Hi, this is The Interior Collective, a podcast for the business of beautiful living presented by IDCO studio and I'm Anastasia Casey.
Landing dream projects with ample budgets can feel like an absolute uphill battle. As most designers work from a series of referrals, sometimes it's about who you know. Today's guest on The Interior Collective proves that isn't always the case. AD100 Interior designer and co-founder of The Expert, Jake Arnold walks us through his journey to celebrity status and every struggle along the way. A self-admitted work in progress, Jake Arnold advises that persistence is key. Success is one part luck, two parts design. Jake refuses to be looked over. Find inspiration in Jake Arnold's creative process, reuse Jake's strategy for getting noticed and take notes on the countless words of wisdom he shares in this special episode of The Interior Collective.
I had the immense pleasure of chatting with Jake a couple weeks ago at Design Camp LA, where he keynoted. I found Jake to be without a doubt, the most inspiring designer I have ever spoken to. Chills ran up my spine through the entire conversation and today we're digging even deeper. Jake Arnold's candor, humor, humility, and willingness to pay it forward makes him the clear choice this season of The Interior Collective.
Hello, Jake Arnold. I cannot believe that I get to talk to you twice in a matter of weeks–it is a complete pinch me moment! Thank you so much for joining us today.
My God, thank you for having me. It's an absolute pleasure. Thank you.
I had such an amazing time with you at Design Camp in Santa Monica, that I was like, whatever we need to do to make this work, we have got to bring this amazing inspirational conversation to mass audiences everywhere.
Yeah. I mean, tell me about it. That was a whirlwind for me and so much fun. And what you guys do is incredible. I was so inspired by what you do and everyone that you brought together, it's really incredible what you were doing for the design community. So I love to be part of it.
Okay. You're not allowed to make me cry in the first five minutes. So we're gonna go ahead and move on <laugh> but I guess we just have to kick off with saying, wow, it's been a very impressive two-ish plus years in particular. Most recently, congratulations on your freshman debut in the AD100 and an impressive series of funding for the next phase of The Expert alongside your co-founder Leo Seigal. Do you ever stop and take a minute to think about how far you've come after so many late nights and years and years of hustle?
When you put it like that? I think I need to spend longer in reassessing what's happened, 'cause it has been such a whirlwind, but I will say that it's very weird that I do… I definitely am always someone that's thinking about what's next, but I will say that when I'm sometimes alone driving in my car, I do have one of those weird pinch me moments of being able to honestly live every day, doing what I really enjoy and love since I was a kid. So it definitely is a pinch me moment when I do take the time to reflect, 'cause I think it's so important. Someone once said to me that you always need to celebrate the wins. And I definitely do try and make a more conscious effort along the way, but you know what? It's like, we all have to-do lists, so we keep it moving. <laugh>
Absolutely! I'm on a very much smaller scale, but very much relate to that ‘Okay, we check this off, now we're on to the next’. And I personally, sometimes it happened so fast and you would just go past that launch date or that finish line. And then you look back and you're like, wait, that was like an ultimate grand supreme dream at one point and I just acted like it was a Tuesday <laugh> .
We would love to hear how Jake Arnold became The Jake Arnold. Talk us through your formal education, where you interned and how that may have kick started your celebrity infused career.
So I will give you the short of the long of it. I think the saying is, or the long of the short. Essentially, I grew up in London. About 11 years ago now, I first reached out on Twitter to a design firm based in Los Angeles. I asked them if they offered internships because I wanted to get into interior design. Weirdly, I had a Twitter account at the time, and I essentially just searched interior designers. I was looking for a designer in London just to do a summer internship. And then I came across this incredible company that was doing the most amazing clients and homes. And they actually had like a sizzle reel, which basically is for a pilot of a show that they were trying to do. I found it on YouTube and I was like, oh my god, this company is so glamorous and impressive and so different to anything I'd been kind of exposed to. And they responded honestly within like a week. And they were like, we would love have you.
They responded to your tweet?
They responded to my tweet and I was like, okay, I literally tweeted. By the way, I don't even have Twitter now, which is why it's so funny. I said to them, ‘Hey, I would love to come intern for you in the summer. I'm from London. Is that something you do?’ And at the time, just to give it context. I had read the book, The Secret and I had friends all the time being like, ‘you gotta read this book’. I was really depressed at University, so I was like, I'll do anything. I fell in love with this book–which now obviously looking back, it's super cheesy because it's so much deeper than that book–but I will say it fully changed my perspective and outlook. And I really started thinking outside of the box in terms of what my path looked like.
So when I got a response from them on Twitter, I was like, ‘This is amazing! I can't believe I'm going to LA for a month’. I had never been to LA, I didn't know a soul here, honestly, not one person. And I came and it was one of the best experiences to this day. Just being somewhere that's completely new and being 20 years old. Not even knowing what tomorrow looks like was so exciting for me. So I worked with them, they took me under their wing. I then stayed for another month or so. And eventually I went back to London and I was telling everyone that I was moving to LA, even though I didn't have a job offer. They were a small company, they hadn't offered me a job. You have to have a work visa obviously to work in the country, which is no joke.
