For years as I’ve been designing interiors I’ve thought about how when we design a home, we design a life and how every “purchase” we make and every little THING we bring into our lives is a design decision whether make it consciously or not.
We launched our new LAUREN LIESS AND CO shop just one month ago but it’s been years in the making.
Before I opened my design firm when my first son, Christian, was a baby, this store concept was a dream of mine and Dave’s and where we started before I landed on interior design. (We originally named it “October Rain” because a huge drought had ended on our wedding day in October with a massive deluge and we 🤍d the day despite it being the worst weather ever. (And we also love a good thunder storm.)) We’d just gotten married and were in our new home and I had this desire to create a collection of my favorite things- some that I would have made and others that we would buy from artisans. But we met with manufacturers and very quickly discovered we didn’t have the capital to get it going so we put it aside. The internet wasn’t what it is now and there weren’t nearly as many small artisans and businesses who were willing to work with smaller quantities that could be easily found.
Seven or so years later after that, we opened a showroom location for Lauren Liess & Co. open on Monday through Fridays in the Great Falls Village. We ran our interior design business out of it and also sold furnishings and one-of-a-kinds to the public out of it, but after a year or so of it being open, I had to close the doors to the public because we couldn’t afford to properly staff it. There wasn’t enough traffic to justify hiring an employee to handle customers, but enough customers that too much of my/ my design staff’s design time was being used in the shop and we were killing ourselves to keep up with our projects. We stayed there a couple more years and offered hours by appointment, but when we bought this current house we’re living in, we tried bringing the business home again- I’d just had another baby and wanted to be home for her and we were trying to save and build a studio on the property. Within a few months of trying the business at home again, we realized we needed to go back to a separate studio so we rented again at the Village and then eventually bought our building with our Property Collective partners.
This entire time we’d say “we need to get the online store up and running” but things just kept coming up and we didn’t have a spare second. It was something that really nagged at me but we just kept pushing it off. Every year I’d think how much I’d wished we’d started the online shop already and was a little frustrated that we hadn’t been able to get it together yet.
Enter quarantine -and the loss of some significant projects at work- and we figured, “it’s now or never.” It’s not so much that we have extra time right now- because with five kids at home that’s a joke and my work hours are all sorts of reduced and messed up with feeding this crew- but it was this total disruption of our “normal” life that allowed me to step back and get some perspective. I realized that even with everything going down around us I was worried and about pleasing (or displeasing) others from the moment I woke up to the moment my head hit the pillow. People were dying and I was heartbroken and scared but still worrying about curtains. Over the years, I’d allowed the pressure to please my clients (whom I seriously love) to grow until it was a way of life and everything else came second to it. No matter how hard I tried to put my family first in terms of giving them time (I’ve never lost sight of that) it just kept feeling harder and harder.
To explain it properly, I’m not someone who necessarily “stresses…” I feel okay inside because I spend all of my time and energy in action, trying to make things go well, but I get disappointed when I “wake up” from work and see how much time has passed and how much I’ve missed in real life. I figured out a while ago that for me, there is no true “balance” of work and life and that things are always changing and I always have to be fighting for some sort of “balance,” and that at sometimes I get more family and sometimes I get more work time and that’s okay. But this time quarantined has made me realize how being on call almost all the time for so many people is becoming too much for me. I love what I do but I can’t keep it up at this pace.
I love my clients so much, but as I have begun to add product lines and opened up a real estate brokerage, started flipping houses, manufacturing textiles, knives and a bunch of new things, writing books and creating weekly videos, I have realized that to be truly good to them and to have any semblance of motherhood at home, I need to take on a smaller number of projects per year, which of course, majorly reduces the profitability and income of Lauren Liess Interiors, our main source of income.
I’ve had a shop before and I know all-too-well that it too can be all-consuming, but I’ve realized that a lot of the pressure I feel comes from being so highly involved in so many projects at once- my head space just isn’t clear enough. I’m the lynchpin for most things at work and with the shops and product lines, I’m not the only one.
Before the virus hit, we were (and still are!) planning to open a brick and mortar shop again in the Village Center with a kitchen showroom and design studio component, and so I’d already started ordering product to sell for our opening (planned for May) and it had started arriving in droves. When the stay-at-home orders hit, we realized we had to push go on the online store now or our inventory would be sitting for months and months.
We’ve started by going off our original “October Rain” catalog – many of those pieces are actually in my furniture lines today!- but are adding categories like “KIDS” and “APPAREL” that we didn’t really have any thoughts about when we were 25 years old but that we now see have an impact on daily life at home. Every day, we are receiving product and I’m photographing it all as soon as possible, loading it online and then trying to share it on social media. 99% of our purchases currently come from Instagram and I’ve learned that if I don’t post about the shop every day on there- in part I think because it’s new and in part because I think this is how life probably is now- we don’t sell much.
