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What To Do… Marcia Zia-Priven

The first person to take on our topic, “What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do” is the talented and successful Marcia Zia-Priven who recently relocated back to Los Angeles from New York City and is the Managing Partner and Lighting Designer of Zia-Priven Design who at one time was even nominated for an Emmy but you’ll have to read our little chat below to learn more… :)


How do you think a person can find their spot in the world of design — you know, your true calling?

In this crazy design world, the journey I?ve taken with all the wonderful self-discovery along the way, has made my particular path extremely fulfilling. After working through self-doubt and questioning, all the while trying to sort out which was the right path to walk down, I found my voice with our company, Zia-Priven Design. My husband and partner Paul Priven and I have gone from being not even the ?little guy? but the Tiny Guy to having the honor of working with such wonderful designers as Oscar de la Renta, Geoffrey Bradfield and Jamie Drake, and on projects as diverse as a one bedroom apartment in New York City to the Grand Hotel Stockholm in Sweden. I highly suggest that you step out of yourself and your life, even for a moment, to question what it is you really want. Or what?s missing?what?s your heart saying to you? Take that moment and listen to it?you?ll be thrilled where it leads you.

When did you first start to think about this whole idea of finding your path in the world of design?

It was in my mid-twenties when I really started to ask myself what exactly is my ?true calling?. The world of design had always fascinated me, and so many aspects of it- painting, interiors, photography, graphics, even fashion, but which one?! What was the right direction for me? I couldn?t possibly do it all! I felt such pressure to choose one and go for it but at the same time I was petrified of making the wrong choice and being stuck in a job I hated or worse, failing at something I loved. Before my monumental angst and introspection had taken over, I had always assumed this mysterious ?true calling? would just present itself, just happen one defining day and all would fall perfectly into place. What a crock!

What does one do when they have tons of interests and feel passionate about many things?

Okay, so I know it does happen to some people, but it?s a lucky few. Most of us, especially creative types, have a world of ideas and passions…and directions to explore. And, at different moments in our lives some may be greater than others. So, what do you do?! First of all, stop pressuring yourself! There is no definitive choice. Nothing has to remain the same and you can always change your job, your direction, your life. Really. And trust me, I?ve done it many a time. I?ve had gallery shows of my paintings, been a store owner, a set painter, a set decorator, production designer, a lousy novelist and had a brief job at a photo studio in which I was fired after 2 months. So, we make mistakes sometimes. I know this now, of course at the time, my failings were the end of the world. But, here I am at 42 and I can look back and love every second, every failure and every success. It is what defines me. It is how you know. You cannot know (I mean truly know) anything unless you experience it. And losing a job or making a bad choice will NOT be the end of you. It will merely help direct you. I lost the job at the photo studio because I hated it. If I had found out how much I loved that job but still was fired, I would have been even more determined to follow that path and gone elsewhere. But I would have KNOWN. Nowadays, I take photos for my own personal enjoyment and that is enough to satisfy that need, but it just wasn?t my calling.

What about if there’s no way you can try out different jobs on a full-time basis?

If you aren?t in the position to try out different jobs, then get a part-time job on the side, or an internship. A job doesn?t have to be listed to be available. Make the calls, be relentless but polite and something will come through. That?s what is great about internships, though you don?t get paid, you get all the educational benefits and you get to work in your dream environment without having any experience. Get a taste of the life and the business you are considering entering into. Nothing will demonstrate more to you the reality of that field. I highly recommend it and suggest you make the time if you are serious about pursuing those dreams.

But many aren’t in the position to even intern because they need to pay the bills, then what?