Every single day when I was working at All Saints in a store, 'cause I was like, I just need to save money and not get a real job. Every day I would say to all the customers,’you're not gonna see me, I'm gonna be in LA in a few months’. And everyone was like, ‘you are delusional’ and like, ‘you're scary’. But I was just so convinced that I was gonna make it happen. And it didn't matter what it took. I was just like, just go for it.
I dunno what it is–I think when you are younger, sometimes you have nothing to lose. That it's almost easier to just be a little more boisterous in your behavior. But I will say that no matter what age, I definitely think the sentiment of really going for what you want and not taking no for an answer and constantly pushing yourself is key. I remember the company that I interned for at the time said to me, ‘had you not been so persistent, we would've ignored it’.
And I did email them every day and I followed up with them all the time. And I think that if you want something to stand out, I think it's just having conviction and being persistent. I don't believe in luck. I believe in being persistent, taking opportunities and running with them. And that space between the two is where the magic happens. And I think that it's really–and it sounds cliche–what you believe is possible for yourself. Even now I didn't realize that what I'm doing to this day is something that I would even possibly be able to dream of. So it definitely does evolve. And I think just being open to what your path is, was how it came to be, where I am today is I just really just let go and was like, whatever I'm meant to be doing, I'm gonna work so hard at whatever comes my way, however much I don't wanna do some of these things.
Because it's really not fun to pursue your passion or a dream of yours. There's barriers to entry because you're constantly battling with one day being on a high then being like, ‘am I doing the right thing? This Isn't working for me’. Having people come in your way, who don't believe in you and you're constantly putting yourself out there. So I really think that to get anywhere in life you have to be willing to accept that it's a rocky road and it's also never done. So when you say, how did you get to The Jake Arnold? Still figuring it out, 'cause it isn't done. <laugh> Do you know what I mean? Like it's just another chapter.
You and I had chatted previously about this concept that one of my biggest mentors taught me was the concept of luck by design. You said you don't really believe in luck and I think that's so true. And you were just such the epitome of an example of that in the sense that you created your own luck because you just were so persistent and we'll get more into your story as we go through. But I think it would be great if you could share a little glimpse at what mini Jake was like growing up.
So I've always been into design and really curious about changing spaces. Like I honestly would go to my friend's houses and I would move around their entire bedrooms. More often than not, I would get sent home and they would call my mom and say that Jake's broken the dresser. I'm so sorry, you need to pick him up. And it became a running joke that every time I would go to a friend's house, their parents would be really excited that I would organize their entire room and space and reimagine it and that's all I would do every time I would hang out with friends. When my parents went out of town, I would move around the house. It's something that I've honestly always loved doing. And even when I was like 12 and we were doing renovations to our house, at the time I was walking around the house with a notebook, doing like a punch list for the contractor. And I was like, why is he not working today? My mom would be like, it's Sunday. Like he doesn't work on the weekend.
So this has always been me as a child, being very creative. But at the same time, I grew up in a very uncreative environment in the sense that I went to school with… Honestly every part of what I enjoyed and was passionate about was not something that was praised or looked upon to be academic or particularly a trajectory of a real career. So I put it to the wayside for years and I went to school and I studied business and economics when I was 18 at university–like the complete opposite of what I do, even though it is really useful to have that background. I think when I lent into really feeling comfortable in my own skin as a person and not having shame around being a designer was really hard for me, especially before I came out when I was 18.
It was something that was such a feminine job. In my head and how I grew up that I had so much shame around leaning into what it meant to be a designer, that I didn't even know it was possible. So I kind didn't even dig deep. There was a pause for me. But then when I came to LA that summer, I really had my world opened up and I was–even to this day, I'm constantly so curious and don't really even pretend otherwise.
I don't have a traditional path and like I would say formal education. So every day I'm learning all the time. I'm obsessed with reading new articles, magazines, books. Traveling as best as possible, even if it's locally where I live. And I think that always having that curiosity, is such a key part of being a designer. Because I think that you are always wanting to understand the history of design, but also where that history can evolve into the future. So as a kid, basically, like it's kind of been in my blood for this class.
I don't necessarily believe in destiny, but it's hard for me to deny that you were always meant to be doing this.
Fast forwarding to today, can you talk us through what the structure of your design firm looks like? How many are on your team, what roles do they take and how involved are you in the design process?
So it's a really good question. I think that, again, the same way with curiosity in terms of design, I'm also always curious as a business owner of how I can constantly evolve and work towards being more efficient and effective at what we do as a studio 'cause at the end of the day, it's a business. And right now how I'm structured is there are 12 of us.
