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Beyond the Pencil (Skirt): Meet Nicole Gibbons, Interior Designer

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If you’re a design aficionado you have probably seen Nicole Gibbons dishing decor and entertaining tips in top media outlets like HDTV, Traditional Home, and Real Simple. Or perhaps you’ve come across her stylish decorating and lifestyle blog So Haute while browsing Pinterest. Gibbons is the founder of her eponymous interior design studio where she works with clients, runs So Haute, and makes frequent on-air appearances (be on the lookout for her upcoming segment giving a home makeover on the Oprah Winfrey Network).

Nicole greeted us at the Decoration & Design Building in New York where she showed us around a couple of her favorite showrooms. In addition to chatting about fabric and wallpaper patterns, Nicole gave us insider advice on breaking into the design industry and tips for navigating a personal business.

Current Location:

New York City

Where you are from originally?

Southfield, Michigan

Education (College / Major):

Northwestern University / Communication Studies

Brief description of Nicole Gibbons studio:

My company is a multi-faceted creative firm that encompasses my full-service interior design studio, my blog, So Haute, and all of my branded partnerships and on-air work as a design expert in television and digital media.

Have you always been interested in interiors? What did you do before launching your design business?

I’m fortunate to have had a unique and purposeful set of experiences that led me to my current path. I grew up with a mom who was a decorator so I’ve been exposed to good design my entire life and have always been passionate about interiors. Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, but my father especially has always evangelized the value of being an entrepreneur and drilled the idea into my head that I would run my own business some day.

Before focusing on my business full-time, I worked in the fashion industry where I was director of global public relations and events for a well-known fashion brand, which was an invaluable experience. As a publicist, I mastered the art of networking, which has made building solid relationships with media and industry influencers rather effortless. I also developed a keen understanding of how to build a strong brand, which is essential as young entrepreneur and particularly important for me as I work to build my presence as an on-air personality in the home design space. Through my work producing and managing high profile events, I developed excellent project management and budget management skills, which has enabled me to manage my interior design projects and client budgets very effectively.

Tell us a bit about the steps you took to transform your interest in design into a multi-dimensional business. What came first?

My decorating blog was a huge first step in realizing my passion. Having grown up around the business, I never in a million years thought I’d want to work in design. But when I started the blog as a creative outlet in 2008, I realized that this was a subject I was truly passionate about. From that point, I immersed myself in the design industry, attending every event and introducing myself to any and everyone in the design world. I took classes at FIT and NYU, everything from drafting to the history of furniture, I talked to a ton of designers I admired to get advice on running a solid design business, I read every book and shelter magazine, and spent all of my free time educating myself so that when I took the leap, I would feel prepared and confident. I also set up an LLC in 2008 and spent the next few years taking on small projects and developing an infrastructure that could support larger business in the future. At the beginning of this year, I decided it was time to focus on my business full-time and dove in head first!

Office Style

Your style in a few words:

My office style is classic sophistication. I like clean silhouettes. I love a good sheath dress and wear a lot of black and white as well as classic blue denim. My off-duty style is a lot more relaxed and carefree, but always with great accessories!

Style icon:

I don’t know if I have a single style icon, but I noticed recently on my Pinterest Style board that there’s a lot of Miranda Kerr, Olivia Palermo, Lauren Santo Domingo, and my friend Julie Sarinana who writes the fab personal style blog, Sincerely Jules.

Go-to pair of work shoes:

Metallic flats – they go with everything and can be dressed up or down.

Handbag and three items inside at all times:

Chloé Paraty. My iPhone, iPad mini, wallet are always inside.

Office Lifestyle

Describe your design aesthetic and the decor of your home office:

My design style is ever evolving, but in a nutshell I would describe it as classic design with a youthful, modern edge and a touch of whimsy. I love mixing modern and traditional, playing with pattern and color, and creating rich layers with decorative elements. Comfort is also something that I strive for in my work. In my own home, nothing is too precious. It’s meant to be lived in.

A day in your life looks like:

I wear a lot of hats so every day is different. On a busier day, I’m out the entire day meeting with clients and/or shopping at the D&D, New York Design Center, and around the city for projects. I spend a lot of time on the computer shopping online, researching, and preparing presentations. I usually try keep one day a week clear to catch up on emails, phone correspondence, paperwork, invoicing, etc. When I work on TV or media projects, work becomes pretty all-consuming because there is always a sense of urgency, which adds a heightened stress level and I still have to prioritize my client work. For the rest of the summer and into the fall I’ll be working on a home makeover show for OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, so those will be long 10-12 hour days filming on location.

Favorite design lines and showrooms:

I love Kravet, Lee Jofa, Duralee, and Thibaut for fabrics and wallpaper. Hickory Chair is a favorite furniture showroom. For tile I love Country Floors. Pottery Barn and West Elm are favorites for accessibly priced accessories. I’m obsessed with One Kings Lane. I spend a lot of time in L.A. as well and Harbinger L.A., Thomas Lavin, Hollywood at Home, and Nathan Turner are a few of my favorite showrooms there.

Best places in New York to scout design finds:

I love the Showplace Antiques Center on 25th street as well as the 25th street Antiques Garage and Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market. Lillian August is also such a wonderful store and they also have a fantastic design trade program.

For vintage:

eBay, 1stdibs, and pretty much any flea market.

Work Life Integration

Other than interiors what are you interests and hobbies?

Cooking, traveling, and spending time with my nieces and nephews.

How do you check out from your blog and work? Any tips?

It’s really difficult to check out. I also work from home so there is a very blurred line that makes checking out all the more difficult. I work non-stop, my iPhone is always an arms length away, and honestly, I haven’t mastered the art of finding balance yet! Going on vacation is the only way I really have an opportunity to check out.

Workout routine:

Spinning, boxing, yoga, and I recently started grueling body weight strength training workouts with Rodney Carter.


Best piece of advice ever received:

It’s more of a saying than a piece of advice, but I heard Oprah say once that, “success is when preparation meets opportunity,” and that has always stuck with me.

My mentor:

I’m lucky to have a several consistent figures in my life who serve as both personal and professional mentors, but the person I call on most for advice in every facet of my life is my best friend Lizzy—she gives me perspective and keeps me grounded.

In 10 years:

I would love to expand my brand into a multimedia and merchandising powerhouse with a strong presence across TV and digital platforms and product licenses that touch key categories in the home space. I’ve always been inspired by the Martha Stewart business model. Also, I hope to have a family. I’ve got a lot of work to do!

Career wisdom for young professional women:

If you’ve found that thing that you’re most passionate about, immerse yourself in it. Study it. Live and breathe it. Surround yourself with like-minded people who will continue to fuel your passion and keep you motivated. Visualize what you can achieve by doing it. As the outliers effect affirms, you will become successful at it. If you haven’t found your calling, that’s OK.

Check out Nicole on Twitter @SoHaute, and ask her a question on her Levo League mentor profile about interior design, starting a blog, and being an on-air decorating expert.

Speaking of fashion, don’t forget to visit our Facebook page and enter for your chance to win a handbag from Coach!

Photo editing and visual content by Pinsi Lei

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