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Decorating Tips, Interviews

Meet Decorator Jan Eleni

February 25, 2010

Are you ready to read a refreshingly honest interview with an interior decorator? I encourage you to read this interview that I had yesterday with interior decorator Jan Eleni Lemonedes from Jan Eleni Inc. in New York City. She speaks boldly and from an authentic place and I really value the time that I shared with her to develop this feature for you. I hope that you like it, too.

Meet Decorator Jan Eleni

First, a bit of history about this talented lady. Jan once had a little shop in the 90’s in New York City’s east village also under her name. About her store she told me, “It was quaint with unique decorative pieces for the home and garden and became a creative outlet for me.” She offered an eclectic mix of early primitive with industrial pieces, along with garden and architectural elements. A lady who loves to “hunt”, she filled her shop with anything and everything that caught her eye and her husband also maintained a loft for her to keep her ever-rotating stock. She calls this period in her life, “A fun time.” But then she was approached by ABC Carpet + Home and went to work there. “It was a different ball game then I was used to. A sort of crazy arena – but where anything was possible – we had to fight for our ideas, it was wonderful to be part of a creative team,” Jan told me. She eventually left the company to spend more time with her little girl, “It was a hard decision – but one that I don’t think twice about.”

So now that you have some history, let’s talk to Jan about her work.

Meet Decorator Jan Eleni

Holly: Why did you decide to decorate for a living?

Jan: I am a self taught designer and at a young age I always loved and appreciated beautiful things. I became obsessed with children’s spaces here in the U.S. because I felt like their were all these cookie cutter rooms that lacked any nourishment for an imagination – and so I started a business based around just that – creating spaces and really listening to what can nurture children in an everyday way.

Holly: I also noticed that in addition to decorating, you are also an artist. Can you tell us more?

Jan: While I was working on children’s spaces – I wanted to time capsule their moment in art – and I started making these beautiful art frames – a way to archive your child’s art in a modern way. It is a labor of love – a time consuming process – the end result is a grid of hand cut miniature images – a gathering of your child’s artwork. It is amazing if you think of how we can influence the next generation of artists and creative types.

Meet Decorator Jan Eleni

Meet Decorator Jan Eleni

Holly: You mentioned earlier that you do not have a formal design education but are self-taught. How do you think self-taught differs from someone with a degree when it comes to decorating and creativity?

Jan: We are born with visual senses – just like someone who excels in math – one can excel in the visual area and I have that gift. My daughter also has this. I also have an eye for products – I adore looking, finding and choosing. Not having a degree allows one to break the rules – and to come up with ideas off the book. One who holds a specialized degree is not necessary more creative – passion and creativity can not be taught. A piece of paper does not state that I have an A+ in creative ideas – although it probably should! Also when I was young, education was different – I am a product of NYC Public School, having grown up in upper Manhattan. Options back then weren’t available – the sky was not the limit – today children have so many choices and so many opportunities. My teachers did not encourage me – if you were not the smartest in the class then sadly you were not important. Our schools were over crowded though I did join a program in high school that instead of going to school – I worked at The Soho News for an entire semester. This was an amazing experience for me, to see the art world up close was a very special unique experience. Soho in the 70’s…

Holly: From a professional standpoint, what do you think needs to change about the interior design profession as a whole?

Jan: At the moment I think we are experiencing design overload – every where you turn – there is an ultra-designed home or a product more outrageous than the last. I think so much of it is silly. Too contrived. You can start to lose perspective on what is good design.

Meet Decorator Jan Eleni

Meet Decorator Jan Eleni

Holly: I’m delighted by how open you are, I feel so energized by your words. I think many feel these ways and appreciate hearing a professional with clearly so much talent, expressing them. Okay, so this leads me to my next question, living in such a highly competitive city such as New York, how do you manage to stay positive and on top in your field?

Jan: In all creative fields, everyone has a ego bigger then the next. I hate to play that game. I am a collaborator. I recently worked on a home – with architect Peter Himmelstein and it was a wonderful experience. The project was a brownstone – the home of a celebrity actor, his wife and their family. We all worked as a united team – there was a mutual respect across the board.

Holly: Can you share some of your thoughts on what works best when dealing with clients, any tips to share?

Jan: I love to work with my clients and get an understanding of what they like. There needs to be a mutual respect between the client and designer. Listening is key, as is confidence. My advice is to remain as honest and sincere if you truly don’t think something will work.

Meet Decorator Jan Eleni

Meet Decorator Jan Eleni

Holly: What is often a challenge in your profession?

Jan: What I realize in my experience is that many people are not educated in understanding the value of what we do. Often others take for granted and don’t understand the simple fact that ideas cost money. Time costs money. The value of a good eye – having a vision – it’s hard to put a price on.

Holly: Who has influenced your work?

