Our Designer Spotlight Series is back this week with the fabulous Erin Klawiter, home decor and furnishings trend expert and design consultant at Perfect Staging. Read on to find out how she got started in the business (before the internet age!), her top two tips for designing a living room, what she considers the most important room when it comes to home staging, and more!
1. How did you get started in the business?
Well, many years ago, there was no social media or web based marketing so I got my business started by knocking on neighbors doors and asking them if they’d like a free room makeover using everything they already owned. I’d take before and after pictures, put them in a sad little binder and carried that thing around to anyone who would look at it; friends, businesses, restaurants, offices. I knew I wanted to work for myself and not a firm so I was determined to hustle!
2. Tell us about your first design job.
In the 80’s, I was 18, living in NYC and rearranged a penthouse living room of a producer while I was babysitting her kids. Looking back, that was pretty ballsy but I was young and eager! She loved it and referred me to some of her friends. She was probably just being nice but that’s how it started…me with my sad little binder and my before and after pics. I love how blind I was to how it should be done but that’s youth moxie for you!
3. Where do you find your inspiration?
Most of my clients don’t want over the top interiors. They are busy families with kids so while they want a pretty space, they are also realistic and on a budget. Social media like Instagram gives me a lot of inspiration. The people I follow are, for the most part, not interior designers and have created beautiful spaces that are livable. Sites like ihomeregistry and Pinterest are also a great resource for me. I love (or am a little obsessed with) looking at real houses online and seeing how people infuse their style into their homes.
4. If you could design a home for anyone in the world, who would it be?
I could say someone famous but the truth is, I would probably design a home for myself! The old saying “the cobbler has no shoes” rings true. You spend your days transforming other people’s homes and the last thing I want to do is spend my free time doing my own home. I’d rather spend it with my family. Or eating out. Or traveling. (Haha!)
5. How have you distinguished yourself in such a rapidly growing industry?
I’ve been doing this for a very long time and have learned that anyone can hire a designer or decorator and there are many to chose from. Your personality and ability to relate to people separates you. Designing a space is an intimate process. They are putting all of their trust into you and I don’t know about you, but for me, genuinely liking someone and feeling comfortable with that person is key to trusting them. There is a lot of hand holding during the process and a lot of personal interaction so making them feel relaxed and comfortable during that time is vital. Friendships and loyalty are formed and when someone feels loyal to you, they will most definitely refer you. Another added benefit to this is that lifelong friendships have been made. It’s a win-win, really.
6. What are the top two keys for designing a living room?
Contrast and scale, without a doubt. What gives a room that cohesive look is contrasting dark with light, matte finishes with reflective qualities and smooth with texture. Scale is just as important. Every room needs a big statement piece, whether it’s a mantle, coffee table or a sofa. A room full of pieces that are all oversized or all small rarely works, in my opinion.
7. What is the most important room when it comes to home staging?
I’d have to say the room you use the most! For my clients, it’s important that the room they use the most should be the room they’re most proud of and feel that sense of peace in. This could be the family room, dining room or kitchen. If a client is all about wanting to impress, the foyer is the first impression people have of your home so giving it the “wow” factor with beautiful lighting, entry table, art or mirror, and an awesome chair are all elements that pack a visual punch.
8. What advice do you have for the younger you or for a new designer trying to break into the industry?Connect with as many people in the business as possible! With social media, today it is much easier to do that. If you’re wanting to work for a firm, reach out to them and see if there are any internships or jobs. Most people starting off don’t have a portfolio. Ask friends and family if you could re-arrange their furniture, accessories and wall art for them for free and take quality before and after pictures. Firms will be impressed with this effort. If you want to work for yourself, do the same! Can’t stress enough how important quality photos are. You don’t have to have a professional camera. There are a lot of good photo editing apps for smart phones. Crisp pictures look a lot more professional than dark and fuzzy pictures! Design is far more than buying pretty things. You have to understand the elements of design so be obsessed with studying designer’s work. Notice how they use color, scale, photography angles, etc. There is a science to designing a good room. Learn it and treat learning it as the job before the job.
9. Who is your design role model and why?There are so many! I love all styles so it’s hard to pick just one. And some of my favorite interiors aren’t done by designers, just regular people who know how to make a room look good and have their own unique style. A few of my favorite professional designers are Suzanne Kasler, who is so good at executing all styles but all of her designs have the element of livable beauty. I love the classic but restrained work of Darryl Carter. He is the master of contrast, which is something I just love to see in a room. I’ve recently discovered Olivia O’Brian, 2 women who do bright crisp and timeless design so very well!
10. What does the future hold for the design/decorative arts business?
I think due to social media and the huge popularity of people sharing their own home interiors, projects and design, I think there is a lot of opportunity these days to get into the decorating business without the formal training. I know plenty of talented people with a lot of decorating clients who have zero formal training. People are following them on social media and are hiring them. I, personally, think it’s great! I also see companies relying on these social media presences, these non trained individuals, to help them boost their brand recognition. Just look at big home decor companies and their social media. They’re sharing pictures posted by every day normal people far more than designers.