Nina Freudenberger is the epitome of cool. She is effortlessly chic, incredibly talented, and an entrepreneur that we deeply admire. If you don’t already know Nina, you’ve come to the right place, because she’s telling us all about her entrepreneurial journey that’s taken this New Yorker to the Malibu coast. Nina is the founder of Haus Interior, author of one of our favorite books Surf Shack: Laid-Back Living by the Water, and she’s currently working on her second book and a furniture line that are both debuting this Fall. Not to mention, she’s a mama, wife, and we 100% want to be her bff.
This series has quickly become one of our favorites on the site, because everyone who joins us gets down to the nitty gritty details of running a business. So you can bet that Nina gets into all of it below. We dive into the realities of running a design business, and why some things work and others just don’t. She’s ventured into brick-and-mortar in her past life with a small decor shop on Elizabeth Street in New York City, and while it had an incredible eight year run, she made the decision to put her energy into so many other incredible ventures. Without further ado, take a seat with this woman who we so admire, and take her advice to heart because she’s done it all (and all really, really well). It’s the good stuff. Enjoy!
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey. Start from the very beginning! Did you always know you wanted to be an interior designer?
I actually thought I wanted to be an architect! I know, it feels similar but the professions are totally different. I went to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for their five year B.Arch/BFA program which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. After I graduated, I moved to NYC to work at an architecture firm, but quickly got pulled into their interiors department. I loved what I was doing. I preferred the fast paced process (compared to architecture), the freedom to design, and the personal relationships we formed with clients. It felt like I had found my calling.
After working for a few years there, I moved on and opened my own studio, which meant I took small projects, bad projects, everything in-between — just to get going and keep it going. It was an exhausting few years, but Iooking back, I learned so much and I was totally fulfilled because I was doing it for myself. After about three years, I opened Haus Interior the store, a small décor shop on Elizabeth street in NYC (Nolita) which stayed open for eight years. I focused the shop on affordable home décor as an alternative to West Elm or CB2. It was actually right when Etsy started and I worked with a lot of the small makers on that platform and brought them into the shop. But at the same time, I was working on private residential design, and creating and expanding a candle line. I loved the diversity of things I was working on. Every single day was different and each was an entirely crazy learning curve – I never even worked in a shop before! I learned fast, and now I feel like I understand sourcing in an entirely different way and how critical relationships are with vendors.
Fast forward to 2013 when I married my husband and moved to California – basically to start all over again! That was absolutely another hurdle, but it actually fueled my next big project, which was a book! I was inspired by the interiors that I saw here in California and the laid-back style (which felt so different from NY) and created Surf Shack: Laid-Back Living by the Water. I continue to do interior design for private clients here on the West coast.
How would you describe your design aesthetic and approach? What makes a Nina Freudenberger home, a Nina Freudenberger home?
I would say that before I finished the book Surf Shack, I had a different approach to design. I was designing in NYC and I think the aesthetic and space constraints were very different then my projects here.
I now aim for an authentic, flexible design in my work, working with natural materials and strong architectural lines. I love modern furniture mixed and layered with special pieces that are vintage. I always do a neutral palette that is accented by thoughtful moments of gentle color or pattern, but nothing overly strong. Although I have a strong personal aesthetic, I am very respectful of the clients inherent style so if there is something they feel strongly about I shift my design to accommodate that. After all, interior design is a service-based industry – and the input from clients make every project different, fun and challenging. I love being put slightly out of my comfort zone and making their dream home come together.
What have been some of the toughest parts of running a retail operation that you don’t think people talk about enough?
When Haus Interior was open, I found the management extremely challenging. Because I wasn’t exclusively doing the shop, (I was also doing private design projects) I had to rely heavily on the people who worked with me. The store is such a “face” to the business so the front displays, the window dressing, the constant styling took an incredible amount of work. Especially in NYC because it is so drawn by foot traffic, the front window was SUCH an important part and it had to be changed every month or so with something that was really fabulous and high-impact. We got super creative, but I also found that finding people that care as much as you do (the owner) and have a similar approach to be able to intuitively do what you would do was really hard to find. Also, finding wholesale vendors that other stores weren’t carrying was hard. It was constantly a deep dive into the creative community to see what was new/fresh and required constant observation, research and thoughtfulness. It was fun but definitely hard at times.
As if being a designer and running a retail operation wasn’t enough, you’re also author of best-selling book Surf Shack (which we love), and a mama. How do you manage work-life balance? Do you think that’s a thing?
NO! Anyone who tells you there is a “balance” is not telling the truth. I also think it’s so unfair to make it seem like the chaos of being a mother and running a business (or just being a working mom) is something you CAN balance and it’s once again put back on us. I think part of being a good mother is to acknowledge that we cannot control everything and to go with the flow. And that means that balance goes out the window! I’ve learned to be very flexible with what my days look like and what my expectations are. I simply can’t work all day, pick up the kids, go to swim class and roast a chicken for the entire family. I just won’t roast the chicken then. :) But really, try to find simple hacks to make your life easier, and that has made me much happier. It turns out I was my own worst critic! And with flexibility – I also mean, if that means working until midnight after the kids go to sleep because you had to do a pediatrician visit, do it! Or don’t. But don’t blame yourself for the days that make you feel like you aren’t getting anything done, because you are, just in different ways and in different aspects of your life. We are all just trying our best.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, either personally or professionally?
Don’t take it personally! Which is so hard for me, as I am such an emotional person and feel so passionate about what I do. But at the end of the day, it is a business, so I have to keep the compartments separated and make sure to protect myself a bit, but also to be as perceptive and considerate as possible.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business?
I really think that successful businesses (in this field) are a direct correlation to the work you put into them. So, work hard. Make sure to get your logistics and “playbook” organized right at the beginning. Hire a bookkeeper or learn the programs (Design Manager, Quickbooks). Introduce yourself to all of your vendors, even if you aren’t ready to place an order, because it’s nice to have that all set up for when you need them. Decide on presentation formats, etc. This will help so much – the minute you get that big project it will be GO TIME and you won’t have time to fuss around.
What’s one daily ritual you swear by?
At the end of my workday, I turn off my cell phone, close my computer for 15 minutes (try to put on some good music) find a spot to sit (not a desk) and write down the to-do list for the next day. I feel much less stressed when I write things down as opposed to having it all float around in my head. This keeps me organized and then I know what is a priority the next day or if there are things I need to finish after the kids go to sleep. Oh and of course that cocktail at the end of the day. :)
What are five things you can’t live without right now?
What’s next for Nina Freudenberger?
So much! I am completing two big projects here in LA which I am so excited about and can’t wait to share. I am being considered for a hotel project, which would just be the coolest. I am finishing up my furniture line which is also debuting in the fall. But in the meantime, I focusing also on my second book coming out, Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books, on October 22nd this fall, and I am so excited to share this topic and hope people feel as inspired as I did when creating it and seeing these remarkable homes. I would love to do another book!