Tour a D.C. Designer’s Colorful, Contemporary Apartment
Heloise McKee has done the impossible: make designer fabrics and custom pillows affordable for all! Her company Mintwood Home offers chic designer pillows and home decor that ranges from coasters and ice buckets to side tables and woven rugs. However, the star of the Mintwood site is the Design Your Own Pillow feature, which allows you to pick and choose from a range of sizes and fabrics to make your decorating vision come to life.
As you can imagine, Heloise's adorable D.C. apartment is Mintwood's greatest advertisement by sporting the site's amazing finds. By layering pops of color and glints of gold over neutral whites and greys, she has managed to put together a perfectly balanced space (on a budget!).
Name: Heloise McKee
Current job/company: Founder & Creative Director, Mintwood Home
Education: University of Alabama; American University, Masters in Special Education with a Specialty in Learning Disabilities
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was working as an intern at The Lab School of Washington, which specializes in teaching students with learning disabilities. I moved to D.C. for graduate school, and one of the requirements was to intern at The Lab School. I already had my elementary education license from undergrad, so the school ended up hiring me full-time half way through my internship. Because the school is centered on teaching through the arts, I was constantly surrounded by creative people. I worked there for the next year and a half until I graduated and loved my time there.
Tell us how you ended up in D.C.
I went to undergrad at The University of Alabama, and while I loved my time there and the friends that I made, I knew I needed a bigger city. Once I decided to go to graduate school, I started looking at my options in different cities. I landed on D.C. because it was a city that I had grown up visiting since I was in middle school when we would visit my mom’s sister there every year. I had always loved D.C. and it didn’t hurt that my little sister was at UVA and my older sister was in Richmond. Being closer to them made the decision that much easier.
What made you switch gears from education to design?
While I loved teaching, I quickly realized that it wasn’t for me long term. As I began to become more frustrated with teaching, I reached out to a writer from The Washington Post who had written a story about my rental basement apartment a few years back. We had become friends through her writing the article, and I knew she would be someone good to talk to about a career change. I explained to her that I spent all my free time on Pinterest looking at other people’s homes, and I had been helping some friends redo their bedrooms after I kept getting asked how I redecorated my own. She suggested that I apply for some intern positions at local design firms and gave me a few suggestions on where to start. In the end, I think I ended up at the best one. After working there for two days I knew I wanted to leave teaching and go into interior design full-time.
What are some of the most valuable career lessons you learned while working at the design firm?
I had such an amazing boss and I truly enjoyed working with all the girls there. I learned the most from watching the way my boss addressed day-to-day projects and how she interacted with her clients. She was always professional, but also stood her ground, and I was always amazed by her ability to be direct, to the point, and funny at the same time. People loved her and listened to her because she was confident with her decisions—she was a great role model. Being in a smaller office environment also allowed me to observe and learn the ins and outs of running a small business.
What was the process of starting your own company like? What aspects did you find most challenging?
First, I talked the idea over with my family and close friends. I have the most supportive family and without their encouragement I could never have done this. When I decided to go for it, I drove to Richmond for the weekend to lock myself in my parent’s apartment and brainstorm. My older sister and her husband also let me bounce ideas and plans off of them, which was so helpful.
As things progressed, I enlisted my mom’s help to join me at various markets on the east coast looking at potential product. She has a great eye, so I loved getting to share those moments with her. The best part of the process was when I met with Caroline, now our marketing director, to design our logo. After sitting down with her for two minutes, I knew I wanted to work with her. I never thought she would leave her awesome corporate job to work with me, but thankfully she did!
I have put everything on the line for this company, and if I miss a couple parties and happy hours I know it will be worth it in the long run.
