Interview with Style Mutt Home: How one self taught designer used Instagram to master online Interior Design

By The Design Cure

She started her business from her garage all while raising three babies. She now has a  thriving e-design business and over 34k followers on Instagram. She talks about how she used Instagram to market herself and grow her business to be what it is today. 

Show Notes

Style Mutt Home



Episode Transcript:

episode 2.mp4


Jess: [00:00:21] This is The Design Cure Podcast with Jessica Lee. Episode number two.


Jess: [00:00:35] What's up guys. Thank you so much for joining me on the show. We have a Great one for you today. We have Chelsea Bieber one with us from Style Mutt Home. Over at Style Mutt Home dot com.


[00:00:52] Her story is so inspiring. She started her business from her garage all while raising three babies she now has a thriving e-design business and over 34k followers. Today she talks about how she used Instagram to market herself and grow her business to what it is today. So hopefully you all will be motivated and inspired by her story today. So let's get started.


jess: [00:01:18] So you are out in Washington is that right.


Chelsea: [00:01:23] Yes I live in a Washington D.C. suburb, and we ended up here purely for my husband's work. He worked in D.C.


Jess: [00:01:32] Oh ok cool yeah. I've been following your work as I mentioned to you through e-mail last week and excited to talk to you because you have you're doing some of amazing things right now. You have over 34k followers. You have an online shop. Your own e-design business and I just want to talk to you today because I think a lot of designers can learn from your story.


jess: [00:01:58] So how did you get started in the design industry.


Chelsea: [00:02:07] Well it was a super unlikely path for sure.


Chelsea: [00:02:12] When I was younger I enjoyed sports growing up and at one point I aspired to be a professional runner.


jess: [00:02:21] Yeah.


Chelsea: [00:02:22] At some point I realized that that would not be a very lucrative career and decided instead that something about exercise or athletics would be more fitting. So when I was in high school, James Madison University reached out there in Harrisonburg Virginia and they offered me a small scholarship to run for them, and I jumped on the opportunity because they had a highly esteemed kinesiology program.


Chelsea: [00:02:48] So I declared that as my major from the start. And then I earned a minor in coaching and became a personal trainer right out of college. So. It wasn't. Actually until my husband and I was pregnant with twins.


Chelsea: [00:03:01] And I had to quit my job as a personal trainer for the last month of pregnancy, I was hospitalized on bedrest And while I was sitting in this room for a month I ended up stumbling across a couple of design blogs. People were flipping furniture and sharing home decor ideas. And. I just started taking notes. It was so fascinating to me and completely interesting. I was soaking up. Anything I could learn. So maybe it was my intense need to nest that could be satisfied from a hospital bed. But that was the beginning of my interest in home decor.


Jess: [00:03:42] So what. What year was this Would you say. How long ago was this


Chelsea: [00:03:46] This was 2009. Oh wow nine years ago. Yeah, it wasn't it wasn't a passion from early childhood.


Chelsea: [00:03:53] It was kind of you know young adulthood that I started to discover this. This passion and interest.


jess: [00:04:01] So you're you're pregnant, and you're you're looking at all these cool you know blog post on refinishing furniture and all that, and that's what kind of inspired you to start.


Chelsea: [00:04:13] Yes. I had no idea people were doing that.


Chelsea: [00:04:17] I honestly it was almost like I was living under a rock and then my eyes were open to this whole world of home decor. My mom, my mom, was always interested in home design, and I remember going to antique stores with her antique malls, and I wanted none of it.


Chelsea: [00:04:38] I mean it couldn't have been more boring to me at the time I had been exposed to it. It just didn't click with me until I was just kind of sort of stuck in bed all day and came across these blogs and I just found it fascinating.


jess: [00:04:59] So what was the first move for you like how did it go from looking at blogs to starting your business Style Mutt Home was that the first business you started?


Chelsea: [00:05:10] No it wasn't even my second if you count the five minute I sold headbands honestly It was.


Chelsea: [00:05:24] When we had the twins. I knew I wasn't going to go back to personal training I wanted to stay home with them and we had just moved, and it was when we moved from an apartment to our first home. And the twins were seven months old. We found out we were pregnant with our third and I think that there was.


