Lauren Nelson: Business Operations at a Boutique Studio

Episode 8 October 13, 2023 00:53:16
Lauren Nelson: Business Operations at a Boutique Studio
The Interior Collective
Lauren Nelson: Business Operations at a Boutique Studio

Oct 13 2023 | 00:53:16

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Show Notes

There are so many paths to interior design as a career, but it seems very few of them offer experience in actually running an interior design business. Today, San Francisco Bay Area award winning designer Lauren Nelson walks us through navigating the business side of a beautiful design business. From pricing strategies to her experience in corporate design public relations, Lauren's coveted expertise has proven that every path to design offers unique wisdom.

 

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Episode Transcript

00;00;00;00 - 00;00;39;08 Anastasia Casey: There are so many paths to interior design as a career, but it seems very few of them offer experience in actually running an interior design business. Today, San Francisco Bay Area award winning designer Lauren Nelson walks us through navigating the business side of a beautiful design business. From pricing strategies to her experience in corporate design public relations, Lauren's coveted expertise has proven that every path to design offers unique wisdom. 00;00;39;08 - 00;00;46;13 AC: Hello, Lauren, and welcome to the show. I'm so excited to have you on today's episode of the Interior Collective. 00;00;46;15 - 00;01;15;25 Lauren Nelson: Thank you so much for having me. I am delighted to be here. AC: I'm super excited about today's topic because it's just so key to the fundamental core of why I do the podcast and why we have design gear. And it's really finding that balance between creating beautiful spaces and having a creative outlet and being able to build a career around that, but also navigating the business side of that and making sure that the numbers work and making sure you're being paid for your time properly. 00;01;15;27 - 00;01;39;10 AC: And when I was doing research about what I wanted to ask you, I know you had shared with Amber Lewis on all sorts of that at the beginning. That was one of the biggest challenges, was figuring out billing and pricing. So we're going to dig in deep to that, but to get us started, I'd love if you could talk us through your professional experience prior to opening your interior design studio. 00;01;39;12 - 00;02;12;06 LN: Of course, I would say my journey into design was not a planned one. It was one that came about quite naturally and not even super quickly. But I started. I went to college, did not major in interior design, didn't even really know it was a degree at that point and moved out to San Francisco from Virginia, which is where I went to school and just got the first good adult job that I could find, which was working for a wonderful company, Williams-Sonoma, Inc. I found a job in their PR department. 00;02;12;08 - 00;02;36;26 LN: I moved up the ranks. I was there for several years, and in that world, it just opened up the whole world of home, retail and what it means to have a beautiful, comfortable home. And that was our messaging. So being in that world, I worked with a lot of the media. So magazines and TV shows like the Today Show and all sorts of media that was centered around home design. 00;02;36;26 - 00;03;05;23 LN: And in that I became really interested in the design element of it because we were, you know, we worked with certain magazines to outfit homes and do home makeovers, and we worked with that reality TV show Extreme Homemaker for if you remember that. Yeah. And so I just got to do fun things like that. And the more I thought about what my path was, it wasn't really to be like, you know, climb the ladder in a corporate world. 00;03;05;23 - 00;03;28;07 LN: It was really to exercise some design freedom. So I started enrolling in classes at UC Berkeley, and I was I wanted to dabble in that and see if that was something I could hone my skills and not and learn a bit about and make a pivot. And once I took those classes, I realized like, this is something I'm interested in, but can I afford to do this? 00;03;28;07 - 00;03;50;24 LN: Because at the time I was single and the whole question of financial independence is a big one, and I wanted to just get my feet wet by working for a designer. So instead of finishing the four years of classwork, I decided to just jump into assisting a designer and seeing what the real world of design was like, not just, you know, being taught. 00;03;50;26 - 00;04;14;11 LN: I think I gained a lot of information and experience from the classes, so I would say that was really important. But then jumping into it with real life experience was great. So once I started working in the design world, apprenticing for a designer in Los Angeles, it just became clear to me that I could flex my creative muscles and make a living out of it. 00;04;14;13 - 00;04;42;28 LN: But I still hadn't figured out how to make a lot of money. You know, I was still like working $15 an hour part time. I mean, it was just it was definitely scraping by. And that's kind of the start of my journey. I don't know how much you want to go into prior to that, but that's how it started as far as me making that pivot from doing something completely well, not completely unrelated, but just a very different type of job into a design role. 00;04;43;00 - 00;05;14;03 AC: That's amazing. I think that what is so special about our industry is that there are so many creative different paths that people get to this industry, and it's very often not a first career or not a first job. I'd love to dig in a little bit about what your daily tasks looked like in PR at Williams-Sonoma, because when you're looking at the 30,000 foot level, you're like, Oh, yes, it's totally a natural progression from doing that to getting to design. 00;05;14;03 - 00;05;55;16 AC: But I'm sure in the moment it did not feel like an ABC step to follow. So you mentioned that you were like helping with shoots and doing things like that. What exactly did PR look like then and how have you leverage that experience to really help with PR at your own company? LN: Sure. I would say the day-to-day tasks were mainly working with editors at magazines that were calling in product, so they'd say, Oh, we need this chair tomorrow for this photo shoot that we're, you know, every any image you see in any printed publication is set up, obviously by retailer. 