Ladies and gentlemen, if you aren’t familiar with Lauren Liess, this is about to be your lucky day. Lauren is a mother of five, an interior designer, a two-time author (going on three), blogger, and the host of HGTV’s Best House On The Block with her husband. No big deal, right?
If you have five minutes to do anything today, we strongly suggest reading our interview with Lauren. Her story is a true inspiration of starting from the ground up and hustling to get what you want. Lauren’s success didn’t come overnight, though, and you can bet that she had to learn a hard lesson or two along the way. What we’ll tell you upfront is that this powerhouse is no where near settling with what she’s already built. Her list of what’s to come is so impressive, that you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on Lauren Liess over the next few months. Take a seat, get to know Lauren, and drool over her incredible design work!
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey and how you got your start as an interior designer.
I graduated from college with a major in communication and ran the PR for our family business, a manufacturer of locomotive components. I loved going to thrift stores to decorate my apartment and was constantly painting and repainting my place (my roommate was super sweet and patient with me ;) As I was sitting in a railroad conference one day, I found myself doodling elevations of my apartment and what I wanted to do with it and I realized that I was way more into decorating than I was my job. I decided I would open my own design business one day, enrolled in a distance-learning program, and began staging houses.
I got married at 23 and we bought a townhouse and I finished up with my schooling and began working for a designer in the area. Then I had a baby at 25 (waaaaay earlier than we’d every planned on) and we realized our sweet little townhome (that was rapidly dropping in value) wasn’t going to work for us for much longer. We’d bought at the top of the housing bubble and sold it on the way down, losing our entire down payment and then some, so we moved into my parents’ basement with our then-one-year-old. My husband was an English teacher at the time, and I now had a few design clients, so his schedule, and living with my parents, afforded me some much-needed help with babysitting so I could meet with clients. I was feeling pretty down about having failed so badly with our house and having to live in my parents’ basement and then I discovered these things called “blogs.”
I realized that there was this whole network of people and designers out there connecting and writing. I started my own, calling it “Pure Style Home,” sharing bits of my clients’ projects and writing about design-related things. All I thought about was home ownership at the time and we pretty much just saved everything we could so we could afford to move out again. Many of the bloggers, designers, and readers I followed were sharing photos of their beautiful homes and I was so embarrassed of my basement. I realized I was seriously down about my situation and felt like I was hiding it, and one day just decided to share it with these women I had connected with over the Internet. The emotional hug I felt from these people I’d never even met was overwhelming. They gave me so much encouragement and showed so much kindness, which gave me strength to push even harder towards my goals.
Ten years later, I’ve met so many of them in “real life” and am so truly grateful for their friendship over the years. We joke about how bloggers and blog readers love to stroke each others’ egos, etc. but I attribute most of what I’ve done in my career to blogging and the kindness and support other bloggers and readers have given to me over the years. As my blog got out there, magazine editors began reaching out asking to feature the projects I was sharing on the blog and as more stories came out, my design business grew. My husband eventually came to work with me and we’ve moved into new houses and had babies every couple of years for the past ten or so years, using the designs and photos of our personal houses to attract like-minded clients. Now, we’re branching into other avenues of business that are related to the home and what we love, but that give me the chance to explore and push myself a bit more creatively.
You and your husband, David, co-run the design firm. What’s it like working closely with your husband? Ours is similar-ish around here at Amber Interiors!
It’s been amazing… Everything feels more manageable knowing we’re doing it together. My name is on the door but it’s truly both of us behind everything we’re doing. David and I try to divide and conquer when it comes to work and we’re both in our own areas of the businesses and then we’re kind of sickeningly together all the time during our off time. ;) Recently, though, we’ve decided to put more of our focus on the kids and so he has our two youngest (who are 1 and 3) most days and is doing a lot at night and during nap times instead of working a typical full-time schedule. We’re making a concerted effort to be with the kids as much as possible during this stage of our lives. We filmed our TV show last year and felt a pull to refocus on the family a bit.
You’ve mentioned that you have a relaxed attitude when it comes to notions of “perfection.” How is this philosophy applied to your design approach?