Jan: A big influence was my grandmother – from Greece. When she was a young girl she would make raw silk from the cocoon – and make silk lace. Pillowcases, bedspreads, tablecloths – it is an incredible lost art. My love for textiles started early.

Holly: And what about your current inspirations, can you tell us a little about what inspires your creativity?

Jan: Much of my inspiration comes from my travels – I love Asia, I spend most of my summers abroad. In Bali there is a carefree feeling of the homes. They are inside out. I love the wood found in Indonesia. Europe holds me – having a Dutch husband we have spent much time traveling about. Absorbing an environment is the best learning tool. I am also an avid fan of the internet – picking up inspiration from all the excellent blogs out there as well as online magazines. Of course nothing beats picking up your favorite magazines – and letting your mind wander – watching your own ideas gain momentum. Pure inspiration is really all around us.

Jan thank you so much for spending time with us here today on decor8, it’s been a pleasure and honor to have you!

(images: photographer Luc Roymans)


Interview With Deborah Needleman

February 9, 2010

I just read such a lovely interview with former Domino magazine Editor-in-Chief Deborah Needleman over on Natalie Walton’s blog Daily Imprint.

Interview With Deborah Needleman

If you didn’t catch that, you must check it out. I have to quote Deborah for just a moment because I love how she defines what she thinks makes a truly stylish person. I think it shakes up the typical impression one has when they think of successful New York stylist, writer, designer… I once only imagined ruthless and pretentious types (ha ha Hollywood films and television series didn’t help!) but Domino did a great job of bringing in those who possessed genuine passion for the magazine and decorating vs. those who simply had talent for design and a massive attitude problem. Domino had heart and soul.

Natalie asked Deborah who inspires her and she replied so perfectly, “People with great style who live easily and happily with it. Many seemingly stylish people are pretty awful — fussy and uptight. But I am interested in style that is expansive, that makes lives more beautiful and the people in your life happier. This goes back I guess to the team we put together at domino: I am really inspired by many of the people there like Rita Konig, Dara Caponigro, Sara Costello, Stella Bugbee. I am also really inspired by women who are focused, smart and accomplish a lot while never becoming one of those scary businesswomen, if that makes any sense.”

I also love her thoughts on how she created a strong team and how she views that as her proudest career achievement. “It was a collection of the most talented, wonderful, kind and hilarious people ever. We never made a space for someone who might have been gifted but was difficult or tricky.” Truly great words!

The above photo was shown first in the NYTimes in 2007, you simply must view her home tour there if you didn’t see that already.

(images: deborah needleman, her home in NYC)

Interviews, Objects

Meet Union Eighteen

August 24, 2009

My name is Tamara Komuniecki, and I’m very happy to be guesting over here in Holly’s neck of the blogosphere. It’s actually going to be an honor to read my words on decor8, as I’ve been a fan and reader for so long. I don’t think I’ve ever left a comment, so I’m de-lurking in a big way! I am a Canadian broadcast and print journalist, married to a wonderful guy named Konrad and we have a great, crazy dog named Duane. I share my time between Canada (Vancouver, BC), where I blog at ModernGear (soon to be renamed and rebranded TamaraMedia to reflect my history and love of storytelling) and the USA (Long Beach, CA), where I am the Editor-in-Chief of Long Beach Magazine.

Meet Union Eighteen

It was in Long Beach, CA that I first came across the couple (and their wares) that I want to share with you today, Union Eighteen. Meg and Todd van der Kruik have since moved from Long Beach to near Atlanta, GA, but they are still working together in their spare time producing gorgeous, one-of-a-kind, handmade rugs, that go by the name RAW. These rugs pass both my environmental and my aesthetic considerations, and I am coveting one or two (or more) for our new house (construction zone). I caught up with Meg recently, and I’d like to share our discussion with you.

Meet Union Eighteen

Tamara: Who came up with the idea to rework discarded remnants of carpet into a new piece?

Union Eighteen: Todd had the idea of assembling the remnants into rugs. When this idea came to fruition we were living on opposite sides of the country. He was working in California for Bentley Prince Street and I was living in Tennessee with our daughter preparing for the cross-country relocation. We would mail weekly packages to each other of design magazines and articles that we had tagged for one another with our thoughts and ideas. At one point he sent me images of the carpet remnants in the dumpsters asking what we could do with them. I think it took us a few days at that point, going back and forth with creative ideas for him to finally say, “Why don’t we use the remnants for what they were intended? Beautiful floor coverings.”

Tamara: Was carpet a conscious choice of medium given its enormous environmental impact, or was it more an opportunity when your medium presented itself?

