James Swan

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Episode 537: Weekend with Denise McGaha


Delighted to have Denise McGaha back with us today, sharing what her life is like “away from the office”.  Listen and read over her interview here then explore her Website here


James:                         Join me now as I chat with Denise McGaha and we together discover what her life is like outside of the office. Denise, welcome to the show.


Denise:                        Thank you, thanks for having me.


James:                          It’s so good to have you back and get to continue the conversations about design and all things beautiful. For the listeners who haven’t met you yet and don’t know all about you, tell us a little bit about who Denise is, and what’s her company all about?


Denise:                        Well, I have an interior design firm in Dallas, Texas, and I’ve been practicing for about 16 years, and ‘Denise McGaha Interiors’ is the firm. We’re a small boutique firm, and I absolutely love being in Dallas and working in Dallas. It’s a great center point for the country as well, so I can be about anywhere in two and a half hours.


James:                          I was gonna say, you’re not just in the Dallas area; you’ve got things happening all over the place, don’t you?


Denise:                        We do, but I love being able to fly direct to all of those destinations.


James:                          Smart girl, smart girl. So, how long have you been in business? I think you may have told me.


Denise:                        16 years.


James:                          16 years, yeah?


Denise:                        Yes. In February it will be 17. I can’t believe that; it seems just like yesterday, honestly.


James:                          Congratulations, that’s exciting. Now, how much time do you spend in Dallas versus on the road? Is it something that changes regularly, or is it —?


Denise:                        You know, I travel a lot during the year, starting in September through May or June. I try to stay here during the summer. I have teenagers, so I really try to spend time with them when they’re out of school, and we travel, as a family, on vacation for at least a week or so during the summer months. So, I try to stay here, but I’m on the road half the time.


James:                          Busy, busy lady. Can you tell us where your vacation is taking you this year, your family vacation?


Denise:                        Actually, we just got back from the beach in Florida. We love Seaside and the Watercolor area, so we were there for a week. It was really, really great; it’s so nice to unwind.


James:                          It is, it’s important, isn’t it?


Denise:                        It is very important.


James:                          We’ll pick your brains on that in a few minutes, but right now, I’m curious to learn from you how you believe the people around you perceive you. So, tell us how you think your staff views you.


Denise:                        That’s such an interesting question. You know, I think that they see me as focused, and driven. We deliver designs on a deadline here, so we don’t take a ton of time making decisions. We’re focused about how we pull projects together, so we work at a pretty fast pace here, so I’m always driving the boat and cracking the whip per say, but we do have fun here at work and like to laugh. So, I think they see me as someone who would never ask them to do something I wouldn’t do myself.


James:                          That’s an important quality, very much so. How do you think your clients view you?


Denise:                        Probably in the same way, because when they ask for something, we turn it around pretty quickly for them. They expect us to see ahead of the curve and to know what their question or need is going to be before they know it, so I’m always on my toes and we always respond very quickly to emails or phone calls, so I think they see me as being on top of it, and I’m pretty opinionated and driven and I think that’s what our clients come to us for is, they want a project that can be turned in a decent amount of time and be complete and have all of the details buttoned up when it’s delivered and that’s what we do.


James:                          Let’s think about family then for a moment. How do you think your family perceives you?


Denise:                        That I work too much. That I’m always answering emails and phone calls.


James:                          “Mom, get off the phone.”


Denise:                        Yeah, but they do. They do ask for that, so that’s a real challenge for me. At least my children anyway, my husband has a business as well, so he understands the dedication that comes with that, but I think that they do know that I live, breathe, and eat, design. Even when we vacation and travel together, there’s going to be an element of an architectural tour, or I’m going to stop off and look at a project, or something along the way, so they do know that I love my job. If there’s anything that they would tell you, it’s that I adore what I do.


James:                          I’m fascinated that your husband has his own business, so you’ve got two business heads under one roof. How do you, not balance, because both of them are important, but how do you handle—I’m just imagining dinner tables and cell phones are pinging and do you establish clear parameters of, ‘okay, we’re not going to look at our devices for a few moments’ or, how do you handle that?


Denise:                        You know what’s great about my husband Scott? It’s that a few years ago when I really started traveling a lot with my business, he did an extent of fast food, out of the home, eating with the kids and I’m just sick of that, so I’m gonna start cooking, and he has taken up cooking for our family and is very, very good at it.


He—it’s almost a hobby of his, and he’s always been a great cook, but we call him chef daddy Scotty, and so, he comes home a little bit earlier and gets dinner on the table for all of us and I come in a bit later and so, I do morning routines and he does the evening routines. So, just definitely balancing and really, I can’t tell you that we put our phones down at dinner. I want to tell you that we’re that perfect family, but we’re really not, but I do try. If I see an email or there’s a design emergency of some sort, I do at least wait until the dishes are done before I take a phone call or an email, but most of the time our clients are aware of who I am and what my life looks like, and they’re respectful of my family time.


