Rita Salgueiro, The Woman Behind the Design Brand

When it comes to style and business savvy Rita Salgueiro is a woman to know. The power of another person’s story can be oh-so-powerful! At LH, we love sharing the stories of women behind brands they have dreamt of, founded, and built. These are the women who bring companies to life—women who are living, working, creating, inspiring, raising families, and more. In The Women of … series, we delve into the minds and worlds of these women to share their empowering and uplifting thoughts and stories. Up now, Rita Salgueiro.

Based in Lisbon, Rita Salgueiro’s studio specializes in interior architecture, interior design, and decor. Her lifelong love of design and decor manifested in an independent and successful business. Her studio handles home, business, and hospitality design.

Rita holds a degree in Interior Architecture, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Portuguese Decorative Art. But her cultural training doesn’t end there. She studied Feng Shui at the School of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Museum of the East, allowing her to execute projects based on the principles of Feng Shui. Rita has been growing in her career for over twenty years, developing her personal style and brand.

For Rita Salgueiro, positivity and dedication have brought her success and recognition. Read on to learn more about the challenges she overcame in building her business, the lessons she learned along the way, and the perspectives that keep her growing!

Meet Rita Salgueiro, Founder & Interior Designer

Rita Salgueiro headshot black and white

When did your love affair with interior design begin? And how did it make you feel?

I was born in the heart of the interior design world, and until I was six years old, I lived in my father and uncle’s interior design stores. Since I was a kid, I have been an interior designer. It started with my Barbie house and store, where I had all the furniture that Mattel made for her, even the car. I had to create a garage for it.

But at the time, I didn’t realize that what I was doing was being an interior designer. I was 8 years old, too young to think about interior design, and every time people asked me what I intended to be the answer was always a veterinarian.

Since I left the dolls, I never did it again until I started studying for it. I was always drawn to the arts. When the time came that I had to choose a direction for my studies, the tests revealed that I had the skills necessary for the arts or a veterinary field. A psychologist told us that she thought that I would be happier in thearts, and she wasn’t wrong.

Tell us a bit about your path and what led to your decision to start Rita Salgueiro.

All my family members have their own businesses, so it doesn’t make sense for me to work for others instead of running my own studio.

I started as an intern at Vitor Carvalho Araújo, and when the time arrived, I stayed there and worked for a salary, which I was very proud of as he is one of the best architects in Lisbon and chose me to stay on. A few months later, one of my old university teachers invited me to work at the Paris Sete store as an interior designer. At the time it was one of the three best stores in Lisbon and I couldn’t resist. It was a huge opportunity that I had not even dreamed about.

One and a half years later a friend I had studied with asked if I wanted to open a store with interior design projects and I decided that, though I was nervous, it was time and I started my own business.

After three years together I realized that she didn’t know how to run a store, and since she didn’t allow me to do it myself, I suggested closing the store, staying in the same space, but working just as an interior design studio. Two heads two different types of views in business. So Rita Salgueiro began.

Rita Salgueiro bedroom design Intercasa double room

Do you recall any critical turning point when you realized your business was succeeding?

In 2012, when I realized there was not an interior design workshop in Portugal, I decided to create one. I wrote a stretch and left it as a note on my phone. In 2014, when I was cleaning up my notes, I saw it again and in the same year, the workshop arrived at the market. They were all sold out in less than a week. It was crazy.

After that, in 2015, I started to write again for magazines about interior design, I started to be invited to morning TV shows to talk about interior design, and everything was flowing well until 2017, when I was invited to participate in a TV Show, similar to Extreme Makeover, as one of the main interior designers. That was huge for my career.

What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?

I know interior design from the inside out, which has allowed me to create interior designs for everything: TV shows, stands at fairs, articles in magazines, and, the main business, the interior design projects themselves.

I acquired knowledge working as an agent for two factories in Lisbon between 2008 and 2015. This experience allowed me to get inside the best interior design studios in Lisbon and see why some succeed and others don’t. I also got to see many different ways of working and share ideas with the best interior designers in Portugal.

At the same time, I acquired all the knowledge of factories, the details, and how production works. It was a unique knowledge that no other interior designer in Portugal has. I know interior design from the inside out, which allowed me to create interior designs for everything: TV shows, stands at fairs, articles in magazines, and, the main business, the interior design projects themselves.

Who/what has contributed most to your success?

Love, dedication, and courage to be persistent.
The ability to listen to the necessities of my customers rather than forcing my own ideas just because I was the expert in the subject.

Being humble to realize that I don’t know everything and can learn with others.
Never project myself as a superior person to anyone.
Be there to face and solve every problem that gets in the way, with no excuses.
The most important, having a good character and being honest with all my customers.
The ability to communicate and lead.
All the knowledge that I acquired over the years and the curiosity to continue learning.
And of course, having the lucky star that no one can explain; to always be in the right place at the right time.

What surprised you most about growing a business?

What a determined person can do alone and reach.

It was not the business itself; I grew up in the middle of a different business. I knew the ups and downs, and I was prepared for that.

The big surprise was being seen as a competition by some of the best interior designers, which made me realize that maybe I was better than I thought. I always saw myself as everyone else, but maybe there is something different in me that others can see that I cannot.

Tell us about your most demanding client. What was the experience, and what did you learn from it?

It was a lady, if we can call her a lady. For her, everything was wrong, nothing was perfect, and everyone else would make it better. And suddenly, everything started to go wrong. She attracted everything bad she thought would happen. She didn’t realize that she was co-creating everything that happened after.

I explained to her that with that attitude, she would create problems, but she insisted she was only preventing problems. The builder disappeared with the money. She threatened me three times to go to the magazines and tell everything about what was happening as if it was my fault. She said she could sue me.

