Designers We Love | Nest Out West

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Q&A with CAIT PAPPAS of NEST OUT WEST

1. How did you get started in interior design or when did you know this was what you wanted to do for a living?

I don’t have any formal training in interior design. In fact, I majored in Public Relations, minored in English Studies, and then earned a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education. I teach middle school English Language Arts full time, but am hoping to leave that career behind after this school year ends so I can nurture my interior styling and e-design business.

It was never clear to me that I had a knack for decorating until my husband and I had moved into our first home about two years ago. It was a tract home in a new-build neighborhood, and I didn’t simply want to throw in a bunch of our college furniture and call it home. I wanted to do it right, so I had exactly one year to scour Houzz and Pinterest to plan out how to bring character and warmth to a home that had just been built with the exact same footprint as one-sixth of the other homes in our neighborhood. I am 100% self-taught; I read myriad blogs, studied design articles, categorized and identified trends, and synthesized all of this information in time to begin decorating our new home.

The weekend we closed on our home, we invited a few good friends over and paid them in beer for helping us tear out all the builder-grade carpet and vinyl flooring. We spent the next three days installing wood-look laminate flooring and hanging new light fixtures to replace the forsaken “boob lights” and the same-old generic dining pendant they install in all the new homes these days.

When one of my friends from home (being Chicago) came over to visit, she was impressed by how much character a two-month-old home could have. She told me I should create “one of those home décor accounts on Instagram,” so I did, very reluctantly because I wasn’t sure whether I’d be a total embarrassment to myself and family, or it would take off, and then what would I do with it?

Once my Instagram account @nest.out.west gained a little exposure and began earning features on other accounts, my confidence in my design ability grew, and I felt an urge to keep designing spaces so I could have fresh content to post. Luckily, people started reaching out to me through direct message and through the contact section on my site (nestoutwest.co). They wanted me to come help bring my style into their builder-grade homes! I learned how to write a contract, how to price my services fairly, and how to incorporate my style in a way that doesn’t impede on the homeowner’s tastes and practical needs. Now, I have a thriving “side” business as an interior stylist, and I recently launched my e-design service in February for a Bay-area client who didn’t mind being a Guinea pig for me. Our process, so far, has been running smoothly, and I have a few clients lined up for summer, so I’m planning on making this my full-time gig. Fingers crossed it takes off!

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2. What inspires you or where do you seek inspiration?

I seek inspiration from three sources: nature, a handful of super-inspiring Instagram accounts, and my closet. I’m a Taurus — that’s an Earth sign, meaning I feel most at peace when surrounded by earthy elements such as plants, rocks, and animals. Lucky for me, Jason (my husband) also loves an Earth-inspired palette. Natural textures and fibers (leather, bamboo, wood, jute, etc.), as well as Earth tones (rust red, desert peach, forest green, granite grey, and charcoal) are prevalent inside our home. We often find inspiration when we go for a hike or a weekend camping trip, in that we see color combinations that occur naturally together to form the picturesque landscape Colorado is known for, and we figure out ways to mimic those combinations when we decorate.

Some of the IG accounts I’ve followed (and LOVED) since before I had one of my own were some of the obvious ones, such as @dominomag, @joannagaines, @studiomcgee, and @apartmenttherapy, but I also now find inspiration from @bpatrickflynn, @em_henderson, @amberinteriors, and @becrowbe.

As for my closet, I figure if there are certain colors and textures I gravitate toward when I get dressed every day, it must be because those are the ones in which I feel most comfortable — most myself. Why not, then, decorate my home with the same color palette and fabric textures?

3. What's been your favorite project to date? What made it so special?

My favorite project to date is the loft area in our home. We opted for a loft rather than a fourth bedroom because, for one, our home couldn’t have a basement; in addition to that, we don’t have any children yet, so there was no need for a fourth bedroom. This isn’t our forever home.

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What made this project so satisfying was that we knew from the beginning that it would be a challenge. The 9’ x 14’ space was awkward, with the railing to the stairs being on one side, a window on the other, a weird entry gap, and two very small walls on the ends. We didn’t want to block the window, and knowing that we’d soon replace the drywall staircase wall with an open cable railing from L.J. Smith Stairs, we didn’t want to place a sofa in front of it (what’s the point in installing an open cable railing if you’re just going to block it with a sofa, right?). The window was centered in the space, and at first, I could hardly fathom not centering the sofa underneath the window. But if we did that, then there wouldn’t be enough space for us to have a desk, and we needed a home office space, therefore we needed to be unconventional with our approach to tackling this floor plan. We must have moved the furniture around at least 15 different ways! We also measured-out areas and taped the floor to see if we could even achieve the living-room-home-office-in-one goal in the first place. Once we decided on a floor plan, we couldn’t decide on a color scheme (please don’t remind my husband how much money I must’ve wasted on paint samples). I had polls on my Instagram stories asking for people to vote for their fave paint color, and I had nine shades of desert blush on one part of the wall, two shades of earthy green in another section, and about five different shades of white (who knew there were so many good ones?!). In the end, we went with a smoky grey lime wash paint from Portola Paints that looks a lot like concrete, and we are quite pleased with its effect. Everything came together so nicely that now this is the space we chill out in more than any room in our house.