James:                          That’s really important. You’ve got them trained well, good job. That’s very important. We read and hear a lot about work life balance these days, Denise, what’s your thoughts on that? Is that a realistic goal for people to have in their work?


Denise:                        Oh, I think it’s really, really important to have work life balance, and balance, when you look at the definition, it’s never perfect, you’re never equally balanced, you’re always higher on one side and lower on the other as you’re trying to balance the load and I think that’s probably what my home life looks like. There are times when I’m very busy and my husband takes up the slack, and when he’s busy and I’m the same, I’ll do dinners for a couple of weeks if he’s gotta work late in the office on a project or his business is really busy during the summer.


So, we definitely give and take, and I think balance is a constant goal. I don’t know, I think when it’s equally balanced, I’m bored. I do like the ebb and flow of our business cycle and when a project starts, but I’m equally as happy when it’s complete. So, I think there’s definitely a balancing act in my life, but I don’t know if it’s ever perfectly balanced.


James:                          Okay, glad to hear that, because that’s the way it certainly is around here; there always seems to be a moving target. What do you find is the greatest challenge to you realizing that moment of perfect balance and harmony between you and your work and your private life?


Denise:                        I’m a recovering perfectionist, and I think I’ve really had to learn that there is no such thing as perfectionism. You do the best you can do every day, and you close your eyes and go to bed and hope you do better tomorrow. So, I try not to be too hard on myself and I think that you do the absolute best you can with the tools that you have and the people that you have around you, and I do work really hard to surround myself with people that are focused and dedicated. I do encourage personal time for them; I don’t have my staff work late.


Very rarely do they work late, and if there’s anything that we didn’t get done, we just try to do better the next day. Processes are really important to me and my firm and I put realistic timelines on all of our products and that really prevents that last minute, ‘hair on fire’ drama that comes with completing a project and deliver it in a timely fashion. So, I think that planning really helps create more of a balance.


James:                          With those processes, you are able to know at any stage of the game, exactly where you are with the—


Denise:                        Absolutely, absolutely.


James:                          Great management tool.


Denise:                        Right, that’s what designing with a deadline’s all about.


James:                          So, you do know what you’re doing, don’t you?


Denise:                        We do, after much trial and error but, yes, I am very proud to say that we manage projects in a very timely fashion from start to finish, and the minute that we get a client or a project, there’s a timeline and a task list that goes along with it, and that goes a long way in creating balance.


James:                          Nice, so as the weekend approaches and you start thinking what that weekend might look like, what does it look like for you? How do you structure your weekends? Do you have a getaway place? Do you travel with your family? What does that end up looking like in your home?


Denise:                        I would love to tell you that we have this great, chic, fabulous lifestyle where we get away to a second home and we relax and put our feet up, but a lot of my weekends look like, running my kids around to friends’ houses or events that they have. My husband loves Bikram yoga so he’s usually out of the house early on Saturdays. I’m taking care of our menagerie of animals; trying to get a little bit of work done and projects around the house. So, we have a very busy weekend life, but Sundays, Sunday morning is for church and Sunday evening is for lunch so that is a time that we take to be together as a family, and really reconnect.


My husband’s parents live really close to us, so we spend time with them and we went to their house every Sunday so, it’s very civilized.


James:                          That’s very lovely, actually. What a great tradition.


Denise:                        It is a great tradition. It’s wonderful, actually.


James:                          So do you find that you also strike a balance between time with your friends as well as time with your family on the weekends or social people?


Denise:                        I have found that all my friends are in the industry, because those are the only friends that I can have, because the only time that we can get together, is when we travel to an event somewhere or we’re together on a trip. It’s sad but it’s true, but all of my friends are in the interior design industry.


We get one another; we can talk on the phone. One of my dearest friends is a designer in South Carolina and we talk every day, and all my friends are in the industry. I have a couple neighborhood friends that I see maybe three, four, times a year and we’ll go to dinner, or get together; there’s just not time.


James:                          No, it’s difficult when you’re away at High Point or doing a show in New York; you are both, doing business, and connecting with people—


Denise:                        And I do, every time I take a trip out of town, I do try to book as many dinners as I can to reconnect, and catch up with my friends.


James:                          Smart again, smart approach so, if you could, for just one weekend, trade places with anyone from any time period, and from anywhere on the planet, who would you pick and tell us why?


