Business background helps interior designer succeed

  • By M.L. Dehm HBJ Freelance Writer
  • Tuesday, June 25, 2013 1:10pm

SNOHOMISH — Local interior designer Tanna Barnecut, a design writer for Snohomish Magazine and owner of Tanna By Design, has been named as first-place winner in the 2012 Interior Design Society’s Designer of the Year Awards for the category for Kitchens under $49,999.

The Designer of the Year Awards recognize outstanding achievement in residential interior design among Interior Design Society members across the nation. Barnecut has also been honored by the Central Washington Home Builders Tour of Homes and was a Reader’s Choice award Best of the Northwest Silver Winner last year.

The project that won an award from the Interior Design Society was a speculative remodel for a Seattle firm that flips homes in the $500,000 to $1 million range. The project house was a dated 1950s era home that had been trashed by the previous occupants.

“The existing floor plan presented fundamental challenges and was in much need of an up-to-date final design,” she said.

Barnecut was chosen for the job based on her reputation as an interior designer and her willingness to get the job done quickly. She completed all of the layout drawings, color palettes and plans for the finishes within two weeks.

Barnecut really enjoyed this finished kitchen, she explained, because, although it was in a high-end home, it had elements that people could do in their own homes on a tighter budget. The old kitchen was gutted and a wall removed to offer a more open feeling. The original hardwood flooring was salvaged, but the cabinets had to be replaced and a kitchen island was added.

The finished kitchen caters to today’s lifestyle with a much more modern feel, Barnecut said. She offers pictures of the completed work, along with other before-and-after photos, on her Facebook page,, and website,

Barnecut has been an interior designer for more than 20 years, although her business is officially just reaching its seventh year. She has been interested in interior design all her life but was advised against it as a career due to financial considerations. Instead she earned a business degree and spent 20 years working as division director of marketing for a staffing agency and dabbling in interior design on the side.

“That was back at a time when Microsoft was hitting and there was a lot of ‘young money’ with condos downtown. All of a sudden it had turned into lucrative moonlighting and I didn’t have time for anything else,” Barnecut said.

But even with a steady stream of secondary income and a real desire to leave the business world behind, it took several years before Barnecut finally decided to take the plunge and make interior design her life.

Barnecut officially opened Tanna By Design in 2006. To better display her talents to potential clients, she bought a rundown rambler in Snohomish, gutted the whole thing and completely remodeled it into a showcase using her own designs.

“I needed a live business card,” Barnecut said. “I had an open house, brought realtors in, builders and friends. It took off from there.”

That first open house generated two leads and those led to others, which led to still more. Builders in particular now refer clients to Barnecut. Her portfolio includes residential and commercial remodels and new construction work.

Some of these assignments really helped Barnecut to grow. One memorable remodel was a client who wanted to create a man-cave in his basement. “He had just returned from an African safari,” Barnecut said.

When she arrived at his home, she found he had assembled a collection of his African souvenirs — from pieces of metal to skins, tusks and more — all to give Barnecut a feeling of the color palette he wanted to create in the room. It was very successful and Barnecut now often asks clients to bring an object to the table — literally.

“Something that inspires you,” she said. “It can be anything. If you have the cover of House Beautiful and want your house to look like that, that’s fine. It helps me and it makes my job easier when they get more involved.”

Right now Barnecut is working on a project at the Canyon River Lodge between Ellensburg and her hometown of Yakima. She is designing a restaurant and bar for the lodge that will open later this summer.

Barnecut doesn’t regret the business career that held her back from full-time designing for so long. It gave her the business savvy she needs to run her own firm. Also, all the many business trips she took allowed her to look at different design styles in different places so she doesn’t consider it time wasted. Now that her design firm is really taking off, she’s thrilled with where she is and looks forward to more design challenges in the future.