Interior designer Courtney Sikora was absolutely determined not to become an interior designer.
“I grew up in a design-build firm — my mom’s an interior designer, my dad’s a general contractor — so it was always just a part of my life,” she said. “As a kid, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. I wanted to be my own person. I was going to move to Idaho and be a psychologist. That was my plan.”
She was a junior in high school when that plan came apart. At the time, Manitou High School sent AP students like Sikora to take classes at Pikes Peak Community College — and she took psychology.
“I absolutely hated it,” Sikora recalled. “It was the worst class I ever took in my life. So after that I thought, ‘I’m going to be an archaeologist!’”
One anthropology class at UCCS convinced her that wasn’t going to work out either, and by her senior year of high school, Sikora was getting perfect grades in interior design at PPCC.
“It was like, ‘OK, maybe this is what I should do,’” she said, “as much as I wanted nothing to do with it.”
After graduating with a degree in interior design from Colorado State University, Sikora worked for a commercial design firm in Fort Collins before finding herself — suddenly and temporarily — steering the family business.
Today Sikora is senior interior designer with that company, Speas Interior Design. She spoke with the Business Journal about the wonders and challenges of her work, and how 11 inches and a good garden changed her house.
How did you end up back in Colorado Springs?
I had a plan of exit [from the job in Fort Collins] for June  — but things never work that way. In February, knowing that the Colorado Springs housing market was really competitive, I came down one weekend, looked at nine houses and found my dream home. It all fell into place. … It was a super fast turnaround. We came and looked at the house on Saturday, we closed on it on Friday, and I quit my job the Tuesday in between that. … I ended up working about four weeks remotely; I juggled a couple of different balls with that, and then I was thrown into my mom’s company.
I’d started working with her in March and she left in May for five weeks, to travel in Australia with my dad. So I was immediately thrown into running the company. Mom was 17 hours difference — a different day, another world. So we’d talk at 3 p.m. every day. They were traveling in some remote places and that was the time it worked out that they had phone service. … That was a very huge learning curve. I was being the [general contractor] on the remodel of my own home while running her company — and trying not to run everything into the ground.
Do you think it helped that your mom was an interior designer?
I think so — especially in school. I’ve always been a very academic person; I’m a nerd, I like it. But having that background helped me focus in school. There were a lot of classes my classmates would kind of slack off on, but I knew there were things I could take away, knowing what was in the industry relating to that. Especially business practice and things like that — if you know you’re going to be an employee, why do you care what a contract looks like? Whereas I always knew I wanted my own company, whether it was joining the family business or doing my own thing. So I think that helped me pinpoint my focus during school.
What do you love about interior design?
I love the wonder and mystery of being able to find something that someone would never think they’d love. My dream is being able to just have an initial interview, see some concept images of what they like, but other than that, not much — then put together two or three schemes and then see which one they choose. … The way my mom and I always laugh about it is: We have our favorite; we have the one we think the client will like; and then the safe, ‘Oh crap, they hate everything!’ option. Actually with one house, the client ended up picking the one I loved the best, which was totally surprising — and she didn’t even know that would be the case either. But once she saw everything it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I need!’ It’s not necessarily what I would do in my own home, but the fact that I was able to pinpoint what fits her was really powerful.
What’s most challenging about what you do?
I would say the level of problem solving. It’s not just the surface things like, ‘The plumber’s smashed this tile,’ or ‘The tile came in broken’ — it’s the relationship portion of it. My mom and I say that we’re kind of the conductor of the orchestra because we’re really the calming presence for all aspects coming together. … It’s keeping everybody happy, finding the right way to present things, what things don’t need to be talked about.
There’s a certain level where my job is to solve problems and take away the stress — because if it was a stressful project, what’s the point of me? That’s how I look at it. I’m like the guardian angel to get from what your dream is, to actually living in your dream. And along the way there’s going to be problems — nothing’s perfect. But it’s about figuring out a way to fix the problems and not make a big deal out of it. … We don’t need to make a molehill into a mountain.
What are your goals?
I’ve gone back and forth between opening my own firm versus taking over. Lately I’m leaning more towards taking over Speas Interior Design and continuing that. I love being part of a family business, and I think people like that a lot too — and I think there’s something really powerful about saying, ‘We’ve been in business 40 years already.’ … I’m in the middle of taking my NCIDQ, which is the National Council for Interior Design Qualification, which sets you apart as being a professional versus a decorator. … If Colorado ever became licensed, for certain scale projects you can pull permits and you can stamp drawings, which is a huge thing to be able to do — especially because we kind of have three firms, in a way. We have our design-build, where my brother and my dad are the contractors, where we do primarily residential remodel; something I’m doing independently of that is new construction with C.R. Shea Homes; and the other is the repeat clients. …
Moving forward, that’s my goal. I’m really liking new construction and I also like residential remodel. I think the balance is nice because they’re both totally different. … Remodel is really special in that way, that you can have so much freedom. Then new construction is cool because it’s from the ground up. You’re starting from Day 1 and you have more flexibility, versus trying to retrofit.
What style is your house, and how much renovating did you do?
It’s a 1952 bungalow and it’s wonderful because it’s totally deceptive. From the front it looks like the world’s smallest un-anything house, and then in the ’70s they put 1,000 square feet on the back. I was able to convert half of that into a master bathroom and closet — because I have a bit of a shoe problem, I’ll be honest. And I was able to add a little bit of space to my master bedroom. My brother gave me so much crap because we added 11 inches to my bedroom. But it’s amazing what 11 inches does, you know? So I was able to get that squeaked out of the great room.
“It’s amazing what 11 inches does, you know?”
The original bathroom — we pretty much just did new fixtures, because the layout was what it was. We also knocked down two walls; replaced all of the windows; had to do an entire new electrical system; and new plumbing system because it was all cast iron pipes. Everything was original. It was like the house had never been touched. Luckily carpet was huge in the ’70s, so I had beautiful wood floors under all the carpet which I was able to salvage. With the yard, it went from dirt to 5,000 square feet of grass.
How do you spend your free time?
Usually I’m either cooking or in my garden. Those are my two favorite things. … I’m dying for summer to come. Last summer I had over 300 tomatoes — I couldn’t believe it. I was totally the person, growing up, who became known as the plant killer. It’s funny to fast-forward to now and gardening’s one of my favorite things. I don’t know if it’s because I have a home now or because my mom was always so big into gardening. … We basically completely started over with my house — not just the inside of the house but the yard. I got an excavator out there and took half my backyard and put it in my front yard so we could plant flowers. … I wanted to bring some life and cheer to the neighborhood. In the fall we planted the entire median worth of flowers. …
Maybe that leads back to design. You start with something — whether it’s an old crummy kitchen or a flat piece of dirt — and all of a sudden you have magic.