Chelsea: [00:05:45] I think that I saw a tremendous desire to continue connecting with other people just as I had when I was a personal trainer. And I was afraid. I think there was an element of fear honestly with I started my own business because I was afraid of losing that daily connection with others. And there a lot less freedom when you've got three babies are crowding around than when you've got just one. And I felt tremendously motivated to just put in the work to make it happen because I knew I knew it wasn't going to land in my lap. And so I started refinishing furniture in my garage my first business was called Chelsea's garage.


Chelsea: [00:06:24] And I would load my kids up in the car and I would take them thrifting at least once a week and kind of bring home a stash of furniture and I would finish my finds in the garage during the kids afternoon nap, and after few years yeah it was after a few years of doing that a couple of customers and repeat clients who come and ask if I would help them with their home. And I was never confident enough to say yes. I just thought that is so out of my comfort zone.


Chelsea: [00:06:55] I like being in my garage and talking to customers when they came but I just thought it did not have what it took to help people with their homes. And it wouldn't be until I started working with my sister in law Kate until I had the confidence to say yes. And I think it was working with her. I just felt you know I just felt more comfortable going out of my comfort zone with a partner so Style Mutt Home was something I created with Kate and that is our business together, and she handles the furniture refinishing branch and I handle the design branch.


Jess: [00:07:33] Got it okay. And then so you started Style Mutt Home. How long ago was that?


Chelsea: [00:07:41] That was four years ago.


Jess: [00:07:44] Oh wow. Four years ago when you said when you started Style Mutt Home did you begin doing e-design right away or was it just refinishing furniture.


Chelsea: [00:07:56] It was mostly refinishing furniture, and I was doing a lot of experimenting with design in my own home. Even you saying you know I did my first design boards and on my own home and spaces that I was tackling and a woman came to us she'd sign a piece that we had listed on Craigslist to sell and she asked if we would help her with her home. And I called Kate, and I said look let's let's say yes let's do this. And so either e-design for us was kind. Came the answer to a solution. Kate had a full-time day job, and I was home with three babies, and there was no way either of us was going to be able to travel back and forth to the client's house. And so that was when we sort of thought hey let's let's ask if we could meet people through face time and have them give us a tour of their home through facetime and see how that goes. And it's gone surprisingly well ever since we didn't even know e-design was a thing we didn't know that's what it was called. And it was just it started very casually we want to we wanted to help people with their homes but couldn't be there in person like we wanted to be. And so we figured out how can we make this work from afar. And it's it's been really fun. It's gone surprisingly well. And you know of course, e-design is a thing, and it was a thing when we started doing it we just didn't know about it.


Chelsea: [00:09:28] Yeah.


Jess: [00:09:30] Wow that's so cool so. So you started just doing FaceTime with your clients, and so they were mostly clients that were in the US.


Chelsea: [00:09:42] Absolutely yes.


Chelsea: [00:09:43] So all of our clients have been in the U.S. until last year we took on a Canadian client, and this year already we have a couple of people that have reached out from Europe and Australia.


Chelsea: [00:09:58] we're expanding which is fun.


jess: [00:10:02] That's awesome and are you guys still refinishing furniture from your garage.


Chelsea: [00:10:08] I no longer refinished furniture but Kate. Oh yeah, she's got a great staff.


Chelsea: [00:10:14] So Kate is the one handling our furniture branch of the business, and I'm I'm the one doing the e-design office.


jess: [00:10:21] Got it. OK. Wow, so that's so cool.


jess: [00:10:25] So from just looking at blog posts to just taking on your projects and then getting the confidence to take on you know other people's projects that are not you know local and that's so awesome.


[00:10:43] So the e-design projects that you started to do it sounded like you started to do before I got mainstream. 


Chelsea: [00:10:51] Yeah yeah. I never heard of e-design. You know I meant like I google searched software for floorplan.


Chelsea: [00:11:00] I google searched. What software do you do design boards? And I google searched 3D rendering programs. I just I was trying to figure out how in the world. To communicate design with clients that I couldn't meet with in person. And so I've taught myself how to use everything just. Purely based off of need and interest. I want to make the e-design experience as easy for our clients as possible.