00;05;55;19 - 00;06;25;09 LN: There's all sorts of product in there. So we would always try and get our product into photoshoots, whether it was requested by the media or we were pitching it like, Hey, we've got this great new tablecloth. Let's see if, you know, Elder Care wants to feature it. So that was the day to day. But the bigger the I would say the bigger moments and the more exciting ones were just like the collaborations with certain publications or TV shows about, you know, really like giving gifting a family like a whole new house. 00;06;25;09 - 00;06;51;15 LN: Like we did this project in New Orleans, which really was close to my heart. But, you know, after Katrina, we donated an entire home to a family that had lost their home. So things like that was I feel like, I don't know, the day to day was the smaller things, but the bigger things were really what allowed me to not just feel like this is something I could do and want to do, but just felt more of that natural pivot. 00;06;51;15 - 00;07;18;11 LN: Like I could see myself getting there. But the day to day was definitely more administrative. After Williams-Sonoma, you, I believe, and correct me if I'm wrong, but you began styling for interiors for an ad agency as well. And I've heard so many interior designers struggle to find the balance between styling for an install, like for a client and styling for what they hope to be an editorial shoot. 00;07;18;13 - 00;07;48;04 AC: What fundamental principles did you pick up during that time that you were styling? LN: I would say the biggest connection with styling and design is just that understanding of composition and color and texture, and you're doing it on a micro scale with styling because you're doing it in this small little box. You know, you're taking a photo of this one area and maybe that's a bigger area, but you're really seeing it from a one dimensional point of view. 00;07;48;04 - 00;08;11;07 LN: And with with design, you're really seeing things in a more three dimensional way. So I think the overall concepts are very similar. It's just that the execution is a little different in that you have to think about how are you interacting with this space in all levels and in all angles versus just seeing how this looks from one point of view. 00;08;11;10 - 00;08;53;29 LN: And so I would say that the biggest takeaways were just understanding the layering aspect of design, that you really don't want anything to be one dimensional, you want everything to feel layered and nuanced. And that doesn't mean necessarily putting more things in the room or in the shop. It's about those things that are in the shot need to have life and movement and whether that's crunching up a tablecloth versus laying it flat on the table, like something as simple as that, or, you know, flower, a flower arrangement like having some petals on the table or just something that just like gives it a little bit more of a natural state is really what I think 00;08;54;02 - 00;09;18;11 LN: translates to both were amazing. AC: Thank you. Today, are you styling your own photoshoots or do you have a stylist at this point? LN: Most of them my style myself, I have enlisted a very talented friend recently to style shoots with us. Her name's Kendra Smoot and she's just fantastic. Everything she touches is gold. I love Kendra's work to this day. 00;09;18;11 - 00;09;36;27 LN: I mean, I've been in this business for, gosh, I've been styling since 2007, so it's been a while. But in the last couple of years, I've been the best Kendra for her help. And I feel like it's really just brought it to a new level because she's just so wonderful at it. But I enjoy the styling. I always like doing it. 00;09;36;29 - 00;09;59;10 LN: It was more I started to reach out to her for bandwidth reasons, but also her level of beauty is just really aligned with mine. Like we have the same ideas of what makes a beautiful shop so amazing. AC: We will leave Kendra's contact info in the show notes for anybody who might be looking for a stylist. If you're in the Bay Area and I'm sure Kendra actually probably travels as well. 00;09;59;10 - 00;10;19;12 AC: So that'll be there in the show notes for you. Okay. So let's fast forward to today and really dig into your business structure. Now. Can you provide us a little context and explain how many people are on your team and what your team structure looks like? LN: Sure. So we there's five of us full time employees and then they have one part time. 00;10;19;12 - 00;10;40;04 LN: So six if you include the part time. We, I, was a small operation and I still am, but even smaller for quite some time. But in the last several years we've grown to what we are now. And it just it's a sweet spot for us. I feel like it's a really great size we have. So there's myself, the principal owner. 00;10;40;04 - 00;11;03;22 LN: Then I have a senior project manager and she oversees all the projects. Then I have two designers and I have a project coordinator. So it's sort of like a diamond where the two designers are divvied up. They don't share projects, so they have each have their own projects. The project manager and the project coordinator support everything as well as myself. 00;11;03;29 - 00;11;26;26 LN: So it feels like the right amount of balance and support and both directions. AC: That's a really great way to lay out your kind of org chart. I've never thought about putting in a diamond, but that makes sense when you have a support team that manages both designers. I love the way that you worded that. Do you have anyone like what are you outsourcing beyond those people? 00;11;26;26 - 00;11;54;16 AC: Are you doing all drawings and how are you doing it? Is everything else happening in house at this point or do you still have you know, I'm assuming you have a bookkeeper and an attorney that's like just on a contract basis. But is everything from the design process procurement side of things happening entirely in-house now? LN: Yes, we outsource very little because I have when I was hiring, I really wanted our team to to feel self-sufficient. 00;11;54;22 - 00;12;15;25 LN: I mean, I know a lot of people hire the draftsmen and hire that, but I there's something really nice about it being in-house. There's an immediacy to it. There's a familiarity to it. So I would say bookkeeping and now PR are really the only things I have contract and outsource. But everything else we do in-house, it just seems to work really well for us. 00;12;15;25 - 00;12;36;03 LN: And maybe if I grow much bigger will it? Things will change. But for now it's working well. AC: So talk to me about this size. You mentioned that five and a half, six people feels really good and natural to you. What are some contributing factors that make you feel that way? Like, do you feel like you can say yes to more projects? 