Just the Beginning

West Des Moines designer named to National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Thirty Under 30.

For more than half a century, the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) has sought “to inspire, lead and empower the kitchen and bath design industry through the creation of marketplaces, networks and certifications.”

One way the association does that is through its annual Thirty Under 30 award program. The program was established in 2013 to recognize an elite group of young designers at the beginning of their careers who represent the future of the industry.

This year, Becky Leu of West Des Moines’ Leu Interiors was included in this prestigious group. She says the award was as much of a surprise as the nomination. “I wasn’t really that familiar with the award,” Leu says. “I was contacted by an established designer and friend of mine in Florida who had been following my work as an industry professional online, and she told me she was nominating me for the award.”

Cheryl Kees Clendenon, owner and lead designer of In Detail in Pensacola, Florida, told Leu she had been “blown away by her expertise and wisdom beyond her years.”

Only seven years into her career, Leu has been owner and lead designer of her own company for six of those years. “I’d always planned to start my own business someday, but hadn’t really thought I’d start that soon,” she says.

After attending Iowa State University’s College of Design, Leu got a job designing residential remodels for a design/build firm in Des Moines and moved into the role of the lead designer quickly. “After about one year in, I started thinking more about going out on my own,” Leu says. “But I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take that leap at such a young age.”

When she ran the idea by her employer of transitioning to part-time so she could start a furnishing and decor business on the side, he was wonderful, Leu says. “He obviously had an entrepreneurial mindset, having started his own company. He said, ‘Your heart won’t be in it if you try to do it on the side. I think you should go for it.’”

Leu says that he encouraged her ambitions, and his firm even installed the built-in shelves for the first design job that Leu Interiors completed. “I will always remember how I felt when I saw that first project completed exactly how I intended, and it was even more wonderful in person than in my mind,” she says.

Six years later, Leu is in the final phase of another unique design challenge—a long-distance project for which she has yet to see the finished results in person. “I’m doing a large custom remodel and addition in Fort Madison. Everything I’ve contributed, other than the initial site measure, has been done remotely,” she says. “I have to give credit to the client for how well the project has gone. They saw my work online. We connected via my website and just hit it off, so they’ve been willing to make the distance work.”

Leu says, “I can’t wait to take my photographer to Fort Madison with me once it’s finished, hopefully this summer, to see how it has all come together.” She’s sure this is not her first and will certainly not be her last long-distance renovation project. “There are amazing potential clients all over the world,” she says.

Although it’s challenging not being on site, Leu says it just requires more of what she considers good practice for every project—plenty of clear communication, highly detailed drawings, and strong working relationships.

Having just celebrated her firm’s sixth anniversary, Leu sees the Thirty Under 30 award as an opportunity to reinforce the objectives she’s already defined for her business. “I see it as a launching point, and I hope it keeps fueling me to push my own boundaries and that past and potential clients will appreciate that drive to always be striving to grow and to learn,” she says.

The designer has already had her work featured in the Des Moines Home Builders Association’s Tour of Remodeled Homes (where her collaborations have received several awards) as well as a number of design publications. She’s also returned to Iowa State’s College of Design to teach two residential design courses and to serve as a guest juror for student projects.

She is active in the industry through the Home Builders Association’s Remodelers Council and Professional Women in Building, the NKBA Iowa Chapter, as well as DSM Biz Ladies, a women’s networking group she founded in 2016.

“Awards and recognition are certainly always gratifying,” Leu says. “But this isn’t where it ends. It’s where it begins.”