For Martha and Amanda Slone, running a thriving interior decorating firm is all in the family.

Three years ago, this mother-daughter tandem selected the Interior Decorating Certificate Program offered through the Office of Community and Professional Education at SCS "as a bonding opportunity," according to Amanda, the daughter half of the team.

A few years back, Martha had put her physical therapy career on hold to tend the home fires, but as an empty nester she was exploring other options. Amanda was in the midst of her undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia when she chose to accompany her mother to the decorating classes.

"We wanted something we could do together, in person, rather than online," Amanda explains. "We were looking for something fun and engaging, without a focus on grades. This choice turned out to be perfect – I began looking forward to each class, even though it was more than an hour's drive each way for me from Charlottesville."

Her mother Martha agrees. "After we started taking those first few classes just for fun, it really clicked with us," she says. "We had already decorated our own houses and apartments and enjoyed working on decorating class projects together. Starting Breathe Easy Décor seemed the next logical step."

Armed with the enthusiastic encouragement of program instructor Marilyn Mills Creech, the Slones began doing consultations for friends even before they had completed the program. "Marilyn taught almost all our classes, and she was an inspiration," Martha remarks. "She's super positive, super supportive, and she had no doubt that we would be successful. She was also very intrigued and excited by the eco-friendly niche we were pursuing."

Amanda, who designed the business's Web site, adds, "I have a technological bent, particularly working with 3D program models, and Marilyn was always willing to take a look at my latest discovery and happy to share it with the other students."

Both the Slones consider the coursework they studied to be instrumental to their success. Amanda cites the color theory and furniture arranging classes as being the most advantageous when meeting new clients. "The training allows us to size up a room immediately and make suggestions right off the bat," she elaborates.

Martha takes a more practical tack. "I found the business classes invaluable," she admits. "They aren’t the fun stuff, but they are absolutely necessary!"

While Breathe Easy offers expertise in the burgeoning "going green" movement, the Slones point out that they are full-service interior decorators with eco-friendly options, not an eco-only firm. "We also emphasize that you can be 'eco' by reusing and repurposing what you already have," says Amanda. "We focus on integrating existing furnishings into the whole," elaborates Martha.

They have found that many clients are interested in being environmentally friendly but need help in achieving that goal. "Of course, we do tons of research on eco trends, constantly learning about new products on the market," Martha continues. "But we don't limit ourselves," Amanda concludes for her. "We also give options to those just looking for basic decorating."

That seems to be a theme for this family: what one partner starts, the other is able to finish. Amanda clarifies, "We've found that we have very distinct styles and strengths, but we always manage to come together." Martha goes on, "We pride ourselves on listening to our clients and responding to their needs and wants. We have complementary skills, so we reach common ground and respect each other's strengths."

This equilibrium is a crucial part of their approach. "It's a delicate balance when your partner is your mother. But she truly is my best friend," confides Amanda. "We do make an effort to keep the halves of our lives separate – we make time for lunch as just lunch, with no work allowed."

And the daily variety helps. The mother/daughter team does not limit projects only to residential work: they have just completed a makeover for the Richmond Animal League, a no-kill shelter in Chesterfield County.

They firmly believe in the importance of helping the community and local businesses in any way possible. "Each of our jobs has been totally different, which keeps it fun and interesting – never the same-old, same-old," says Martha. Amanda sums up, "We share the duties and we always have fun. It's always a new experience."

Having taken the risk to strike out on their own, both the Slones are eager to offer advice to those mulling over a new direction. "This was a huge shift from my previous career, but taking that first decorating class was a real 'aha' moment for us," Martha says. "I would advise that whatever you do, put a spin on it to make it uniquely yours and stand out from the crowd."

Amanda agrees, adding, "Loving what you do is a huge part of being successful at a given career. It's all about finding your passion and what better way than a career that helps people to love coming home?"