If it?s absolutely impossible, and you?re in a good paying position, need to pay the bills, but don?t feel fulfilled, then here are a few more suggestions:

Take a class. Or several…
Obvious, but a little scary when you?re new at something. This was one of the greatest things I ever did to find my direction. I took some, actually many courses at a nearby community college while I was working to support myself. I became obsessed with design when I had previously doubted myself. Try classes in the different fields you are excited about. See which ones inspire you and which ones fall flat. When you hit on the right ones, you will know. Inspiration will flow from you, you won?t be able to get enough, and your excitement will grow and grow until you can?t imagine your life being complete without this being your chosen path. And the apprehension will slowly dissolve into confidence and determination. Remember, you and your dreams are WORTH the time and the effort! This is your life, not anyone else?s. Going back to school not only helps you shape your desires but enhances your talents, enriches them and defines your style. It?s your chance to explore what makes you tick.

Read books. Or magazines. Or blogs…
Read, read, read. Or just look at the photos. What are you drawn to? What do you find yourself pointing at and salivating over? What do you feel you HAVE to have? Or make? One test I love to do is go to a bookstore, stand in the design section and just start making piles. I still do this and now my husband (and business partner) joins in. I swear I still get palpitations when I see all those big, glossy, beautiful books. Talk about a kid in a candy store! Look through the different areas and choose at least 3 different areas of design that enthrall you, be it interiors, furniture design, textiles, whatever. Now, start making piles of the books you have to have. Don?t just grab anything, but be particular. What makes your heart sing? And which pile is bigger? Choose one must-have out of each pile and take them home. Which one do you HAVE to read first? And which one do you keep going back to?

Go shopping.
Huh? Yeah, go shopping. Same concept as the bookstore but instead of photos, it?s the real thing! Again, what are you drawn to? Is it the pattern on a duvet or fabulous jewelry? Stacks of pillows you NEED to buy or a beautiful painting you can?t take your eyes off? Paul and I first got an inkling of how much we loved lighting years ago when one day we looked around our budding antique store and had to laugh at the ratio of lamps and chandeliers there were compared to furniture! We had subconsciously bought fixture after fixture until the place was packed while the furniture selection was mighty slim. Our store became well known for the great selection of unique lighting, but definitely not for the furniture!

Don?t be afraid. OR, be afraid and do it anyway.
Fear is not a comfortable emotion but it is part of taking a risk. We have to see our goals clearly and take that leap of faith whether it?s comfortable or not, that?s part of really living life to its fullest. Think about it, if you look back on the great accomplishments of your life so far, how many did not involve some kind of risk or fear? And even more importantly, faith in yourself? Searching for your true calling will require?no, demand?all of these emotions.

Keep the faith in your talent and what you love. Your unique vision is what separates you from the pack. Don?t let the naysayers affect you, just keep going, and don?t accept anything but your absolute best because that is what will always represent you.

Last, but not least, have patience, take chances and stick to it. Don?t listen to other people and don?t put it off. Follow your heart (it really is true). Get out there and do what you love, as many things as there may be, and you will naturally gravitate toward your greatest love. I promise you, it is absolutely worth it.

You mentioned fear, any tips on managing it?

I?ve always said that both fear and faith were great motivational forces in the early years of our business. They still are, but don?t shy away from the fear, embrace it! When we were struggling in the beginning to pay the bills, fear is what got us pounding the pavement. When we?re working on a new piece, say a chandelier, there is always that doubt?will people like it? Is it good enough? Will they buy it? That?s where the faith comes in and tedious attention to detail. We will examine that chandelier over and over, ensuring it?s not only absolutely beautiful in our minds, but also made to the highest standards and something we are completely satisfied with. We have to always understand that it may not be to everyone?s taste and that is perfectly alright. We have to like it. No, we have to LOVE it. If we don?t, it?s out! As you gain confidence in your abilities, you will know instinctively if something is right or not. Fear keeps our standards high. It can stop you in your tracks or it can drive you to great heights!

Do you feel that you have found your path and if so, how?