I have a very important key role, which was one of my first hires, which is like a finance and HR director primarily focused on finance. But fortunately, she has amazing background in HR too, which is so important as you grow and just being really cognizant that creating company culture is at the forefront of everything I do. I really want people in the team to feel empowered, inspired, and feel like they have a greater purpose than just doing their everyday job. It's really important to me, and something that I've always wanted to have as a company, that as a place of work becomes almost like an identity for everyone. So that's important.
Then I have a kind of like COO, which is essentially operational. Everything and anything that goes on in the company from the hiring process, onboarding a client all the way through to overseeing project managers and designers is just like such a key critical role. Which I will say was definitely an investment for me, but something that I really have felt the benefit of having. Because in order for me to have the greater vision be the leader essentially, of where this ship is going, having someone who can really be my right hand in that.
And then we have three senior project managers / designers and then three, junior project managers who support. And I basically have teamed them up, so there's two people per project. Those teams typically work on anything between four to five projects at different levels obviously, in terms of scope of work.
So that's really the foundation. Then I have an assistant and we also have an office manager. I will say that where we are now in the structure and having people in teams is really effective. I think that they feel they have the support that they need, which I think is so, so critical in this type of job because I think that there's a supporting role and a leading role and always having that balance is key. I'm definitely in the mindset, always, of looking outside of the traditional hiring process, given obviously the work-from-home element that now we can really hire people from around the country.
So there is a version that I've been thinking about, possibly even hiring a draftsman who isn't based in LA. Who we can work through on zoom, who doesn't necessarily need to be on site or in the office. Those are just ways as a small company–honestly, it's so expensive to run, and if there's ways for you to be able to save and be really smart about how you hire–is that thinking outside the box. And I think the biggest privilege and blessing of COVID is that we now are able to hire in ways that we hadn't even considered before. Because we are still working primarily from home–because people save on commuting, they get to be in their own space, and have a lot of focus.
We make sure we have team meetings every week, but really, the structure is always evolving. I look at my company, always like a startup–you go through those chapters and you're like, ‘oh, we used to do it this way, but now we're doing it this way’. My goal is to essentially run like a corporate company in terms of internal processes.
When it comes to design–that your question in terms of what my involvement is–every single thing that goes out of this office has my eyes on it by the time it's been sent to a client. So that is why it's so key. That I don't want my design studio portion of my business to get to a point where we have too many clients that I can't still have that quality control. So that's really the future–I'm trying to lean more into brand partnerships, products, so that our projects can really feel special and a little more intimate. And I really don't want to expand my design studio head count beyond what it is today.
Okay. A couple follow up questions. A, you said on the design teams, there's the lead designer / project manager because you kind of have them as hybrid roles and then there's a supporting junior on that. Are those people doing ordering procurement?
Or does that fall on your COO?
No, they are. The junior project manager does procurement.
Okay, perfect. Yeah. Thank you for clarifying.
Diversifying revenue is something we talk extensively about at Design Camp and there are obvious channels for interior designers like eCommerce, or product lines, virtual designs. The concept of The Expert just blows my mind because it was such a brilliant jump for you. What made you decide that that was the best step for the Jake Arnold brand when you're considering different streams of revenue?
What's so important to me is I always just think about how do I wanna spend my time and work backwards from that. I think we can all have these lofty goals of what we want to do. And then we end up getting super overwhelmed. I've learned from the past that balance is key. So for me to have balance, my strategy has been to keep client projects to a specific number, do not go over that number. And then the other part of the revenue should be tied to another area that gives me a level of joy and satisfaction, which is product development. And then why I chose to start that discovery–through working and partnering with other larger brands is because they have the resources, the experience, and the team, and resources in general, to execute a vision.
And it's a learning curve too. I'm someone that would rather work with and have a partnership and really get to learn and understand that entire process. And then from there in the future, develop my own brand offering product that we manufacture, ship and have our own in-house customer service. But to start with, I think I wanted to be really realistic with how much time I actually have. And in order for my core business–which is client services–to not suffer, I chose to start the partnership route. And really fortunate that we're in a time that social media–having our own platform so to speak–has allowed us to really have market research and available crowdsourcing in a way, 'cause I'm always able to speak to the audience through doing, like ‘ask me anything’ on stories and things like that. We really have access to our audiences these days.
So I think designers being able to kind of hone in on what that audience wants and how we can really take our design sensibility and experience and turn that into a product that everyone can have a part of the Jake Arnold brand, so to speak. That it's not just about doing four renovation houses for the 1%, but it's also like people having a piece of a story that we really want to expand into a bigger audience.
So I really look at it in the same way as fashion, how a lot of fashion houses in history have had their main kind of like purple label, like a Ralph Lauren who then does polo or whatever it may be. I think that is really part of my business plan. Is to be able to be really a brand that speaks to a larger audience, while we keep the integrity of our private clients and their custom homes. But also at the same time, provide a product or an offering that is at a much more reasonable price point that we can therefore expand our audience, 'cause I'm all about democratization of design and that it should really be available to everyone.