00;12;36;03 - 00;13;03;22 AC: Do you feel like you can say no to more projects at that number? What makes that sized team really work? LN: Well, I would say on the plus side, we definitely say no to many projects because there's more that come in that we just don't have the bandwidth for. I would say on a day when I build each month, we're building ten projects at a time, which is quite a lot for a small team, not all ten projects are in full swing. 00;13;03;22 - 00;13;21;10 LN: Some are waiting out and waiting and but I would say what I like about it is that it feels manageable from a management standpoint. You know, I think that was one of my biggest hurdles in the beginning was just the fear of managing other people and being responsible for their well-being and happiness. I mean, I'm a people person, I'm extroverted. 00;13;21;10 - 00;13;40;22 LN: It's not that it was more about just, I guess, the security and just being really responsible for somebody else. So I think five feels good personally for me. I mean, I think some designers have 10, 15, 20, but that's just more than my comfort zone. I think that if we had less, we'd be able to not take as many projects. 00;13;40;24 - 00;14;04;23 LN: So I think it's really good we are able to take a healthy amount. As you know, some projects are full swing one month and a little bit dormant the next. So I think it's a good amount of flex where we can really crank on some projects and then step back. If we just had a small team or you just have a little less flexibility in that way if it's just two people. 00;14;04;25 - 00;14;28;13 LN: So it feels just like a good know, a good flow side and it's a wonderful explanation. AC: Thank you. So you mentioned outsourcing bookkeeping, and that kind of brings us to our next big chapter of today's chat. You have mentioned in other interview issues that the business side of opening your own design studio was your primary struggle when you were getting started. 00;14;28;13 - 00;15;08;14 AC: Like that is what you would have named as your biggest struggle. From bookkeeping to invoicing, the financial operations proved most challenging, and I know this is a super common experience for interior designers. Can you share what those struggles looked like when you were just starting out? What made that so hard? LN: I think what made it so hard was I jumped in to the business side, like taking my own projects so quickly as a met more not because I necessarily wanted to, but people were coming to me for just these small things and I said, Sure, I'll help you out thinking it was like, Oh, this is my side thing, you know? 00;15;08;14 - 00;15;26;03 LN: And I never really thought it would turn into this full time thing. So I was so focused and amped on the creative side that the business side was like what I did at night. And I think when you're for working full days and then going to invoice clients, you just, I don't know, it just was not my strong suit. 00;15;26;05 - 00;15;48;27 LN: I would forget to charge them for sales tax and then at the end of the month I owe sales tax and I'm realizing numbers aren't meeting up. So it wasn't even that I wasn't capable. It was because, you know, I just find it math. It was more just the my my heart and my focus were really on the creative side, and the business side was just not put together. 00;15;48;27 - 00;16;14;13 LN: And I also didn't really have a template. I didn't have really wonderful resources like you're providing and like there's so much out there now that really is helpful to designers starting out. And there's a lot more information than when I started out, which was 2008, and I just felt like I didn't have colleagues to rely on. I just was just cutting my teeth on my own. 00;16;14;15 - 00;16;44;26 AC: I am a big believer in growing through our mistakes, and I'm wondering what key lessons you felt you've learned in those earlier years that you can pass on advice to other designers to kind of get ahead of it? LN: I completely agree. I think I often tell people that ask me this. My biggest piece of advice is just really try and get as much experience under your belt as possible. 00;16;44;28 - 00;17;16;09 LN: Whether that's I mean, I would say primarily working for somebody, working for a firm or an independent designer and more than one if you can, because there are so many different styles and process sizes and just there's so much to gain from apprenticing for somebody and being an underling and being someone's shadow and really understanding how it works, that diving in, I think there is this like pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality now, which is wonderful. 00;17;16;09 - 00;17;41;14 LN: So many people are just self-made, but you if you dive into early, you really do the mistakes can stress somebody out so much that it would discourage them from keeping going. And I would say the more you can soak in knowledge and real world experience, the more you're going to be preparing yourself for going out on your own and being successful at it. 00;17;41;14 - 00;18;02;11 LN: You can go out on your own and fumble, but you want to go out and really feel like you're nailing it. And that comes through experience, that comes through education, it comes through asking a lot of questions and not being afraid to do your own research and go in knowing more than less. AC: I think you totally touch on a great point. 00;18;02;11 - 00;18;29;00 AC: You don't know what you don't know. And so when you jump in either right out of school or when you're ready to take this hobby to a full time job without having watched or shadowed someone else or, like you said, been at multiple firms, whether that's a large firm or an individual designer, you could be making the same mistakes over and over for years, not even realizing their mistakes or not even realizing that there's a better way. 00;18;29;03 - 00;19;00;17 AC: So I love your advice that working for someone else for a while can be a huge asset and not everybody needs to start fresh completely on their own right at the beginning. Yeah. So you are by nature an artistic person and you've been passionate about Utah graffiti and art all growing up. How have you trained your brain to learn and process the business side of things, but also how have you trained yourself to prioritize the business side of things? 00;19;00;20 - 00;19;26;00 LN: It's come with time, for sure. I will say it's become a lot easier for me and I think structure is the biggest thing that we've implemented that has helped me to do that. Meaning I used to kind of have different rules for different projects and creating streamlined processes has been really helpful. So not just processes but, you know, standards and expectations. 