I?ve actually found I still love many of the areas of design that I loved in the beginning of my search, but in the end, lighting and furniture design give me the biggest thrill…for now. I don?t believe any of us can be put into a mold of only loving one thing. This is DESIGN, and design is quite a big world. When I wrote about not putting pressure on ourselves, it was because I understand what it is like to love so many different aspects of design. The hardest part about choosing a career path was the fear of never being able to do the other things that also fulfilled me. Thank goodness, over time, I?ve come to understand that it?s not the case at all. I have a job in a business I love?I adore lighting. How many products can have a particular look and then with a flick of a switch, can take on a whole new presence?! But, at the same time, I still love to paint, go antique shopping, design the interiors of my rooms as well as other people?s, etc. We can always keep what is dear to our hearts with us. And if I feel there is something I want to try, well, I will go for it. I don?t pressure myself to do everything perfectly because I understand that I will fail sometimes and succeed sometimes. And it really is okay. Trying something new is always fulfilling regardless of the outcome.

Did you know you wanted to be a lighting designer all along then?

I never grew up thinking, ?Ah yes, a lighting designer, that?s what I?ll be!? Growing up in Los Angeles, I was always fascinated by Old Hollywood. I wasn?t sure what to do with that but I did know I loved watching old movies and gazing up at the old mansions that lined the streets of Beverly Hills. Such a glamorous era… It wasn?t until years later I realized that as I watched these films, I found myself studying the sets, especially the ones of the 30?s and 40?s. They were so grand and elegant even if they were a bit over the top, but I loved them. Funny, when I look back I can see the early signs. It really is true, if you look back at what you loved as a child you will see what you instinctively embraced. I really thought the only purpose of having a Barbie doll was to decorate her Dream Home and dress her up.

I found myself, after working several monotonous desk jobs, bored to tears. I was in my mid-twenties, hadn?t gone to college yet because I had no idea what I wanted to study and began to envision myself living out the rest of my life miserable and completely unfulfilled.

That was the eye opener! My own mother had worked for 40 years at an insurance company for which she felt complete ambivalence. No passion, no excitement, never believing she could do anything different. She cheered the day she retired, purposely retiring on April Fools Day, luckily she has a great sense of humor. I understand that was a different era and choices were much more limited then, but it certainly was not my chosen path, yet I felt it starting to happen to me. I quit my job, signed up at the local community college taking a variety of design related courses, and after several unfortunate part-time positions, got a job at a local studio as a page. Working on ?Jeopardy? was my first show (Hi Alex!). I excelled in school, I was so excited about what I was learning that I devoured every bit I knowledge I could grasp onto. I felt ALIVE again.

After several years of classes, I won an art scholarship and transferred to The Art Center of Pasadena. Meanwhile, I found I needed to earn more money so I beat down doors and into a position at an Antique Auction house where I learned volumes of information about antiques and d?cor of all eras. I still wasn?t sure what my calling was but I knew I was loving the journey and I was on the right path. I loved art, furnishings, the movies, now what?

I stayed at the auction house for 3 years, had to leave school because there just wasn?t time anymore, and began to consider the film business. Set decorating interested me because it was a combination of the 3 things that really excited me. It was during the last year at the auction house I planned my escape. It was time to take a real risk. After work and on Saturdays, I worked for free on a small film for 6 months. It was a tiny production company so I had the opportunity to do a little of everything- I got the coffee, I raised money, I sat through the auditions and I got to do the sets! Woo Hoo! Most importantly, I got to learn the ropes and gain a little confidence.

All along I had been saving money, until I had enough to survive for 3 months. It was make or break time. I gave my notice and started making calls. I scoured all the resources, called EVERYBODY, and finally got my foot in the ?industry? door. I was able to use everything I learned previously to really excel, that?s why everything you do, does count.

On one of the films, I met a handsome stranger who happened to be the Assistant Director. Well, that would be Paul, my husband! We hit it off instantly and over time began to talk about our dissatisfaction with the business. We really wanted to do something on our own and have more creative control. At this time, I was fairly established. I had been at CBS for several years, was in the union and had even been nominated for an Emmy. I also knew if I left it would be very difficult to get back in. Talk about fear and risk! This time I had a partner in crime which did make it easier, but it was still 2 mouths to feed. But like before, I had to plan this out. We weren?t sure exactly how to start our business, but we knew we loved vintage furnishings and we loved hunting for the pieces that spoke to us. So, we began to buy and restore lighting and furniture and resell it at The Rose Bowl flea market, the biggest one in the country while we kept our day jobs. We always tried to put a unique spin on our look?whether it was what we bought or how we restored it, it needed to stand out. After saving up our money for a year and taking a small loan from his parents, we took the plunge, quit our jobs, moved to San Diego and opened a funky vintage furnishings store.