Union Eighteen: Both. With Todd working in the carpet industry we have first hand knowledge of what it takes to make carpet and what is lost when it is discarded. I think the “Aha” moment came when working at the mill in CA. He had to walk past the downcycling and refuse bins on a daily basis there and I think that really impacted him. Each handmade, one-of-a-kind rug at its root is simply a method by which to save water, energy and offer an attempt to change the way we define “waste”. The history of this material is a long one. Much of it is made from oil that must be drilled, piped and transported to spinning mills before it can be spun, dyed (at a rate of 2+ gallons of water per pound) and tufted into finished material that is then backed with latex rubber. The design process of RAW is one method by which to sustain the longevity of this virgin material and the energy contained within. If not re-purposed in this way these scraps of carpet would at best be down-cycled into carpet padding and at worst sent to a landfill where they would lay in waste for upwards of 50,000 years.

Meet Union Eighteen

Tamara: I know when you were living in Long Beach, Todd was working at a carpet manufacturer and thus was able to find leftovers with which you could work your magic – what are you using now?

Union Eighteen: We are currently establishing new connections with multiple mills here in GA. We feel very fortunate to be in a place where there are so many different mills to pull from. This will be great for our clients as we will have more access to different colors and textures for our inventory.

Meet Union Eighteen

Tamara: What are the prices of your rugs? Where can people buy them?

Union Eighteen: Our rugs retail anywhere from $25-$40 per sq ft. We have 5 stores in the US: David Galindo Home, Twentieth, The Road Less Traveled, The Future Perfect and @ Work Design. In Canada we are working with Melissa Davis on her new online store. This amazing new site will be launching very soon!

Meet Union Eighteen

Tamara: Does working and living together have a positive impact on your product, or do you find that you need to take a break from it more often?

Union Eighteen: Definitely positive! When we first met it was as two complete strangers with like-minded goals. We were both interested in starting a business focused on creating sustainable art and interior products through the use and reuse of discarded and renewable source material. Our personal relationship grew with our business. We have very different strengths and opportunities which makes us a really great creative team. I think that we also really respect each other’s talents and opinions…I feel very fortunate to have a business and life partner that is as encouraging and as supportive as Todd.

I have a long list of items on my “will have eventually” list – like two Eames bent plywood chairs, an antique metal map/blueprint filing cabinet, and for the last year, a Union Eighteen rug. I’ll be pleased that such a purchase will prevent even a little bit of carpet from sitting in a landfill for generations to come, and happy to support such a lovely couple in their creative endeavors. Thanks for having me today, Holly! – Tamara Komuniecki

(images: union eighteen)


Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

July 20, 2009

For many of you who spend lots of time reading blogs, Anna Spiro is someone you no doubt know and follow via her blog Absolutely Beautiful Things. For those new to blogging, this may be your first time hearing about Anna and if so, then you are in for a most lovely treat today. Anna Spiro is a talented, energetic thirtysomething blogger, interior designer, and shop owner living in Brisbane, Australia who is also a wife, mother, and pet owner – which is hardly apparent in the photos I’m about to share with you of her home. How she keeps it all buttoned up and together is a mystery to me, but she is such an inspiration and certainly a woman many of us aspire to be — I love that she is living her dream life, I can never hear too many stories of strong, confident woman pursuing their dreams.

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

Today I thought I’d invite you in on a chat I recently had with Anna where I learned more about her inspirations and ideas when it comes to decorating and blogging. Would you care to join us? And if I’ve forgotten to ask a question that you have in mind, please ask Anna below in the comments section so that you can take part in our chat as well.

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

Anna your home is drop dead gorgeous, I recall the first time seeing it in Real Living magazine and having to remove my jaw from the floor. How large is your home and who lives there? Anna: It’s 2,370 square feet — 4 Bedrooms, 1 lounge room, 1 dining room and 2 bathrooms. Me, my husband, our 6 year old son Harry and our golden retriever puppy, Ned live here.

Do you have a favorite room? Anna: Yes, I love our lounge room as it is filled with lots of my favourite collections of things and all of my books and magazines.

What inspired the design of your home, it’s so bright and bold! Anna: Being that the house {when we bought it} was an old, dark, pokey and extremely small cottage I wanted to open it up and turn it into a bright and welcoming family home so I painted everything white and then added lots of bright colours with the use of fabrics and my artwork and collections.

As a successful business owner and blogger, how do you keep your home so neat? Any tricks to share? Anna: Oh, I find it so hard to keep the house tidy. I am so disorganized and I must admit I do have a little help from my cleaning lady and my mother-in-law as I am absolutely hopeless when it comes to house chores.

Tell us about your shop Black & Spiro — when did it open and what made you decide to become a shop girl? Anna: We opened Black & Spiro in 2001. I suppose, having a shop has always been my lifelong dream. As a young girl I used to sell flowers from my mother’s garden on the street in front of our family home so I suppose I always had it in me!

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

Who in your family inspired you to be who you are today? Anna: Oh, definitely my mother. She is so creative and a very clever business woman too. I definitely was always and still continue to be very inspired by her.