In May of 2014 we both took the leap of faith and quit our jobs to follow this dream. I think the hardest part is learning from all your mistakes the first year. Learning how to keep your books and figuring out taxes was quite interesting for this teacher. I called my dad about 45 times a day and he isn’t even an accountant. It was also hard learning how to keep a work life balance. I’m not very good at it, but I will say I am finally at a place where I am more OK with it. I have put everything on the line for this company, and if I miss a couple parties and happy hours I know it will be worth it in the long run.
Tell us about Mintwood Home! Where do you hope to see the company in five years?
Mintwood Home is an online marketplace for custom pillows and home décor! We’re passionate about giving our customers access to designer fabrics and making the process of decorating a home feel less intimidating. After all, decorating should always be fun!
In five years, I hope to see Mintwood Home as one of the top go-to home décor sites. Right now, we’re focused on growth. We would love to get big enough to become part of a fulfillment center (not that we don’t love packing up every order!). I would also love to expand the selection of fabrics that we offer to give people more options and get to a place where we can turn our pillows around faster than three weeks! Can you imagine getting a custom pillow made in a week or less? E-design is also something we hope to add at some point in the near future.
You live in the U. Street Corridor of D.C. What drew you to this area?
Around four years ago, this area really started to change. All the new ‘it’ restaurants were opening up as well as a ton of bars. So at 26-years-old and single, it was the place to be. I loved the idea of walking everywhere for errands and not having the responsibility of a house.
Tell us about your apartment search! How did you land on this building?
My little sister and I were planning on moving in together in May and we both knew we wanted to be out of Glover Park and in the U Street area. She ended up deciding to move in with her boyfriend (now husband), but the good news was my best friend from home was also looking for a new place and a roommate, so we all moved into the one building that would have space for all of us. We made an appointment one afternoon and signed the lease on the spot. We live on the 8th floor and my sister and her husband moved into the 3rd!
The thing I love most about our building is its old age. I love all the crown molding and tall ceilings. The building was a hotel so there is a ton of extra spaces that they have made into cool amenities. The gym has a steam and sauna. There is an entire office with computers and printers which is great when you are in a hurry and need to print something. They have tons of things I don't use like a wine cellar (my $10 bottles have no place in there). I also have a great view of the city! My bedroom windows look west so every night the sunset is unreal.
How would you describe your personal decorating style?
Contemporary, rooted in tradition but willing to take a risk to deliver the perfect amount of punch.
I asked one of my closest girl friends who is an interior designer to answer this question about me—this is what she said without skipping a beat: "Contemporary, rooted in tradition but willing to take a risk to deliver the perfect amount of punch." I was like, yeah, that sounds about right!
I do love to accessorize with traditional décor, but am drawn to elements that play well with a contemporary palette. I prefer neutrals such as whites and greys for the base or “the bones” (i.e. couch and chairs) and then like to add color elsewhere. That way you have more options for trading out pillows and fabrics down the road.
Did you decorate on a budget? What are some of your favorite places to shop for furniture and decor?
Yes, I definitely decorated on a budget. It's hard but you can do it! I moved in right around the time I started Mintwood Home, so my decorating budget was very small and I had to think about where it was important to put my money. My mom understood how much I wanted my space to be a reflection of Mintwood Home, so she was sweet enough to buy me the couch and the rug; I did the rest.
I went to flea markets and barn sales—I painted the corner bar piece four times to get it the right color. My roommate’s only piece of furniture was a Ballard Design’s coffee table, and even though it didn’t match I wasn’t about to buy a new one. It is the perfect table minus the finish, so one day I asked her if I could change it up a bit and I think she said yes just to see what I would do. I bought a drop cloth, took it apart and spray painted the black frame gold and then the wood parts white. It looked like an entirely different table afterwards! I also repainted my bedside tables and put different hardware on them. The dinning table is on loan from my sister until she gets a bigger place, and it’s going to be really hard for me to part with.
The one thing I did spend my money on was coffee table books (lots of them!) because I have an addiction. My favorite home stores are West Elm, ABC Carpet and Home, and any antique shop.
What is your favorite thing about your space?
