• Jeff Kaper

Divine Intersections

Updated: Jan 19


Last year, 2019, was our 10th anniversary. As we launch our redesigned website and introduce our new blog, The Designers’ Notebook, I thought I would take the opportunity to tell you a bit about our history and share some of the highlights of the past 11 years. For those of you who were subscribed to our newsletter last December, some of this will be familiar, but for our new friends, here is our story…


The Great Recession

In 2007, I took a position with an architectural firm to manage their new local office in Champaign. My family and I moved to the area not knowing anyone and very little about the area. Two years later, the great recession hit, the firm went bankrupt, and I was unemployed. I took over the work in process to help my clients complete their projects and provide for my family.


One day, I was meeting a client at Tile Specialists to se

lect flooring for their office. Afterward, Karl Smith, the owner of TSI, walked in to introduced himself and we began to talk. I shared my vision for how to make high quality interior design approachable. He shared that he had started a company named “Spectrum” with the hopes to be able to offer integrated design services to its commercial clients and expand into the residential market. A week later, former colleague Kimberly Fletcher and I signed up and Spectrum Design Group was formed. We had a horribly slow start. But we worked hard, learned a lot, and slowly built the business. Nearly three years later, it began to sustain itself.


We knew we needed another designer but struggled for months to find the right person. In the spring of 2012, I attended a continuing education class and happened to be seated with Dawn Bane during lunch. Two weeks later, Dawn joined SDG. The future looked amazing!


When Companies Merge

Six months later, we were informed that our parent company would merge with another company and SDG was not going to be a part of it. We quickly put together a business plan and the owner graciously set us up as a standalone LLC. By January 2013, we were flying solo with four employees and the future looked a little foggy.


By late spring, it was clear that we were over staffed, and the overhead was going to take us down quickly. I planned an afternoon team meeting to share these realities. That morning, my co-director shared with me that her husband accepted a job out of state, and she was leaving. In the middle of that meeting, our office administrator walked in to share that she had been offered a job with the University. I thought, “Wow, that’s not how I thought it would go, but we made the cuts that were needed, and everyone landed well.” I shared this news with Dawn to make sure she was still on board to which she replied, “Yes, but I’m pregnant!” I call this the “Day of Attrition.” Shortly thereafter, I purchased the business, Dawn came back from maternity leave, and we worked hard to keep SDG growing. The future looked daunting.


Changing Locations

We moved to our current location in an old Victorian on University Avenue in 2014. We had searched for months to find a location that not only met our needs, but also we could afford. Then, out of the blue, a long-time local designer called me to say she was retiring, and she wanted me to have her space. The timing was down to the wire and we had to do considerable work to make it our own, but the building couldn’t have been more perfect.


By late 2015, we were settled into our space and we were seeing the fruit from our efforts. It became clear we needed another designer. Again, we struggled for some time to find the right fit.


One morning, out of desperation, we decided to put a “We’re Hiring” tab on our website. Later that day, I had a meeting with one of our fabricators. At the end of the meeting I asked the project manager if he could introduce me to the person on their staff who was a fellow alum of Taylor University. That person was Cory Rodeheaver. We exchanged contact info, figured out we knew some of the same people, and five minutes later I was on my way back to the office. Once I returned, I opened my email to see a message from Cory saying he saw the “We’re Hiring” tab on our website. Cory joined our group in February 2016.


Growing Again

Two years later, it once more became clear we needed to change our process to better care for our clients and make our projects run more smoothly. To make it work, we needed someone to help bring more structure to our creative environment - and it would have to be part-time. We, again, struggled for months to find somebody with the required skill-set, let alone fit the culture we worked so hard to create. We had known Kara Vanskike for a couple years, yet we understood she was in a season of life where a job wasn’t practical. Then one day she reached out to say she was ready to step back into the workplace, but only part-time. Kara joined the team in January 2019.


2019 was our 10th year in business. It was a great year and the momentum continued into 2020. The first quarter of 2020 was full of big internal plans, including the launch of a new website, and exciting external projects.


2020: The Year of the Rat

We were just weeks away from Q2 when the world crashed. Thankfully, working remotely was an option for us and our services were considered “essential.” We did what we could to find the silver lining in the “new normal” in which we found ourselves like living at a slower pace and having more time with our families.


According to the Chinese zodiac, The Rat, which is the sign of 2020, is known for being resourceful, cunning, and curious. I think we’ve all had to be more resourceful than usual this year. Also, The Rat represents renewal, which is something else I think many of us have experienced through our cleared calendars and slower lives.


For us, some projects did pause, while other projects started. We are grateful for those projects as they helped see us through the trying few months of sheltering in place.


The Future Looks Bright

Fast-forward to today, and we are busier than ever. Navigating through raising our families during this period has proven interesting to say the least. We do have several junior apprentices in the office most days, but we’re thankful to be in a place where it’s possible to have our kids join us in the office when they’re not in class. Who could have ever imagined a time such as this?


Our history has been filled with many extraordinarily timed “divine intersections.” As we continue to learn, grow, and refine how we work and the services we offer, we look forward to helping you enhance or create your own stories through the places in which you live and work. Cheers to the future!