I’ve realized that I’m not happy when I’m trying to achieve “perfection” because it’s not a truly attainable goal. (at least for me it’s not ;) I’m able to do so much more and take action when I give something “my best,” knowing it might not be perfect but that I can always go back and refine it later if needed. It’s a more relaxing and forgiving way to go through life and it keeps me happier. I like for design to feel the same way… relaxed and living and imperfect. Rooms that feel like they’ve evolved over time and have “something off” in them feel more interesting to me than perfectly done spaces. Quirky, meaningful pieces that technically shouldn’t “work” but do excite me over “beautiful” any day. I like to have fun and enjoy life and the people around me and I try to design for real living where there isn’t a place for “perfect.”
What’s been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Trying to achieve a good work-family-life balance… For so long I thought of balance as something I could “find, “reach,” or “achieve,” and just like notions of perfection — for me — it’s not real or attainable either. Balancing is an act that takes constant thought, tweaking and effort to go after, but you never get to just sit and rest having “figured it out.” As business and family life shift and change, there are constant adjustments and nothing stays static for very long. I may have worked out a certain period of life or work but then a new opportunity presents itself, attempting to send us on monkey tilt again … so we readjust, make new solutions as best we can, trying to achieve balance.
What words of wisdom would you give to someone just getting started in design?
Do you. Of course get inspired by everyone around you and learn how to do it “right,” but if you want to stand out, you have to do your own thing and break with what’s already being done. And try to be kind. I always remember the people who have been particularly nice to me in the industry (thank you, Amber!!) and am so thankful for it. Even if you’re just starting out, you have the power to make or break someone’s day. We’re all better when we support and lift each other up.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
“Keep it simple.” There are so many things I want to do and businesses I’d like to get started, but that advice (which was from my grandfather) often grounds me and forces me to imagine what life would be like if I did this thing I want so badly to do. I always ask myself if the end result will simplify or complicate life and if complicating it- is it worth it?
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find a lot of my inspiration from nature, or maybe it’s that I feel more inspired when I’m out in nature… I also love visiting and looking at photos of historical properties and love all of the details seen in crumbling old European country homes and in primitive Colonial houses. I love plaster details and primitive, raw-feeling elements often found in photos ancient, abandoned places. I don’t get to travel the way I’ve always wanted to with our kid situation, but hope that we will get to a few years from now. I’m mostly living vicariously through photos online, on Instagram and in books right now.
Aside from being an interior designer, you’re a two-time author, blogger, and have a HGTV show. Not to mention you’re a wife and mama of five. How on earth do you do it all?
We so don’t!! Truly it feels like we’re dropping balls left and right. I’m busy by nature and really have fun dreaming up ideas for work, and David and I — like most everyone in this business for sure!! — really try to attack our deadlines. We also say no to a lot and probably don’t have a proper social life lol. We feel like we’re always flying by the seat of our pants for every holiday / vacation / weekend and don’t have any time to plan our personal life before something has arrived so we’re not big on “events” and special dates and just try to slow down and be together as a family when we do have our off time. We joke “do your best and forget the rest” all the time but it’s really kind of become our mantra.
What are five things you can’t live without right now?
Music, sunshine, my garden, cheese, and hard cider (lol, I hope that’s ok to admit to the Internet!!)
What can we expect next from Lauren Liess & Co?
We’re launching a real estate brokerage, called the Property Collective, this summer. I’ve been really focused on developing product collections this past year and so we have a casegoods furniture collection coming out with Woodbridge Furniture and an upholstery collection coming out with Taylor King Upholstery this fall at High Point Market. The product lines will be available with an online retailer who we are working on an art collection with. I’ve just finished designing a tile collection with Architectural Ceramics that’s being launched this summer, and I’m working on a home collection with a national retailer for release in 2020. I’ve just started a knife company with my dad, called Generations Cutlery, with our first hand-finished collection coming out in early 2020. (Long story, but my family has been sharpening knives in Northern Italy for centuries and my dad used to make them for commercial accounts when I was a kid and I’ve finally convinced him to pick back up with it for retail.) My next book Down to Earth: Laid-back Interiors for Modern Life is coming out in October.