Can you share some styling tips, everything always looks so nice! Anna: I have to tell you that I am a perfectionist. I very much know how I want something to look and I will not stop until it looks how I have it in my head. Even though my style is not to have everything looking too perfect and matched it does take a lot of effort and thought to get a room or space to look perfectly imperfect.

When you have a client consultation, what problems do most seem to have that inspired them call you in for help? Anna: I find that people tend to follow trends too much and therefore the trend they followed 5 years ago is now looking dated in their home. Instead of embracing their own unique style that inherently becomes timeless they embrace the style that is seen to be ‘in’ at the moment which I believe is a very big mistake.

How do you deal with this? Anna: I try to encourage people to break the boundaries and to consider pairing objects/pieces which don’t necessarily match or aren’t necessarily from the same range. I want people to use an antique dining table and then put it with those modern dining chairs they have always coveted. I try to help people create their own unique look and that always entails a mix up of furniture styles/fabrics/objects etc. You can still buy a trendy piece but don’t fill your house with it just buy one and mix it with the trendy pieces you purchased 2 years ago, 4 years ago, 6 years ago. This is how you create enduring style. Another thing I always say to clients is that a room must have at least one antique piece.

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

Tell us about your blog, Absolutely Beautiful Things, and what it has done to support your business… Anna: My blog has certainly helped propel my career although back in 2006 when I started blogging I had no idea as to what it was going to become. I find that blogging has also helped with my confidence as a designer and I love following other blogs and seeing what other people/designers are up to. It’s just all so inspiring!!

If you could live in another country part-time, where would it be and why? Anna: To be completely honest with you I am a homebody. I could never live anywhere away from my family and friends. However, in saying that I would love to go and spend a Summer in Italy. I love Italy.

Who are some of your favorite Australian designers, stylists, authors and shop owners? Anna: I love Australian Author Vicki Archer. Although she lives in France now she will always be an Australian at heart and I hear she is working on her second book – how exciting! I love Shannon Fricke’s work and her books. I’ve just stumbled across a new stylist – Nanette from Rummage blog, I’m really enjoying her work. Certainly Sibella Court and her wonderful concept store The Society Inc. Also Lyn Gardiner’s store – Empire Vintage is really beautiful.

If you could do ANYTHING (career wise) what would it be and why? Anna: I am certainly leading my dream career however, if I wasn’t doing what I do I would love to have a pretty flower shop in a small country town. I would wear gumboots and I would lead a less hectic life. I would have an old farmhouse with a pretty garden and I wouldn’t be as serious.

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

Meet Aussie Shop Owner/Designer Anna Spiro

And finally my dear, do you have a favorite movie? Anna: I don’t have a particular favourite movie however, I love movies about life and families etc. A movie that makes me cry is sometimes really good for me too…it gets all my built up stress out which can be a good thing as well!

Thank you so much Anna, it was an honor and pleasure to share our chat today on decor8. And again readers, if you have any questions to ask Anna please do so in the comments section below.

(images: Elouise Van-Riet Grey)


Meet Amy Atlas

June 24, 2009

I’m excited to share a chat I recently had with event planner Amy Atlas, owner and founder of Amy Atlas Events in New York City, who specializes in creating high end dessert tables. Her words may prove to be helpful and inspiring to small business owners or to those of you looking to launch your own event planning business. Amy wrote in a few weeks ago and the minute I saw her work I knew I had to learn more about the person behind it. In this interview, Amy talks about her life as an event planner but what I was surprised to learn is that she is an attorney with no design background. This is encouraging because I know lots of you have told me that fear pursuing your creative passions without a background in design. Many conclude that making a huge professional leap, from attorney to party planner for instance, is just not possible or practical. In some cases it may not work but only you know the answer and I believe that passion and talent ultimately will help you eventually to overcome your fear and go for it — just like Amy! I also found it interesting how her friends and family helped her to consider event planning as a business. It’s good to listen to the popular opinion of your friends! Let’s read what what precious pearls of wisdom she shares here today… and if I missed asking a question you’d like an answer to, please use the comments section and leave your question for her there.

Meet Amy Atlas

Meet Amy Atlas

When and how did you start your business, in other words, how did you go from idea to execution?

In 2007. I’ve always loved to entertain and create my signature dessert buffets. It was a hobby of mine, and it organically grew into a business through word of mouth. Friends and family encouraged me to make a business out of it. After practicing law and having two children, I decided I wanted to tap into my creative side. I started by creating dessert tables for friends and then friends of friends. Because no one had taken the candy buffet to the next level, I recognized that there was a niche that could be filled. I worked hard to perfect that niche and developed a reputation as the go-to-girl for dessert bars.

What is your background?

I am an attorney. I don’t have a design background, but like many, have always had a creative side.

