When you combine natural design instincts with social media genius, you get Mandu Mbride. We know Mandu as our Social Media Manager at IDCO Studio, but she also leads CQ Interiors, a Houston-based studio specializing in virtual interior design. Since its founding in 2020, CQ Interiors has gained exposure largely through its strategic presence on TikTok. Mandu harnessed her experience in video content to create a viral TikTok that resulted in 1.5 M views and a flood of new client inquiries.
In our conversation, Mandu and I chat about business models, the importance of niching, and the tenets of the CQ Interiors aesthetic. Mark my words: this driven twenty-something is poised to take over the e-design landscape.
Mandu, will you tell us about your career path and how CQ Interiors was born?
Like a lot of designers that I’ve met, my career path to design was unconventional. I went to business school for marketing and entrepreneurship, and worked in the financial industry on the marketing side. During that time, I also ran a lifestyle blog that gained some traction over the years.
During that time that I really leaned into my love for interiors. In 2020, during the pandemic, I decided to take the leap and take on my very first design client. It was a lot of work but so exciting, and from there, I pursued interior design and created the CQ Interiors brand. In 2021, I booked a few more projects and I hired my first team member, Emma – my literal right-hand woman, who is such an integral part of CQ Interiors. In June of 2021, one of our CQ Interiors Tik Tok videos went viral with over 1.5 million views. Video content was a catalyst that brought us a whirlwind of exposure and helped the business take off.
How would you describe the CQ Interiors aesthetic? How do you tailor + adapt that to different clients and projects?
I would describe our aesthetic as contemporary casual. We’re very inspired by California casual and laid-back luxury spaces that feel light and airy. We also love organic, earthy elements, warmed up with relaxed textiles and cozy layers. We like to tailor and adapt to each individual’s preferences to create their own unique style, but over trial and error, we’ve learned the importance of our client’s taste aligning with our style in some ways. It’s important to us that what we think is beautiful, our clients think is beautiful, too.
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Your studio specializes in virtual interior design services. Tell us why you chose to niche in that way.
In a way, it was really the landscape. I opened the studio right in the middle of the pandemic, when virtual was pretty much the only option available. And in a way, our potential clients were ready for us. By then, it made sense that a luxury service could also be virtual.
My mission when I started CQ Interiors was to create an approachable, accessible, and collaborative way to help someone’s home look and feel good. At the core, we’re not just delivering pretty rooms – but spaces that cultivate inspiration in our client’s daily lives. Offering virtual interior design gives our clients the ability to create their dream spaces no matter where they were located, and I love that.
As I looked at our business model, I realized that cutting out procurement and niching ourselves into virtual interior design really allows us to keep our costs low while still providing quality service to our clients. Our clients typically handle all of the shopping themselves. We give them a shopping list, layout plans, install guide, and instructions on implementations for reference. But after those deliverables, our work is essentially done. This gives us more time to invest in our business and better our processes for our clients.
My marketing background also heavily played into where we niched ourselves (I’m a branding gal at heart). When I first started researching the virtual interior design landscape in 2020, and the last ten years, the key players in e-design were larger businesses like Modsy, Havenly, etc. In 2020, virtual interior design was still fairly new, with only about ten years of experience in the market research. The big players had taken ground in delivering low-priced, quick services and I knew I didn’t want to position our studio there. It was important to me that we were never positioned as “cheap,” but as accessible and quality. Instead, I leaned into what I cared about and found a blend of both worlds – creating intentional spaces through high quality virtual interior design.
“Video content was a catalyst that brought us a whirlwind of exposure and helped the business take off.”
– Mandu Mbride
We’d love to hear about the clients you serve and the process of working together virtually.
The clients that we serve are primarily new builds or new homes that are looking to completely furnish their space from scratch. We use a four-step process that takes the guesswork out of their hands into ours. Here’s what it looks like:
Virtual Design Consultation – an in-depth consultation to learn more about the project needs and vision for the space. A home is a reflection of who our clients are, so we’ll dive into their story, walk through the inspiration, and chat about budget and project needs.