The experience was awful. The stress was so high that I stopped menstruating for six months. But I learned to make others respect me in two seconds; to say enough is enough before getting to the point. And to not trust people, especially builders, about money. We are not given a good or a bad life. We are given a life. It’s up to us to make it good or bad.

A short story: the other two times, I pretended I didn’t understand. But the third time she threatened me was on one of those few days when I was not in a good mood. I just put my hand on her shoulder, looked her in the eye and said: sue me. It’s a favor to me. As soon as you sue me I’m free of this mess and I don’t need to solve anything else. It’s going to be your problem. Six years from now all I need to do is give you compensation. Meanwhile, you will solve the problems you create and I will focus on my life, my work, and earn more money than what I have to pay you as compensation.

From that day on, she realized she needed to respect me or solve her problems by herself, and everything changed. I was so bad. But after all that mess, she wanted to hire me for another project, to which I politely said I didn’t have the time.

How do you handle negative feedback or criticism of your work?

Besides this episode, I don’t have many criticisms from my customers. Usually, it’s the opposite, and when something goes differently from what I expect, I assume responsibility and fix it immediately. From regular people, I don’t have much criticism.

I remember going to a TV morning show to make a breakfast table for an actress playing Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth liked to have her cornflakes from the Tupperware; she wanted them to be saved. Someone on Facebook said I was crazy and a liar and that Queen Elizabeth would never allow Tupperware on her table. I just put an official picture from the queen’s breakfast table as an answer.

Another time was regarding a TV show where I was invited to speak about rooms. Someone said that people like me should give an example and not use foreignism. I just replied, “In 12 minutes on-air the only criticism you have is that I misspell one word in English?” I think he realized that his comment was nonsense because he replied with a smile, “It’s the only thing you said wrong.”

If you could have done something different, what would it be?

I started my own business at the beginning of my career, but between 2008 and 2012, I worked in my studio and with factories. If I could change something, I would have dedicated more time to my studio instead of giving so much of my time to the factories.

What helps you move forward with your business despite the inevitable struggles?

On the harder days, I force myself to remember what I’m made of, where I came from, and where I’m going.

The passion I have, the joy I gain from it, and the challenges. I love a good challenge.

The desire to make more, to make something different, and to get better and better every day. The ambition to maintain the lifestyle my parents had provided me when we lived together. Good taste is expensive! In the most difficult times, I know that life and business have ups and downs and it’s normal. That helps a lot and it’s very important to keep up hope.

On the harder days, I force myself to remember what I’m made of, where I came from, and where I’m going. I remember how I started over from nothing, with only a desk and a computer, and how far I came to get where I am now. I have the privilege to make money from something I love to do and could do it just for passion if I didn’t have to pay bills and support myself alone. And, at the end of the day, I have my cats to feed, and it’s too late to be a vet!

Who is Rita Salgueiro The Woman of Rita Salgueiro?

A dreamer, a 48-year-old child who still believes the world can be pink, who maintains the ability to laugh at herself and the crazy things she gets into, and who gets excited with every new idea, even if it looks like nonsense to others.

Someone who loves fashion and still lives 99% of her life in black clothes. Someone who surrounds herself with other women to grow together and learn from each other’s. One who tries to face the world always with a smile on her face. Who, as a friend of mine, keeps joking, excuses the inexcusable until the bad Gemini arrives and puts everything in the right place. But especially someone with a soft heart. Someone that you can have lots of fun with and can always trust.

When women invest in other women, we all rise together, do you have any specific thoughts you would like to share about the women you work with?

I believe that we rise by lifting others. We feel happier when we help others grow, especially if they are women. It’s strange that in this century, so many women haven’t yet realized that we are stronger together and can go further. I have very strong women on my team, and I love that.

But one is very special. It’s inspiring for us all when we look at a 79-year-old woman working hard because she loves what she does and not out of necessity. She always says, “Ohhh, I don’t have studies.” I always reply to her, “No, you don’t, but you have the skills and the knowledge, which is far better.”

What pieces of advice would you give to someone starting their career in design?

It’s not easy, sometimes it’s too hard, but it’s worth it.

Be unique, believe in yourself, be honest, remain humble, always do your best, and never, never give up.

But first take the masterclass that I created and sell on my website. I teach everything you need to know to start your own business that you won’t learn in any school.

Do you have any mottos you like to live by? Or favorite empowering quotes?

I believe we must always be good people with kind hearts and never regret the good we do for those who later show us that they didn’t deserve it. Sometimes it’s hard to swallow. But I still truly believe that God knows what he is doing and until now, there was nothing bad that had happened to me that hasn’t turned into something better. So, I will keep believing in it!

As far as quotes, I have a few that I keep reading or asking myself.

If others can do it, so can I! Are you going to give up now, after all this hard work and with all that you archive, just because of this?

“We are not given a good or a bad life. We are given a life. It’s up to us to make it good or bad.”

“Keep smiling; you get better and haters will be annoyed and confused”

“Always look at the bright side of life”

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

What’s next for Rita and Rita Salgueiro?

For Rita, after a long overdue holiday in April, a first since June 2022, it is the conclusion of her new house.

For Rita Salgueiro, so many plans.

Very soon there will be the reopening of the store in Ribatejo with an all-new look. At the end of the year, a surprise that I have delayed for two years and now will finally see the light!

For 2025, something similar but completely different.

Explore more from Rita Salgueiro

Introduction & Curation by Anna Beck, Copyediting by Bridget Kitson
All Photos Courtesy of Rita Salgueiro

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