On renovating homes, working with her husband and quitting her job
The before and after pictures are truly spectacular — from broken walls, floral wallpaper and old tiles, Catherine Williamson and her husband, Bryan Williamson, transform lifeless spaces into bright, welcoming homes.
The images speak for themselves as Catherine and Bryan build an empire. With reality television show offers, 50K followers on Instagram and features on sites like Oprah.com –we wanted to learn more about the co-founder of Beginning in the Middle, a former accountant from New Jersey.
Catherine is the oldest of five siblings. Growing up, their mom did not want them to have cable, so they played with each other and made crafts.
“That fostered a lot of creativity in all of us,” Catherine said. “I just remember our childhood being really good. My parents did a great job raising us despite the fact that there were five of us and money was tight.”
Perhaps being at home as a kid is what inspires Catherine the most about homes now.
“It always felt cozy at home” she said. “I always want our spaces to feel like that, where you can walk in and exhale.”
Catherine met Bryan at Fordham University, when Bryan was visiting a mutual friend of theirs for the summer. They married in March 2012 in Puerto Rico.
Catherine graduated college during the recession with bachelor’s degree in Accounting and a master’s in Tax. Although many of her friends had lost their jobs, she was fortunate to have a tax consulting job lined up in New York at one of the world’s top CPA firms. She was thankful to have majored in accounting.
At the time, she thought it was what she wanted: climbing up the corporate ladder, working in the city and “having it all.”
“I liked the idea of working and being a powerful woman,” Catherine said. “My job was a glamorous job on paper – working in Manhattan at a really great company, traveling around the country, meeting with clients, staying at fancy hotels and eating expensive meals. But with that came the overtime and the office politics, and all of it started getting old. For me, the shift started happening when I realized how much time and energy I was putting into work, work that I had lost a passion for. I burned out.”
In an effort to find a better quality of life, the couple decided to move to Ohio, where Bryan is from.
“We were both at a point where we couldn’t see ourselves growing in New York, so we decided to make a move,” Catherine said. They moved into a home in Italian Village in January 2013. Immediately after, Catherine was misdiagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. For four months, Catherine thought she had cancer.
“That prompted us to look for ways to reduce stress in their lives. One of those ways was getting our finances together. We had never sat down and gone through a detailed budget together. We had student loans and car loans and all sorts of expenses and debts that were weighing us down.” Catherine said. “It encouraged us to get rid of our debt.”
Catherine and Bryan looked at their income and expenses. They realized that instead of chasing money to keep up with their expenses, they could reduce their expenses and pay off their debt and it could have the same impact.
They began to rent out their spare bedroom on Airbnb, which transitioned into renting out their house.
“We stayed at a motel whenever our house was rented out. As rentals started picking up, it got to the point where we stayed there for weeks at a time and got to know the receptionist and cleaning people,” Catherine said.
They decided to continue renting their first home on Airbnb, but move so they would have a permanent spot to live instead of a motel. They bought a duplex in Franklinton, which is “still the worst house we ever worked on – but it’s also the one that got us hooked on renovating old homes.”
From there, we bought another one. And another. It was basically one per year,” she added. “We have sold some and held onto some as rentals.”
Catherine explained that they are real estate investors, but also designers and contractors.
Their business expanded and now includes two Airbnb rentals, a design/renovation company called Mix Design Collective, and their blog.
Although she said being an accountant provided stability as they started their business, the cancer scare provided the final push to leave in May.
“I focused more on my lifestyle rather than working myself into the ground for something I didn’t care about.”
Catherine offered words of encouragement and stated that for others who are looking to make a giant leap in their lives, “You’ll know when the time’s right.”
The transition may be difficult.
“You’re going to have times when you wonder if you made a mistake taking the leap, so be really clear on your “why”. Why are you quitting your stable job to bust your ass doing something that’s going to require a ton of hard work and crazy hours and irregular pay and all of the other things that come along with starting a business? If you know your “why”, you’ll get through those hard times.”
Catherine’s perception on work shifted when she made the giant leap into pursuing her passions full-time. Her and Bryan have worked really hard to grow their businesses, but “because we love it, it doesn’t feel like work.”
Catherine said that her and Bryan are “definitely opposites,” and that their marriage has “gotten better” because they discovered a mutual passion.
“Bryan is the big picture guy. “He comes up with these great ideas, he’s more of the artist in the relationship. I’m the opposite – I’m practical and analytical and love getting into the details.” Catherine explained. “I am a dreamer, but I only feel like I can dream when I see it within reach.”
Still, Catherine said it’s not all “unicorns and roses.” They are both passionate and stubborn, which leads to lots of arguments. “Most of our fights are about what color to paint the cabinets, or what bathroom layout is best… but at the end of the day, we have to set it all aside and put it in perspective.” Even more so than ever, they have to carve time for each other– time that doesn’t focus around work.
A very important question remains: Why did they name their blog Beginning in the Middle?
“I was really excited about all of the stuff that was happening when I moved [to Columbus],” Catherine said. “I feel like we were starting a new thing, but not at the beginning of our lives.”
Her mom even said that they two of them were meant to move to Columbus [because of the growth they have experienced there].
Catherine added that the name took on a double meaning: renovating houses and giving them another life.
As they exist in startup mode, Catherine wants to build a team. Maybe one day renovate a home in Puerto Rico.
Catherine’s advice for someone who wants to redo their home on a budget:
“First, really understand how you use your space and how you want it to feel. That’s the first thing we ask our clients when we begin a design project – it’s super important to know this before swinging a hammer.”
“Just because you see something all over the internet doesn’t mean you should do it. Think about your family and how you would use your space on a daily basis.”
“Have a plan! There are so many details that are so important. Where do you want your light fixture? Where are you going to put the furniture? What kind of faucet are you going to have? All of those things (even the ones that might seem small) need to be determined before.”
Author: Deepti Hossain
Author Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Bio: Deepti is an intern for Harness Magazine and a Journalism student at Ohio State. She loves french fries, feminism, pop culture, social justice and dance. Contact her if there’s a special woman, with a special story that she can write about on Harness Magazine.
Link to social media or website: Twitter @deeptih08