Heather Sanders
Heather Sanders is reviewing tile and floor samples with Patrick Airdo, owner of Desert Diamond in Tempe. Photo courtesy of Cory Sanders

Heather Sanders says she's always had what people call, "the eye." So when her successful career in real estate took a beating in the wake of the recession, she tapped into her passion for decorating and launched a budget design service, The Restyle Group.

"Even as a little girl, I spent more time decorating my Barbie dream house than I did playing with the dolls," said Sanders, a longtime Ahwatukee Foothills resident and mother of two. She and her husband rode the Arizona real estate bubble until it burst.

"I had always believed that hard work, perseverance and an entrepreneurial spirit guaranteed success," she said. "We're such go getters; it never occurred to me it would all end."

Beginning in 2003, Sanders carved her own niche in the East Valley, selling real estate and incorporating her knack for interior design in tandem. When Sanders and her then-business partners took on a listing, they "staged" the home, making it more attractive to potential buyers.

"We made good use of whatever accents were already on hand, updated counters, lighting and flooring with resale-friendly finishes, and added accents we'd pick up at discount warehouses and garage sales," she said.

When the market soured, Sanders endured a crisis both professionally and personally. Their own home plummeted in value; and the couple's once lucrative business dried up overnight.

"I was at one of the lowest points in my life," she said. "We were forced to face a stark reality; our livelihood could no longer provide for our lifestyle. I knew we had to start over and reinvent. It was humbling."

Last fall, in the wake of discerning her next move, Sanders was offered a booth at Cornerstone Community Church's annual craft fair event. It was the impetus she needed to change course and pursue her dream.

"My degree wasn't in design; all I had was my passion, a killer work ethic and a belief that even though we're all simplifying, everyone deserves to live or work in a pretty, reflective space," she said.

In less than a few weeks, Sanders devised a branding effort geared toward "design on a dime." Hanging out her virtual shingle, she launched a Facebook page and blog.

"I took every free seminar out there; I asked every contact I'd made to help me promote my new service as a budget conscious designer."

According to Sanders, many people find traditional designers intimidating.

"I work on projects big and small. If you want me to come over and help pick out paint colors, I'll do it. I can refresh and re-arrange accents, art or furniture; I can design just one room."

Sanders believes the absence of ego, and a commitment to take on smaller projects, makes hers a unique service.

"I ask questions and listen to what my clients want, instead of imposing my own taste and artistic vision," she said, adding that her own priorities have shifted over the past two years, and she can relate to doing more with less.

"I learned an important lesson about what matters most in life, and I can relate to people better," Sanders said. "I still love beautiful things, but family is what really makes a house a home."

In the current economic climate, Sanders says people are more willing to help one another promote their businesses.

"Competition is out, and collaboration is in," she said.

Her advice for people facing career transitions and life's challenges?

"Think about what you would do for free - the things you love to do that don't feel like work, and pursue them. Do what you were meant to do, and your life will be full."

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Diane Meehl is a freelance writer. Reach her at dianemeehl@cox.net.

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