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FLEMING — Tucked away on West Lake Road in Fleming stands a young interior design studio. Although the building, which was once a grocery store, has been around for decades, only a handful of clients have stepped inside.

When it gets too quiet, Jessica Franklin Benedict throws on a queue of music. "I like it all — as long as it's music, right?" 

Benedict, the founder and principal designer of Sixty55 Design, hopes to kill the silence with a ribbon cutting and an open house of her new studio.  

Before Sixty55 landed at its current spot, operations were running out of Benedict's grandmother's house. Before that, she was unsure of where her career was going. She had recently quit a job and uncertainty was lingering.

"I was sitting on my couch three years ago and I got a call from an old client asking me to do some freelance work," Benedict said. "I got a desk and I opened my business out of my grandma's old sewing studio." 

Benedict decided to honor her grandmother by naming the company after her house number. The former grocery store lies just down the road from where she used to lived. 

Her grandmother was Benedict's biggest fan. Whenever Benedict had a sports game in high school, her grandmother would show up decked-out in Jessica's gear. 

"She was awesome," Benedict said. "She also drove us with an iron fist. We didn't call her grandma, we called her Sarge. She pushed us, but out of love."

Benedict's grandmother passed away about a year after Sixty55's launch. 

In Sixty55's early days, Benedict worked a third of the time while the rest was spent creating a brand, a business plan and a message — all from scratch. After two years, Benedict took a step back to evaluate herself.

"Here I am," she said. "Let's do it. I'm here to stay."

She needed some help though. Benedict reached out to Onondaga Community College in search of an intern. Benedict, who began her interior design degree at OCC, had been more than satisfied with the school's program and knew a great candidate would be recommended. After examining an "impressive" portfolio, Benedict hired Ching-Hui Wang. A quick six months later, Wang would become a junior designer. 

Becoming an interior designer wasn't a quick click for Benedict. Although she grew up building things and asking for power tools for Christmas, interior design was a non-traditional path for girls at the time. She swung and missed at cosmetology and ultimately left high school with intentions of studying psychology.  

"I got very bored," Benedict said. "Then one day I was reading a book and it said 'If bridges amaze you, maybe you like architecture.'" 

Realizing that she did in fact love bridges, Benedict later enrolled at OCC. The rigorous interior design program would spare about half of her starting class by graduation time. 

Because Benedict is Sixty55's owner, the business is certified under the Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) campaign. This means that a lot of Sixty55's work is state-funded.

In short, the state and federal governments issue money to MWBE companies via contract. With a MWBE certification, a business becomes more visible to contractors seeking to purchase goods and services.

After committing to a project, Sixty55 uses 3-D software to take clients on virtual tours of space potential. Depending on the space and the client, the company determines the product quality they want to work with. A color story, or a color palette with references is then constructed. 

Like an actor researching for a role, Sixty55 embeds itself into a space to watch every employee and any visitor that might stop by. Benedict said that doing so creates an opportunity to study a space's everyday atmosphere. Observing a behind-the-scenes environment helps Sixty55 better understand a client's identity.

Of course, Sixty55 does all of this while keeping budgets in mind. 

"We're not going to come in and use all your money," said Benedict. "We always want to beat your budget, and if you don't have one, we'll establish one. You can really do a lot with a little."

Sixty55 is looking to make some noise while building on its Auburn presence. 

A ribbon cutting featuring the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce is slated for 3 p.m. Dec. 10 with an open house from 2 to 7 p.m. 

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Staff writer Dan Orzechowski can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or Follow him on Twitter @OrzechowskiDan


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