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Women's History Month | 6 Women That Inspire Us

Celebrating the women who inspire us, today and every day.

By Renée Soucy

Happy Women’s History Month! Since the country’s founding, most of our taught history has been a version of his-story, effectively omitting the contributions of approximately half the country and the world’s populations. After decades of lobbying by activists, the U.S. Congress declared the month of March National Women’s History Month in 1987 to bring some balance to our collective understanding. Twenty-seven years later, there’s still plenty of work being done, and women’s contributions to American life over the centuries are still being discovered, explored, and celebrated. 

Of course history isn’t just something from the past. It is being created in the present moment. Celebrating and recognizing women’s achievements as they happen, while honoring those who’ve cleared the path for others through mentorship and inspiration, is what makes March a particularly special month for us at Snyder Diamond. In this annual special edition, we’ve invited Peti Lau, Jeanne Chung, Dana Stephens, Heather Ryan, Megan Reilly, and Martha Orellana, 6 of our favorite inspirational women (full bios below) to sit down and share their perspectives on their careers and—reflecting this year’s theme of “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories”—to tell us about the women who’ve made a difference in their lives.

Top (L to R): Jeanne Chung, Peti Lau and Heather Ryan

Bottom (L to R): Megan Reilly, Martha Orellana and Dana Stephens

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a female friend, colleague, teacher, professor, or family member?

Back when I first started my business, I was in N.Y. for the AD Show and Bunny Williams spoke to a group of designers. One thing she said has stuck with me throughout these years and is something that I also preach to students, designers, and even my kids. She said, "train your eye by always looking at the best". Great taste can't be bought. It is something that is innate and developed over time by continuing to look at the best specimens in design. One should be able to look at and feel a product to know that it is good quality and not depend on a fancy designer label or expensive price tag to speak of the quality and craftsmanship. Go to museums, look at magazines, visit design shows, show houses to train your eye on proportion and scale. If you are accustomed to looking at the best, when you see anything that is less-than, you will know right away. You may not necessarily know why, but you will know. - Jeanne Chung

Bunny Williams

I was once heard a long time ago, “lift as you rise” and that really stuck with me. I think it’s so important to build a community of peers and colleagues that support and also challenge you, to continue to grow together. Many times, I am inspired by them and I also learn from other designers in my community of friends and colleagues. Interior design is not only a creative process, but it’s also a business. I find that having the ability to bounce ideas or share business practices can be really helpful to discuss at times. And sometimes, even how to manage a difficult client or project. My relationships with my community are so valuable to me. I believe,  together and forward, lift as you rise!

The second advice I would share is to “learn by doing”. I learned that from reading about Frank Lloyd Wright. He had an architectural program that first year students had to build their own structure to live in. What better way to learn about building when you have to live in it? It’s like Nike—just do it. - Peti Lau

Nike’s “Just Do It” 2019 Campaign with Serena Williams

When I was 25, I was offered a big promotion that totally caught me off guard. I felt unprepared and inexperienced, and scared (more than anything). My sister talked some sense into me and encouraged me to say yes. Looking back now, I cannot believe that I even questioned not stepping up and taking the position. Someone else saw something in me that I had not yet seen in myself, so I needed to trust that person’s confidence. Taking my sister’s advice that the most rewarding things can also be the scariest and most challenging was an early lesson in my career. To grow and expand, we often need to experience the discomfort that comes along with that. - Megan Reilly

“Just have coffee with them”, as a young manager I was all business, I was the youngest on the management team and most of my team had many more years of experience than me, so I thought I had to be “serious and professional” all the time. I was having friction with one particular team member and could not understand why. My CEO suggested “take her for coffee, get to know her, make a human connection”. We spend most of our waking hours with our co-workers, taking time to know them matters, especially if you are a leader. - Heather Ryan

Did you have a female mentor in school or work? What was their experience navigating their career and how did their experience inform what they taught you?

In the early phases of my career when I was in design school, I was fortunate to intern at Cullman & Kravis, an all-women firm. Working there I learned the value of teamwork and camaraderie; that empowering feeling of sisterhood continues to play an important role in how I operate my own studio today. 

I’ll never forget the first week of working at Cullman & Kravis, when Ellie Cullman knew and called me by my first name. I was really touched that I, an intern, felt valued. I have always been inspired by Ellie’s kindness and authenticity. - Peti Lau

Ellie Cullman from Cullman & Kravis

My teacher Mrs. Hale, who taught Hospital Occupations, guided me into the medical field where I became a medical assistant, phlebotomist, physical therapy assistant, EKG technician, and a registered dental assistant in my earlier years of employment. - Dana Stephens

Who are the women in your field, past or present, who inspire you the most?