What types of events are you doing?

We do all types of parties from weddings, corporate, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, to graduation and birthday parties.

Do you do everything alone or do you have staff?

If you have employees, how many and what are their functions? I have a boutique firm with a small staff. I am involved with even the smallest details of every party. People hire me for my signature style and I want to make sure that my clients get that.

What do you enjoy most about event planning?

I love seeing a client’s inspiration develop into a story for their event. It is extremely gratifying turning a client’s vision into reality and seeing their response (as well as their guests) to the design at the event.

Meet Amy Atlas

Meet Amy Atlas

I noticed recently on your blog you talked about a baby naming event you recently planned. For those who don’t know what this is, can you explain?

A baby naming is a ceremony commonly held by Jewish families to introduce their new baby to their network of friends and family. At this ceremony, a Rabbi officially gives the baby her given name. It is a chance to present a baby to the community to which he or she belongs.

What is a constant challenge for you?

A constant challenge for me is taking my designs to the next level. I work hard to make sure that each client has a signature dessert bar that is made just for them. It is a healthy challenge, however, that I gladly welcome!

What trends are you seeing out there in event planning?

I see that more and more hosts want to have a design for their event and for that design to be carried out from the very beginning to the very end of their event.

How did you develop your aesthetic and when do you feel like it all came together?

I don’t feel like there was a moment when everything came together. I have always had a distinct sense of style and thought that it would translate well to events. I’m thankful that people have responded well to it.

Meet Amy Atlas

InStyle magazine recently referred to you as a Tastemaker. What do you think earns you that title and sets you apart from others in your field?

We are so fortunate to work with so many talented people in the event world, but what sets us apart from others in our field is our signature style and our specialty in dessert bars. We are known for having taken the candy buffet to another level with the stylized dessert bar, and it has now become a trend. No detail is overlooked when we are creating each one of our custom, signature dessert bars. As for taste, we have the great good fortune of being able to sample desserts from the best bakers and candy purveyors from around the nation. We have samples of delectable sweets sent to us daily and we document all of our findings. We taste everything so we can ensure that our clients are getting the most delicious and beautiful desserts for their event. Not only do we have relationships with the best bakers, but we also have sources for every detail that goes into creating a stunning dessert display.

Has the economy slowed your business at all? If so, what have you done to stay afloat?

Thankfully, the wedding season has kept me busy, even in these tough economic times. Everyone loves dessert, and brides in particular really like to showcase dessert beautifully on their special day. Because of that, I have remained busy.

On your website you have some gorgeous photographs of your work. Do you also take photos or are they shot by someone else? If so, who?

The photographs on my site and blog were taken by Gemma Comas and Karen Mordechai.

What would be your dream event (to plan) and is their anyone you’d love to work with and why?

Perhaps an Inaugural Event. My former career was in politics as a lawyer, and it would be exciting to bring my experiences together. I’m working with Mindy Weiss this fall and am really excited about that!

Meet Amy Atlas

Meet Amy Atlas

Meet Amy Atlas

Meet Amy Atlas

How do you encourage and support other woman in the business?

I’ve been so fortunate to work with many talented women in my business. I work with a lot of young women who are trying to break into the event planning business. I’ve had gifted young pastry chefs and graphic designers participate in my internship program. I embrace opportunities to work with new and small businesses and am always searching for new, talented vendors to work with.

How do you market your business and what tips do you have for others who are looking to spread the word about what they do?

While I’ve been approached by a lot of wonderful pr companies, I still handle the pr for my company. Thankfully, the press and blog world have been very receptive to my designs and I haven’t had a need for pr representation yet. With all of the social networking tools like twitter and blogs, it has made it easier to promote small businesses. I would encourage any small business owner to engage in these forms of social networking. I also engaged in a lot of grassroots marketing. I made a list of the press that I wanted to target, found out the appropriate editors who covered stories for each publication, and pitched my story to those editors. If you are passionate about your business, then the story really sells itself.

Thank you Amy for these insights and all the best with your business!

(website) (blog)

Readers: If you have a question for Amy, please don’t be shy — ask her below in the comments section.

(images: Gemma Comas and Karen Mordechai.)


Stylist Q & A With Pia Jane Bijkerk

May 6, 2009

Hello friends! I’ve been working on this interview since last Friday so I’m thrilled that today I can share it with all of you. I met stylist, photographer, blogger and now new author of Paris: Made By Hand, Pia Jane Bijkerk, last year in Amsterdam at a small gathering of bloggers. I didn’t know much about Pia before that evening, but upon meeting her I felt as though I’d met a kindred spirit since she’s also passionate about art and design, particularly handmade things, and she really loves to blog and talk about the experience of blogging.