Chelsea: [00:11:31] So anything we can show them visually helps to help us tremendously. And you know the less Text I think, the better. The more you can show them how it's going to look in the end. It just makes it much easier for them.


jess: [00:11:49] it's mostly residential projects that you're working on I'm assuming.


Chelsea: [00:11:53] Yes yes.


Chelsea: [00:11:55] All residential except. Yes. All residential over the summer I did start working with a company kind of similar to Air B and B., And they wanted to start renting out you know condos and apartments fully furnished. So I do work with them as one of their freelance designers. And that's been really an amazing challenge because a lot of times still send me scrawled out measurements on scrap paper and they'll give me a budget and then I have to have you know a two bedroom condo completed in 36 hours that's been just amazing because I love the quick thinking I love the creative freedom and just having something.


Chelsea: [00:12:45] Finished quickly. I don't know. I like to work fast, and so it's fun to have something where I can just make the moves quickly, and they have their photographers, so i get to see the finished product which doesn't always happen with you know private clients


jess: [00:13:02] Especially if it's e-design to like are you sending out Photographers to their house to get photos of the work when it's completed. Because I find that a problem with e-design is getting photos.


Chelsea: [00:13:17] I've been reading a lot about that other e-designers having the same the same issue. I think.


Chelsea: [00:13:25] Our clients that are local we always ask them you know the project is near completion and it's gone according to the vision, and they've been able to complete it. We'll ask them if we can take pictures and sometimes they're perfectly open to it, and sometimes they prefer not and that's fine. We never pressure our clients to let us take pictures. They are under no obligation of course and sometimes projects don't get finished for one reason or another. Clients will move, or they decide they want to spend their budget on something else. Or sometimes I mean I understand this as a homeowner or sometimes the unexpected and maintenance needs that just kind of wipe up your budget. I know we had to replace our A.C unit last year and windows a year before that. Things just come up and I get it. You can't always finish what you'd like to finish with the budget you carved out. So there's a lot of reasons why we don't get pictures. In fact over last year we did, we did complete 23 e-design jobs in 2017, but we only got pictures of eight.


Chelsea: [00:14:34] that's a glance of e-mail. That's not even half


Jess: [00:14:39] Yeah but just looking at your Web site and your Instagram I would think they like you have so many great photos of projects like it doesn't show. Like when you say that you only get half of the projects that you photograph like you have like so many great examples on your site that it is like are you doing your photography too.


Chelsea: [00:15:05] Well no the company that I do freelance work for. They hire their photographers, and we have full right to the photos.


Chelsea: [00:15:14] So a lot of the projects have been from that that we've gotten to share and then others that we just. I mean honestly every project that we shoot we probably get maybe a dozen or so photos or more months of pictures that we can share. And so we kind of just display an Instagram. Now this is the cycle of I mean we've got an archive of tons of pictures from only a few jobs. We have been able to shoot. That's a lot of photos that we can share here and there and spread things out and share a variety. And I'm grateful that the jobs we have been able to get pictures of have been pretty unique from one to the other so we can kind of share the diversity of our work from the unique jobs we've had.


jess: [00:16:03] Yeah. And I would like to talk about your Instagram for a moment. So you have over 34000 followers. Did you start your Instagram right the beginning of start at Style Mutt Home


Chelsea: [00:16:21] It was a very it was the beginning of Style Mutt Home and its sole purpose was for business. It was I had a young and post-college graduate came to pick up a piece of furniture that I had refinished for her.


Chelsea: [00:16:38] And I think she was a repeat client I think I had done a couple of pieces for her. Her first apartment and I was purely just painting furniture at that time. OK, and Kate and I had just started Style Mutt Home and young lady she's so sweet she came and picked up her furniture and she said no you should get your stuff on Instagram because it's it's so visual. And I laughed it off.