My favorite female designers include Elsie De Wolf, Dorothy Draper, Eileen Gray, Elsa Peretti, Kelly Wearstler and Kelly Behun—design-industry trailblazers, innovators, and leaders, past and present. I admire Elsie de Wolf for having essentially founded ‘interior designer’ as a profession, Dorothy Draper for further professionalizing interior design and taking it into commercial spaces, Kelly Wearstler for constantly reinventing herself, Kelly Behun’s brilliant design sensibilities, and Elsa Peretti’s cool factor and relationship with Tiffany’s. - Peti Lau

If I listed all the women who’ve inspired me, I’d exceed your available space by thousands of characters—but I do want to acknowledge Veronika Miller, who ended up founding Designhounds, a firm which curates partnerships between designers and brands. As a kitchen and bath designer, Veronika had been a MrSteam customer, but around the time social media emerged, made a brilliant career pivot and built an extraordinary community of designers by sponsoring events on and offline. Veronika continues to help MrSteam raise awareness of steam as a must-have feature for clients who prioritize their wellness. - Martha Orellana

Top (L to R): Elsie De Wolf, Elsa Peretti and Veronika Miller

Bottom (L to R): Kelly Wearstler, Dorothy Draper and Kelly Behun

What do you think is the most common stereotype about women in your field? Does this ever work in your favor?

There are so many women leaders in the fields of architecture and interior design, and so many supportive and collaborative men as well. I think perhaps from an outsider’s perspective, several might not recognize the health, safety, well-being and public value and impact that good design can have that extend far beyond providing utility. So, I guess I don't feel that I have to deal with that stereotype as a woman, but more of the broader community’s perception that design is mostly about pretty things and the decorative side—which we love too of course. I think that educating more people on the value and benefit of design and how it impacts all of our lives is so important and something I find fulfilling in my role within the industry. - Megan Reilly

That we lack technical and leadership acumen. It’s not specific to our industry and thankfully, I hear it happening less and less every year. It just meant I had to work harder to prove my competence in these areas, such as becoming a licensed contractor in California. - Martha Orellana

If you could have dinner with any noteworthy woman from the past or present, who would you invite?

There are many, but two who come to mind are Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Eleanor Roosevelt who were both so fierce and influential in advocating for women’s rights and a more equitable world. I also think that RBG’s sense of humor would have made dinner not only inspiring but fun as well.

And Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote below is still one that always rings true to me, no matter how big or small a goal might be: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” - Megan Reilly

Nina Simone, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey. - Dana Stephens

Karen Blixen, the famed author of Out of Africa, and many other great works. She was an adventurer, an independent business woman and introduced the mystique and beauty of East Africa to me—a place I dreamed of going since childhood. I finally got to visit in 2022 and it was amazing, I even got to visit her home/museum in Nairobi. - Heather Ryan

Top (L to R): Eleanor Roosevelt, Oprah Winfrey and Nina Simone

Bottom (L to R): Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Karen Blixen and Michelle Obama

Who was/were your childhood heroine(s)? Who are they today?

Wonder Woman was my childhood heroine. She was smart, strong, beautiful and the only female superhero at the time. Plus, she had the invisible jet—I really thought that would be a great way to get around. Today, I’d say after the past few years we have experienced, my heroes (of any gender) are any and all front-line workers. Medical, law enforcement, customer service, hospitality, education, etc, these are the people that have kept our country operating through massive crises and still today. Then add on top of this that many are moms and the primary caregivers for their families…these are true heroines. - Heather Ryan

My Mother, until passing, and my Godmother who is currently 100 years old. They have raised me to never see color, only people. - Dana Stephens 

Looking to the future, what do you hope will be different for future generations of women in your field?

I hope the future generations will include a diverse range of female designers, showcasing a lot more diversity, ethnicity and most importantly dynamic designs. - Peti Lau

People will stop looking at gender and color and start looking at character, education, and personalities. If you see the inner soul of a person’s spirit and not the outer color of the skin you would learn to appreciate the individual for their true self. - Dana Stephens

That women can thrive economically and emotionally by pursuing different paths and will support and lift each other up. - Martha Orellana

From Zeros and Ones to 'Nine to Five’ - History Making Women We Love

Ada Lovelace - Technology Pioneer

While her famous father, the Romantic poet Lord Byron, was busy writing classics like “She Walks in Beauty,” Augusta Ada Byron was one of the few women of her time to receive a scientific education. Called the “Princess of Parallelograms” she was actually a countess who, during her long collaboration with the mathematician Charles Babbage, authored the very first algorithm which made her the very first computer programmer of any gender—ever.