And that doesn't mean that it needs to be DIY HGTV type format. It can actually be something that's really elevated and aspirational, but just really attainable and affordable is so key.
And so that's where the concept of The Expert really came in. I know that you said that it was really born amid the pandemic and realize that for so many designers, a lot of the passion in your project is talking to someone for an hour about a design concept and being able to just be that creative person and problem solve. Talk me through how The Expert really came to fruition as that concept.
Sure. So like a lot of businesses, COVID really made people reevaluate how services specifically within the home could be reimagined because everyone was spending so much time and it kind of was more of a catalyst to how it came to be. Very naturally I was getting so many DMS from people asking to look at their house, asking if I did e-design. And to me it was something that many other designers really don't have a comfort level in given the fact that the history of e-design has been extremely poorly executed for the most part, because it doesn't have a level of elevation, but also expertise. And it's very specific for someone who's never been to someone's home to all of a sudden trust someone where they have no credibility outside of them like booking a session.
So I realized with my business partner, Leo, who really is a genius, honestly. He was like, surely all your other friends and colleagues in this design space are getting the same amount of DMS and requests to do it. So let's just try it. Why not?
So I think we trialed the whole idea and I realized very quickly that within an hour, the amount of information and knowledge that I have, I was able to offload it in such a quick, concise way that I was like, oh, this is actually a lot of value that people can get. And it's essentially really affordable when you look at how much money is being saved and not making massive, costly, expensive mistakes. So it really came about as a natural need and also just again, opening the door to the democratization of design and that wish fulfillment element that people can now have a connection to some of their favorite designers that unless they would've had a retained contract with them, they would've never been able to speak to them. But also at the same time, us as designers only have as much time as we are given with our contracted clients.
So to be able to spread our wings farther as well and have bigger audiences and with people around the world that we would never be able to connect with is also such a fulfilling part of The Expert. It's just like that ability to connect with people around the world. And I even had one this morning and I just love when I get off the call, how much we get through in such a short amount of time and leave people feeling empowered and excited about their project.
So for those who haven't personally participated in an Expert session as either The Expert or as the client, walk us through briefly, what does that process look like?
So I think like anything you get, what you put in. So on the perspective of being a first time customer of The Expert, we really ask a questionnaire to be filled out, given the scope of work, how much you wanna spend, maybe some of your favorite stores. And then a lot of times people will put together PDFs of their inspiration images, layouts of the house, whether they have any floor plans, but mostly it's images and pictures of the existing space. And then a quick blurb about what the priorities are to be throughout the course so that the designer kind of has a focus. And from there we really do a lot of screen sharing throughout the process. We do sourcing, procurement. We talk about finishes, construction, anything honestly from a ground up house where you need to have advice on layout and floor plans all the way through to cabinetry, plumbing, fixtures, materials, furnishings, accessories, lighting–you name it. We cover everything.
So really it doesn't matter what scope of work. I've had people who are building a ground-up house and I've had people who want their shelves to be styled. It really is a full spectrum. And I do wanna add as well–’cause it was something that was brought to my attention when we had the amazing talk at The Proper the other week–is that it's also available for aspiring designers to speak with designers that they look up to, or they want to hear advice or some level of support. I've done a few of those calls, as I know some of the other designers have, and it's also really fulfilling because we want to share our knowledge and experience because it's something that I feel like is such a closed off industry. And it's really hard and scary and overwhelming when you don't have the information because everyone does it differently. So The Expert is for everyone, it's all about inclusivity. And I really love that I get to have that platform to really exercise that part of my passion, which is to have design be for all and not just a certain amount of clients a year.
So I have personally booked four Expert sessions now, always talking about business. So to those listening, to expand on what Jake just said, it has been such a powerful tool when you log onto the website and I'll have everything linked in the show notes for you. But when you log onto the website, you find designers that you really admire. And when you get to their profile page on The Expert, it says what they're willing to talk about or what their expertise is. And a lot of them, an overwhelming majority actually have it outlined that they are happy to talk about business. So it is the best investment you can make in your business.
I spoke with Amber Lewis for an hour and she held nothing back. She talked me through systems and processes and numbers. It was incredible and I would've paid 10 times what I actually paid. So I personally can really vouch on that. But I think that it's a tool that people haven't necessarily started to really think about utilizing to their advantage as a business owner. So I'll link all of it in the show notes for you.
Jake, thank you for creating this incredible platform that we can use to bounce design ideas off of each other, as well as to just learn about leveling up our business.