Denise:                        Oh, I’d be Barry Dickson because I grew up on a ranch and a farm and I just love [inaudible] [00:11:51] and all the animals that he has, and I bailed hay as a girl, but he has cattle and hay and I just think, being Barry for a weekend would be amazing.


James:                          Being Barry for a weekend. I think there’s a t-shirt in that. I like that.


Denise:                        And he’s a sweet heart too. Maybe I don’t want to be Barry, maybe I just want to hang out with Barry.


James:                          Well, that sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Let me join you for that. How’s that?


Denise:                        Right?


James:                          We’ll go be house guests for the weekend. Do you have an out of office hobby or pursuit that you indulge in?


Denise:                        I do love to garden, I really do love to garden, and I love to work in my yard, and I don’t have a huge yard, and I don’t have a ton of time, but I’m always piddling in the yard and doing things outside.


James:                          Is it a fruit/vegetable kind of approach or is it flowers?


Denise:                        It’s a little bit of both. In the summer we grow all my vegetables and all my pods, and succulents. Right now I’ve got blue plumbago that looks amazing out by the pool that I’m happy with, and I have a few little orange trees, but I’m always learning. I wish I had more time for it because I really do kind of tune the world out when I get in my garden and when I put my gloves on.


James:                          Very therapeutic then, right?


Denise:                        For me it is, yes; my husband, not so much, but me, yes.


James:                          It sounds like he sort of found his groove in the kitchen, would that be his—


Denise:                        He does, he does, but he loves vehicles and cars so he’s always working on something.


James:                          Oh, so physically working on them?


Denise:                        Yes, yes.


James:                          He does the work himself? Hats tip to him for that. I’m all thumbs when it comes to mechanical things.


Denise:                        Me too.


James:                          You’ve touched on other; maybe spoke on around it a little bit. Paint a picture for us of your perfect; let’s say perfect Saturday afternoon. What is that going to look like for you?


Denise:                        Well, I would love to have lunch with a friend, believe it or not. That would be the first to start, and catch up with a friend, and I do believe in naps and I think that I need at least one a weekend, so I would have a luxurious nap, and then I would probably have even more friends for dinner. We love to cook and entertain on the weekends so if we could have friends over and just relax, that would be great. I do love spending time with my husband so he would have to be a part of the package.


James:                          Aww that’s sweet; I love that. If you were to have guests over, let’s say, for that Saturday evening gathering. If you could have one guest from the past, Denise, one from the present, and one from the future, who would you invite?


Denise:                        That’s such a hard question. Well, I guess from the past I would say my grandmother from my father’s side. She was a single woman; she was a rancher, but she also loved to entertain and have beautiful china, and had us for dinner every Sunday. I would absolutely love for her to see where I am in life now and what I’ve accomplished, and when she went to heaven, I was not doing interior design, but now that I am, I think she would just absolutely love that. So, I would love to have her for dinner.


Current, I always say Bunny Williams when I talk to you, but I just adore Bunny, and I think she would be so fun to have at my dinner table, and then future. You know, honestly, I would love to see who my children become when they grow up, and I’d love to have an adult conversation with them and talk to them about where they are in their lives and who they are as adults. That would be really fun for me, and I wish they could have met my grandmother.


James:                          Wouldn’t that be nice. Now, if I’m remembering correctly, they’re in they’re in their young teenage years?


Denise:                        They are. They’re about to be 14 and 16.


James:                          That would be a lovely addition. Good thought, good thought. Break out of the box; do something new and different. What is a weekend destination that you’ve not done before that’s high on your bucket list that you’d love to just go and do?


Denise:                        I don’t know if this is high on my bucket list, but my husband and I bought land rover defender, recently, and my dear friend Julia Buckingham and her husband have a company where they outfit land rover defenders, and they want to go a tour where we go into the desert for a week and we take our defenders and we go off road, and we camp, and we travel as a group and I think that’s definitely something I want to do and explore. I’m a little afraid because I am a country girl and I grew up on a ranch and I know what a night looks like in the cold or the heat, but I think it would be a really great adventure.


I think it would almost be like a challenge for me; one of those things that I can check off and say, “I didn’t think I could do this, but I can.”


James:                          Wow, fascinating.


Denise:                        Yeah.


James:                          Keep me posted on that.


Denise:                        I will.


James:                          I wanna hear if that develops and—


Denise:                        Well, my entire life’s on Instagram, so if it happens, you’re gonna see it.


James:                          We won’t miss it, we won’t miss it.


Denise:                        You won’t miss it. I’ll definitely have it sharing with—I’ll definitely be sharing it with the world.


James:                          Fair enough, fair enough; Denise, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today and talking about your weekend; happy coming weekend to you and yours.


Denise:                        Same to you.


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