00;19;26;00 - 00;19;47;00 LN: I think that we're moving myself from doing everything has also helped because I can't, meaning I can't do all the creative and all the business. So I think delegating and having a team and having support has really helped me do that because then I can really focus on business one day and creative the other day. Whereas before I was trying to do everything. 00;19;47;02 - 00;20;09;13 LN: And I think that's when the business end of it was not as strong as it could have been. And I think, yeah, structure and standards was a big game changer for me. Standards and processes. AC: I'd love to dig in to what that technically looks like for you when you set up and you've like defined what these processes are, where do those live? 00;20;09;16 - 00;20;32;20 AC: Are those in Google documents that you share with your team? Are those written out somewhere? Are those screen recorded somewhere? I hear all the time about how important our processes are, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around like this conceptual idea of we have processes and you need to define those, but where do they live when they're defined? 00;20;32;23 - 00;20;55;28 LN: Yeah, I would say there's not one, but a good answer would be one folder in one apartment. But no, I think some of it's in our contract that we share with clients, meaning like this is what we will. These are our rates, this is what our markup is. And this that is on paper, but a lot of it is team meetings. 00;20;56;00 - 00;21;28;01 LN: We have team meetings, bigger team meetings, you know, less frequently. But every Monday we have meetings and we really talk about what's working, what's not or how are we going to do that. You know, budgets are always a question of like refining how we do them efficiently and well and practically. So I would say it comes from being part of a team and constantly refining what we do and just each person knowing their own role and knowing what that process is. 00;21;28;01 - 00;21;50;20 LN:: But there isn't one fault. I guess one treasure box that you open and this is how you work here, but maybe one day we're going to work towards that. AC: So we've heard from so many clients and guests here on the show and interior designers who attended Design Camp that pricing and invoicing are the most challenging part of the job. 00;21;50;20 - 00;22;09;09 AC: I know you just mentioned in your contract, you explicitly say what your markup is. And what we teach at camp is that you would never tell someone what your markup is and you would only ever tell retail prices. So can you walk us through your pricing process? Is it hourly flat rate? Some combination I think is just so helpful for designers to hear. 00;22;09;09 - 00;22;31;15 LN: How the heck do other people charge? And I know I'm I always love this question. I really do like hearing and I'm always asking what other people are doing, too. So what we have found, what we do and what we feel like works well for us. We charge hourly. We do not do flat rate. I, I think starting out I was doing more flat and I just think scope always changes. 00;22;31;15 - 00;22;53;21 LN: There's never been a time where the scope stays the same and things aren't added, rarely taken away, always added. So I think with flat rate you often lose out on some money there, but it's more just like even setting expectations of what your deliverables are. So I think hourly works for us. We have different rates for different employees. 00;22;53;23 - 00;23;21;29 LN: So that I think helps to just help clients understand the breakdown. And then we build monthly. So each month is some months or more, some months or less, but they just know what they're paying. Each month we do when we sign on with somebody, we have many conversations about the scope and at that moment we get a scope drafted and we say we think it'll take this much time. 00;23;21;29 - 00;23;45;01 LN: So they're not going into it without any idea of what they'll pay. They have a good idea and we really try and stick to that. And if there's ever added scope, even though we're hourly, we still call that out to say, you know, we're happy to take this on. Just so you know, this added scope. So this our estimate will change and we're just we try and be as transparent as possible about everything. 00;23;45;01 - 00;24;15;09 LN: And I think that gives it's rarely ever had pushback from clients on our invoices, our bills, questioning hours. I think the more transparency, the better. And in my experience. So I totally comprehend being able to give a good estimate or even maybe use a range for the design phase like the beginning of a project. But I feel like project management is a little bit trickier, like when construction is happening and there's delays and all these other things. 00;24;15;16 - 00;24;52;14 AC: When you're giving that initial hourly estimate of what you think it's going to take, are you including that middle project management phase or do you really just focus on the design side of things that at that hour estimate at the beginning point? LN: Yeah, that's a great question. We factor in some of the construction management, so we factor in things like looking at shop drawings and doing templating and there's definitely things along the way after design is done that we factor in, but we do have a clause in our contract that says, you know, Construction Administration is additional and can be will be billed hourly. 00;24;52;17 - 00;25;22;05 LN: So it's a safeguard to know that if you know some projects we're on have weekly meetings, some don't. And that's a huge difference in design hours. So we do that's our caveat it's that that number is not final because construction administration is always different and project management changes per project. AC: So you'd give an example about how you would forget to charge sales tax or possibly bills shipping to a client. 00;25;22;05 - 00;25;48;27 AC: And when you were first getting started, you never wanted your clients to pay for your inexperience and you would end up covering that cost and those numbers wouldn't match up. Can you explain your team's process for billing for shipping now? So designs are approved, you're getting ready to place purchase orders. How do you handle sharing that shipping costs at that point? 00;25;48;29 - 00;26;16;11 LN: Okay, I'm sorry, not sharing, but sharing what the cost is going to be to your clients. We get we actually get quotes for everything real time and bill them for shipping at that time. Sometimes shipping the quote, the shipping quote comes after the product quote. But we are we estimate shipping early on just by a percentage. So when we're doing our furniture budget, we say we're going to guess shipping is 17% or 20. 