Eclectic yet effortlessly polished, Jamie Meares—owner of Furbish Studio, interior designer, and blogger behind I Suwannee—manages to strike just the right balance with her seriously fierce style. Many of us are yearning for our own spaces to receive the “Jamie Meares treatment,” design with an unapologetic penchant for bright color and layers of pattern and texture. And though Jamie has her own style calling card, you have to admire a woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her daily blog posts are sprinkled with hilarious anecdotes, fashion cravings, and polaroid snapshots of the Furbish team’s lives, providing major eye candy and creative inspiration.
After finding a niche for herself in the design world, Jamie then unveiled Furbish Studio, an extension of I Suwannee—vibrant, approachable, and full of personality. We love her commitment to originality and bold yet approachable aesthetic. Today, Jamie gives us a look into her newly relocated 3,000 square foot retail space and design studio where colorful swatches of fabric and magazine cutouts adorn the walls as larger than life inspiration boards. She also explains how she made the transition from a full-time day job to an industry she had no knowledge of, as she turned her virtual aspirations into reality.
Full Name: Jamie Meares
Educational background: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A. in English and Creative Writing
Current title/company: Owner of Furbish Studio and blogger behind I Suwannee
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position?
I worked at a tiny advertising agency. I applied for a position I saw in the paper a week after I graduated from college and started working the next week. It had nothing to do with my major, but it paid real money so I went for it. So much for my jaunt around Europe to discover myself before becoming a working woman.
What were you doing before you started your personal design blog, I Suwannee?
I was cruising around all of my at-the-moment fave blogs, thinking it must be way too late to start my own.
What design style were you trying to emulate in the early days? Has that style evolved?
I was trying a little bit of everything I saw—I was trying to get interesting things that spoke to me. I just had no idea how to really buy quality, or how to necessarily balance a room. In the beginning, I knew I wanted to have fun with decorating and not take it too seriously. I knew I never wanted to be “finished” because the process was too much fun. Now I know how to add age to a room and how important texture is. I understand more of what I want out of a room and how to get it there.
What steps did you take to grow I Suwannee? How did you build your readership?
My readership skyrocketed after an article in the New York Times about the closing of Domino mentioned my blog. After that, it was a steady incline, along with important press mentions and attending networking events. I can’t say I’ve been strategic about my blog growth. It’s been organic.
Besides design, what else do you regularly feature on I Suwannee? Why do you think those aspects of your blog are important to feature?
I’ve always considered my blog more “lifestyle,” because I basically talk about all of my wants and needs. That can include design, clothing, travel, food, music, and silly videos of cats. I think it’s important to keep as much as I can original content, so that my readers know they are getting my distinct voice and taste when they come to my blog.
In 2009, you managed to parlay I Suwannee into an actual retail business, Furbish Studio, with a bona fide store front—a dream for most design bloggers. What advice do you have for those yearning to turn their virtually documented aspirations into a reality?
I think it’s so important to have a unique perspective. I think it’s doing yourself and your audience a disservice if you don’t bring something new and original to the table when you make the leap to making your dreams a reality. I don’t think you have to start a business or a company knowing exactly what you want your story to be, but I do think you have to know you’re offering something that’s not already available. You have to have confidence that you can bring something to the market that gets people excited.
What was the most difficult aspect of opening up Furbish Studio?
It was a leap of faith. I was transitioning from having a steady, well-paying, “normal” job to being a business owner and not knowing if I was going to make enough money to pay my bills. I had no experience in what I was jumping into, and I knew I was going to have to teach myself how to make it in an industry I had no knowledge of.
What are some things you wish you had known about running Furbish before you opened? What advice do you have for someone looking to open her first store?
The most important thing I have is my team. Although I had to start my journey on my own, I quickly found a kindred spirit in Keila Marino, who has helped me shape the company into what it is today and what we’re setting it up to become. In retrospect, I wish I’d been a bit riskier financially when I started. Instead, I ease into things and end up having to redo and renovate to save a few bucks here and there. I’ve found it’s never been worth it. I should have done things right the first time around, but as a small business owner, it’s scary to sink money (especially when it’s yours) into something you’re not sure about. I’d trust my instincts more, and I’d commit more up front so that down the road, I can focus time, effort, and money into growing the business without having to continually patch the foundations. I’ve finally wrapped my head around this and can move forward growing the company, confident I have invested in a sound structure.
Your aesthetic at both I Suwannee and Furbish is loud, eclectic, and vibrant. How do you go about assembling all of those patterns and colors into a composed room?