Stylist Q & A With Pia Jane Bijkerk

From that point on, I started to read her blog regularly and fell in love… and now I follow her work more closely. I was particularly excited when she revealed her new book would soon be published. I know her work is being featured all over the web right now so the challenge for me was to put a different spin on things so as to not repeat content already posted elsewhere. This interview will focus on a more behind-the-scenes look at the life as a stylist and how it all works.

The job of a stylist is usually quite secret, not many really share what it is all about and because this frustrates me I thought I’d see if Pia was willing to share the ins and outs of this profession and to my surprise — yes, she was very willing! I’m sure you will love her interview below, I appreciate thorough comments so I didn’t edit out anything for the sake of space… Pia has mentioned to that if you have additional questions that she’ll be glad to answer them so please leave those in the comments section below. Let’s get started, ready?

Holly: How did you become a stylist?

Pia: Well once upon a time, I owned a homeware boutique in Sydney, Australia, selling handcrafted furniture, beautiful handmade homewares, and skin care products from Australia and around the world. I was 21 when I opened it, straight out of university with a BFA in film and photography – I knew nothing about running a store. So it was one big learning curve! I had a lot of fun with it, but decided to sell up shop after 4 years as I felt the financial strain with the slow down in small business retail. So I sold everything in the store, except the pieces that I simply couldn’t part with and took some time off to decide which direction I should go in – back into film and photography, or stick with home wares and interior decorating. During this time off a friend and I were sharing some fish and chips by the waterside for lunch and she turned to me and said, “You know what Pia, you should be a stylist!” And I said, “What is that?” I had no idea what a stylist was, but I was eager to learn all about it. So my friend gave me the number of her friend who was an art director in the industry – I called her and she told me how I could get started. It involved a lot of calling and emailing of photographic agencies, and offering myself for lots of free work as an assistant to stylists. And thats how I got started! That was about 5 years ago now.

Holly: Do you remember your first assignment and if so, what was it and how did it go? Were you scared? Was it a success? Did you make mistakes?

Pia: Oh yes I remember! My very first assignment as an assistant stylist was for a David Jones catalogue (David Jones is sorta like Bloomingdales or Macy’s in the US), assisting a stylist named Jenni Booth, working for advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. I was indeed nervous as I had absolutely no experience in the field plus I barely knew what a stylist did! but the photographic team was really nice and welcoming, and it didn’t take long for me to feel relaxed and be a part of the team. I feel utterly blessed that Jenni was the first stylist I ever assisted as she is without doubt one of the best, and she is also a wonderful, genuine, generous soul. She taught me everything I know as a stylist! and is now one of my best friends. We worked together on a number of catalogues since that first shoot, and when I became a full-fledged freelance stylist of my own, Jenni encouraged and supported me all the way. She became a mentor for how I wanted to be as a stylist.

Now, my first job as a fully independent freelance stylist is a rather different story. After assisting and propping (merchandising) for magazines for quite some time I was finally asked to do my first editorial spread for one of my favourite magazines! I was very excited, and I went to great lengths to ensure I had more than enough props to have photographed. I arrived to the studio half an hour early so that I could unpack all my props and lay them out neat and tidy. Boy was I excited! But the photographer was not in the best of moods as it turned out, and all day the photographer picked on the assistant photographer, creating a palatable tension that just grew and grew as the day went on. It was horrible! I was really distracted by it and was so annoyed because it was my first ever editorial story with 8 or so full page photographs, and I wanted it to be the best. But the tension affected my work alot, and even though I managed and it turned out beautiful with rave reviews from the magazine art team, I couldn’t help but feel I’d been cheated. Anyway it was a wonderful lesson! I learnt to be more focused and try not worry about what is going on around me when I’m working – after all, we are all artists working together on one project each time, so there is bound to be some ups and downs, and passionate outbursts here and there. Luckily I haven’t witnessed many since that first job!

Stylist Q & A With Pia Jane Bijkerk

Holly: What are the 3 best things about your profession and why?

Pia: 1. Working and meeting so many different, creative people – I love it! There are so many creative people out there, and I love having the opportunity to meet and work with them regularly, its a real treat. 2. Being freelance and working obscure hours. I have never been a very good 9-5er, as generally my creative juices flow at varying hours of the day, so I love that I have the freedom to let that happen naturally. 3. Props! hmm, yes, i do love to collect pretty things, so being able to keep some of the props i use on shoots is a bit fabulous.

Holly: In your book you mention that you have items tucked away for props. As a freelance stylist, do you have your own studio where you keep props or how does this work? I know you live on a small houseboat so I’m trying to imagine where you keep everything.