Chelsea: [00:17:03] I mean in my mind I was already doing and had a blog and I had Facebook and so I don't know I just kind of thought I don't want one more thing just you know work with these two things the blog and Facebook, but I gave it a try. I got on, and I thought this couldn't hurt anything. And it's kind of become our go-to I hardly ever get on the blog anymore. I have to consciously remind myself to post to Facebook, but Instagram has been the most viable social media outlet for us to grow our business.


Jess: [00:17:43] How do you go about like posting like do you post daily or are you posting just your images on your Instagram account or. I know some designers will share images of other projects.


Chelsea: [00:17:58] Yeah that's been something that I've sort of had to fiddle with a little bit over the last few years is how-how do I want to use my Instagram. And I think for me the Instagram is more of a portfolio of Kate's and my work, so I try to use it that way. So every Friday we do have something on our blog called The Friday reader design and our intern Mackenna actually heads those up she writes those, and she's the one making contacts with other designers other people who would be willing to share their home on our blog.


[00:18:36] Every Friday we share someone else's home on the blog world tour, and I shared that on Instagram. But other than that it's just Kate's and my work.


Chelsea: [00:18:48] I've really tried to be intentional about Instagram being a portfolio at a glance of our style and our work so that there's no confusion about what we do and what we can deliver.


Chelsea: [00:19:03] Yeah I do post every day. Yeah okay time I'll go you know a day or two without posting especially over the weekend, but I know I try to post at least once a day.


Jess: [00:19:14] Yeah and it's fantastic. Like did you  see a growth in followers like right away or it was just something that kind of happened over time where you started to see more and more people follow you guys.


Chelsea: [00:19:30] Well I feel like that's the subjective because in my mind I felt like I was growing so fast, but I had nothing to compare it to. I'd only been looking at you know up to that point I had just been looking at my blogs analytics, and growth on Facebook and I remember thinking immediately wow people are engaging with this so much more than Facebook like I would share something on Facebook and get maybe five responses if that.


Chelsea: [00:20:00] But I would share something on Instagram and you know within a couple of hours I'd have 100 likes I number thinking wow this is a lot more engaging than Facebook been. And so in my mind, I was like wow this is so fast. But I mean I know. I know a lot of people that have grown a lot faster than I have. So I think you do comparisons always rears its ugly head. So from my perspective, I felt like I was growing fast, but that was only because my only comparison was Facebook right.


jess: [00:20:35] Yeah because I know I know like some designers they kind of struggle with what platform to choose.


Jess: [00:20:44] And if it's just sticking with one or kind of you know trying out different platforms. Did you try Pinterest at all or Instagram is your main?


Chelsea: [00:20:56] Yes. OK. Sort of sort of both.


Chelsea: [00:20:59] And when Kate and I first started together she was already really savvy on Pinterest, and I was not. And so we kind of said hey why don't you kind of head up our Pinterest account and I'll head up our Instagram. But we realized that Instagram was going to be really fruitful for us. And she has a lot of her stuff to offer.


Chelsea: [00:21:25] I mean she's refinishing her pieces every week, and so she started she came over to Instagram, and she grew pretty quickly as well just with her.


Chelsea: [00:21:35] Her furniture refinishing. So we do use Pinterest. And Kate does keep that up very well for us. I use Pinterest to communicate with clients, but otherwise, I don't know.


Chelsea: [00:21:50] It's not on Pinterest very often, but I see it's value.


jess: [00:21:54] Yeah. And are you seeing most of your clients come from Instagram now?


jess: [00:22:03] that's awesome. You said you were doing some e-design for some developers. Yes. Yeah. Where did they find you on Instagram as well


Chelsea: [00:22:20] And so yeah they found me through Instagram, and I think the great thing about Instagram is that you can be so intentional with that back when I went out when I started on Instagram you couldn't put hashtags on Facebook. OK, so what I really enjoyed about Instagram and I learned this through some other people is you can use hashtags to reach whoever you want to reach. So I started putting up and as I learned that what we were doing was essentially called e-design. I started tagging all of our work with e-design.


[00:22:55] And so this company found me because I'd been using the hashtag e-design and that's how several people have found us just from using that hashtag letting people know hey this is what we're doing. We're capable of doing this type of work. I love the intentionality about Instagram that you can make yourself seen by who you need to be seen by more or less right.


jess: [00:23:25] Yeah you could target that.that's So cool. Your story is so inspiring.