00;26;16;16 - 00;26;42;28 LN: You know, used to be 50. Now it's much higher than that. So that's built into our furniture budget that we set out early on. But when we're actually procuring, we billed shipping in real time as things go occasionally, if something's something has a four month lead time and once it ships, then that'll be a delayed shipping charge. But that was a lesson I learned early on. 00;26;42;28 - 00;27;14;02 LN: It's never repeat the cost of shipping because this was when I was doing smaller projects. Now there's no way we could cover those costs, but. AC: Right. You're not a bank. LN: No, I know. I think I also like that was part of starting, you know, starting out with an experience is just being too nice about things and not business enough, you know, not really sticking to the rules of this is for profit, especially if you were starting out and you were, you know, maybe sourcing retail for a lot of projects. 00;27;14;02 - 00;27;40;22 LN: And, you know, shipping is a little bit more manageable when you see it upfront real quick too. AC: So I understand correctly, you said you charge shipping in real time. When you say real time, do you mean real time when that piece is ready to ship or real time when you're placing the purchase order in real time? LN: When we're placing the purchase order because typically most of our vendors will be able to give us a shipping quote at that time. 00;27;40;24 - 00;28;04;28 LN: There are certain things, more custom things or long lead time things that we have. We get the shipping quote for later. So later there will be that standalone invoice. It says, okay, here's the shipping cost for X, Y and Z. But I would say the majority of our procurement is bulk. The shipping is baked into the procurement because we get shipping quotes at that moment. 00;28;05;01 - 00;28;25;12 AC: Okay, Now let's tackle how you handle invoicing for your receiving warehouse. A very steep, I say, but I don't believe you can invoice for a service as a push through cost typically. So what works best for you and your studio? How is the client paying for that? Do they have a separate contract with the receiver? What does that look like? 00;28;25;15 - 00;28;46;20 LN: We usually nine times out of ten we have the client contract directly with the receiver. It just works better that way. It's something that's already an expensive service. We don't really want to add on to that with our fees, so almost always we have the client manage that directly. There's one receiver that we've worked with where they want it to work only with the trade. 00;28;46;22 - 00;29;16;24 LN: So in that sense we would just pass on the receipt as a reimbursable but, but no, we have the client deal directly with that. AC: This October we are headed back to the Santa Monica Proper Hotel for Design Camp 2023. Join designers from around the world as we go in-depth in small group breakout sessions and large keynotes covering topics like systems and processes, design presentations, maximizing profitability, marketing that converts updated software solutions, and so much more. 00;29;16;29 - 00;29;50;15 AC: Meet celebrity designers Brian Hammel, Tangle and Co and Caitlin Fleming. While we dine al fresco under the stars, Design Camp is loaded with surprises and a lifetime of friendships. Don't miss our final event of the year. Visit www.design-camp.ceo to secure your spot. Okay so now time tracking because you charge hourly how do you and your team track time Do you have any apps or tools that have proven most successful for you or is it like stopwatches in your pocket to make sure you're putting the correct minutes? 00;29;50;17 - 00;30;17;00 LN: Correct. Correct. Project of time? Yes. Time tracking. It's no one's favorite task, but we it's so important to do regularly and frequently. So we have our project manager that emails every Friday 3 p.m. and says everyone please get their time in. I really try and encourage everyone to do it daily because I think end of day is hard because a lot of times you're just rushing out. 00;30;17;00 - 00;30;40;00 LN: So I try and do it first thing in the morning when I start, but it's just a constant encouragement for the team to get their hours in and everyone's pretty good about it. We use this studio, so that's just an accounting firm that also does time tracking. So we enter our time in there. But yeah, I would say that's always a struggle. 00;30;40;02 - 00;31;00;28 LN: But we managed to do it with just a little pro tip. We've been exploring it in our studio. There's an app called Harvest that will be able to monitor as you're changing between projects or changing between tabs on your computer, and it can make it a little bit more automated. At least it'll pop up and remind you, Hey, there was 17 minutes. 00;31;00;28 - 00;31;27;16 LN: You were looking at these sofas, make sure that you log this so harvest really like in case you want to try it. AC: That's a great tip. Thank you. So your artful AI is always led by natural elements, but you never sacrifice function in your designs. I'm particularly impressed with your commitment to prioritizing craftsmanship alongside materiality. What are non-negotiables? 00;31;27;16 - 00;32;01;04 AC: You look for when sourcing product for a project? LN: I think our goal is to put items in a house that will live for a very long time. So while we realize not everybody can afford the highest product like high end or custom, we think there's really good value in getting something that doesn't need to be the most expensive, but it needs to be well-made and it needs to stand the test of time for more than a couple of years. 00;32;01;06 - 00;32;41;01 LN: So we do a mix of high, low, but we really try and steer our clients toward quality. So that means, you know, working with local vendors to have furniture made, it means knowing the story behind the vendors that are retail, you know, having them come to our studio and teach us about their product is great. We have lots of stop bys from local vendors, you know, rugs and anything from rugs to furniture to wood flooring to just educate us so that we can educate our clients on something that's good quality, not fast fashion and not throwaway. 