Pia: Oh my, it is a real problem actually! It does get cramped here on my little houseboat as at the moment it is the only space I have here in Amsterdam, so it’s my studio as well as home. In Sydney I had a large garage where I had everything in labelled, color-coded tubs. To me, that just seems like a fabulous dream right now! Thankfully my partner isn’t allergic to clutter, otherwise we’d be in deep trouble. I would like to get a little studio or at least a storage space, but I’m not sure how to go about that just yet. In the meantime, I have a great friend who puts her hand up anytime I need to off load some of my props. She has a nice big house and much more room than I do!

Holly: Let’s play pretend. I call you from a magazine — we’re in need of a stylist for a special trends feature we’re working on. What does the magazine usually do next and then what happens from there? In other words, how does this really work from start to finish?

Pia: I have an agency that deals with most of my client requests, so they start the initial contact between me and the client. First they ask me if the job is something I’d like to do and if I’m available for the dates of the shoot. Then they organise a meeting between me and the client, and we talk about what the aim of the shoot is, and what style and look they would like. We would also discuss what else is going on for that particular issue so that I know the general theme, color ranges, and style trends being featured, that way I can help create a cohesive look for the issue, but be as interesting and creative in those parameters as possible.

Holly: And then what?

Pia: After that, the fun begins! There is usually no time to go wandering about the town to find inspiration as deadlines are tight and you have to create ‘magic’ before you can blink your eyes! So as a stylist you must have a really good idea of what is already around. If I have an assistant I will give them a specific list of shops to visit and items to pick up, and if I’m on my own I will run around like a madwoman, picking up props from favourite shops, and ‘theming’ the shoot in my head as I go, jotting down ideas in my notepad as I drive/ride my bike/hop on a tram. If I have to have things made, I call my contacts. I always have a list of woodworkers, seamstresses, and set builders in my phone. And if i have to make things myself, then I get all the supplies I need and usually stay up all night crafting away.

Holly: Tell us about the day of production…

Pia: Then comes the shoot day! I like to call the shoot day my ‘play day’ – its the day that I get to play with all the things I’ve found. Shoots can be super stressful but I try to make them the complete opposite as I believe that after all the research and hard work that has gone into prepping for the shoot, this is the one (or two or three!) days that everyone needs to enjoy themselves and let their best shine through. And last but not least, we can’t forget the pack up and return of the props. This is probably the least favourite thing to do for a shoot! But you know, every job has it’s undesirable moments. Returning props to shops is not too bad because then you get to visit your favourite shops again and chat with the owners and hear about what new items are coming in.

Holly: What moment did you finally realize that as a stylist, you had made it. You know, you were genuinely being taken serious and noticed. When did this start to happen?

Pia: To be honest, only recently! I know that’s crazy since I’ve worked with many popular brands and magazines around the world, but moving to Europe was a tough thing to do because I had to prove myself all over again – nobody in the industry knew me at all, where as in Sydney I had great, steady clients and regular work. So maybe just before I left for Europe (2006) I realised I was doing okay – making a living as a freelancer and getting call backs from happy clients – but then it was a bit of a step back again when I moved and now I’m back to ‘feeling it’, in 2009. But you know what? Its more about the regularity of the type of work I do that makes me feel like I’ve ‘made it’, rather than the amount of work. Nowadays I have a lot more choice about the type of work I accept, and – when I do a job that I just adore like when I was asked to write this book – that is when I realise that all the hard work has paid off.

Holly: Ah the famous question, what inspires you. Let’s skip it. Instead I’ll ask what you are seeing too much of when it comes to trends and what can sometimes NOT inspire you but make you a little annoyed. We talked a little about this in person last year…

Pia: Oh fabulous! I love your clever questions. Let me see… I’m not into sterile environments, so minimalism never really did it for me, but I do enjoy the odd minimalist space, don’t get me wrong – but just not on the front cover of every magazine. So I’m rather glad the ’90’s/nullities minimalist movement is over for the moment. And I really am not a fan of ‘fast interiors’ – you know, ones that are created from just heading down to a mall and copying a catalogue photo. Again don’t get me wrong, catalogues can be super inspiring! But I like individualism, I like seeing people’s personality in their home, like odd things they’ve picked up on their travels, and objects that tell stories. When I buy an interior magazine, I read it just as much for the visual stimulation as I do for the story behind the people who live in this space – I love reading about where people found things, what they do for a living, how they acquired certain items and what their dreams are. I like real stories and not ones that are made up for an audience (I’m a non-fiction gal, what can I say!). So with that said, I love homes that are real and not perfectly styled or perfectly stylish, but super inspiring and dreamy.

Stylist Q & A With Pia Jane Bijkerk

Holly: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Pia: A film director! It’s still a bit of a dream really, I might get to it in another ten years or so. I have a few scripts written that I’d love to explore further one day (my university degree is actually in film making!)

Holly: Do you feel your current occupation is one you will stay in forever or do you see other opportunities awaiting you still? If so, care to share what?

Pia: Hmm, I think the above answer says it all! I also always wanted to be a writer and a published author, and that is certainly what I am working at now , so for me having my first book published this year is a real dream come true.