Definitely. And we're all honestly works in progress. We are all figuring it out. And I think that's why it's so hard for people because there's no one right way of doing it. It's a very personal job in a way and the way that you wanna run your business culturally, I think is a big part of how you make those decisions. Don't think that you are doing it the wrong way because there is no wrong way. And I think that I used to be that way, I'm like, ‘God, I need to figure out X, Y, and Z processes because this person's doing it this way’. And really it doesn't. I don't think it's as black and white, which is what's so great that you could speak to five different designers and they'll all give you different opinions, but that's a good thing. So I don't take it as a confusing thing–take it on as ‘I can really set my company and business to look how I want it to look and not what a typical standard is’.
I found it was really helpful even if someone shared information that I already knew or already had in practice. It was so relieving to be like, ‘Okay, great. This isn't the wrong way that I've been doing it. Someone else is doing it that way too’. It's just an incredible tool and I just want everyone to know that even if you're not listed as an Expert, or if you're on the waiting list, that you can be participating in utilizing this platform in such a powerful way.
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Jake, you have a very distinctive style and look for your projects and your company ever since early on. How did you define that? And how did that play a part in the growth of your company and brand?
Everything for me is always about authenticity and really having integrity. I only have ever done spaces or worked on homes coming from a place of using things that I really love. And from the beginning, I was always, even on Instagram before it was really what it is today, I would always post little snippets and vignettes of spaces. And I think when I moved to LA, everything I would see was so bright and beachy and very typically California, which obviously has its place. But for me, I grew up in London, which is way more layered, cozy, a little more refined to some degree. So I was excited by the prospect of taking elements from London, which I love and then kind of stripping them back and making them feel more appropriate for California living because I don't think it matters where you live.
It's really a mindset to me what California living is. It's a relaxed kind of unpretentious and inviting interiors. And I think being able to create spaces that have high impact, but are also highly livable is at the forefront of my design sensibility because I really consider materials and textures and everything that really lends itself to that philosophy. So it's definitely been really great that I've been fortunate to have clients that don't put us in a pigeon hole and we're always able to evolve–that I'm now able to lean into color, to print, to brighter spaces. And I love that our projects that we take on are really contextual and we try to really make a home for the client and for it to reflect the architectural style and how people want to live in their homes.
So I think having a really distinct style, it's more about elements and certain finishes and materiality, but stylistically it's always starting from scratch and remembering that a home or even a commercial space is to be approached as something new all the time. And whether there's a through line in the tone from materiality, that's great and that's consistency and that's what people want. But at the same time, always being able to evolve and not just be one noted is always part of my evolution as a designer that I always think about. What is next? Don't sit in the space of what you always have done, or using the resources that you've always used. I love finding new companies, artisans, materiality, techniques, whatever it may be. That's what keeps it interesting. Otherwise I really wouldn't enjoy it as much as I do because it's fun for us. And I hope for the people that follow along our journey see how we evolve and that our design style isn't just fixed essentially.
So for those listening, how do you get your clients to trust and believe in your signature style, especially as you're saying, you don't treat any project the same and you kind of are reinventing spaces every time.
So I think what's key–and I've always tried to think about in past projects when building a portfolio at the beginning of my career–is it's all about creating spaces that are livable. That is fundamentally the foundation of the Jake Arnold brand. That's what comes first more than anything. So spaces that are livable and comfortable and redefining what luxury looks like. With our clients is that we've been so fortunate and I think like most interior designers, 90% of their business is word of mouth. At some point, when you really start putting yourself out there. At the beginning of my career, I was doing projects for free. I was helping friends out. I was getting referrals and just doing honestly anything I could to get content. And I think that people who are struggling with getting clients to trust them, it's all about building out a visual representation of how you see your design aesthetic.
And just because you don't have a plethora of projects for a portfolio, it doesn't mean that you can't create mood boards, palettes and little vignettes along the way and use Instagram as that kind of portfolio space. And I think when you meet with a client at the beginning, especially when you don't have a reputation or tons of prior work… I'm very tactile with our first schematic design process. So having a tray or a box of key materials and textures, and really leaning into discussing a design parti–what that narrative is. What is the story that you're creating? Because I think some people get too wrapped up into specifying pieces too early on. I think having a conversation, of getting to know how the client lives, look in their closet, how they dress, and how they actually live their life.
And then you get to refer back to that and say, ‘You know what, this checkerboard floor isn't gonna be very you, because then you don't want to have something that feels like it can't evolve and change’. So it's using the knowledge of the client and the way that they live in their personal style to support your design intent and what your style is. So someone who lives in sweatpants or is super relaxed and chill and then hires a super formal tailored designer–that's not gonna be a good fit. So I think having those honest conversations at the beginning that you don't just take on any client. And even for the client, it's a relationship. You have to be a good fit and be compatible. That you see the world and the way that you live the same, because if you are, come on two ends of the spectrum, you are gonna set yourself up for failure. So I think establishing that day one before you even get into contracts and things is so important. And just being really clear with your design philosophy. More so than your design style, I think focus on philosophy.