I like layers. I think it’s easiest to start with a mostly neutral base and then with each layer you build in, make sure you bring a touch of something kooky and bright or patterned to the design. Bright, happy colors need a contrast to keep them from running wild. If you use magenta, pair it with olive to look more sophisticated. Pattern mixing is about scale—you need big loopy organic prints to be matched with smaller, tighter geometric shapes in order to look balanced. I love eye candy, so restraint is hard for me. When I’m working on a scheme for a new project, I always tell my assistant, Jessica, to take out one pattern when I’m done. I’m a one-pattern-too-many kind of girl.
Is there at all a difference between your personal design style and what you sell at Furbish? If so, how do you go about buying things for your store that you wouldn’t necessarily buy for your home?
I try to only buy pieces for my store that I would enjoy in my real life, or one of my imaginary lives in which I’m wearing caftans and living on a cliff in California. I realize that not everyone has a taste similar to mine, but with my store, I hope you’re coming because you’re drawn to the mix and the collected look that we’re helping promote. It’s my responsibility to curate my offerings with only things that I think can become treasures in an interesting home.
Last year, Furbish moved into a bigger retail space. What changes did you have to make to the business when you made this shift?
With the move, I invested in more employees, much more inventory, and a new website. I’ve brought on an assistant who keeps me sane and is able to harness my crazy ideas and make them real. This year, I’m continuing to invest in my team. The people I bring on board are the most important thing to me, and they contribute the most to the growth of Furbish. I’ve had to learn to let go of control of a tremendous amount of the everyday details that I used to relish in. I’ve brought on a financial officer, and we are currently hiring for a store manager. As our online business grows, we are investing in more warehouse space, more employees, and better systems to handle the volume.
You recently redecorated your house. What new pieces and themes did you incorporate?
Back to the layering idea: I basically just added a layer. I did window treatments in almost all of the rooms, and I brought in new lighting. With the fabrics, I tried to pick things that would be timeless but edgy enough not to feel staid. I continue to collect the things that speak to me and that I love to be surrounded by—books, pottery, artwork.
On I Suwannee, your inspiration can come from anywhere—from bookcases to a pile of JCrew shirts. What are some of your go-to’s for creatively inspiration? Do you ever get “designer’s block”?
I’ve been keeping notebooks with cuttings from magazines, scraps of paper, catalog tearsheets, etc., for over ten years. I pull them out when I’m starting a new project and see what jumps out at me (whoa…this is so pre-Pinterest!). I’m very visual. If something catches my eye, I always stop and try to figure out why it did. I’ll watch old episodes of Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory all day long; he provides endless inspiration for me. I visit NYC as often as I can, and I always come back full of ideas. I love to travel and view each new destination as an opportunity to learn something new that I can bring back to Furbish. I keep a notebook with things I want to try, and my iPhone fills up with photos every few month (FYI, it takes approximately 4000 photos to fill it up) that I keep categorized for inspiration. I devour shelter magazines, the Sunday New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal magazine. I do get designer’s block, but thankfully, not for long.
Your style is very defined—we know when a room has been given the “Jamie Meares treatment.” What advice do you have to those trying to develop their own aesthetic calling card?
Look for what you love, not what you’ve seen someone else do. You can copy to an extent, but if you don’t take the reigns at some point and find a style that’s true to you, you’ll never be able to stamp it as your own. With pinterest and blogs, everyone feels like they’ve seen it all. You’ve got to go out on a limb and try to do kooky things to find something new.
Take us through a day in the life Jamie Meares. What does your average work day look like?
Things don’t really stay constant for too long at furbish. Right now, we are in the process of renovating the store, expanding our warehouse for shipping and receiving, and moving the creative team over to a new office space. Now, everyone is meeting each morning to go over progress and updates. We spend about two hours together working on plans for growth, finalizing decisions on our furniture and tabletop lines we are launching this year, and developing new product ideas. We all go our separate ways around lunch time—some to shipping and customer service, some to attend to the retail store, and I hole up in my office with Jessica to answer emails and work on decorating projects. We may go meet at a client’s house in the afternoon and then come back to the studio to review fabrics, work on design schemes, or scout for new items for the shop. I always work in time to get caught up on blogs, scroll through Pinterest, and post on my blog.
Biggest challenge of your career so far? Best “pay-off” moment?
The biggest challenge has been knowing when to let go. Trying to figure out my role in the company as it changes and grows. Learning not to be afraid to reinvest in my company in order to keep it growing. This Christmas, I had a warm, fuzzy moment when I took my team out to celebrate, and we exchanged gifts. I thought how lucky am I to have this smart group of women working with me who all believe in what I’ve made and want to help me grow it.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Keep pushing your luck.