January 27, 2020

Designer Q&A: Colleen Simonds

I met Colleen Simonds when asking for family-style design submissions for my most recent book. When I saw these images of her NYC loft (following, interspersed with the interview) I almost died- I could not believe they had not been published before! Colleen is such a talent, and such a nice, lovely person to boot- and has an interesting story too (she used to work at J. Crew HQ before starting a second career in design). I thought she would be a great person to interview for my Designer Q&A series- so here we go!

Q. How did you get started in the Interior Design business?
A. I worked in fashion and merchandising for 12 years – my last job was at J Crew HQ in NYC. I was ready for a change for many reasons and left to do the Interior Design program at Parsons (The New School) – a program for people sort of in their second careers. By some miracle I got a great first client, and then a few more via word of mouth. This time coincided with the birth of my first son (and then second) so I’ve been working part time since they were born….now that my youngest is in Kindergarten I’m ramping up. And we moved to Pittsburgh, PA, where my husband and I are both from, almost 3 years ago – so I’ve had to set up shop here, though I’ve still had a project or two in NYC.

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

  1. I might say to work for someone else first – I didn’t, and I think it’s made things difficult. I have zero trouble with the creative side of the business but there is SO much more to it than that, and those things aren’t necessarily intuitive, even for a person with a business background like I have.
  2. Know what differentiates you and be very clear about it. There is just so much out there in the world, and especially with IG – everyone feels inundated with imagery and just STUFF – I hesitated even starting my account because I hate to just add to all the noise. So I try to stay very pointed in my feed and show a very focused point of view. You are ultimately an editor as an interior designer – so keep the edit sharp and have a distinct voice and reason for being.
  3. Understand that this is a client service business! My prior life was in a corporate ‘desk job’ and that’s very different. Dealing with clients and personalities and many different trades people is a whole other thing….so make sure you’re up for it!
  4. To the last point, I do think that this industry is changing a lot and is in major flux, so there are ways to do things differently and you may not have to follow the ‘old’ playbook in terms of how to run your business. Every designer seems to run their business a little bit differently so there’s no one ‘right’ way – I’m working on figuring out how I do things to feel fulfilled creatively, financially, and otherwise. Work in progress!

Q. What would your dream project be?
A. High end house renovations/flipping where I can be the client! Or anything with a lot of creative latitude and nice, open minded clients who like color :)

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. My biggest project to date has been our own house renovation in Pittsburgh when we moved here – a 2 year thing. That’s being featured in an upcoming magazine so I can’t share those pics just yet! The photos [at the end of the Q&A] are from a project for a young family with 2 daughters who were also new to town. They bought a large city townhouse, new construction, that’s very modern and clean and kind of a blank white box – it needed a lot of warming up. They started with pretty much nothing so it was basically a blank slate – which I love. The project went very well since they were trusting and open to my ideas, made decisions quickly, and fun to work with! It also really helps when clients are on your same page style-wise, which these were – that’s why they hired me! I think we’re all very happy with the end result.

Q. Favorite fabric patterns?

Hmmmm…..depends what I need it for but I generally like multicolored patterns to give me a lot to pull from – and animal prints – and for solids I love cozy textures – I always use tons of Rogers & Goffigon. And performance velvets for sofas.

Wallpaper patterns?

I am a HUGE wallpaper fan and couldn’t possibly choose just one! But I always love anything with birds/trees/nature and movement – and clear, beautiful colors. And grasscloth, can’t get enough. More is more with wallpaper! I never do accent walls.

Paint colors?

I use Farrow & Ball and Benjamin Moore. Probably any shade of blue. I’m definitely a ‘cool’ color person vs ‘warm’ – I love blues, greens, lavenders, whites, black – I’m not an orange/red/yellow fan so much, at least in paint colors. And I love painted trim, and high gloss walls and doors.

Q. What do you think are the most important pieces/things to invest in when decorating your home?

A. Every room needs a balance of things – color, pattern, styles, high and low price points. So – if I splurged on an amazing wall covering, for example, that might be the investment – and I could be more conservative on the furniture. Or a really amazing expensive rug could be the investment. I do prefer to buy well made sofas that last vs something cheap from a big box retailer. Side tables, even coffee tables – those might be things you save on. Great art that you love will make all the difference in your house, too. I also love to reupholster old pieces – invest in some new amazing fabric and the labor and get a one of a kind piece.

Q. What are your favorite places to shop for the home? Vintage/ antiques? Retail? Trade showrooms?

A. Wallpaper – I will look everywhere, high and low. Farrow & Ball, Walnut Wallpaper, Rebel Walls for some fun, and all the trade showrooms – Phillip Jeffries, Quadrille, Schumacher. And I love to use smaller trade showrooms like Temple Studio, Supply Showroom, Studio Four – for lesser known lines. Stark Carpet too.

B. Retail – Blu Dot, CB2, John Robshaw, Well Made Home for pillows, Biscuit for bedding, Annie Selke for rugs, Room and Board.

C. 1st Dibs and Chairish! Chairloom for one of a kind vintage pieces I can redo. The CEH.

D. Everywhere! I am a huge shopper!! No stone left unturned :)

I’m excited to share some never-before-seen work of Colleen’s! This is the modern townhouse in Pittsburgh that was in desperate need of warming up (that Colleen mentioned above) – and with all the amazing color used here, I’d say they were successful in adding just that!

Dining Table: Room & Board

Dining Room BEFORE:

Wallpaper: Schumacher Chiang Mai Dragon // Paint Color: Farrow & Ball Incardine

Lamps: Target

Bookcase: PB Kids

Bed: Serena & Lily 

Desk: West Elm

Master Bedroom BEFORE:

Proof that just because your home is new construction doesn’t mean it doesn’t need the same amount of design attention that older homes do!

All images by Emily Gilbert.

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