Interior designer. Wife. Mother of five. Author. TV star. Real estate maven. Is there anything Lauren Liess can’t do? I am constantly wowed by Lauren’s innate talent and overhwhelming charm, and I’m so thrilled to have her joining me on The Finer Points today. Lauren and her husband, David, call Great Falls, Virginia home, and recently debuted their very own HGTV show, “Best House on the Block.” Each episode chronicles a full-house renovation, sharing tips and tricks for achieving their signature style in your very own home. Keep scrolling to learn how her family inspired her career, what she and her kids think about being on the show, and where we might see her popping up next…
Marie Flanigan: I saw an interview where you mention that your grandmother encouraged your artistic interests when you were younger. In what ways did your upbringing influence your journey to interior design?
Lauren Liess: My grandmother is artful in almost everything she does. Be it painting, decorating, crafting, flower arranging, or entertaining, she does everything with thought and care. My mom and I moved in with my grandparents when I was four years old and I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who always had something special planned for us. We would paint together, she taught me how to embroider, we would arrange flowers, set pretty table settings, collect flowers and press them, and plan the most elaborate childhood birthday parties, always complete with handmade invitations.
I used to design Halloween costumes and dresses and she would sew them for me and eventually taught me how to sew. My favorite thing she ever made me was my prom dress. She also taught me to never be ‘bored.’ “We don’t say that word,” she would say. I think years of learning from her helped me learn to see things through an artistic lens, to recognize and appreciate beauty, and to always be creating. I never felt like I had any natural aptitude for drawing or painting, but she made me have fun while we did it and it wasn’t being ‘good’ that kept me at it. When I found decorating, I felt like I finally found an art medium I could learn to be good at.
MF: Your first book, Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating, was released in 2015. The concept of giving readers the tools and insight they need to create a beautiful home for themselves is powerful. What inspired the concept of your latest book, Down to Earth, debuting this fall?
LL: I had thought of Habitat as a ‘how-to’ for decorating and really wanted to create an organized brain dump of what I’d learned about the design process. Down to Earth is less of a how-to and more of an exploration into what my aesthetic is all about. It’s a series of essays about elements that are important to me in creating a natural, relaxed, laid-back home. Each chapter is an essay on a concept and then showcases a single home that I feel really embodies that particular concept. Throughout the home tours, I share specific tips and concrete reasoning behind design choices, but the book itself is meant to encourage creating homes that force you to really slow down, enjoy life, exhale, unplug, unwind, and in essence, bring you back down to earth.
MF: Congratulations on your amazing series on HGTV, “Best House on the Block!” I love that you are breathing individualism into builder-grade homes. So far, what’s your biggest takeaway from developing and filming the show?
LL: Thank you so much! Gosh, there are so many takeaways, but I think one of the biggest is how interesting David and I found the behind-the-scenes process. I didn’t expect to be interested in learning about the things that make a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ show, but throughout filming, we’ve learned a little bit and find it fascinating. We loved learning about how the story would be shown and why certain things were done.
MF: What do your kids think about you being on TV?
LL: They don’t care at all! Haha! It’s so funny. We were watching lots of HGTV before our show aired. We had already watched our pilot and I asked my three year old what was her favorite HGTV show and she chose “Fixer Upper!” She loves Chip and Joanna.
MF: Your design style is so fresh and comforting with a lovely mix of old and new. How has your style evolved over time?
LL: I think my style is always evolving, but it was when I moved into my old ’70s house that I kind of ‘found myself’ style-wise. It was one of the first times I was designing for myself and not a client, so I did a lot of design soul searching. I’ve realized I’m crazy about plaster, stucco, white oak, old wood, stone, sculptural antiques, mixed metals, big windows, plants, botanical-based textiles, and patina. As I get older, I find I want things as simple as possible and am drawn towards modern interiors with patina and texture. I don’t like having a lot of ‘stuff.’ I find myself imagining life in a glass box on acres and acres of land, but then again I absolutely love old stone buildings! My dream house combines the two.
MF: You and your husband make such an amazing team! With five beautiful children, a TV show, design clients, and two books, how do you get it all done? Is there a powerhouse team behind Lauren Liess & Co.?