So when you're first starting out it sounded like you took any project. How important do you think it is for someone to take on smaller projects when first branching out in order to get to what they feel is a long term goal of multimillion dollar projects or full new constructions. There's a lot of talk in the industry of like, ‘don't take on projects that are not a good fit’, but then we also hear ‘take on everything when you're first getting started’. Looking back, how would you advise to navigate that?
So it's a really good question. I will be honest with you that it was not an easy path, doing what I did, which is essentially having no boundaries and really no balance and literally taking anything and everything that came my way and trying to quote unquote, “make it work” for the client more so than me personally. And I will say that putting your ego aside and especially at the beginning, or like, if you're trying to establish yourself, you really need to take a step back and remember that hard work–there's no version of a shortcut. It literally is like, ‘yes, you do need to do everything and anything that comes your way’.
When I say something isn't a right fit. That's a luxury. That's an evolution of your career and where you get to a point where you can be really picky. But at the beginning, it's so important that you really take on what comes your way and you try and do the best version of it.
Even if you get one vignette of a consult table and a mirror and style it, the way that you wanna style it for your shoot and everything else in the house, you hate–great, doesn't matter so long as your client is happy and you are doing a good job and you are providing a good service. Try and get those moments throughout your project too, to build up your portfolio and to show your work that you do. And then eventually once you curate that version of what you do and what your aesthetic is, then those clients will come to you for your aesthetic. You can't be entitled to having an aesthetic and a credibility and being trusted off the bat, just never gonna happen. And I think that like, yes, it seems really easy, but I've been doing this for 10 years. So it didn't just happen.
In the last year, there's projects that I've done that will never see the light of day <laugh>, but that's what you do. To be competitive and get into an industry, you either need to be offering a service at a way more affordable price point or just being a yes person. Honestly, that's all I did is say yes all the time. And it's horrible sometimes, I'm not gonna lie. Like I was so stressed and miserable for years. I was. But the thing is, if you want something, you are willing to put the work in and it's not perfect. And it's super frustrating. People have difficult budgets, they have expectations. They have things get installed incorrectly. You are figuring out, ‘oh, next time I install sconces they're not gonna be three inches from the floor’.
You learn along the way–that's how you learn. So I think being a designer is not just about having formal education or your perfect clients. It is essentially, it's a hustle. Like every other industry. There's no tips and tricks–it is take everything that comes your way. Be very selective in how you record and photograph and show your work because it's all at the editor. It's like a photographer who shows one element of a scene. Think about things as moments that you can create this version of how…it's like the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How you see that room can be a snapshot of what it actually is. And that's okay. That's why Instagram exists because it's not really reality. It's just a little moment of something. And you are creating a narrative and a story of your visual identity as a designer. So it takes time and it takes work and being patient and not giving up is the only advice that I really think that I can give.
I could just listen to you talk all day. This episode is going to be on repeat as I fall asleep forever after <laugh>,
You're hilarious. My voice is probably so horrible to listen to before you go into bed. So I'm very sorry.
You had said something at Design Camp that has really changed me, Jake, and it was so profound. I wrote it down and it's next to my desk now. And I hope you can remember it. If not, I'll remind you of it.
Oh my god, I’m gonna cry. That's crazy.
No. It changed me and I still get chills even thinking about it. Someone had asked, ‘okay, so you have enough clients and you don't wanna scale beyond the number of people you have now. How do you start to decide which projects to say yes to and which projects to say no’.
Well, you're gonna have to tell me what I said. Cause I can't remember.
Okay. I will. So you had said that at the beginning of every project, you ask yourself in three years when this project is done… did that spark it? Can you finish it for me?
Okay. Yeah. I said, always think about where you are going to be when that project is completed. And is the future you going to be happy with that decision, is I think what I said <laugh>
Yeah. You had said at the end of when that project is done–and if we're talking new builds with current delays in the pandemic, I mean that's two or three years down the road–is this project going to propel my business forward? Or is this project going to hold me back.
Jake! I literally got chills saying back to you right now, 'cause that is so profound in a way that I have never thought about handling my business. And I'm sure many people listening have never thought about it either. How did you get to that point of clarity and what are questions, flags, you could look for in a project to decide if that is a fit for three years down the road.
Yeah. I think that I came to that conclusion because I used to make a lot of decisions out of fear. And when I recognized that I would take on a project, 'cause I was concerned that maybe another one wouldn't come up. I was in that spiral, like a lot of designers, ‘what if no one ever calls again’. Having a little bit of modesty is so good because I think you should never get too comfortable and having a little bit of anxiety about how many clients are coming in, it keeps you on your toes and there's a positive to that. But also thinking about your future and where you are going to be in two or three years is the best gift you can give to yourself ever. And I think about that philosophy in anything in life where if I don't go to the gym or if I eat something specific or I do something the night before, I'm always thinking, how am I gonna feel tomorrow, in a month, and a year? That’s self care. Thinking about you in the future.
