Candice Olson stopped by the Boston Design Center to chat with a small group of Kravet customers during an intimate brunch in early February. The discussion, led by Kravet communications manager Jennifer Powell, included audience questions as well as questions submitted via Facebook from fans of Kravet and Candice. What follows is the interview, with questions attributed to Facebook fans, if applicable. The next opportunity to meet Candice through Kravet will be at Blogfest NYC in May, so don’t miss your chance!
What is inspiring and forming your work in 2013? (Phyllis Harbinger)
CO – It’s a real testament that we have shows airing that were filmed 12 years ago, and people would never know that it was 12 years ago. Design is an investment in time and money and it’s my job to make it the best investment for them, to make it timeless. Sure, I’ll use Pantone’s color of the year, and inky blue, I’ll inject that in small accessories, it was orange a few years ago. But what’s inspiring me, what I see in my client base, and in my own life. Kids have changed the way I look at design. Now so much of what I focus on is how to have style and really live in that living room. Clients are asking to make the most of everything in their homes. Multi functional, multi purpose, clients are asking for that, whether its small spaces or trying to make the most out of spaces. I am moving away from more refined finishes. You will see softer metallic finishes in my fabric line, my wallpaper and furniture line. It’s halfway between silver and gold. We call it glint. It’s almost like the color of the Venetian plaster here. It gravitates instantly if you put a warmer metallic with it, it makes sense, it’s really forgiving, blending, softening, weathered, mixed in with contemporary shapes. I’ve been about that for a while now, I’m now seeing it come to the forefront, frankly because I have so many clients with dogs, kids, etc. who still want beauty that is livable and lasts.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out and developing a brand without getting boring? How do you develop it while being exciting?
CO – I think it’s that little touch of the unexpected. Even in the fabric line, you’ll see a traditional pattern that is super scaled with a metallic thread to give it a little sparkle. For example, if you're pigeon holed as a coastal design firm or a certain look then it’s like, “Oh, this is what you would expect someone to do and this is where they’ve taken it, in whole new direction.” If you keep putting yourself out there in an unexpected way someone is going to notice and take you in a different direction. I think it’s really tough. I always thought I did my best work in the first book because all my thoughts and ideas went into it and it would be fantastic, that would be the look. We are on book five now, and I’m more excited about book five than book one because I still have that approach of what’s that unexpected element, that we can put into what the look is, what the brand is.
What was your first job out of college? (Sharon Copeland)
CO – I was in a four year university program in Toronto. It was a top design school and I was picked by a top commercial firm and worked with them for years. They used and abused me, overworked and underpaid me. It was the best background. I gradually went into residential design. The people whose stores and nightclubs I was doing lived in houses, so I would do stuff on the side. When I felt the confidence and business clout behind me I went out on my own. I like the fact that the work that you do, and I hate to sound all Oprah, affects how people live their lives, every single day of their lives, not just a shopping trip or an evening out. I kept doing residential work, and then one of my projects won a contest and got published. Very simple, you know, a nice mention in a magazine. A local show got wind of this project and wanted to tour it. As luck would have it the person who was going to do the tour that day fell ill and they asked me to put something together for it. I’m there in my work boots and tank top and I said ok, I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. It was horrible. But probably so horrible they thought it was hysterical. They asked me to do a few other segments, not getting paid, showing our work. I showed renovations and design stuff and showed the whole process. People really loved seeing the process from beginning to end. So I did that for seven years, and did not get paid a cent. But what better advertising? It couldn't have been better.
How do you handle clients’ attachments to items that don’t fit into the design scheme, or clients that shop separately during the design process?
CO – If there’s a way, I try to convince them with design principles. Whether they've acquired something, or this is the hardest part, working in something they love, and that is really tough, “I don’t think a beer bottle collection is a good focal point on the mantelpiece.” So if I can show them using design principles, like, scale isn't working here, or color, or pattern, but I always say at the end of the day, if I can’t convince them that it’s not working, they have to live there and I don’t. You have to explain why it doesn't work and then let it go. I get it, it’s them and their lives and experiences. It’s a service industry, so it’s my job to make that work.
How do you bill clients? (Karena Monahan)
CO – I charge an hourly rate, I give clients whatever discount I get, and pass that on to them. So they think they are always getting a fabulous deal. Whatever the discount is, I show them so they know what the deal is. Our fees are really high because of that. Because we do commercial work, there are other flat fee projects. With a straight residential project, I’m not a retail store and I want people to see that they are coming to us for our design expertise. We do a lot of project management, a lot of handholding from the beginning, through the build to furniture placement. At that point, the management of the last 10% of the job is the toughest. I think that’s where a lot of people neglect to put the effort into it. Everyone is tired and done, but it’s the last little 10% that a client remembers. We also do a lot of billing at the end of the project, when they have no money left (laughs). When I first started I was up-charging as well and I found that the logistics of it all was too much for us, I just wanted to offer our expertise in design, so I wanted to get away from the retail side of it. Billing is always interesting.