00;32;41;03 - 00;33;20;22 LN: Because I think there's really no they're going to be calling us in two years when that thing breaks down. So there's no benefit to them or to us to have that happen. So I would say good quality and making sure that we understand how it's made is a plus. AC: So visiting the workshops and approving it partway through and giving them stain samples and all of that goes into the love and craftsmanship to a product, do you have a guess as to how much of your projects you're sourcing from trade vendors versus your having made custom? 00;33;20;25 - 00;33;55;03 LN: I would say it customs probably 30% and trade is probably 70%. It used I used to do more custom, but the cost of that is going up at least in the Bay Area. So I would say yeah, it's probably like 7030. AC: Do you source much vintage in your projects or are you really focused on fine craftspeople working on new items produced for your projects? 00;33;55;06 - 00;34;27;02 LN: Heavy on vintage? I love vintage. I think it's for many reasons. I think it's sustainable. I think it's charming. I think there's something really nice about being able to repurpose something and give it new life. So I think we usually, when we sign on with projects, we let that be a talking point and just make sure they're good with that because I do think vintage, there's so many vintage is so broad that even if they're very traditional or very modern, there's something in vintage for both. 00;34;27;05 - 00;34;52;02 AC: That's not a stylistic choice. It's more I think it's a choice. It just makes each product more rich. This is something that I'm again constantly like trying to wrap my head around. When you're in the design presentation phase and you know that you're sourcing vintage for the project, how are you incorporating that into the design for approval? Are you sourcing vintage at the design phase? 00;34;52;02 - 00;35;08;07 LN: I mean, you know, so many things are one of a kind and you put it in a design plan and when you're actually ready to purchase it, it's gone. Or do you just allocate a certain percentage of your budget to this is going to be vintage and this is something similar to what we're going to get, but it'll actually be different when you see it in person. 00;35;08;09 - 00;35;35;08 AC: How do you manage that? LN: It's not easy. I think we, so when we design, when we present, we move through the house. So we're actually not presenting the whole house at once because for us that's just decision overload. For our clients, it's a lot of decisions on our end. So what we do is we kind of do it in chunks and that allows us to present something closer to when we're going to purchase it. 00;35;35;08 - 00;36;04;07 LN: And so we procure as we go as well. So for us to design on a rolling basis and procure on a rolling basis, it's really smooth and it also makes for a smoother workflow throughout the course, the lifeline of a project. So we'll find these amazing chairs for the bedroom and the sofa for the living room. And if we're presenting those two rooms and we get approvals, we’re usually able to help put it on hold long enough to have the vendor hold it for us. 00;36;04;07 - 00;36;24;11 LN: We present, they say yes and we buy it right away. So it often times will lose something because the clients aren't ready to make a decision right then and there. But it's helpful for us to be able to have that couple of weeks of grace with the vendor. AC: Well, my jaw is on the floor. I'm like, Wait, can we literally start this whole podcast over? 00;36;24;11 - 00;36;48;16 AC: Because now I have to ask you a million questions about like this phased approach because like, you were rewriting everything I have ingrained in my brain about this process. So talk to me about how you present a few rooms at a time and then when you're collecting funds to place those purchase orders and you're doing that on a rolling basis, like just let's start over, how do you do that? 00;36;48;19 - 00;37;25;18 LN: Why I'm happy to. This is this we started doing maybe three years ago and it's really been a game changer. Think it's been really great. AC: So three years ago did it coincide with like COVID debacles or was it not related to that? LN: It wasn't really related to that. It was kind of related to like I guess it was COVID, but it was also like growing the team and getting more processes in place and hiring consultant to just really like help with the business into shape and like make it a little easier for everyone to have structure and know what their roles are and all of that. 00;37;25;18 - 00;37;50;19 LN: So I would say we started doing that where we would we give, let's say let's start or we get the project scope. We look at all the rooms in the house, there's usually two components: an architecture component and a furniture component. Once we're done with architecture, we move on to furniture and that's where we really do the rolling, like we present each room at a time. 00;37;50;23 - 00;38;20;26 AC: And so architecture was like whole house comprehensive or all the rooms that you're touching, even architecture, LN: We break it up. So we'll start. AC: I’m freaking out right now. I'm like, Teach me everything. LN: Well, we start with the big one. So we start with the kitchen and then we add primary bath and then the secondary bathrooms. But we move through the house because it's really when you're sourcing everything and, you know, it feels for us it's just more manageable. 00;38;20;26 - 00;38;43;28 LN: But also for clients to make these decisions. So we will do for architecture, we will do like will blanket plumbing fixtures and we'll blanket all stone shops all at once. So there's definitely an economy scale to like doing one category at a time. But as far as design plans we do, we move through the house and we have presentations a couple weeks apart, 2 to 3 weeks apart. 00;38;44;01 - 00;39;11;00 LN: Once we're done with that, then we collect money for furniture. So we look at all the rooms, we make a furniture budget. We hope we capture everything that they want and we collect not the whole deposit, but we usually collect half of it. And then we we. I know. Am I the only one? AC: Yes. Why? Why are you only collecting 50%? 00;39;11;00 - 00;39;34;04 AC: You're not a bank. They have to pay you just like they'd have to pay a store to purchase those stools. LN: Well, it's because we don't buy. So what we do is we collect 50% up until we have exhausted that money. And then right before we're about to present the next separate rooms, we say, okay, we've already exhausted your funds, please give us X amount more, and then we start presenting the rest. 00;39;34;04 - 00;40;00;23 LN: So we're not, we're never paying for things. If we don't have that money, but we aren't collecting the entire sum because we aren't buying it all at once. So I could totally see why that would make sense. But we procure as we go. AC: You heard it here first. Folks like this is completely changing everything that is so interesting because it makes it more manageable financially for your clients. 