Like what better gift is there? That you are really thinking about yourself and having respect for your future and the way that you have really put yourself in a position to get closer to your goals. So I think having a north star, meaning having a place to really look towards, whenever you are making decisions is so key because it's like–do I take on this project? No, because this client isn't gonna let me publish this budget, isn't gonna allow me to do what I need to do, or this person or this project is out of state and it's gonna take way too much of my time and therefore I'm not gonna be able to put time into investing, into building out product or, whatever it may be. Having that north star and that goal and a mission statement.
And then from there, looking backwards and seeing ‘does this decision that I'm making today, get me one step closer to that mission statement or is it one step farther away’? So I think taking the time to establish what your mission is, and coming from a place of more than anything, what you really are set out to do on this planet. Like it has to be deep. It has to be profound. It has to be really mindful. And even if that means getting into a little bit of your spirituality and taking a step back from the grind–journaling about what you really want out of life, that helps you get there . That helps you build a business and work on something that gives you joy and comes from a place of authenticity. That changes all the time. And knowing that who you are today, you are gonna be very different hopefully an evolved version of yourself in two, three years.
That's the beauty of life. What is that famous saying that Oprah says all the time? ‘When you know better, you do better’. So it's like knowing when you know more you are always gonna do a better version of yourself because yeah, we are never perfect. I have to check myself all the time as well–what are we actually doing here? Because if I keep saying yes to X, Y, and Z, I'm just gonna be in this perpetual hamster wheel. I think that's what our culture has given us as we make decisions out of fear because there's not enough for everyone. And let me tell you there's enough for everyone out there for designers–there's millions of houses, millions of clients, millions of projects.
And I think resetting the narrative before you go into a career of what's possible is where you need to start. It's not about how should I be billing. Before you even get to those nitty gritty conversations, get really clear with yourself, with where you want to go. Big picture, even if that seems so out of reach and then setting short term goals, but also having fun with it. Like why do most people get into design? because they enjoy and they're passionate about design. So if what you do doesn't allow you to do anything that gives you that kind of amazing feeling. When you go to work every day, then you don't do it. Do you know what I mean? But at the beginning of your career, that's not possible. That's a luxury that you build towards. If someone said, ‘you know what, one day I wanna get to the point where I can decide who I take on and what projects and clients that I do–that's all I want my dream to be’. Then working backwards from there, ‘Okay, I'm gonna have to take on these three clients’. It's not the ideal setup, but it will get you closer to that goal. But if you just keep saying no, because it's not perfect and you are too picky, then you are never gonna get closer to that goal.
I don't know why I cannot get through a conversation with you without crying. <laugh> You. I don't think you realize how powerful your words are, Jake. And it's just such a blessing and a privilege to listen to your beautiful mind breakdown situations. As we get ready to wrap up, I would love to ask the super annoying question of where do you find inspiration for design? And I don't want a fluffy answer.
Great, 'cause I don't give fluffy answers. I hope that we've got that clear.
Honestly, books. As number one. With everything that's going on online, I'm kind of very sick of either seeing too much of the same thing. Also looking at things that you don't know if you like them or not. And I think with books, and history, and the past, that's what I look towards. That's what gives me inspiration. So vintage design books. I mean, honestly, even if you have no idea, go on Amazon and type in design books and just buy all of the books that seem appealing to you. And I go to a magazine stand once a month and I get all the international magazines I can get. And I sit there old school, folding over pages, finding new vendors that way, getting inspiration because inspiration isn't just about looking at a room and being inspired by a full room.
You can be inspired and how I'm inspired is going on 1stDibs, looking at a vase, how is that vase now gonna become a sink or a light fixture. It's really not looking at things so literal. And I think with Instagram, specifically in Pinterest, people get so caught up in a room fully and then they wanna re-create that room. But it doesn't allow you to really design from a place of context. You are really just designing an entire space that doesn't have a story. It's just like, ‘oh, I like this color’, bam. ‘Oh, I like this hardware’, bam. I think it's deeper than that. And I think for me, I'm always reading books. I have a few blogs that I love, which honestly, if I had the names, but they're words I can't even pronounce, I would share them. But how I actually have been finding amazing blogs is instead of using Pinterest as the image search, a lot of these pictures have links at the bottom of them and they link you to amazing blogs.
And then you go on the blog and then there's four houses and stories and detail shots. And I think being constantly inspired–going to a restaurant, to museums, and galleries and walk around the neighborhood. Honestly, I walk on the weekends around my neighborhood and I'll see different doorways and gates, and the paint of the house and all of the pallets and just be out in the world. That's how to be inspired is be out in the world and also look to history. Like if you ever wanna be inspired, look up history because history of design is like so amazing to understand where things have come from, because only when you know where things have come from, you can decide where we are going in the future and reinventing those incredible concepts.
