I first came across Lynn K. Leonidas through Sunset Magazine. Lynn’s firm was hired for a complete gut renovation for the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, Irene Edwards. The pictures of the WILLOW RESIDENCE really caught my eye! Lynn seems to gravitate towards adventurous design choices and unique details, many of which I really responded to. I love her tile and wallpaper choices, which always feel purposeful and inspired.
Then I heard Lynn on LuAnn Nigara’s A Well-Designed Business Podcast. I loved learning more about Lynn’s time in the industry and all the different jobs she had worked, and skills she gathered before opening her own firm. It was a very different journey than my own, and I love how so many various paths lead people into opening their design business.
I wanted to invite Lynn onto Design School, as I know there are many newly opened businesses and aspiring designers wondering how young people launch their fledgling design companies. I hope you glean a little insight into the process with Lynn’s interview. I also invite you to listen to Lynn’s story and my story on LuAnn’s podcast, as we both delve deeply into our skill sets and what motivates us to continue to build our design businesses.
Enjoy! And thanks to Lynn for sharing her insights with us!
DESIGN SCHOOL: with Lynn K. Leonidas
The most difficult aspect of my job:
Running a small enterprise can be demanding, and even lonely, as much as it is equally fulfilling and creative. It is a finely choreographed dance of maintaining a happy and engaged studio team, structured work schedule, client expectations, keeping our contractors responsive, and having some flexibility to drop it all and put out various small fires here and there. Not to mention making time to stay inspired and connected – with the industry, socially, politically. It is never boring!
My secret styling trick:
Art on the walls can be one of the hardest finds to source since taste is so subjective, but it really makes or breaks a room and should be considered from the beginning. We regard an investment in art as an indicator for a client’s willingness to invest in the surrounding furnishings, so this first test lets us know about the project we are getting into.
My childhood bedroom would have this:
I always longed for a canopy bed! I also think every kids bedroom should have wallpaper, for fun.
One of the hardest things for new designers to learn:
I still admire the brazen and blind ambition of new designers taking risks. It’s such energizing momentum that I hope I can maintain for myself as our business grows. I wouldn’t change that journey for new designers, but the piece of advice I give the most is to charge the industry rate. I’m an advocate for any creative entrepreneur, in any art business, making a living wage and knowing their worth, as well as their contractual liabilities and their legal rights.
The biggest misconception about what I do:
Custom homes demand designs that have never been executed before. A new site presents new challenges every time. Even with as much effort as our contractors, installers, and the general industry put into standardization, I try to set the expectations to clients that design is a process. It is orchestrated in preparation for the install, and we hold our breaths to see if it’s conducted perfectly, but most likely that installation will require a future adjustment. Our job is to take care of it as it moves along in the process, to look towards the big picture.
If I could design anyone’s home it’d be:
My weekend home, imaginary for now. It would be riverside, and I wouldn’t bring everything I need from my daily life. It would become a museum of sorts. I would only want to be around the objects I admire most, looking out at an uninterrupted view.
When I’m uninspired, I turn to:
Art. A museum or gallery trip or guided architectural tour refreshes how I see things, every time, no fail.
My favorite part of a project is:
Being in construction. I love it! We see how our drawings are being executed, learning on the fly about what might not work, making spontaneous decisions based on actual construction methods, and enjoying the camaraderie of the construction team and trades. We have one goal, and we have each other’s backs.
My most prized possession:
I’m not that sentimental about objects, but I would miss my books and my collection of ceramics if I were ever to lose them.
I’ll be happy if I never see another:
Recessed can light. All of our new projects revert back to surface-mount lights.
The paint color I’ve used more than any other:
Seapearl by Benjamin Moore
My favorite person to follow on Instagram:
I’m going to shout out designer Andy Beers of @orestudios. He mostly posts images of his projects while in construction, and I like that. I like the bones. I always look forward to his thoughtful captures and precise design choices.
I dread when a client says this:
Well, I have learned that when a client starts to second-guess our work together, sometimes at the very beginning with our contract, or later with our design choices, that this is an indicator that the client cannot trust us. And this is often an internal issue that the client cannot move on from, and it is not personal. It will stall any movement on a project. I have not always been so quick to register these red flags, but that intuition gets stronger as we work with more clients.
My all-time favorite clients are:
We have been fortunate enough to work with clients who are also creatives or have a background in design. The process is more adventurous without the need to spell out the foundation of what we do and what we can offer. It’s very fun to be put into a group project with other dreamers.
I always encourage clients to get rid of:
Their dining table. In most cases, it is the wrong scale or it is one they picked up in college from a big-box retailer. It is at the center of family activity and it should have pride of place.
The best advice I’ve ever received about maintaining a work/life balance:
One of my contractors told me to bring my dog when I go on site. Those are the days when I feel like I run my own show. It’s so little, bringing your dog to work, but everyone gets something out of it.
The project I’m most proud of is:
I have gotten something different out of every project. It’s hard to choose! I am going to be cliché here and say it is our next project, as our style gets more defined and new potential clients are coming to us for our aesthetic vision.
The pattern that I’ll never tire of is:
Florals. I’m all about heavily patterned florals, from liberty prints to oversized graphic statements. And stripes. We use a lot of stripes in our projects.
My favorite up-and-coming designer:
I recently discovered the work of Michelle R. Smith of Studio MRS. I am in love. Bravo!
One question you would like to ask your favorite designer:
I am such a fangirl, I can’t help it. I would probably ply them with a drink, and ask them to be my mentor.
See you next month for an all new DESIGN SCHOOL!
XO – CLAIRE
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