December 17, 2018

Designer Q & A: Lauren Liess

Most of you who read this blog will also already be following Lauren Liess and probably have her book stacked right next to mine (hopefully). :)  And hopefully you’ve also watched her new show in HGTV, Best House on the Block!  No doubt, she and her husband are poised to become the next Chip and Joanna.  But beyond her insane talent and endless energy (how she does all this with 5 kids is BEYOND my comprehension), she is one of the kindest souls in this business.  Although we have yet to meet in person, we’ve become internet friends, and hopefully we’ll cross paths someday soon (perhaps on our next book tours?!)  I am delighted to feature her today in our new Designer Q&A Series! So here we go!

Q: How did you get started in the Interior Design business?

A: When I graduated from college and started decorating my first apartment, I realized how much better I liked decorating than my ‘real’ job.  I decided I wanted to be a designer, so I enrolled in a distance-learning interior design program and began staging homes, and eventually opened up my own firm.  Soon after that, I started a blog, which really propelled my business forward, leading to so many amazing opportunities & friendships.

Q: Any advice for those who are looking to start their own Interior Design business?

A: It’s insanely rewarding but nothing will be handed to you and you might be broke for a while. Have extreme confidence in yourself and really believe that you can do it. And be scrappy. There’s no glamour in it. Seriously. (Or at least I haven’t found it yet ;) Sure, maybe you’ll go to fun cocktail parties and meet glamorous people, and maybe even design glamorous spaces, but the job itself is work. I joke that there’s no “lunching” in decorating. I’ve always wanted to be someone who “does lunch” but in order to keep my business running to the max, I can’t be. Getting a business going takes a lot of late nights & weekends. It’s so different from going to work somewhere else and it consumes you.


*Have your work professionally photographed. When I first started out, I took photos of my work and put them on my website. And no one called me. :( I visited successful designers’ websites and compared mine to theirs and saw that they all had professional photography and of course, mine didn’t. I saved up and hired a photographer and almost immediately after loading the professional pictures of the same projects, I started getting calls. I don’t do advertising but I do put a considerable amount of time and money into having some of my work professionally photographed.

*Remember you’ll be a business owner first and foremost. There’s not as much actual designing in design as you might think. Running a business and keeping clients happy, working with manufacturers, handling paperwork and details takes more time than actual designing. Hiring other people to help you with some of the other tasks is helpful and I’ve been able to squirrel away more design time by doing this, but finding enough time to actually do your work is a constant challenge.

*While insanely satisfying, decorating is all about other people. It’s about making your clients’ happiness the top priority. You have to love meeting people and bonding and getting close with people. I don’t think egos work in this business. At least I can’t imagine the process being enjoyable with a big ego in the mix. You have to walk the line between asserting your opinion and style while making sure you’re being respectful and meeting your clients’ true needs and wishes.

Q: What would your dream project be?

A: I’m dying to get my hands on a crumbling, decaying turn-of-the-century something.  Grey Gardens-esque, I love when plants and vines have attacked a house and it’s almost being eaten by the land around it.  I always dream about fixing something like that up.

Q: Tell us about your favorite project to date – this could be about a project that went wrong throughout but turned out perfect, a particularly fun/trusting client, a personal project, etc.

A: One of my favorite projects to date has to be the mountain house I did for my cousin and our family. It’s just outside of Asheville, NC and, because it was for family and it was unpaid, my one stipulation was that –other than sticking to the budget- I got to do whatever I want.  There were things my cousin was really not on board with that I did, but I knew that once he saw it all pulled together, he would love it. (and he did)  It was like all of the fun parts of a project- designing and – creating – without the paperwork and formal presentations.  The house was originally built in the 70s and I loved its bones and views but it was super dark and outdated when we first got our hands on it.  I focused on lightening it up and filling it with natural materials and elements….

The house is surrounded by the prettiest stone walls.  I love this old Greek key iron gate.

The dining room opens to the great room and the same stone from the stone walls continues throughout the house in the fireplaces.

I used strong, simple furnishings that could take a beating as there’s so much indoor-outdoor traffic in the house. I brought in a lot of vintage pieces to add patina, like the coffee table and lamps, and hung a collection of photography featuring prominent historical figures from the Frontier days.

I kept the kitchen simple and rustic, with painted and glazed cabinets, butcher block island, and 16″ high seamless backsplash.

We had trouble sanding down the dark beams so I had these ones faux painted to look lighter.  I kept the floors bare in the bedrooms for a raw, natural vibe and went with simple wool blankets by Faribault.

The wildflowers that grow all over the mountainside are amazing and we’re constantly picking flowers and putting them around.  The bedding is by Les Indiennes and the vintage lamp is made from cork.

7) The bathrooms are simple and spare, with 4×4 slate tile floors in running bond, a favorite of mine.

Thanks Lauren for your great advice and tips!  What are other things you want to know from designers? Leave a comment with specific questions and any suggestions for other people you would like to hear from!

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