Can you talk about the fabric collection and the process behind creating it? (Leslie Fine)
CO –The Kravet family is an amazing family first and foremost. That business relationship is important. You put so much time and energy and effort of yourself into it. It’s a business, not a hobby for me. The collection inspiration, like a good portion of lines that I do, comes from nature. There are nature inspired motifs, but done in a modern fresh way. It’s a philosophy whether I’m designing a sofa, lighting or pattern work, I really do look to the past to traditional patterns like damasks and florals, and I pare it down to its bare essence. You will get a hint of pattern but nothing elaborate or ornate. It’s very clean and simplified, a real mix of organic pattern with structured pattern. It has a lot of contrast and contrast is a big element in the design work that I do. I am so passionate about lighting, I love the way light hits a surface. Whether it‘s a wallpaper I’m designing or fabric, you will see an element of glimmer or sheen, something unexpected. I think it gives it a modern edge. Lighting, which I harp on in our show, can take $3.00 drapes and make them look like $10,000. I love the special effect lighting has, especially on fabric. I don’t want to make an avant-garde statement, I don’t have that kind of ego. It’s a business, every year I see. I thought spa blue would disappear, but with the proliferation of wood everywhere, you need those cool tones with wood floors. So ok, we are going to reinvent spa, into teal, into grey blue. But blue is still there. It’s almost like I have my own focus group for what I am designing. I want to create things that I like and clients like, so I want to make it easy to present and sell to clients! Like I said, it’s a business, not just a passion.
How do you balance creativity and good business savvy? (Leslie Fine)
CO – I’m upfront on the business side of it, I don’t handle the money, because it’s not my forte. Years ago I did many little projects for a client and worked my way up. They got a lot of bang for their buck, and then they became more and more successful. Now they have more money. They said, “we always hired you because we respect that you were careful with our money when we didn’t have a lot.” We are now on their fourth house. To me that’s the business side of it. The day to day invoicing when I was a one person show was the hardest part of the business. I have someone else who deals with that side of it. I think it’s important to be removed from that, it’s easier for the client to deal with someone else. But I am frank and honest about where we should be spending the money, and to me that is good business. That’s why the clients come, and running the books, someone else takes care of that. And the PR side of it, which I know is important, that all really came from just getting a project out there. I have been talking to the same design editors for years, particularly in the papers and they are so overworked. I did an interview last week and the design editor is now working on design, cars, and religion! My point is, there’s nothing that these people would like more than a nice package delivered on their desk of a great little project. I used to just do TV, now I’m doing TV, I’m streaming broadband, Facebook, because of this proliferation, we are all doing a million and one things, throw in a shrinking economy, I try to make someone’s job easier. There’s the day to day book keeping business, there’s business of bringing the biggest bang for the clients buck and the promotion side of it.
How much time do you have with the client [on the show]?
CO – Exactly the same amount of time that you guys probably do. We shoot the show ten months out of the year. I meet with clients well in advance of what you see. The day that we start shooting we’ve already done the design work. It’s always the same sort of thing. “Hi, I’m Candice, what do you need, what are your problems, how much you got?” All of that, budget etc., is out of the way by the time we start rolling. Everything, I kid you not, is exactly how it is in the real world, except, the minute I leave, after I have gathered everything out of them, they don’t see me until the end, so the client has nothing to do with it! A lot of times, this is the hard thing about them not being involved, we call “Hi, um well, we need a little bit more money, and I can’t tell you what it’s for.” That’s the tough part of the job. Think of it, we are in peoples homes, at that point we've already filmed a little bit and they are realizing it’s really intrusive and they are probably a little fed up, by the time I ask them for more money. There are pros and cons. So much is done in advance so we can be proficient, or we would never get out of peoples homes. I tell them from the beginning this will be a horrible process with a beautiful result.
What do you think the legacy of HGTV will be? Will it ultimately have hurt or helped the industry overall? (Shelly Rosenberg)
CO – Fantastic question. I’m going into my 12th season now of doing design television. I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years on HGTV. I think on the upside, HGTV and the proliferation of design magazines has really helped make people so much more design savvy. There is this real interest in design. People travel, watch HGTV, they’ve got their magazine clippings. They show up and they know what they like. They want you to help facilitate and edit. When I first started on HGTV, it was a big DIY era. There wasn’t a lot of real design being shown. We hit that network and quickly went to number 1. It had little to do with me, people wanted to see good design. They wanted to see the process, and I understood this more and more over the years. This was the first to show real design. What I find is the downside, I mean I’m an interior designer, I totally get it. You cannot do a room in 23 minutes. We try to show as much as we can of the process. In 23 minutes I have to show what the client needs, a little of the process, we have to entertain a little bit. It does come across as instantaneous. I’m sorry for that but that’s all the time I’ve got. We never compromise on showing the elements and the principles, soft sell or hard sell, of good design. We don’t talk about budgets, which everyone talks about and wants to know about. Some of our shows now have been on the air for 12 years, we are in 160 different markets, so to us it wasn’t relevant. You know when I have a big budget and you know when I have a small one. Even when we are talking budgets, I find the most impactful design have been the smaller budget shows. We really do try to get the biggest bang for our design buck. So whether you have $10 or $10,000, it can be a can of paint, or granite counter tops, what is the decision making process and principles behind it. I think that’s what people will take away from HGTV. It was an interesting process, and HGTV was surprised by how well received it was. I think the legacy is that our show, 12 years later, people are still watching.