30 In Their Thirties: Rachel Nelson, Principal Designer and CEO, Concetti, Detroit

Working for a construction firm and an interior design showroom taught Rachel Nelson many things about the creative process, but none more important than this: Most people don’t understand the interior design process.
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Rachel Nelson. // Photo by Trever Long

Working for a construction firm and an interior design showroom taught Rachel Nelson many things about the creative process, but none more important than this: Most people don’t understand the interior design process.

A third-generation Detroit business owner — her grandfather owned a butcher store and her father operated a steel company — Nelson thought she could do something to promote a better understanding of the design process.

So, in 2014, the Kendall College of Art and Design graduate acted on her belief by forming Concetti. The firm does interior design work for both business and residential clients, with the mission of making a space reflect the identity of those occupying it. If it’s for a business, the space should reflect the company’s brand identity. If it’s a residence, the space should echo the personality of those living there.

But before Concetti can get clients to that point, Nelson and her team have to make them comfortable with how it all works. That’s a type of company culture she thought was missing in Detroit, and part of what motivated her to start her own business.

“We did a bunch of market research, and out of this research we found that people are confused by the design process — renovations, building a home,” Nelson says. “It’s an industry for a reason, and people were like, ‘I’m not sure what’s going on.’ So, I wanted to create a process that alleviates the stress. We’re your ambassadors. Let us be the translator in the process.”

The process Nelson and her team developed is based on the concept of design thinking, which requires empathy, defining, ideation, prototyping, and testing.

“It’s this balance of left- and right-brain thinking,” Nelson says. “You expect us to design a beautiful space, but more importantly we’re going to be a good strategic partner for you.”

Concetti intentionally avoids being identified with any particular style of design.

“We’re not going to impose ideas and trends,” Nelson says. “A successful project, to us, means the space is a unique reflection of this person or brand. We’re not afraid to do different things, use bold colors and patterns. We empower our clients to want to take the risk because it’s authentic to them.”

Nelson also seeks to make a positive impact on both the community and on her employees in various ways. Since 2017, the company has pursued an initiative called Gratitude Attitude.

“It’s our way of giving thanks to our community,” she says. “It’s looked different through the years. We’ve supported a women’s shelter, where we raised money and purchased products for the home, to make it feel more residential and less institutional. We’ve also supported various dog rescues.”

Internally, she gives her employees quarterly mental health breaks during which they’re able to work with wellness coaches. “It’s so important that we fill our cups and not burn out,” Nelson says.