Lauren Overholser knows a few things about making a major career switch. After working in the financial sector for eight years, Lauren was desperate for a creative outlet. To that end, she started Copper+Walnut, a home decor blog that followed her journey furnishing her new home on a budget. It was because of this experience that she discovered what was lacking with online furniture companies—reliability and transparency. Thus, out of a need, Copper+Walnut (the business) was born.
After much consideration and honest discussions with her family (the ultimate experts: they have a long history in the interior design industry), Lauren launched her online furniture company. And with extra insight in the industry, she also included opportunities for her customers to customize individual pieces or even consult with an expert. Copper+Walnut’s mission is “to bring transparency back to furniture and expose a new generation to classic construction and domestic quality at an affordable price point.” And you can see why we adore her and her business plan, right? In addition to owning and operating Copper+Walnut, she also designs the brand’s product line, including select furniture, faux-fur blankets, and throw pillows.
Creating the “ultimate e-design experience,” Lauren has found her niche in the design world, and we were thrilled that she shared some of the tips and tricks she has learned along the way. Read on about Lauren’s career path from finance to interior design and her journey of opening and running her own company. We think she said it best: “It’s ok not to know exactly what you want to do or who you want to be, so don’t let the fear of uncertainty stop you from learning, trying new things, and most importantly failing.”
Name: Lauren Overholser
Job title/company: Founder, Copper+Walnut
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Miami University of Ohio
What was your fist job out of college and how did you land it?
I graduated from Miami of Ohio with a degree in Psychology and without a career plan. The only thing certain was my lack of life experience so when a job in personal finance presented itself after a university career fair, I jumped on it. Having no idea how I would fare in the financial world was terrifying but I knew regardless of my success I would acquire useful life and financial skills.
Take us on a brief career bio. What happened next that eventually led to your current job?
Three states and six positions later, I spent the next eight years working for that same financial firm. I went from full-time to part-time to independent consultant continually crafting my role around my interests and strengths. Desperate for the one thing my job couldn’t offer: a creative outlet, but unwilling to give up a stable job, I taught myself basic coding, purchased Photoshop, and launched a home décor blog: Copper and Walnut. My husband and I had recently built our first home and the blog provided a way to sort through all of the ups and downs of designing on a tight budget. As I documented our projects and purchases I realized three things about the furniture industry: shopping online was unpredictable, big retailers lacked personality, and neither provided clear value.
Learning quickly that others faced this same predicament but unsure what to do about it, I reached out to my family. I spoke to my grandmother, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins (yes, they’re all in the design industry) and they not only provided invaluable guidance but really helped me clarify my mission: to bring transparency back to furniture and expose a new generation to classic construction and domestic quality at an affordable price point.
Starting a business is tough and it’s easy to get intermittently lost. Having friends and family a phone call or cup of coffee away that can reignite my passion, guide me back on track or make me laugh has been essential.
What personality traits are required to do your job well?
Self-motivation is key. Nobody tells me when to come to the office and I can easily slack off if I don’t feel like working so I have to be able to dig deep and motivate myself. Having a sense of accountability is also really important. If something doesn’t get done, it’s on me and if something goes wrong, I have to fix it. This leads me to my next trait: adaptability. Being open to trying and learning new things is imperative for my brand to grow and I have to be willing to work outside my comfort zone on a daily basis.
One quick piece of advice: Starting a business is tough and it’s easy to get intermittently lost. Having friends and family a phone call or cup of coffee away that can reignite my passion, guide me back on track or make me laugh has been essential.
What specific technical skills are required to do your job well?
Creativity and vision are important in design but to launch a furniture collection I’ve also had to balance business, accounting, and logistics. That said, I’ve chosen to be 100% hands-on with my brand so learning basic code, mastering at Photoshop, graphic design, and generating a clear and concise brand message have also been crucial.
You mention in this video that you have family ties in the interior design industry. Tell us a bit about your background! Have you been involved in interior design prior to founding Copper + Walnut?
My family’s design roots run deep. Dating back to the 1960’s with my grandparents, I come from a long line of architects, real estate developers, and interior designers. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve hide-and-seek in fabric samples, running around vacant spaces at the local design center, and sneaking Sees candy from my family’s showroom. Prior to founding Copper and Walnut my experience in design was informal and my training came naturally through exposure to my parents wholesale furniture business. Once I realized I had a passion for design I began helping out in their showroom, joining them on trips to the Furniture Market in High Point, North Carolina and investigating the world of high-end, luxury furniture. They represent the upper echelon, so I had the unique advantage of studying their products and handpicking elements that I felt could translate to a more affordable market.
Finding the perfect balance of quality materials, comfort, and style is harder than you’d think! What steps do you take to source materials for each of your products?
