces (or bars and dining establishments!) more friendly, too. Add character, support your community and build lasting friendships. (Photo by Forrest Jaqua)

Juneshine Katie Gebhardt

Katie Gebhardt worked on North Park’s Juneshine, a hard kombucha bar, with her extended community of friends. Along the way, she’s built many more collaborative relationships. (Photo by Forrest Jaqua).

katie gebhardt solstice interiors

The Family You Choose

Read more about Katie Gebhardt, one of our April issue “Ones to Watch” up-and-coming designers here, and the home she designed for a longtime friend. The Bird Rock home’s design also involved commissioning art and handmade furniture from other members of her expanded community. In addition to Juneshine, Katie’s design work is also featured in some brand new local establishments, including Leo by Liv3. Read more about her other projects in the feature!

Categories: Expert Advice, Home Design