We had so much fun with the whole thing! We called it ?Sanctuary, Furnishings for the Soul? and really tried to reflect that name with everything we bought. During this part of the journey, we started to notice how much lighting we would drag back to the shop, and it became almost comical. It was what we were drawn to! Thankfully, it was both of us or else we would have been in trouble.

How was the shop experience and do you think it helped you form Zia Priven Design?

It was through the store that together we discovered our passion for lighting. We put our own twist on everything?especially the lighting?and word got around until designers began to come to us specifically for our lighting. It was that extra effort that paid off. We slowly realized restoring the fixtures just wasn?t enough for us anymore; we wanted to make our own designs. Through tons of research, hits and misses, we finally came out with our first line that was all ours. It took almost 2 years to get there but we did it. It was hard work, ups and downs, successes and failures, but what a great pay off! We started Zia-Priven Design in 1999, moved to New York City, the design capital of the US, in 2002 (risk is fun, remember? Aaaaaaa!!!), to live out another one of our dreams, and set up shop. It?s been a difficult road at times but filled with so many thrills and achievements that I would never change a thing.

Persistence, patience, and passion for what we do are what got us through each day?to this day. And if you were to ask me, ?is this your path?? I?d say, ?It is today…but I?m in the middle of a long, winding and wonderful road.?

Thank you so much Marcia for visiting us today, your insight is impressive and I’m sure many will benefit from your advice.

Posted in small business, what to do on April 11, 2008

What To Do… {part two}

I’ve been dying to sit down all week to continue our discussion, “What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do“, about how to find your calling as a creative type. I’m so pleased to know that you’re following along because I’m confident that you’ll walk away inspired no matter where you stand on your current path. Thank you for making time to read this.


I’m a believer in the power of many voices, which is why I’ve gathered opinions from artists, designers, bloggers, and other creative types over the past week, voices I find motivating and genuine, people I respect and look to as good examples because let’s face it, good examples are not always as easy to find as bad ones. What To Do… offers ideas and tips on how to find your calling from people who applied their own advice and found success. I’m sure their personal experiences will be of value and perhaps one of their voices will connect with you on a personal level and if so, I encourage you to comment and get involved in the discussion because your comments are as important as the blog posts themselves.

Before we get started I’d like to make a few things clear…

This series isn’t about bashing corporate America or to say that working for others in general isn’t a good choice. Often you can find your calling within corporate America and be quite happy there. Just because someone left their job to work for themselves doesn’t make them better or more enlightened than the person who decided to stay in their job. Even when you are your own boss you work for others. A freelance writer has obligations to their editors. An artist to their vendors. A designer to their clients. And when it comes to corporate America let’s face it, if larger companies didn’t exist here in America then smaller ones couldn’t function the same because we’re all part of a larger wheel, one economics class will teach you all you need to know about that. The canvas you buy to paint was born in a factory. I’m willing to bet that your paints came from a large corporate supplier as well. Those brushes too. We ultimately rely on the large and the small as a society. It’s not depressing, it’s just how things work.

I don’t believe that everyone needs to leave their job to pursue their own business. In fact I think that the freelance bubble will eventually burst just as the dot com era ended. Many who currently leave good jobs to freelance will not find success for one reason or another. In time the market in their new field will become saturated because the current, “there’s enough for everyone” mentality will ultimately, and unfortunately, prove flawed. Look at how graphic designers and even writers and photographers are starting to struggle due to all the newcomers soaking up current and potential clients. Some markets can only take so much. I didn’t see this a year ago but it’s crystal clear to me now that I have a few years of freelancing under my belt. There is enough if you are pursuing something as a hobby though so if you find you can’t earn a living doing what you love it doesn’t mean to throw away your passion. Make time to pursue it alongside of your day job.