I love my gallery wall. I actually moved it recently to a different wall when I finally found a piece of art I could afford (and was big enough) to go over the couch. I collected a lot of the pieces as I traveled, and some of them I did myself! I also have some of my friend’s artwork from over the years as well as other artists that I really admire. Each piece summons a different memory and the whole collection together makes me happy when I look at it.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Everything works out for the best, even if you can’t see it at the time. It is OK to have disagreements with people. Always trust your gut.
Heloise McKee is The Everygirl...
Bora Bora with my boyfriend
Skinny vanilla latte
Perfect D.C. Saturday?
Run on the Georgetown Canal path followed by brunch with friends at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. Then just walk around 14th street—there are so many shops and bars to end up in.
If you could have lunch with one woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I think it would be Phoebe from Friends. I would order a cheeseburger, and hopefully she wouldn’t mind since she was a vegetarian.
Durham coffee table, Ballard Designs (refurbished and painted by Heloise)
Blue Riad Pillows, Mintwood Home
Acrylic Tray, Mintwood Home
Clear Rock Box, Mintwood Home
Grey Gourd Lamp, Mintwood Home
Antique Gold Cross Table, Mintwood Home
Happy Flower No. 1, Mintwood Home, Evelyn Henson
Ruthie Print, Parima Creative Studio (center)
Ink Flowers No. 11, Parima Creative Studio (top right)
Floral Louis XVI Chair Watercolor Print, Madeline Frances (right middle)
Audra, Sophie Stubblefield (top right nude)
Blue Agate Coasters, Mintwood Home
Greek Key Matches, Mintwood Home
Sofa, Lee Industries
Pumice Standard Pillows, Mintwood Home
Zdenka Euro Pillows, Mintwood Home
Bedside Table, Ekster Antiques
Ellen Glass Lamp, Mintwood Home
Oval Mirror, Ekster Antiques
Gold Elephant, Mintwood Home
Italy Print, Ariana Clare
Fleur de Lis, La Maison
Moose Bust, Mintwood Home
Fall In Love Print, Luxe Art Prints Etsy
Necklace Stand, Target
Gold Tray, Mintwood Home
Acrylic Earring Stand, Amazon
Moose Tray, Hand Crafted by A Girl Etsy Shop
Mirror, Home Goods
Precious Pineapple Jar, Mintwood Home
Bar Light, Vintage
Blue Palms Print, Mintwood Home
Lulu Print, Parima Creative Studio
Bright Abstract Print, Jaime Derringer
Beige Whicker Ice Bucket, Mintwood Home
Bone Handle Bar Tools, Mintwood Home
Acrylic Tray, Mintwood Home
Blue Ivy Bowl, Mintwood Home
Mint Julep Cups, Mintwood Home
Gold Pineapple, Mintwood Home
Chair and Table
Acrylic Chair, Mintwood Home
Ice Bucket with Orchid, Mintwood Home
Black and White Polka Dot Pillow, Mintwood Home
Mirrored Cocktail Table, Mintwood Home
Black and Ivory Picture Frame, Mintwood Home
Brass Lanterns, Mintwood Home
Wild Weekend Napkins, Mintwood Home
Emilie Gold Rimmed Glasses, Mintwood Home
Raffia Placemat, Mintwood Home
Silverware, Vintage find in Paris
Art, Juniper Briggs
Acrylic Chair, Mintwood Home
Magenta Velvet Pillow, Mintwood Home
Rhapsody Rug, Mintwood Home
Cork Board, Pavona Interiors
Best Day Ever Mug, Mintwood Home
Flamingo Pad, Mintwood Home
Pink Pens, Poppin
No Pants are the Best Pants, Inslee By Design
Gold Scissors, Mintwood Home
Stay Fancy Glass, Mintwood Home
Mint Stapler, Poppin
Acrylic Tape Dispenser, Mintwood Home
Art, Juniper Briggs