00;40;00;25 - 00;40;22;22 AC: But also on I can imagine from your design team side of things to be going kind of like room, chunk by room chunk. You're also helping to spread out your billable design hours after a project which when you have a team of five and a half to six just from like a payroll standpoint, that's really helpful as well. 00;40;22;24 - 00;40;45;06 LN: I just find that it creates a cadence for the whole team. You know, if you're if each designer has three or four projects and you're presenting every three or so weeks, you're just at this nice pace where you can work one project for several days and then another project, you're it's really just it's a better flow than this. 00;40;45;07 - 00;41;10;00 LN: The big push to design the whole house and then a big let go. And you know, it's just like it's like a roller coaster that has much smoother hills. So I think for us it just works really well and we can plan the projects better. You know, we can say, okay, we're going to start in October and every and we can like plot it out and we'll get through the whole house by this month and then we'll start furniture and we have our whole plan set out. 00;41;10;01 - 00;41;39;11 LN: So it's very predictable unless there's out of scope and that's fine. You know, it's a living it's a living, breathing thing that constantly gets edited, but it's at least much more. We can really plan on it and know when we're going to be doing X, Y and Z. AC: Wow. Thank you so much for sharing it. That's what makes these conversations so amazing because, you know, so many people do it one way and then so many people do it this way and I just hadn't ever considered it this way. 00;41;39;18 - 00;42;10;10 AC: I have a bunch of other questions to circle back around to, but this is like suddenly the most important thing we can talk about. So when you are sending your initial proposal design presentation, your initial proposal, are you outlining what this phase is? So you're explaining hey, we're going to start with kitchen and primary bath and this is weeks A to D and then here's the next chunk or is it just kind of all outlined in your initial what we call an investment guide? 00;42;10;10 - 00;42;31;14 AC: Like they see that you do things on kind of a rolling basis and that's just how your team works or are you like really saying these are the due dates for these rooms throughout this process? Well, we actually don't assign dates to anything because so much can happen. You know, they're gone. Your clients are on vacation for three weeks or so. 00;42;31;14 - 00;43;03;15 LN: We don't assign dates, but we do say we have we say presentation. One is this presentation, two is this presentation three, and so presentation one, let's say it's the kitchen and the master bath. We'll come back to that one more time. So we'll give them, will present it if there's any edit will incorporate those and the next presentation or hopefully giving the final design package for that room and then we move on to the next room and there's always revisions, plus presenting a new room usually. 00;43;03;18 - 00;43;32;00 LN: So we're kind of refining what we did, the prior presentation and if there's not too much to do, we'll also present a new room. And so it's this nice little you're getting a refined version of what we present it. You're getting something new to comment on, and then we just keep going through the house. So the one I'm not going to call it read the one that is appearing in my brain right now is that someone's gone through their design presentation. 00;43;32;00 - 00;43;57;20 LN: Number three. And at this point, let's say it's six or eight weeks down the road from that initial one. Is there ever a world where suddenly the client is like, Well, actually I like this. Now let's go back to presentation one, because I want to change it in the kitchen. But I would say there's always that window where someone's going to find something down the row that they want to change from the past. 00;43;57;20 - 00;44;22;08 LN: And if doable, sure, we can do that. But we really try an issue. We try and not go back as much as possible because that just means it's this whole domino effect of changing the drawings and then changing the schedules and then submitting that to the field. So what we try and do is get through all the rooms, make sure we've got our drawing packages buttoned up, no changes. 00;44;22;08 - 00;44;51;29 LN: And if there is a change, then that's just something we make them aware of. I think this is going to be more hours and more time and all of that. AC: So how do you tell someone, No, we're not going backwards gently. LN: I think we just say like this design is great the way it is. And if we if we agree with them, I'm not going to say no just for the purpose of let's just stay the course if we agree. 00;44;51;29 - 00;45;13;14 LN: Okay? That is not something we like. For instance, a stone selection you know that's something that's one of a kind. If they find something later and it's been purchased but not fabricated, you know, that's the situation we've been in before. And if the stone fabricators are willing to just resell us the other stone, then it's a win win. You know, it's fine. 00;45;13;14 - 00;45;35;01 LN: But if there's money involved, lots of money involved, then that just is on the client and we just make them aware of that. AC: Do you get during these step by step design presentations? Again, my brain is just like on a new track right now. Do you get signatures on approvals of design or is it a verbal Okay, we're moving forward. 00;45;35;04 - 00;46;00;12 LN: It's a verbal and a written. It's not on a piece of paper assigned piece of paper, but it's we after each presentation, we follow up with a PDF of the presentation and we have confirmation of this was approved. These are pending. And then in the next meeting, if those pending things aren't cleared up, then it's a constant making sure these are approved and they will email us back. 00;46;00;14 - 00;46;25;19 LN: : Yes, let's move forward. And then we then we go into proposal phase and then we create proposals and we invoice the client. And once those are paid, it's a done deal. AC: Things are ordered and you do those proposals, you do them through studio designer. LN: Yes, yes. AC: Perfect. Okay, I'm getting back on track now. I'm ready to focus. You mentioned that, you know, construction management is like another, a separate fee system. 