Design Vision – After learning all about our client and the project needs, we take time to do the space planning and the creative direction. This step is essential when creating a home that feels complete and cohesive and will speak to the design we create.
Design Creation – Once the vision and layout plan have been established, then the design creation begins! This is where we source actual furniture selections and design elements to bring the vision to life.
Design Preview – Our renderings are where the magic comes to life – each of our full-service clients receive a Virtual Reality walk-through of their completed space with the selected design so they can see the complete picture. This has been monumental to our process and gives our clients such a great view of what to expect. Once we realized we could digitally create our clients’ spaces in a way they could see a complete vision, it made sense to lean into this niche.
Design Implementation – After we’ve settled on a design concept our clients’ love, it’s time for us to wrap up the project and hand it back over. Our final deliverables include the final design plan with a master shopping list, layout plan and a detailed implementation and style guide.
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Do you have a favorite project thus far? We’d love to hear about it!
One of our favorite projects is one that we’re actually working on right now – a beautiful earthy, cottage-core inspired home. Our clients just finished renovating and are starting from scratch with furnishing! We’ve coined it the #LittleHouseonThePrairie and I’m so excited to share the finished product! This project is a bit more moodier, which makes me love it even more.
Did you receive any advice that has helped shape your business?
Yes! When I started my interior design journey, I was blessed to have an incredible mentor who stood by my side and showed me the ropes. She truly taught me so much about the industry, running a business, dealing with clients, and so much that shaped the designer that I am today. If you’re just starting out, getting real-life advice from someone in the field is invaluable. One of the best pieces of advice she taught me was how to value myself as a designer. Since I didn’t go to a traditional interior design school, I suffer a lot from imposter syndrome and it can reflect in my pricing or how I’m valuing my time. She helped me realize that it’s not my client’s job to determine the worth of my craft, but my job.
What daily rituals help you thrive as a designer?
I am constantly soaking up inspiration – everywhere. You can always find me pinning an interior space that I want to try, fawning over THELIFESTYLEDCO’s latest project reveals on Youtube, or taking a picture of the beautiful floor detail at a cute coffee shop. Now that I work full-time as a Social Media Manager for IDCO Studio, it’s a part of my job to look at beautiful work all the time, so that’s been such a treat!
Another daily ritual is gratitude and remembering that this is a journey – not a race. Sometimes as a young designer, I want to already have years of experience under my belt and take on the dreamiest clients, but it’s truly a process. Instead of comparing myself to other designers, I really should only be comparing myself. How was I as a designer a year ago? And if I’ve progressed, then I’m on the right track.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee all the way – decaf (yes, decaf!) caramel latte with oat milk is my go-to, but I love all types of coffee – including caffeinated *wink*.
Book currently on your nightstand:
P.S. The Podcast that I’m currently binging is the The Interior Collective!
– Mandu Mbride
Favorite Instagram accounts to follow:
And of course, @anastasiacasey_
A recent trend you’re loving?
Marble with high contrast veining has my heart at the moment. I love the organic earthiness of the stone and how it can stand alone as an absolute moment.
How about a timeless one?
Worn linen, that relaxed textile for me will always be *chefs kiss*.
What’s next for CQ Interiors?
We have exciting things on the horizon, including new projects and possibly digital products. We’re an interior design studio, but we often joke about how we’re really a tech company. Innovation is one of our core values so we’re always evolving, leaning into the future, and serving our audience in the best way possible.
Design: CQ Interiors
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IDCO Studio is a boutique creative agency specialized in beautiful and unique marketing solutions for interior designers. Focused on branding, web design and Instagram marketing, IDCO Studio is a woman owned and operated team of creatives based in Austin, Texas. The Identité Collective, which began as a business blog quickly grew into a collaborative community focused on providing business strategy and visual inspiration to the interior design community.
Now you can find our shop of resources, templates and custom branding and web design work over at IDCO Studio – leaving The Identité Collective as a permanent resource for our beloved design community.