Holly: What other jobs have you had in your life?

Pia: My first job was as a kitchen hand in a cafe which I did some days after school, then I was a hostess in an Italian restaurant (as opposed to a waitress which I was pretty hopeless at! I wasn’t fast enough with orders I think, but I was good at greeting incoming guests and escorting them to their fancy tables!), then after that I made some art and cards for a few local shops, and once I was a sock sales promotion girl in a department store! Yes, I would stand in the sock aisle and try to convince browsing customers that the socks in that aisle were far superior than any other they had ever worn. I was not the best saleswoman, I can tell you, the job didn’t last longer than a week. After I finished my degree I opened my boutique! And I also opened a cafe too, but thats a whole other story…

Holly: If someone reading wants to become a stylist, what training is required?

Pia: The best thing you can do is assist other stylists, its the only training really.

Holly: How does one go about getting work as a stylist?

Pia: I suggest finding some local photographic agencies who represent stylists (search the internet and blogs for these) and have a look at which stylists work you like. Then email or call the agency to let them know that you would love the opportunity to assist that stylist. If you can, offer to work for free because often a stylist will prefer to trial an assistant first and then they will offer paying jobs if they work well together.

Holly: How does someone learn about styling, what classes or books do you suggest they read?

Pia: Again I really think work experience as a stylist’s assistant is the best way to learn. But you can also try creating little vignettes at home, and take the time to get your own particular style going. Then you can see if there are any assistant photographers who might like to do a free test shoot with you and you can get some shots of your work. Then you can begin creating a styling portfolio!

Holly: Now let’s talk for a moment about your new book, Paris: Made By Hand. I finished reading the entire book this past weekend and noticed right away that you took all of the photographs, did all of the styling (of course) and designed the front cover in addition to writing this lovely book. That’s quite an undertaking. How long did it take you to work on this project?

Pia: Well from start to finish it was well over a year’s worth of work. But if I was to pick out key sections I’d say the research took roughly 3 months, the shooting and interviewing of all the stores and artists took about four weeks, the writing took a month, and the editing took another month or so. Yes, it was quite an undertaking indeed! But I can tell you, I enjoyed every step of it.

Holly: What lead you to authoring a book and will there be more along this theme, perhaps Pia takes Amsterdam? Or?

Pia: Authoring a book has been something I’ve always wanted to do and yes, I hope this is the start of many. Oh I would LOVE to write and photograph a handmade in Amsterdam book!! Fingers crossed :-)

Holly: Okay, how about we show readers how you styled your cover. Sound like fun?

Pia: Yes! So for the front cover, I had a good idea of what I wanted to create. I had seen this beautiful deep blue wall with old shelves in Astier de Villate, a gorgeous boutique which I featured in the book. I went back to Paris especially to shoot the cover in this shop. I made an appointment with the store manager to come just before opening hours, and the light coming through the front windows was perfect. I set up my camera and tripod, and got to playing with the boutique’s handmade treasures! I adore Parisian ceramicist Nathalie Lete’s pieces and I wanted to feature her work on the cover. So I gathered my favourite Natalie Lete bowls and plates from around the store (very carefully!) and started to arrange the shelves….


Stylist Q & A With Pia Jane Bijkerk

I had bought white paper wrapping with bold type letters and I cut rectangles of each letter out and placed them on the edge of the shelf to spell out the title of the book Paris: Made By Hand.


Stylist Q & A With Pia Jane Bijkerk

I wanted the cover to feature a range of different handmade items so that when people see the cover they get an idea of the sorts of things inside the book. So I picked up the little kittycat and perched her on the edge of the top shelf! I was pleased with that but there was just something else missing…


Stylist Q & A With Pia Jane Bijkerk

I moved the lid on the top bowl… I stood back, I peeked through the camera lens and thought… that’s it! So I snapped it! And that was that, I was very happy with it.

HMMM…. Yes!

Stylist Q & A With Pia Jane Bijkerk

Stylist Q & A With Pia Jane Bijkerk

The design team at The Little Bookroom did all the final touches for the cover – they brushed up on the fonts on the paper rectangles so that the title really stood out, and then there was the decision of where to put my name. A few emails with different options went back and fourth and we all decided that we liked the extended ribbon on the kitty. And I really love the yellow accents of the ribbon and the scarf (bottom right corner) against the blue. I hope you to do!

Viola! Here’s the finished cover:

Stylist Q & A With Pia Jane Bijkerk

Thank you so much Holly. If anyone has any further questions I’d be happy to answer them in comments below! – Pia

I’m so proud of you, Pia and I hope you sell a million copies and become quite famous from it — I’d really like to see a Amsterdam: Made By Hand book! Best of success dear!

(images: pia jane bijerk)

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