00;46;25;22 - 00;46;51;19 AC: How do you manage balancing third party trades, their attention to detail and level of execution when it technically and contractually is out of your hands because they've been hired by the client, not you? How are you making sure that your attention to detail is also there? Attention to detail? LN: That's a hard one. I would say it's not. You're right. 00;46;51;19 - 00;47;16;06 LN: It's not always in our control. I think the best we can do is make site visits, be as involved as we can be, and make sure everything that is is coming from us is documented, meaning every specific patient or any selection is documented in writing, and that if something does go wrong, it's not because of something we did, you know. 00;47;16;06 - 00;47;34;14 LN: And I think that being on site really is important because we catch things that just wouldn't have been caught otherwise. Like, oh, the the drapery retract is not the channel for the drapery check. Wasn't implemented and that needs to be there. Or this grout color is not the right one or whatever it is. So I think that's just key. 00;47;34;14 - 00;48;07;28 LN: Is being connected to the project physically and to be there. And if you can't be there physically, if it's an out of date project asking for photos and making sure that you're getting updates through visuals, not just verbals, because I think that you have to see it and make sure it works. AC: What is a good cadence for site visits that's local or relatively local for an average client that doesn't require a lot of extra hand-holding for kind of your ideal process. 00;48;07;28 - 00;48;35;05 AC: How often are those site visits happening? LN: I would say it changes throughout the course of the project. So in the beginning, not often foundation frame. You know, I would say once framing is up, that's important because it's nice to walk through the space and make sure that everything is feeling the way you want it to feel. Once finishes go in, it's often so I would say in the framing phase, once a month, once finishes, go in. 00;48;35;05 - 00;48;56;23 LN: I mean, as often things are installed, so we like to be there for tile installations, we like to be there for stone installation, we like to be there for certainly wallpaper, which is at the very end drapery. So I would say it's just it really depends on what stage the project's in. But at least once a month it's great. 00;48;56;25 - 00;49;31;22 AC: You work heavily with architects. I know because you handle a lot of renovations and also new builds. Working with architects is very exciting, but also can be a sometimes daunting step for interior designers. What advice do you have for collaborating with architects on a project that feels really good and feels like you have a say and you’re respectful of where their project stops and your starts and kind of what that relationship looks like. 00;49;31;25 - 00;50;00;11 LN: Yeah, I would say that I view working with architects as not competitive, but more so an opportunity for learning and an opportunity for collaboration. I realize there are some personalities that might not mesh, but overall we enjoy working with architects because it I think two points of view are stronger than one oftentimes. And especially if they're aligned. I would say there's, you know, there's different perspectives. 00;50;00;11 - 00;50;19;05 LN: Like architects tend to bring a perspective that you know, everything needs to be symmetrical and everything needs to be, you know, a very certain way. And on the flip side, designers are thinking about, oh, well, that wall needs to have drapery on it. So we can't put a window there. You know, there's two different viewpoints and I think there's no one way to see a job. 00;50;19;05 - 00;50;43;22 LN: So I think that generally we work with architects that have great ideas and it's a stronger product in the end because we're working with them. So I would say try and just be open minded and not see it as someone that's going to conflict with your designs. And if there is conflict, if there is a difference of opinion, you know that that's a good exercise. 00;50;43;22 - 00;51;06;06 LN: And just like letting go of ego and thinking about the client and what's right for the project and not about, well, this isn't something that I would normally do. Well, it'll work. And maybe this is the client wants this, so try thinking of it. AC: And lastly, we are always looking to cheer on your successes and be along for the ride. 00;51;06;06 - 00;51;27;22 AC: So do you have any big projects or announcements you'd like to share as we wrap up the show? LN: Well, I would say probably the the soonest announcement would be finishing our first international project. So we have a project in the Bahamas that's going to be complete in the next several months, and I'm very much looking forward to that. 00;51;27;22 - 00;51;55;07 LN: It's been a fun one. And now our first island project AC: That is so exciting and that will be a fun install. LN: Yes it will. AC: Well, Lauren, you absolutely blew my mind today. Thank you so much for just being so candid with your process and explaining every step of the way. I know that you've provided a lot of relief to people listening who do not do it the way I've always told them to do it. 00;51;55;07 - 00;52;22;25 AC: So thank you for sharing that. It's been such a pleasure getting to hang out with you. LN: It’s been great. And it just goes to show, I guess there's more than one way to do everything. AC: Absolutely. Thank you so much. And I'm sure we'll get to chat soon. LN: Sounds great. Thanks Anastasia. AC: Wow, that was a wildly impressive interview and I'm so grateful to Lauren for sharing her unique design and building process. 00;52;22;27 - 00;52;46;26 AC: It truly exemplifies she is constantly working to balance the business and creative side of the business in a way that works for her, her team and her clients. You can follow along with Lauren on Instagram @LaurenNelsonDesign or book a session with her on The Expert to dive even further into her process. Thank you so much for tuning into these conversations and bringing us into our third season. 00;52;46;27 - 00;53;16;16 AC: Your support makes this passion project just so worth it, and I love learning more about the industry and regurgitating the information in a way that makes sense to you. Please remember to leave a review for this entirely free resource on Apple Podcasts and read us on Spotify. Until next week. I'm Anastasia Casey. Thank you for being a part of The Interior Collective, a podcast for the business of Beautiful Living.

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