I’m not a therapist nor am I a career counselor. Neither are any of the friends that I’ve invited to join us with their thoughts. This series is simply meant to encourage you and get those wheels turning, nothing more.

What To Do…
is meant to encourage and support everyone, especially if you’re looking to find your calling. Only you can decide whether or not to turn your passion into profits or to pursue them as a hobby to balance and fulfill you. I don’t encourage anyone to tell the boss to stick it and run off with passion to join the circus or be the next big thing in the design world. That choice can only be made by you. Just promise me that you won’t become a bearded lady or a clown because I’ve always been quite afraid of both. :)

It’s smart to explore all the options before taking the leap and to hear how others found success doing what they love for a living. It’s a delicate balance. One point to ponder is that perhaps you’re a great painter but if you were to quit your job to become one full-time you may fall flat. Sometimes the moment money mixes with something we love we can lose our passion, of course it depends on personality type. The stress of earning a living can negatively impact our work or how we view the very thing we once found comfort and joy in. Now when we sit down to paint, we’re not thinking of translating our feelings and ideas onto a canvas for the sheer fun of it, instead we may paint in a certain way using the more popular motifs for instance, to gain recognition and customers, to earn more money, or to see how our competition may react. For this reason and more, you have to consider all things before you embark on a career that involves earning a living from doing what you love.

If you’re just jumping in on this conversation and are a bit confused please read these two posts below so you can catch up. What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do and What To Do {part 1}.

So with that, let’s start with our first guest to speak on the topic… Stay tuned.

(image from ez at creature comforts gussied up by holly becker)

Posted in Arts + Crafts, inspiration, small business, what to do on April 11, 2008

What To Do When You… {Part 1}

I hope you’re in the mood for reading today! There was some genuine interest expressed when I recently wrote What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do and I was asked by many of you if I could explore this topic more here on decor8.

A huge thanks to Nathalie at Design Undercover for initiating this topic! To recap, Nathalie expressed to me that she’s in search of her calling and launched Design Undercover as a way to explore a world that she feels connected to but isn’t quite sure of what exactly she wants to focus on. Nathalie says, “I know the day I will find out I will definitely go for it.”

She then asks, “Do you have any suggestions on how to find your calling in the design world? Is there anyone out there that feels the same way? What are we supposed to do when we don’t know?”.

Promise photographic print by Wren and Chickadee.

Nathalie those are loaded questions and there’s no clear answer for everyone, no secret book to reveal things, no magic pill to take, because it’s about following your gut. I’ve heard many experts out there speak of the need to get in touch with the things you did as a child, and I think this is helpful advice. My career counselor at Northeastern University strongly encouraged this as well. What were you into? What did your parents encourage you to do based on their observations? Sometimes this holds the key to finding your path in life as an adult a little quicker.

When I look back at my childhood, I spent huge amounts of time rearranging furniture and decorating our family home, playing ‘teacher’ and ‘shop owner’ in my bedroom, and creating illustrated books and writing in my journals pages at a time on a daily basis. Writing, teaching, and decorating were extremely strong talents of mine exhibited at a very early age. I would go as far as to beg my mother to take me to model homes in new developments on Saturdays just so I could tour them and look at how the rooms are arranged and so I could take all the free materials and go home and edit all the floor plans with my pencils showing how I would have designed things. Yeah, a little intense for a child. Now I work with clients designing their homes. See the connection?

Also in school, I loved art class. My teachers constantly raved over my creative eye as they called it, and my ability to do collage work but beyond school I haven’t explored art for myself, but I do love it and devote a lot of space on decor8 to it so there you see this being explored in an alternate way. Painting and collage work currently is not my passion but I may take it up as a hobby soon. I write about artists a lot though. Yes, you guessed it, another connection made.

