Accomplished Del Mar interior architect/designer to open home décor store

By Kathy Day

Molly Proul knows what it’s like to change jobs. Each time that she’s made a change, she’s taken what she learned and applied the lessons to the next position.

Now the Del Mar interior architect/designer, wife, mother and Del Mar Heights Elementary School PTA president is about to put another notch in her belt. Having opened MMP Design Solutions and getting it on the road to success, she’s now preparing to open a home décor store at 1228 Camino del Mar in Del Mar. Set for a spring opening, MMP Home will feature accessories of all types, as well as its own furniture line that will be made in San Diego.

While owning a full-service design firm specializing in interior and exterior design was her ultimate career goal, it took a few steps along the way to get there.

“As a woman, there really is a glass ceiling,” Proul said. “You can’t just go to work. You have to be a good wife, a good mother, part of the school and keep your health.”

She’s done all of the above, including faced down post-partum depression and her husband’s brain surgery this past August.

“Life hits you,” she said. “It’s how you deal with life and it’s challenges. Don’t give up. Surround yourself with intelligent people with integrity.”

A native of Newport Beach, she grew up on the water, sailing and teaching the sport she and her husband Eric still enjoy. The couple knew each other “as little kids … we didn’t like each other,” she said. But when she went to work for him at Balboa Yacht Club, they fell in love, spending their first date on a boat in the summer’s weekly Beer Can race series. It ended with a kiss; on New Year’s Eve they celebrated their 19th anniversary.

They attended the University of Southern California, where she studied photography and film. She dropped out after they married, and he graduated in electrical engineering.

“My dad was a lawyer and I thought he should be a lawyer, so I signed him up for the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test),” Proul said with a chuckle. He was accepted to the University of San Diego School of Law.

Meanwhile, she tried to figure out what she wanted to do, eventually settling in as a teacher’s aide at La Jolla Elementary School. But to get that job she had to be a student, so she enrolled in meteorology and interior design/architecture classes at Mesa College.

“I got a ‘D’ in meteorology and an ‘A-plus’ in the design class,” she said, adding that her teacher encouraged her to get an internship.

With Ross Theile’s studio near the elementary school, she mustered up her courage and asked for a spot.

“Elizabeth Theile hired me and taught me,” she said. “Mr. Theile told me, ‘Don’t call a couch a couch. It’s a sofa. And things are not cheap – they are inexpensive. … They are beautiful, classy people with amazing taste.”

That experience set Proul on course to the Design Institute of San Diego, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Her first job as a designer was at BKM OfficeWorks where she gained experience in space planning and commercial projects.

When her husband took a job with a Laguna Beach law firm, they moved back to Newport Beach and she went to work for one of the largest residential, model home design firms in Southern California, doing everything from selecting paint colors and furnishings to overseeing installation of entire model homes.

And then came a call from a Taco Bell executive that would take her into a new world.

“I was so shocked,” she said. “Why would they want me, but I knew it was an opportunity to work in corporate America so I took it.”

The job entailed figuring out how the fast foot establishment’s kitchens function, improving efficiency and even designing equipment.

“I even worked in the restaurants to learn how the food is built and what utensils they used.”

But then another move to San Francisco brought another shift of gears — this time to Gap, Inc., and the world of retail. She worked with its international team, creating stores around the world. When the downturn of the ‘90s came and layoffs began, they moved her first to the domestic unit and then when they laid off the entire architectural/design staff, somehow she survived, she said.

They moved her to the marketing department where she learned about copywriting and graphic design.

“It was a fascinating experience … I knew at the end of the day I wanted to own my own business and that I needed to get back to design.”

She eventually left Gap to have her baby – who’s now 8. Before long, she got back to business, working from her home. Among the jobs she logged were interiors for a 365-room hotel, as well as tasting rooms and other spaces for several winery owners.

And then came another one of those calls out of the blue, this time from a headhunter for Jack in the Box. She had just interviewed with Albertsons, but wasn’t inclined to relocate to Idaho for the job.

“At the time I was at a point with my business that I either had to close it or move out and hire people,” she said.

After two interviews with Jack in the Box – which had been the subject of many conversations when she was at Taco Bell — and lots of reflection, she took the job with Jack in the Box as director of the architecture, engineering and design department. She and their daughter moved back to San Diego for the job, while Eric commuted until he landed a job here; he’s now in-house counsel for Websense.

For those who remember the rollout of the redesigned Jack logo and the stores’ new look, Proul played an integral part not just in overseeing the changeover but in its actual creation.

But in 2009, she left the company and took time to regroup, she said. “Our daughter was in kindergarten and it was time to get in touch with my priorities.”

Then in 2010, a Realtor friend needed help with staging a home.

“I took that first check for $125 and opened a business account and decided I’m getting back in business.”

When she created MMP Design Solutions, she said she knew she eventually wanted to be part of Jack in the Box again and to work on restaurants and hotels. But she kicked off the business in the residential arena, developing a sort of niche helping clients who were divorced and moving into condos set up their new environments.

“They needed everything from plates and bedding to furniture and paint,” she said.

Then, through LinkedIn, she reconnected with Jack in the Box, first working on a project for a franchisee. But the franchise fell through and the store went back to corporate control. Soon after she was invited by corporate officials to attend a meeting with franchisees and was welcomed back into the fold.

Today her business reflects her attitude that if you “do something you enjoy and something that my daughter and husband can be proud of” you will succeed.

MMP Design Solutions, a licensed architecture, engineering, interior design, project management and construction firm, is growing, with clients ranging from supermarkets to strip malls and a new hotel. She is seeking clients through the north and southwest, including Alaska, Hawaii and Texas, she said.

Proul is hiring people who bring special skills to the mix. Her employees include two wounded warriors, moms she knows from PTA who want to work but also want a flexible schedule that enables them to pick up and drop off their children at school, and an architect.

“I like that I’ve helped people who were unemployed,” she said, adding that she will hire more as the business grows and as she opens MMP Home.

Noting that there are no home décor stores in the Del Mar Village, she said she sees a need for “retail that is tangible, not high end. We want to be accessible and inspiring.”

The store will also offer design services, she added.

“I love the fact that we can find you a light fixture or we can find you a lot to build on,” Proul said.

Learn more about Molly M. Proul, Associate AIA, Allied member ASID, IIDA

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