Dave now works literally ’round the clock packing (He was up for 33 hours one day last week packing) and we are total newbies in this new business just trying to learn and make a go of it. He’s exhausted but so glad we’re doing it. He says I seem more present and more free again… To be honest, I want this to work so badly that it makes me teary to even hope it could work. I haven’t exhaled yet and am afraid to believe things could change but I’m hopeful. I know everyone is saying online sales are crazy right now because of the virus so I’m preparing myself for when it’s over and trying to figure out how to make sure our brand/ shop has staying power. I have gotten in more time with the kids because Dave’s been so busy packing and I’m cherishing it. We’re up half the night trying to enter products and purchase new ones because any spare minute is spent on client work or packing. In about a month and a half, we’ll begin moving the operation out of our house into the warehouse where our cutlery company will be shipping out of and we should get to a more sustainable pace at home. If Dave can be freed up a bit from backing, he’ll be able to help me with inventory loading (we have thousands of products to add right now!) and management and I’ll have more time to create new products and keep our design projects and my books going.
I get lots of emails from people who want to start design firms asking how we started ours (I’ve written a few posts on it in the past if you’re interested) but the biggest eye-opener for me in business is that I have NEVER feel like I’ve “made it.” I used to think, “Oh when this happens, it’ll get easier” or “If I achieve this, then it will work out” blah blah but the truth is that whatever level of business or a career you’re operating at, you’re ALWAYS trying to achieve something and keep paychecks for you and your employees coming through the door. I’ve talked to friends in the industry who are way further along in their careers than me and they’ve shared that they have these same challenges. No one seems to feel like he/she has it figured out and we’re all constantly shifting and adapting. When you expand, you have more bills to pay and have to take in more business/ income, and when you shrink, you have to get deeper into the weeds. I’ve done it both ways and both present their own challenges. At different phases of life, certain things work and certain things don’t work. I’ve learned to try to be fluid. So what I know about what we’re getting into is that there isn’t some magical “fix-all” for me/ our business but I know that I’m a “man of action” (Princess bride anyone??) and I like to make changes to try to better my situation, knowing I can continue to adapt as needed. I really try not to ever give up on improving our businesses and the overall structure into which they all fit. So, here we go with another baby business and I’m hoping she can eventually make it!
I’ll be sure to post as we add new things. I’m still learning our numbers and how much inventory for each product make sense so please forgive me for the “sold out” stuff- I’m working on it and we’ve got more on the way! I’m working on my photography and apologies in advance for the LL APPAREL pics- I’m not a model in any sense of the word but I’m all I’ve got right now so we’re just going with it. One day I hope to be able to have real models. We’re going to keep trying to improve it.
And before I head out, I want you to know that I hope you’re doing okay. I know so many of us are worried out loved ones and have lost them and are struggling to pay bills and have no idea what the future holds and that seeing all the “pretty” things on social media can be hard or painful and feel like a slap in the face. I’ve heard from moms who live in apartments who are watching their children struggling with being stuck inside all the time who have said their kids like our pictures and from grandmothers who haven’t been able to see or hold their grandkids and some who haven’t even been able to meet new grandbabies who said they enjoyed hearing about our kids seeing my mom through the windows. I generally don’t share a lot of my fears and negative thoughts on social media because I personally like to feel uplifted by what I’m viewing on social media and I have so much to be thankful for that I don’t want to complain or be ungrateful. I don’t show photos of our bed covered in laundry or the kitchen bombed beyond recognition or some of the more difficult parts of my life because I want this to be a generally positive place for people. Most everyone of those I hear from say that they like to see the bit of “pretty”/nature/ family/life/ interiors I share and that it’s a bit of an escape for a moment, but a couple of you have expressed that it feels like showing off when others are struggling so I want you to know I’m sorry about that. None of what I share is ever meant to show off, I honestly share it because I think a lot of people actually get enjoyment out of it and because my family’s income literally depends upon in. So if I have hurt you by sharing positive parts of my life or photos of pretty interiors, I’m truly sorry about that hurting you. My intentions are to make people feel good and excited or inspired to try things around their homes- never to make them feel bad. I don’t believe that not posting is a solution though – and have gotten a lot feedback from readers asking for me to continue as I have been- and I really hope you can try to understand where I’m coming from. I truly wish everyone reading the very best and don’t ever want anyone to feel excluded or uncared about.
Hang in there and am sending love to you all. Be safe.