I was a huge Science and History fan, I usually made straight A’s in these classes without trying. Math was and will always be my weak point. Today I see my love for these things displayed in again, in alternate ways because I’m a huge nature lover, enjoy taking photos outside, and enjoy period films and visiting places that are filled with history and pre-war architecture. Also in school I was always involved with the school paper somehow, at one point I was an editor with my own column. Now I freelance for the Boston Globe. Again, another connection to my past.

Simple Beauty, fine art photograph by Marie Stevenson.

The reason I laid all this bare is because it’s a good thing for everyone to do at some point in their life. To think about what they were strongly passionate about as a child. Today I am a published writer, blogger, and interior design consultant. It makes sense I’d be on this path as I look back.

I plan to explore other areas in which I have a measure of talent, for instance I’ve wanted to be a shop owner since I was little and so decor8 just may become a little shop someday. I want to have cupcakes on Saturdays along with a book reading session where I read to children from a beautifully illustrated book that also teaches the importance of having strong moral values and of exploring creativity through art and design. I think moral values are slipping away from us and I’d like to do something, no matter how small, to show children that it’s also very cool to be smart, nice, and well-mannered. I have a very special shop in mind, my business plan is quite extensive! I’d love to write a book as well, but I may just start off with a newsletter as I’ve mentioned before and see what happens from there.

Make a list and see what it reveals. I think that’s a good way to get started on this journey of finding your ‘true calling’, although I don’t think everyone has only one thing in life that they are able to do well. I believe we can do many things, it just has to do more with how badly you set your heart on something and the opportunity you have to pursue it. I write this from an American perspective because here, our culture encourages us to pursue our dreams, it’s not called “The Land of Opportunity” for nothing.

Not to go all patriotic on anyone, but I only recently appreciated these words when I learned more about the work life of other cultures and the limits that are placed on those living in certain lands. Despite our nutty government right now, I am so happy I was born in this country and raised here to know no boundaries when it comes to the pursuit of happiness. For those living in a country where they may have had to train in a certain profession and strongly encouraged to stick to that for life (like my mother-in-law in Germany), I can suggest taking up a hobby that will help balance your life if you are a bit sad about your profession. Sometimes all we need is a good hobby and our day job no longer looms over us like a dark cloud.

I could write a book about all of this… But for now, I’ll close with these thoughts and open up things up for reader questions and comments.

What did you like to do as a child? Can you comment below and also tell us what you do today for a career?

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do will continue later with quotes from some great talent out there that I asked to participate in this discussion. Erin at Design for Mankind is exploring a related topic and asked me to join in along with Marisa at Creative Thursday who promises a podcast tomorrow as well. I can’t wait. More on that to follow!

(images linked above to source)

Posted in small business, what to do on April 02, 2008

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

Nathalie is a lovely reader from Ireland and a fellow blogger who commented on an earlier post today asking about a statement I made along the lines of doing what you are meant to do in this world. Nathalie expressed that she’s in search of her calling and started her design blog as a way to explore a world that she feels connected to and that gives her happiness, but she sees herself doing more. “I love design, interiors, art but am not sure which area to focus on,” Nathalie continues, “I know the day I will find out I will definitely go for it.”

She then asks, “Do you have any suggestions on how to find your calling in the design world? Is there anyone out there that feels the same way? What are we supposed to do when we don’t know?”.


This is a great topic Nathalie. Really. Great. I can’t wait to explore it here on decor8. I have a million ideas to share including how important it is to carry an umbrella (ella ella) with you as you travel down your newfound path. I’ll also explain what type of umbrella I speak of. I will work on rounding up 10 people including myself that have found their calling and I’ll ask them exactly how they did it and post that here along with their advice on how anyone can find their voice. We’ll get you the answers that you need, Nathalie!

If YOU readers have any tips or questions on this topic, please leave them below so I can include them in next week’s article.

Stay tuned and thank you for getting the ball rolling on this topic, Nathalie!

(umbrella from stylish stuff via design undercover)

Posted in small business, what to do on March 26, 2008

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