guest post from Studio Thomas
Many interior designers dream of establishing their own distinct design style and working on high-end, large scale projects. But how do you go from start-up mode, taking on anything from a paint consultation to your neighbor’s basement remodel, to building custom homes in exclusive neighborhoods in just a few years?
Of course it takes talent and an insatiable passion for design, but it also takes courage, a strong vision, a strategy, and an unwavering commitment. Building an intentional business and building an intentional brand require two separate strategies. They go hand in hand and both are essential in order to be truly successful. In just one year, Studio Thomas has undergone a complete brand and business transformation and we love to share our success story to inspire and encourage other businesses to do so too.
Kristen Thomas started her design studio the same way most small businesses do, taking on every project that came her way, regardless of the design style, scope, or budget. She was an experienced interior designer, but had always based her designs on the client’s wishes. Every client requested a different design style and Kristen customized every home to make every client happy. Her business grew quickly as more and more projects came in from referrals and past clients, and the projects began to increase in scale and size. Kristen added more designers and from the outside looking in, Studio Thomas was successful and thriving.
As time went on, Kristen realized the way things were going could ultimately lead to burnout. In the fall of 2017, just over 4 years after starting her business, she completely put on the brakes and decided to take complete control of the design direction and the future of Studio Thomas. All of the projects up until this time were beautiful and unique, but without a consistent design style or process in place, sometimes business felt overwhelming. She was ready to start over and create an intentional business and brand. She already had a beautiful website, a portfolio full of projects, and thriving social media accounts. But these no longer fit the vision she had for the future of her business and brand.
Kristen dug deep to determine her distinct design aesthetic and defined her own signature style. She took herself on as a client and created a mood board to establish her vision. She spent many late nights on Pinterest, reading design books from cover to cover, and reviewing past projects. Kristen then constructed her own signature design style – she defined her brand color palette and established the overall direction for all projects going forward. She decided on the philosophy of quality over quantity, and timeless over trends.
After establishing the design style she wanted to be known for, she moved on to create the kind of company she wanted to be known for. She studied business models and immersed herself in books about leadership philosophies and personal development. She put systems and processes in place and implemented the project management system Studio Webware. She determined the exact kind of culture she wanted to create and the values she wanted to establish going forward for herself, her employees, and her clients. Kristen knew she wanted a drama-free environment and a superior customer experience for her clients. She reduced her staff and made the decision to hire not only on skill set, but personality and personal style as well. She made every business decision going forward with intention and alignment with the culture she created at Studio Thomas to feel like a family. She continues to do this everyday.
Once she defined the interior design aesthetic and put the new internal processes into place, she was ready to develop a distinctive brand identity for Studio Thomas. This is another area that can be difficult for small businesses to implement. It takes a lot of time and resources, deep thinking and decision making, and a lot of courage. It can be overwhelming to start from scratch, deleting everything that doesn’t match the new vision you have for your business. Kristen had to determine exactly the kind of clients who would be interested in the company’s new design direction and she took a big leap to put it all out there. The logo, the brand voice, the business cards, marketing materials, the photography, and social media all needed to be updated to support the new brand direction, no matter how much effort was put into these items in the past.
This is where it can be easy to lose momentum and run out of courage. It can be hard to walk away from the look you’ve always had and the identity you’ve already built. When it was time to build the new website, there were only a couple of projects that fit the new design direction of Studio Thomas. Even though many of the past projects were beautifully designed and Kristen truly enjoyed working on them, if they didn’t fit the new aesthetic, they didn’t make it into the new portfolio. It was humbling to only show a few projects in the portfolio at first, but it was essential to commit to this step. Kristen knew she could only show the type of projects that would attract more of that kind in the future. Most business owners don’t want to do this because they feel like they won’t have any credibility without showing the vast experience they have on their portfolio. But as every brand designer advises, it is critical to do this.
Another component of creating an intentional brand was deleting years of blog posts and Instagram posts. With 16,000+ followers on Instagram in January of 2018, Kristen deleted every single Instagram post and started over from scratch. She carefully planned the new Instagram feed for months ahead using Planoly. She spent hours gathering images that supported the new brand direction and told the new story of Studio Thomas. We follow the same formula now, we post a mix of our design work, work from other designers and architects that we admire, and fashion and other imagery that inspires our designers and our community. We now have an active community that follows along and gives us so much amazing feedback that they totally “get” our brand and always know when they come across our posts in their Instagram feed. On our blog we no longer have the ubiquitous posts like “5 Steps to…”, “How to Style Your Bookshelves…” etc. Now we share weekly inspiration and details about our projects and our process so potential clients know exactly what it will be like to work with us.
So was it worth it to start all over and rebuild her business and brand, with every detail so carefully considered? Absolutely. Within months of revealing the new direction of Studio Thomas, the type of inquiries and projects booked matched Kristen’s new design aesthetic and level of service.
Potential clients instinctively know right away whether or not their project will be a good fit for our team. Our clients often tell us they have read every blog post, every Instagram post, watched every Instagram story, and knew exactly what they would be getting when they hire us. All of our current design projects totally reflect the type of work Kristen envisioned only a year ago. We now have a team of 10 and a wide range of design projects including new custom construction, spec homes, and remodels in Colorado, California, Arizona, Utah and Wyoming.
We totally encourage every business owner to go through a similar transformation to create a business and a brand that they love.
Netflix: “Abstract: The Art of Design” Ilse Crawford
Kristen Thomas is the principal designer and owner of Studio Thomas, a Denver based, full-service interior design and architecture firm. With a degree in Interior Design and a background in real estate and home building, Kristen has spent the past 20 years honing her ability to transform homes into spaces that truly enhance and elevate the lives of her clients. Since establishing her firm in 2013, Kristen and the Studio Thomas team have worked on a variety of projects, each unique in size, scope, and style. The Studio Thomas aesthetic is clean, modern, and tailored, focusing on the power of architecture, natural materials, texture, custom furniture, art, and unique antique finds to capture the essence of each homeowner’s personality and lifestyle. Studio Thomas has a wide range of design projects including new custom construction, spec homes, and remodels in Colorado, California, Arizona, Utah and Wyoming.
Article by Joey Rheem of Studio Thomas. All featured images designed by Studio Thomas. Photography by Pete Eklund, Eklund Photography.
The Identité Collective is a full service creative studio for interior designers and boutique lifestyle brands. Offering bespoke branding, web design and social media content creation, we help brands built around beautiful living elevate their digital presence to represent the physical spaces they design. Want to work together? Shoot us an inquiry here.