4. What would you say is the most common decorating mistake that you see clients make?

The most common decorating mistake I saw some of my earlier clients make was holding on to this idea that everything needed to fit into one matchy-matchy design theme. For example, if someone wanted a modern farmhouse design, they might have gone out and bought an entire dining set, matching hutch, console table, end tables and coffee table. I can’t stand things being matchy-matchy, nor can I stand it when someone hires me to help bring more character to a space, and then that person insists that everything must match, and that I can’t put a mid century credenza into a modern farmhouse design plan or something like that. Luckily, by now I have gotten to a place where the people who hire me trust me, and they appreciate the element of surprise that comes with blending design styles.

5. What is a trend you are loving right now?

I am loving the organic modern trend right now! I love that it has a Scandinavian feel, but with the warmth we see in rustic design, all the while appreciating the clean lines and subdued hues found in modern design.

6. Describe your style using 3 words.

My style in three words: modern Scandinavian farmhouse.
 

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Rapid Fire Questions:

1. Favorite room to design in a home and why?

Living room! I love that this is the space where most families spend the majority of their time, so it needs to be both comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. I also LOVE that there are a number of décor items and accessories that can be easily switched out with each season (or even one’s mood that day – hah!).

2. Favorite way to spend a Saturday?

I love to wake up slowly, watch a little HGTV, eat a chocolate-chip-pancake breakfast (my husband is the master of making these, by the way), and do something active, such as going on an easy hike, hitting up the ski slopes, or going for a jog on the running trail by our house. If the weather is crummy, then I’d likely get caught up on cleaning and organizing my home.

3. Dream design job?

I would relish in getting the chance to have someone completely turn their home (and credit card) over to me for the entire duration of a project, preferably a lake house fixer-upper with great bones where the owners bought it for the property, but have no idea what kind of potential the interior holds. Of course I’d stay within budget, but I’d have a vision for the gem this home could be, and I’d help the homeowners realize this with their complete trust in my design, without feeling the need to interfere or approve/deny the purchases I make. Sounds like the show Fixer Upper a bit, doesn’t it?

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4. Fill in the blank. People don't know that I can…

…talk for hours about British literature, especially the Romantic and Victorian authors and works.

5. Favorite design set from a movie?

There’s no way I can answer this question with brevity. I am obsessed with Every. Single. Scene. in the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby (the one directed by Baz Luhrmann). Even though many people argued that the movie didn’t accurately represent the time period in which it was intended to have existed, I say it’s a modern adaptation of the classic story. I love that the movie has party scenes where guests in Jay Gatsby’s home are dancing to Jay-Z, Fergie, Lana Del Rey, etc., as it lends the effect of people having a good time the way the audience recognizes “a good time.” But what I love even more about this movie is the way the set producer combined the ornate architectural details associated with the 1920s (everyone needs a little art deco in their lives), while bringing in some mid century modern pieces, pops of color, loads of texture and depth, and DRAMA! Remember the scene in the lounge when Nick first walked into the Buchanan residence? That mid century credenza against the hardly-greige paneled walls, with the white drapes blowing in with the breeze, the massive crystal chandelier, and that oh-my-god red art deco rug?! Well that’s up there, but it's not my absolute favorite set design in this movie. What I feel is the most breathtaking set design is the scene where Nick invites Daisy over for tea, when unbeknownst to her, she is going to see Gatsby for the first time in a long time. Inside Nick's home, Gatsby had arranged for loads and loads of gorgeous white, light green, and pale pink flowers to be delivered and set up in every corner of the room, and everywhere in between, too! Behind the flowers are mahogany paneled walls, French doors, and furniture accents, and a magnificently modern olive green tiled fireplace. I want that in my someday-home.

6. Favorite way to add impact to a room?

With a super detailed furniture accent, such as a herringbone coffee table or an eye-catching light fixture.

7. Favorite color to use in a design?

Green. Hands-down. Nearly any shade of green!

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8. Whose brain would you like to pick over coffee (past or present)?

I’d love to have a sit-down with modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I’m originally from Illinois (the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago), and I’ve toured some of Wright’s homes in Oak Park, IL. I’d love to know who or what motivated him, how he got himself out of creative slumps in order to come up with new and avant-garde designs, and how he balanced his career with his home life.

9. Country you would like to visit?

I feel like I need to travel to Austria at some point in my life. I have no familial ties to the country, but I grew up watching The Sound of Music, and even though I know much of it was filmed on sets, that nostalgic piece might be why I’ve always felt a draw to visit there. Vienna and Salzburg both look fabulous.

10. What album or artist is currently on repeat?

Less than half of the people who read this will even know who this band is (they’re super underground, having only one of their songs played on the radio, and that was back in the early 2000s), and then of the people who do know this band, about half of them love them and the other half hate them haha. The name of the band is Brand New.

11. Guilty pleasure?

Reeses. I keep a stash of Reese's minis in my desk in my classroom to toss to students when they get an answer correct or do a good deed for another student, but I end up eating more than I give my kiddos. I need to control myself.

12. Favorite motto or mantra?

Keep an open mind.