LL: Thank you, but I promise you, we don’t! It feels like I’m dropping balls left and right and we’re always attempting to keep the wheels on the wagon! As you know well, there are so many days when there’s just no way to physically get it all done, so our mantra is “do your best and forget the rest.” It started out as a joke, but we’ve found it helps.
We have an amazing project manager at our design firm whom we adore, but we’ve kept our design business intentionally small. I love designing for clients and being completely involved in everything that goes out the door, but I also love designing products and writing. So for now, it’s seeming to make the most sense for us to work on a handful of interior design projects each year, allowing us to pursue other endeavors, as well.
MF: I feel like that age-old adage “the cobbler’s children have no shoes” definitely doesn’t apply to you! It seems like you’ve moved quite a bit and you always do a wonderful job of creating a memorable home for your family. What was the push behind your big moves and how has your design approach changed with each one?
LL: We are ALWAYS looking at real estate for fun. And most of the time, when we’ve moved, we hadn’t had intentions of leaving until we saw something cool pop up. As I mentioned above, one of our big moves was made with the intention of completely transforming an original ’70s contemporary house that came up in a random real estate search. After seven years, we had poured our hearts and souls (and cash!!) into the house. It was then that I felt I had a space I’d made that truly showcased my style. Before that, most of my published work had been client projects in the DC area that showcased my clients’ styles, so I was dying to get my hands on something that I could really express myself with.
We’ve moved twice since then and still have all of the same things in our current house. We’ve been in our current house for two and a half years and I still have some work to do, as some of our rooms are really hodgepodged together and will stay that way for a while. But because I had such a handle on what I loved seven years ago, when we move, our stuff still works for us and in a variety of architectural styles. But since that ’70s house, I haven’t really set out to quickly decorate and finish either of these other houses we’ve moved into because I wanted to take my time and focus on other projects at work and home, like gardening! We were at our last home for less than a year before we found this current one, so we had to race to finish the renovation in time for our open house! And then, of course, I photographed it all before we moved out shortly after! So it may have looked ‘done,’ but I promise it was mayhem!
With each house, though, I pay attention to its bones and architectural style, and design each element with those in mind. They all sort of have their own flavor even though it’s the same furniture.
MF: We both actively use the power of blogging and social media to build our brands. What are your top 2 – 3 marketing tips for emerging interior designers hoping to grow their business’ brand recognition?
LL: Have your work professionally photographed and then get it out there! I’ve found that sometimes sharing pics on your own Instagram, blog, or website can be more helpful than holding back a project for a year or two for a magazine. Connect with others and make good social media friends. Surround yourself with a warm and friendly community of people who genuinely want good things for you and vice versa. Lift others up and encourage. As new as you might feel at this, realize you have the potential to make someone’s day. So many real-life friendships and opportunities have arisen for me from social media.
MF: Will there be a second season of “Best House on the Block?” Please say yes! What else is on the horizon for your family and Lauren Liess & Co.?
LL: LOL we don’t know! But it’s been so much fun and such a cool thing to get to be a part of. I’m in the midst of designing a collection for Woodbridge Furniture that encompasses case goods, dining, and occasional pieces to be launched at the Fall 2019 High Point Market. I’m also working with Taylor King on an upholstery collection to be launched at the same market. The showrooms are right next door to each other and they have a close relationship, so each showroom will showcase the others’ pieces in the room set-ups. So, for example, there will be Taylor King sofas in the Woodbridge showroom and vice versa. I’m launching a tile collection with Architectural Ceramics this summer, and I have a couple of other product collections launching in 2019 and 2020 that I’m really excited about. We also just opened a real estate brokerage, called Property Collective, with some amazing partners and we’re in the midst of renovating and expanding our offices, which has been fun. I’m also starting to think about my next book and have been getting some thoughts down on paper. As far as family goes, we’re just trying to sneak as much quality time in as we can with the kids while they still want it. We’re focusing on trying to slow life down at home.
MF: It has been a joy getting to know you better! Thank you so much, Lauren!