1. Houzz Pro Learn
  2. Pro Success Stories
  3. Designers

From Teacher to Designer: Asisat Edu Creates New Career Success

See how the Washington, D.C.,businesswoman applies lessons learned with students to her design clients

Stephan Rabimov

Asisat Edu believes in the power of passion. In fact, it’s what fueled her leap from middle school teacher to designer six years ago, with nary a design class along the way.  That passion and a desire to help others are what led her to open DIH Designs in Washington, D.C., which now has a five-star rating on Houzz and many happy clients and Instagram followers. And in those six years, Edu has grown the business from one designer to three, plus additional staff. Here she shares her unconventional journey, her perspective as an American born to Nigerian parents and a Black female business owner, and her advice for others looking to start an interior design career of their own.

The Lightbulb Materializes

Edu and her husband bought their first house in 2016, and it unexpectedly became the launching pad for her design career. “It wasn’t a fixer-upper, but I wanted it to reflect me and my husband’s style,” Edu says. She started with DIY projects, turning to YouTube for guidance on changing light fixtures. “I’ve learned an array of things just working in my house,” she says. And then the proverbial mental lightbulb switched on: Seeing other people’s reactions to her handiwork and feeling how she and her husband loved being in their redesigned home kindled a new career.

“I just loved that feeling and I said, ‘You know what? I want other people to feel this way.…’ I’ve always felt a need to help other people. I said going into interior designing, ’I’m going to do this for the purpose of just helping other people. I want people to go into their homes and feel emotionally connected to them, and I want their homes to reflect them, their lifestyle, their personality, and who they are.” And so DIH Designs was born.

Quirky Questions Pay Off

Even though she had to learn the business side from scratch, with all of its number crunching and analytics, Edu already had the heart element well in hand. “Working with kids and being a teacher has taught me the importance of learning to relate to an individual on an emotional level,” she says. Like many other designers, she uses a questionnaire to get to know her clients in the beginning. But her questions stray from the good old standards like favorite colors and styles. 

The questionnaire “asks them about their favorite outfit or their favorite traveling destination, because those things tell us a lot about them,” Edu says. “Then we jump on the phone with them to have almost an hour-long conversation to ask more probing questions about them. All of that information helps us create a space that reflects them.”

Those quirky questions and initial phone call help Edu dig into her clients’ psyches, which in turn allows her to design a space uniquely suited to each of them. “We’re very big on understanding the individual to understand their needs.… Our No. 1 value is to be attentive.”

Understanding the Culture Club

While Edu was born and raised in the United States, her parents are Nigerian — which gives Edu a keen understanding of her many Nigerian clients. “I think when people think of Afrocentric interior design, it’s very cliché. It’s like, ‘Oh, let’s put up animal print, and let’s put a zebra in the corner.…’ I think clients are happy to know that that’s not what I’m putting into their space,” she says. “I’m actually putting something that is symbolic of their culture, something that they are proud to say, ’This is me, this is where I come from, and it reflects my background.’”

But Edu doesn’t cater to just Nigerian or even just African American clients. “I don’t want there to be any biases. I want everyone to feel represented, she says. “I know that what could help to diminish those biases is by creating a firm that’s more diverse. I believe in celebrating my culture and the cultures of others — DIH Design is for everyone,” she says.

Having two more designers on staff also is helping Edu manage the workload and grow her business. Before they came on board, DIH Design’s services were so in demand that Edu had to turn down clients!

The Merits of Mistakes

Yes, you read that right. Edu is a firm believer in the value of making mistakes. “We’ve made quite a few mistakes, and I would say it’s only made us stronger,” she says.

“We’ve learned there’s no way to really learn without making those mistakes.” Welcoming and reflecting on those mistakes allow Edu and her designers to continually improve — “being able to say, ‘All right, we did this last month and it didn’t work out so well for us. How are we going to be solutions-oriented so that we’re not making those mistakes in the future?’” 

As Edu’s  background is in education and not business, a lot of those early mistakes happened around that part of the work. But she learned from them. She now has two mentors, for example, and uses tools such as Houzz Pro both to help reduce the time and effort spent on tasks and to make things easier for her clients. 

“Before Houzz Pro, we were doing everything via Google Documents and Google Spreadsheets,” she says. “Using Houzz Pro has cut our design and management time by half. We’ve been able to dedicate that extra time to talking to our clients and being able to just put more time into creating a space that really reflects what our clients want.”

She especially loves the software’s Clipper tool. “Before, we were literally taking screenshots of photos and putting them in, or copying and fixing links into a spreadsheet.” She appreciates not only the newfound ease but the bank of images she’s created to draw from in the future.

Advice for New Designers

Edu recognizes how challenging it can be to break into the design industry. “​​It’s not meant to be easy,” she says. And despite all the cultural advances, members of underrepresented groups might find it extra challenging. But instead of being deterred, “continue to go at it,” she advises. “All it takes is a thought and then action to follow, and everything will fall in place.” And that applies whether a person has a formal design education or not. “Some of our most popular, most wealthiest innovators didn’t have backgrounds that are specific to what they’re successful for,” she says. “It takes time. Create a plan, research those who do it best and seek a mentor, one that will advice and support you.” 

Celebrate the Wins

One piece of mentoring advice greatly resonates with Edu: celebrate even the smallest win. “That’s what keeps me going,” she says. Even if she’s had a horrible day, she will “find one glimpse of positivity and use that to be a driving force in me, to continue to push further,” she says.

Edu brings that same feeling of hope to clients and her designs for their homes. “We’re letting them know, ‘Your day might have been rough, but when you come into your home, what you see in your home is going to affirm your greatness. Affirmation is key,” she says. “That’s what your home should be. It should affirm all of the great things about that person.”

Negativity has no place in Edu’s approach, whether in her design philosophies or her career approach. “I think it’s really important to filter the negativity. It surrounds all of us. Filter it and go at it,” she says.

And although Edu is a Black female business owner, she gently deflects any talk of the race factor. “It exists, as a black woman you learn to maneuver and be resilient. A challenge I have experienced deals with not having the accolades, the credentials that say that I’m a certified interior designer. This doesn’t really speak to race but maybe education,” she says. “Not having those accolades or credentials prevents me from having a seat at some of those tables.” So how is this believer in passion, resilience and positivity handling the issue? 

“I’m learning to create my own table,” she says.

Houzz Pro

Your new time-saving, client-winning, project-tracking business hub.

Stephan Rabimov

Stephan Rabimov leads Content Marketing at Houzz. Portland resident. Global citizen. Nature loving.

Comments (0)

Join the conversation by commenting or asking a question below. The Houzz team reads every single comment, and we’ll get back to you by email if you need us!

Want advice delivered to your inbox?

Unlock industry insights and updates for contractors and design pros

By signing up, I agree to the Houzz Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and that Houzz may use my information to contact me about relevant content, products, and services.