If you’ve been on Instagram or Pinterest recently, chances are you’ve seen the work of Syd and Shea McGee, co-authors of the upcoming Make Life Beautiful. The McGee's are the owners of the design firm Studio McGee and the e-commerce brand McGee & Co. While their beautiful designs and products are all over design boards, Make Life Beautiful offers their fans a new and intimate look into how they built their business.
The McGee’s story is inspiring—they don’t make the path look easy, but they make it seem worth it. And while I’ve long admired their work, this book made me respect them even more. Shea McGee took the time to answer my questions by email about Make Life Beautiful.
Sarah Gelman, Amazon Book Review: I’ve been a long-time fan of your work. You make design look so effortless—and beautiful—yet this book really lays out the tough path you’ve taken to get to where you are. Why did you decide to tell this story?
Shea McGee: We’re known for creating beautiful homes and imagery, but there is more to our story than that. We wanted to share the messy middle of our journey and encourage others to pursue their passions even if the path isn’t smooth. Very few things have gone according to plan in our path to entrepreneurship, but we have found success by pressing forward and looking for the good in less than ideal situations. We hope readers will walk away with the courage to do the same.
The title of your book comes from Studio McGee’s motto: Make life beautiful. Can you recount how you came up with it?
Make Life Beautiful was born out of a tough time in our lives and the choice to pivot and make a huge career change. Our motto isn’t just about the designs we create, but for our lives in general. After we came up with our business name, I wanted a tagline that embodied our vision. One week before leaving our home to launch Studio McGee, I was laying on the ground with our new baby and thinking about how even though everything wasn’t perfect, we were going to make a good life for ourselves. The connection between design and life became clear and I knew that would be our motto from day one.
Why did you make the decision to not include pictures in this book?
We wanted to share something that we haven’t already shared. It’s the heart of our story, and we wanted to give people the opportunity to see behind the curtain. So much goes on behind the scenes to build a business, raise a family, and work together as husband/wife. We wanted to share that side of Studio McGee as well.
The book is told through your alternating points of view. How did you decide to structure the book this way?
We’ve shared experiences, but our perspectives are very unique. We also wanted it to feel conversational and the back and forth between the two of us is how we approach most everything!
Studio McGee has really broken down the barriers of interior design—you’ve made it accessible, and done away with snobbery and “trade secrets.” How has the design world responded to this?
Our decision to break the barriers of interior design has been met with both excitement and hesitation. We walk a careful line to share enough that others can feel more confident tackling projects in their own homes while also maintaining a level of professionalism in the industry and with our clients. I think the overall response has been positive and has leveled the playing field. I love seeing people from all over the world, sending us pictures of tips they implemented from our videos into their homes regardless of budget.
As a fellow working mom, my heart hurt reading your story. When your girls are older, how will you talk to them about balancing their professional passion with their family?
I’ve thought a lot about how to talk to our girls about pursuing their passions and being present for their families. I want them to know that they can absolutely do both! I also want them to know that there will be sacrifices and it’s not always easy, but making a conscious choice to focus our attention on the most important things in our lives speaks volumes.
Beyond a book on how to achieve your dreams, this book is also a love story. You two complement each other so well, and that’s been key to your success. What advice do you have for couples who are trying to work together, while also staying together?
There have been a couple of things we’ve had to learn that are key for our relationship. The first is we have to be intentional about planning time for both work and each other, and making the most of our family time. The second thing that’s been vital to our business was learning how to divide and conquer. For us it’s important to have your own responsibilities and stay in your lane.
In the book you write about “making it.” What is your current definition of “making it”?
I don’t know if I’ll ever truly feel like we’ve “made it” but I do feel like as we reach each new goal we’re “making it.” I think it’s a process with each new hurdle overcome and goal reached.
What’s your favorite room in your house?
The kitchen! And also our backyard (not technically a room, but we love spending time out there as a family).
What magazines, websites or social media accounts inspire you?
There is so much amazing design on social media right now, but I really find my inspiration through getting outside, or traveling (when that was more feasible), and just taking a break from all the imagery around us. I also love Milieu magazine, Architectural Digest, and floral design accounts!
We have seen some positive engagement, both through McGee & Co. and Studio McGee. We’re seeing a huge shift toward online shopping and content viewership as people are thinking about their homes to create cozy, inviting living (and work) spaces.
You have such a huge month with the release of this book and your Netflix show premiering! Since you seem like you never slow down, I need to ask: What’s next for you?
It is a BIG month! I’m looking forward to Christmas time where we take almost the whole month of December off! Make Life Beautiful tells our story up until now, but the next chapter of our story has yet to be written. One thing to look forward to is our design book which we’ll be working on next!
Shea McGee and her husband Syd are the owners of the design firm Studio McGee and the e-commerce brand McGee. In this interview we talk about balancing work and life, the inspiration for their company motto (and title of the book), and more.