You are so right! For a custom collection like Copper and Walnut partnering with the right manufacturers is the first step to achieving the level of quality, comfort, and style that I demand. Next, I personally select all of the design details like fabrics, cushion fill, and spring construction. Since I wouldn’t feel comfortable selling anything that I hadn’t directly verified, I often use my own home to test collection pieces. In fact, we currently have enough faux-fur, washable throws to cover a football field! Finally, I only seek out domestic vendors so that I can meet with them face-to-face and try out new products twice a year at the Furniture Market in North Carolina. In addition to this hands-on approach, my family’s decade long relationships have enabled me to secure partnerships with top notch furniture and accessory manufacturers across the country.
The furniture pieces at Copper + Walnut are timeless, interesting and well made. Who handles the furniture design? Was this out sourced or all done in house?
All of the furniture in my collection is a collaboration between my manufacturer and myself. They typically work from a construction point of view, bringing silhouette options and structural plans to the table and then I am able to customize spring construction, cushion fill, and all the design bells and whistles. My goal was to build a collection with a classic, timeless foundation and allow the ebb and flow of fabrics and design details to keep it feeling fresh and relevant.
Tell us about Minneapolis. How has your team grown or expanded and how do you expect it to evolve over time?
Both Copper and Walnut and I were born in Minneapolis. I was raised in a suburb just outside the city and the idea for my collection began in the design center there. It remains one of my favorite places; with the intention of growing roots here in the Midwest, I recently partnered with a showroom that will display a handful of our designs on their floor. We’ll be releasing more details on our website and plan to have it ready for viewing later this year. As far as the future goes, my vision for Copper and Walnut is constantly evolving. Right now our team consists of two people: my business manager and me. We plan to eventually add on, but short term our focus is to advance our online shopping experience, expand the collection, and grow our presence in Minneapolis. I dream of the day I’m able to open a combined office and showroom!
What marketing strategies or other techniques allowed you to grow your business?
“Remember, you don’t have to be the best at everything to succeed. Narrow your signs and focus first on being great in a few key areas.” This was early advice I received from my Dad and when it came time to market my collection his words echoed in the back of my mind. Instead of spending money that I didn’t have on a splashy campaign, I concentrated on perfecting the pieces in my collection and providing superior customer service. By choosing this path, I have steadily built a reputation for quality and have grown my brand organically through positive clients reviews and word of mouth. From there, I’ve been able to extend my marketing reach by contacting media sources, pitching by brand story and partnering with tastemakers, like The Everygirl. Without spilling the beans, I can hardly wait to reveal not one but two darling collaborations later this year!
You use Pinterest, Instagram, and your blog as social media platforms for Copper+Walnut. Do you have a schedule for what you post? What role has social media marketing played in creating brand awareness?
Social media has been instrumental in establishing my presence and reputation in the design world. Sharing my journey to build my brand is more meaningful to me than investing in advertising so I love tools like Instagram and Pinterest that provide direct interaction with my customers. Social media has also opened up a feedback channel that I didn’t realize existed. I am now privy to my customer’s opinions and can occasionally flex my nimble, small business muscles by posting a new piece or quickly changing a process to meet their immediate requests. That interaction just can’t be achieved through a print ad or radio spot. As far as a schedule goes, I blog when I can, pin daily, instragram at least three times a week and disseminate our Weekly newsletter (subscribe here) at 6am every Tuesday.
Tell us more about your adorable branding! How amazing are those style boxes?
Thank you! The branding process was very personal and I wanted it to feel like a natural extension of me. I researched other successful brands but relied on my own childhood memories, family experiences, and feelings about the collection to guide me. I chose a clean classic aesthetic so my furniture and accessories would be center stage and my logo is a tribute to my family’s French bulldog, Bogart.
Don’t let the fear of uncertainty stop you from learning, trying new things and most importantly failing.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
I would tell 23-year-old Lauren that it’s ok not to know exactly what you want to do or who you want to be, so don’t let the fear of uncertainty stop you from learning, trying new things, and most importantly failing. Chris Anderson gave incredible advice at his graduation speech for Harvard’s Architecture and Design school that I wish I would have heard earlier (I am paraphrasing): Don’t chase after your passion, instead seek things that will empower you. Be curious. Pursue knowledge, discipline, and generosity. Then one day when your wildest dreams whisper in your ear, “let’s go.” You’ll be ready.
Lauren is The Everygirl…
I wish I knew how to...
Sing! Even though I’ve never been afraid to give a shower or car concert.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Aerin Lauder and Tory Burch because both women are at different stages of building lifestyle empires. We’d go to Southern Tide in Sea Island, Georgia and I would order fresh scallops and a glass of Chardonnay.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
TV show you wish was still on the air?
Felicity and How I Met your Mother.
If you weren’t running Copper and Walnut, what would you be doing?
Working for a lifestyle brand or launching my own perfume line.