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Second acts: Charlotte designer’s business gets boost from former employer

Time-lapse: 1,000 soup cans create TedxCharlotte stage

Charlotte interior designer Monika Nessbach and others arrange 1,000 soup cans for a stage art display for TedxCharlotte last October.
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Charlotte interior designer Monika Nessbach and others arrange 1,000 soup cans for a stage art display for TedxCharlotte last October.

When her corporate job with a global tire manufacturer took an unexpected but delightful turn into an interior decorating project for the company, Monika Nessbach tried to parlay that into a full-time design gig with her employer, Continental.

That didn’t happen - so Nessbach, now 42, jumped out on her own in 2013. She left her job to devote full attention to Designbar, a company she launched in 2009.

Since then, her projects have included designing Eight Sushi & Asian Kitchen restaurant, the former Texicali Taco and Tequila Bar, a pop-art style arrow made out of one thousand soup cans (later donated) for the stage for the TEDxCharlotte conference in October at Label Charlotte. Her Continental project was featured in a national interior design magazine.

Shifting to her second act wasn’t a move she made in haste. It followed years of interior design classes at Central Piedmont Community College, networking and saving money for her eventual launch.

Still...“This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” Nessbach says. “I have to say, I miss the paycheck.”

But it was important to devote her entire focus to her business: “It’s one of the major reasons why I quit my job. I can’t be 100 percent good at several things...You have to put your entire heart into it.”

Safe route of study

Tread Strongly,” an article in a 2013 edition of Chicago-based Design Bureau magazine, features Nessbach’s changes to the employee common areas at Continental Tire’s corporate headquarters in Fort Mill.

“Designbar turns a tire headquarters’ employee area from drab to fab with inspiration from the brand,” the story says.

She tapped her knowledge of company logos, colors and tire tread patterns, incorporating it all into designing floors, a 60-foot wall and an outside patio.

It’s a project that symbolizes her worlds as a corporate manager and small business owner coming together in a way she couldn’t predict when, as a university student in her native Germany, she took “the safe route” by studying international business management

Nessbach later enrolled in the international MBA program at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C. She says after interning at Germany-based Continental Tire, the company offered her a job.

Nessbach says her work spanned many areas. In research and development, one of her assignments involved capturing the knowledge of soon-to-retire engineers. In project management, she analyzed upcoming market demand for tires. In sales, she worked with nationwide clients. Her career at Continental would span 14 years.

“They offered me a better job and a better job and a better job every two or three years,” Nessbach says. “It’s good to be recognized if you’re good at something.”

During her last four or five years, though, “I felt this urge to express myself differently.”

She bought a townhome, gutted it, and spent the next year and a half remodeling it to feel “funky and creative,” with faux exposed bricks, a wall with ‘Designbar’ in street art, and reclaimed pieces, like a bookshelf.

“I did it all by myself, with the help of friends…I finished one project after the next after the next. It really felt like an accomplishment.”

Debuting at designer showcase

That lead to taking drawing, painting and design classes at CPCC . Soon after, Nessbach launched her plan to leave her corporate job.

She saved money and refinanced her house, and put about $60,000 into an investment account she was going to use for art and design school. She later nixed that plan when the school’s requirements changed.

Around the same time, a friend pointed out that the Charlotte Symphony Guild was sponsoring a designer showcase for local professionals, who would design condos at the Metropolitan. That prompted Nessbach to launch her company, so she could participate.

Among the visitors to the designer showcase was a Continental executive and his wife. Back at work, Nessbach got a call to come to his office.

She thought she was in trouble for having her own company. Instead, the executive asked her if she would take on a redo of the executive board room. Later, she took on the company project that landed in Design Bureau’s Inspiring Interiors magazine.

Nessbach later asked the company if she could do its design work as a full time job. That didn’t work out, but she says the “moral support...gave me a little bit of confidence to say ‘I can do this.’”

Second Acts: Starting a business in midcareer

Did you start a business after getting laid off? Did you leave a longtime career to start a venture in a completely different field? Or maybe you took a risk at age 50-plus and left a steady job to launch your own company? If so, we'd like to hear your story: Send us an email at shoptalk@charlotteobserver.com with “Second Acts” in the subject line.

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