Marie Van Brittan Brown - Bringing Safety Home

The old adage says necessity is the mother of invention. As crime rates rose in her Queens, N.Y. neighborhood Marian Van Brittan Brown not only took this to heart, she took action, inventing the first home security system with peepholes, monitors, camera, two-way microphone, and an alarm button that could be pressed to contact the police immediately. The design won patents and awards, laying the foundation for today’s home security systems and likely saving countless lives.

Sandy Chilewich - A Place at The Table

There are serial entrepreneurs and then there are people like Sandy Chilewich who, after “stumbling” into a first career founding the hosiery brand Hue (which she sold in 1991), she then brought her flair for textiles onto the tables and floors of countless American homes (including the Obamas) with her namesake placemats and runners. Today her products are virtually everywhere and her company—which recently sold a majority stake to a private equity firm—is worth an estimated $35M.

Dolly Parton - Songbird, Superstar Philanthropist

In a career lasting over fifty years, Dolly Parton has charted new territory for female artists as one of the all time best selling singer songwriters in American history. Nothing about this petite (five foot) powerhouse is small, though—from her supersized wigs to her boundless generosity. While the scarcity and struggles of her childhood are well known, the exact amount she has given to charity is a secret, though most estimates indicate she has donated tens of millions of dollars in her lifetime.

Women In Design Who Inspire Us In 2023 | Biographies

Jeanne Chung

Named as KBB’s (Kitchen & Bath Business) 2022 Person of the Year for shaping the Pasadena design community, Principal Interior Designer Jeanne Chung of Jeanne K Chung Inc. is admired for an eclectic design aesthetic that bridges classic design principles with a modern twist. Through Chung’s design firm, Cozy Stylish Chic, and her design blog, retail space, and showroom, Jeanne has become recognized as a tastemaker in the industry and frequently collaborates with established brands like Monogram. Chung sits on the Advisory Board of the Design Influencers Conference, was a member of the Monogram Design Council and Plum Wine Heroes Council for 2021, and was named a Global Connect Advisor for the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) for 2021-2022. 

Peti Lau

L.A.-based designer Peti Lau has developed a signature style that she’s coined as AristoFreak™ which celebrates her bold, eccentric and diverse modern tastes. Peti specializes in high-end residential and commercial designs and was named one of L.A.’s Top 25 Designers by The Los Angeles Times. Lau has been featured in CovetED, House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, The Wall Street Journal, HGTV, and more. Her extensive portfolio spans the globe and includes a list of high-profile executives and celebrities. 

Megan Reilly

Megan Reilly co-founded WestEdge Design Fair in 2013 alongside Troy Hanson, based on client demand for a high-end design show to connect with the growing West Coast market.

Reilly is a creative and innovative marketing professional with a track record of building brand recognition and revenue growth within the event industry. Her experience runs the gamut, from marketing and sales to creative brand activations, programming and project management. Megan is involved with several organizations including the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), Women in Luxury Design (W.I.L.D.), the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, and has served on the steering and host committees for DIFFA’s DINING BY DESIGN and NYCXDesign. 

Dana Stephens

Dana Stephens has worked at Snyder Diamond, the go-to destination for kitchen and bath products in SoCal, for 23 years. SD’s current Customer Experience Manager, Stephens comes from a long line of strong women and is a proud mother of one and grandmother to five. Her motto? It might not be easy, but women can achieve anything armed with a positive mindset, the willingness to learn, and hard work. 

Martha Orellana

As Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Martha Orellana has championed MrSteam and parent company Sussman-Automatic for over 30 years. Responsible for the management of the company’s sales force for the Western half of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, Martha is an integral force in introducing the world to the “Feel Good” benefits of steam. “We feel good, when you feel good” is the mantra Martha infuses into all company endeavors.

A graduate of Hunter College, licensed California contractor and member of the National Association of Female Executives, Martha has been recognized by Contractor Magazine as one of the most influential women in the kitchen and bath industry, and in 2015 was named Manufacturing Professional of the Year by the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association.

A passionate advocate for SteamTherapy®, a wellness program she helped develop, Martha brings the “Feel Good” wherever she goes. Her personal life is a testament to “making wellness a way of life.” When she’s not soaring the skies in a hot-air balloon, savoring her favorite Italian cuisine, or spending her precious free time with friends and family in her West Hollywood home, Martha practices what she preaches as a self-described “Spa Connoisseur.” 

Heather Ryan

Director of Sales and Marketing for Gaggenau, Ryan fell in love with artisan design and the culinary arts when attending university in France. Newly inspired, she returned to the U.S. to pursue a career in the sales and marketing of European luxury products, ultimately focusing on the world of home design. More than two decades later, Ryan continues this pursuit and has found a perfect “home” with Gaggenau appliances. The brand offers a marriage of best in design and engineering, pride of hand-craftsmanship and a focus on the highest standards of culinary performance.

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