13. Go to place when you are in a slump?

What I love about living in a suburb west of Denver, Colorado, is that when I’m in a creative slump, I can head downtown to Union Station and become reinvigorated by the incredible design elements found in all the cafes and restaurants, and even in the grand lobby! When I’m in an overall slump (mood-wise), I head out into nature, most likely into the mountains, and go for a run under the trees or along a pretty lake. Shopping also cheers me up if running is not an option. :)

14. What's something you've always wanted to learn?

I’ve always wished I would have learned to play the violin. I’d also love to be able to speak German. There’s still time!

15. Favorite coffee table book?

I’m loving Emily Henderson’s “Styled,” from 2015. Even in 2018, everything in it is relevant.

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Business Questions:

1. Starting any business can be tough. What advice would you give to someone starting a design business?

True that! I’d say, “Do your research, know your value, and listen to your gut.”

2. What's the best part about owning your own business?

I love having control about how I create spaces for my clients, and there’s nobody above me to sway the direction I’m heading toward or to stifle my creativity. I also enjoy having the ability to take on as much or as little as I’m able to handle at any given time. For example, one of my followers on Instagram recently reached out to ask me to help redecorate his kitchen and dining space, but being a teacher full-time and having essays to drown in, I asked if he’d still be willing to work with me if we needed to postpone his project start date until school’s out. I’m already working with three clients while teaching, and I’d love to still have time for my husband in the evening. The prospective client said that he values my taste so much that he’s willing to wait until I’m able to be more present in his project. So yay!

3. What's the hardest part about owning your own business?

It was at first tough to manage all the things I never had to know before, such as how to keep track of receipts and know what to do when tax season comes around, or whether or not I need to become an LLC, or how trademarking and copywriting work, and whether or not I needed to do those things for my brand. It’s also risky because some months are slower than others (not many people want to pay an interior decorator during the months of November to January, when they’re going through a whirlwind of holiday events and family festivities), and that means income isn’t guaranteed to be steady year-round.

4. What's the biggest lesson you've learned so far from having your own design business?

The importance of getting a signed contract before beginning ANY work for the client. I’ve been burnt twice by clients who didn’t pay and stopped responding to my emails, only to see from their Instagram accounts that they implemented my design after all.

5. Social media is a beast in today's world. How do you manage social media? Any tips that you have found helpful?

It is! Especially when you’re a teacher by day and can’t constantly be checking your phone and responding to comments! I tend to take most of my photos on my Nikon, touch them up a little in Adobe Lightroom, and then upload them to Google Drive. From there, I can save them to my phone and prepare draft posts in Instagram. I usually type up my caption and all the hashtags for it when I’m laying in bed the night before, tag any accounts that relate to that pic, and then I check my business stats to see what time the next day my followers are most active. Once everything looks how I want it to look when I post it, I save it as a draft and then post it the next day during that special hour I determined the night before. With the latest change to Instagram’s algorithm, the rumor on the street is that if you edit your post after you post it, IG sees that as a bot-like action, and it lowers the number of accounts your post is immediately visible to. This is why drafting and saving prior to posting really helps!

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6. Do you have a favorite social media platform? Why that one?

Definitely Instagram. I’ve tried the Facebook page thing, and it’s more a waste of time for what I do than it is useful. Pinterest is amazing for inspiration, and one of my many goals for when school gets out this summer is to read more about how to strengthen my Pinterest presence, but for the time being, I choose IG. I’ve also found that people are astoundingly supportive there!

7. Have you found a system that works well for you in terms of how you charge?

I’m still figuring that out as I go. My business as a part-time side-job is still relatively new (it’s only been about a year since I launched my styling services, and two months since I launched e-design). Once I go full-time with this in June of this year, I plan on getting to the bottom of this question by researching how other designers charge for their services, and figuring out which pay models make the most sense for me and for my clients.

8. What's something you find yourself spending too much time on?

Instagram. The new algorithm rewards users for their engagement, so in order for each post to do well, I need to constantly check in on the good ol’ IG and make sure I'm leaving comments on other users’ posts, as well as responding immediately to the people who comment on my posts.

9. What's your best advice for setting boundaries with your clients?

As convenient as it might seem to be able to text your clients (e.g. “Hey! I’m at HomeGoods and found this AMAZING piece I’d love to use in your dining room — want me to get it and just add it to this month’s invoice?”), do not text your clients. One of my very first clients had my cell number, and she would send me questions at all hours of the day. If I didn’t respond until 9am the next day to a 9 pm text about an online sale where she only had until midnight to buy something at a discounted price, she was upset with me because she missed the sale and it was my fault for not responding to her text. After that, I added a “reasonable communications” clause to my contract, saying that the client should communicate by phone, email, or direct message (Instagram) between the hours of 9am and 5pm. Anything outside of those hours may not receive an immediate response, and if the client insists on a response outside of those hours, the client will be billed an hourly rate in addition to the project’s contracted cost. I’ve learned that sharing more about my personal life actually helps my clients realize that I’m human, too, and I have a family, too, and I value my down-time, too. My life doesn’t revolve around my clients' living rooms and kitchens. :)