And by the way, movies too! I love drama, period dramas. Even Downton Abbey, I'm obsessed with and just the interiors of those spaces and set design–set design is incredible. These worlds that people are creating, we can all take such a little leaf out of their book when it comes to creating a space for someone to live in because it's so layered and rich and thoughtful. And whether you are into contemporary design or traditional, whatever it is, it's all about looking outside the box and reusing similar techniques in new ways.
So that that's really how I, hopefully isn't too fluffy, but unfortunately, inspiration and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Like there is a reason why that is a cliche, because the way that two people can be in the same place and one person is in awe and everything feels so magnificent and overwhelmingly inspirational, the other person can be like, this place is dated and feels like [crap]. So I think to train your eye, is to understand history, because then you know why something is why it is, the way it has been designed. So just being thoughtful.
You gave such a great example that again, I wrote down and it just shook me when we were chatting, you pointed out the wall that we were looking at. And you're like, you know, typically someone looks at this and decides this is their inspiration and they recreate it. And they're like, but what if you bring it down just to look at this exact grass cloth, and that I've personally really been working on training my eye to find inspiration in the smallest details that contribute to the whole entire space, but that is such a great mindset. And as we all struggle with comparison games in Instagram or Pinterest, or seeing what designers in your area or across the country or doing, I think that that's such a powerful practice that we can all make intentional efforts to begin training ourselves on.
And I wanna just add one last thing ‘cause I feel like it's like my duty to share this is–I take massive breaks from Instagram. I have not been on for five weeks now. I write all my captions, I choose all my posts, and I have someone do it because ignorance is bliss. Sometimes actually not seeing too much is really good for your creative flow. Just taking yourself out of comparison mode because we all do it. So I think you have to have breaks from social media.
I think that's so healthy. It's definitely changed my ability to like sleep comfortably at night to have someone else who's managing my account on the most part. And when I feel like I wanna pop in, I can do so, but it's really changed my ability to stay in my lane and focus on creating things that I work through for myself instead of trying to recreate or outdo something else that's already been created.
As we talk about vintage and finding inspiration in history. Can you talk to us about the upcoming The Expert Vintage launch and what that looks like?
Yes, we're so excited. For a couple years now, I've been collecting with The Experts some amazing vintage pieces in auctions and we've been recovering, refinishing. I worked with Pierre Frey, Zac+Fox and Dedar primarily for the reupholstery . And I've chosen interesting fabrics, prints, textures, to really give these vintage pieces. Some of them actually have true historical provenance with a known designer and some that don't and are just amazing finds. So there's really a spectrum of price points and styles. And we've really tried to have a little bit of fun when it came to the reupholstery pieces, because I think we are now seeing a change that people are leaning into color and print. It's not all about everything being neutral, and let's have a little bit more fun with what we're doing. So I'm really excited about that.
It's gonna launch in the beginning of June, and I will really look forward to seeing how everyone responds to it. Because again, like going into the product facing element of the business is new to me. And it's so exciting to be able to have something that we have designed and been part of that process, in someone's home that works with their existing space. So yeah, coming soon!
We will have that all linked in the show notes for you. I imagine by the time this episode goes live, you will be able to shop the collection. You can also shop the collection of Jake's signature line at Parachute Home if there's anything available still, I know you are basically sold out, but maybe there will be a restock. I'll have all of that linked for you.
Jake, thank you so much for your openness, for your humility, for your candor and for making it really hard for me to do my job and not burst out laughing because you are so side- splittingly funny. Thank you for being here. I hope our paths cross again very soon and congratulations with everything that is to come for Jake Arnold.
Ahh, well, thank you so much for having me. It's honestly been such a treat getting to know you more and just giving me the opportunity to share some of my wisdom along the way, and really feel the support from you. So thank you so much for everything. And any time, call me, email me, you know, I will be there.
Absolutely. Thank you so much, Jake. And I will talk to you soon.
There is a presence about Jake Arnold that can't be experienced unless you hear it first hand. His persistence and commitment to his vision for the future of his brand is something I will personally look up to for the rest of my life. And Jake is just getting started. Jake, congratulations on the recent launch of your collection with Parachute.
We've linked the very few remaining in stock pieces in the show notes. And I'm personally sleeping on one of your duvets tonight. You can follow along with Jake @JakeArnold on Instagram or book a session with him on The Expert.
If you weren't able to write down everything you heard today, you can find all of the links and images we referenced and other details from this episode of The Interior Collective on our website at idco.studio/podcast. If you missed Jake Arnold at Design Camp this spring, we are working hard to bring him back to a future event. You can learn more about upcoming Design Camps at design-camp.co linked in the show notes.
If you loved this podcast, please leave us a review. It means a lot to us as we embark on this new podcasting journey. If you have questions or topics you'd like to hear next season, please email me at [email protected]
. Again, that is [email protected]
. Make sure and stay tuned. We have a lot more coming later this season of The Interior Collective.