Jess: [00:23:33] I mean to do all of this raising three little kids at once and you know being self-taught growing your following your business to be you know and think something that you could do from home. It's very inspiring, and I see a lot of designers listening well will get you know a lot of good advice from what you had to say. So what's new for Style Mutt Home this year?


Chelsea: [00:24:04] First of all you're so sweet and so encouraging to me. Thank you so much. You're very kind.


Chelsea: [00:24:10] I think for the coming year one thing I mean we always kind of outline our goals for the year. Last year we did the same thing, and we surpassed our goals for 2017. So we had to kind of get creative with 2018 and think a little bit bigger for ourselves and not be afraid of big goals. One thing that's really exciting for us is the prospect of international clients. We haven't had anybody from across the pond reach out to us.


Chelsea: [00:24:42] So that's really exciting for me is just thinking that like we could potentially have finished projects out in Australia by the end of this year and in England then getting to work with people that have accents


jess: [00:24:57] That are so awesome.


jess: [00:24:59] And before I let you do you have any advice for other designers are wanting to do what you or just starting out in e-design.


Chelsea: [00:25:11] Yeah I think starting your own business. First of all and this is something that's been sort of new for me. You have to constantly ask yourself what is the purpose of your business. What is the reason?


Chelsea: [00:25:25] What is the reason for having a business and it goes it goes beyond your mission statement it's a little bit more of a what is the point of all this kind of a question because I think if you're going to grow your business through social media especially things can get blurry and confusing really quickly. And I know for me there has been opportunities coming from different directions that are really flattering and encouraging to me but don't necessarily line up with what I want to do. And ultimately you know. Social media and Instagram and getting followers is not my job. I don't want to work on Instagram. And I don't want to be stuck having to do certain sponsored posts because I've partnered with people I really want to do e-design work that is that is my job, and that is where I want to bring in income for my family. And so keeping my focus on that helps tremendously and helps me make those harder decisions when opportunities arise from people that are you know really kind and encouraging and people that I admire tremendously, and it would be wonderful to connect more with them. But you know if the opportunity doesn't really line up with what I want to do which is e-design it's good practice to say no and keep measuring you know keep lining up the opportunities with your goal and decide what is best for your goal and what is your business. What is the point of your business? I know a lot of people that have been successful in other ways and a lot of people on social media have different goals and I think it's just important to remind yourself what exactly is your purpose in social media what is what is your business and staying focused on that because it's so easy to get distracted doing other things.


Jess: [00:27:38] Yeah absolutely yeah that's awesome advice. Well Thank you so much, Chelsea, it was great talking to you, and I love your story, and I can't wait to share it with everyone.


Chelsea: [00:27:51] It was such a pleasure to meet you, and I'm so excited to listen back to this and hear more of your podcast's coming out shortly.


Jess: [00:28:02] Thank you. So to find your work your Instagram handle is Chelsea underscore Style Mutt Home is that right.


Chelsea: [00:28:14] Yes. All right.


Jess: [00:28:16] Great thank you so much. You have a good one.


Chelsea: [00:28:19] Thank you. You too. Nice talking to you.


jess: [00:28:21] Nice talking to you too.


jess: [00:28:25] Alright guys I hope you enjoyed that session with Chelsea from Style Mutt Home.


Jess: [00:28:29] Her story is so inspiring. I hope you found it to be inspiring as well. She's self-taught. She started her business from her garage. All while raising three babies. And now she has this thriving e-design business with clients all over the world.


Jess: [00:28:44] Just goes to show if you're motivated and confident in your skill you could really succeed in your business. So you want to stay at home with your family or limit your travel. Think about e-design as your primary business. You know I loved what she did. She tackled some of her home projects shared her work just online. Then she started to gain the confidence to take on other people's projects and she really just utilized Instagram to target her main client and kept her focus on what her ultimate goal is so you know when you're starting your business. Think about what your ultimate goal is for your business. What are your ideal projects and clients? You know as Chelsea said to try to keep your focus on that because they'll help you make those tough decisions.