For the past five years, thousands of her loyal readers and fans around the globe have logged online every morning to read what she has to say. Usually they’re guaranteed a hearty dose of interior design inspiration, intermixed with occasional posts on fashion, travel, or pop culture. And while Elements of Style always offers up its requisite serving of pretty and the inspiring, it’s the writing and voice of author Erin Gates that has gained wide recognition and made E of S one of the world’s leading lifestyle blogs. Everything from her commentary on Red Carpet fashion to her personal essays on weight, beauty, and life is delivered in Erin’s colloquial, humorous, and honest tone, making both her and her blog relatable and likeable. And if you ask any of her readers, they’d likely say they consider Erin a friend with whom they sit down to have a cup of coffee each morning.
With such a large readership and regular press both in her local Boston media and national publications, it’s no surprise Erin credits her blog as the source from which she’s been able to launch her successful career as an interior designer and found Erin Gates Design. Today on The Everygirl, she offers readers a detailed account of what she believes it takes to run a successful blog as well as tips to aspiring interior designers on starting out, working for yourself, and the industry as a whole. Not only that, but we are honored to offer the first-ever tour of her industrial, color-splashed office space, which happens to be located in the same warehouse as Jessica Sutton of JSGD who you read about on Monday. Erin also shared with us an exciting announcement that as of now has not been mentioned anywhere, but you’ll have to read on to learn more!
SHOP THE LOOK OF ERIN GATES’ STUDIO HERE
TOUR ERIN’S SOUTH END HOME HERE
Full name: Erin Tubridy Gates
Current title/company: Founder of Erin Gates Design (interiors, fashion and events) and Elements of Style blog
Year that you started Erin Gates Design (formerly Element Interiors): 2007
Educational background: Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art from Connecticut College, various interior design classes at colleges in Boston
What was your first job out of college and how long were you at that position?
My first job out of college was being the assistant manager of a fantastic little art gallery on Newbury Street in Boston. I still find picking art for a home one of the most fun parts of the design process. I was at the gallery for about a year before moving on, but learned so much about curating, lighting, and modern art in that short time and that knowledge helps me still today.
What were you doing before you launched Element Interiors, now Erin Gates Design? How did you ultimately decide to take the leap and start your own business?
I worked for another designer and was actually kind of disenchanted by the interior design world from it. I didn’t like his approach or attitude and thought “well, if this is what design is like then I don’t want to be in it.” So I took a job as an event planner for an all girls school for a few years. But the design bug had bitten, and I found myself still wanting to be a part of that world. So I started the blog on the side as a way to feed that part of my creative drive. Before long I had a few people who wanted to hire me to help with their apartments, and I was struggling to find time to do it all with my job. Being a total risk-adverse person I didn’t think quitting my full-time job was an option, but my more entrepreneurial husband told me that he thought I should quit and give myself a year to see if I could get my own business off the ground, that way I’d never have regrets. So I did just that, and I have never, ever looked back. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
You started your blog Elements of Style in 2007, and it’s grown to become one of the most well-known blogs in the industry. Did it take you awhile to find your niche with blogging? What kind of impact has it had on your career?
I’ve been blogging for five years and it took a good year before I had much traffic. It grew steadily from there thanks to some generous press from the Boston media and dedication on my part. Posting ever single day is something that I believe is a HUGE part of making it in blogging. You need your readers to know that when they check in every morning there will be something new. My blog built my entire career, I owe everything to it. I truly respect, adore, and am in awe of my readers and cannot imagine a day when I don’t start my day doing it.
Many bloggers find it hard to stay inspired and produce content on a daily basis. When you blog, do you typically have ideas in mind in advance or do you sit down at the computer most days and search for content? Where you find inspiration?
It’s hard work! Sometimes even I don’t give myself credit for it. I bookmark things constantly that I want to write about, but 90% of the time when I sit down at 6:30 every morning I have no idea what I’m going to post. Working day in and out designing homes and researching product does help keep me full of inspiration.
You’ve blogged almost every weekday without fail for the past five years. Do you ever feel like not blogging? How long does it typically take to produce a post?
Of course. There are days I wake up and I’d rather insert a hot poker into my eye than write a post, but I HAVE TO. I have no choice. Not only because it’s my job, but I also have sponsors that expect a new post five days a week and readers who do too. Disappointing people is my worst fear in life, and so I just muster up enthusiasm about something, not matter how small or trivial and post it. Most in-depth posts can take from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Others can take longer, but those are few.
There are many Everygirls out there longing to make it as an interior designer. After you decided you wanted to launch your own brand, what was the first step you took to make it happen? How did you begin finding clients?
Most of my clients come from the blog, with a percentage coming from seeing me in local press. I’ve never gotten a job from national press, which is interesting. I think when people see you in a national magazine they get a smidge intimidated. I pride myself on being very easy to work with and very flexible and respectful of budgets, reality, and lifestyle. I get a lot of emails from girls asking about going to grad school for design and if I think it’s necessary. I got into a program for my masters in interior design, but decided not to go as I really wanted to just focus on decoration and residential work and figured I could always partner with a licensed architect should I need working drawings done. It limits you a little but not much in my experience. However, if you want to work for a big firm (or even a small firm) having your degree and knowledge of AutoCAD is really important. If you want to do more of what I do, then experience in the field is more important. Try looking for internships to get your feet wet or jobs working at a showroom or furniture store.
How did you initially determine what to charge? Any advice for new designers trying to determine rates (commission, hourly, size of project, location)?
I asked my father and other friends in the design world. I began really cheap because I was so inexperienced. I still find it incredibly hard to put a dollar amount on myself and my time. I mean, putting a solid number on an hour of my attention seems so narcissistic, but it’s the business! It’s daunting and sometimes hard to feel you are worth it, but I have people around me who make me set my prices at what they know is fair considering market rates, demand, and operating expense necessity. And I have to constantly remind myself that if these people paying me were going to do what I do for them it would probably take them 10 times as long as it takes me.
What is the most rewarding part about running your own business? The most challenging?
The most rewarding thing is to set your own schedule. It’s the ultimate luxury and also makes me work a million times harder than I ever have for anyone else. The most challenging is turning off my work brain and setting it aside. My passions are my business, and sometimes I cannot draw the line and just “be”—watch a movie without being on Pinterest or go out to eat without thinking about lighting for someone. It’s annoying for my husband, but also a sign that I am doing what I should be doing!
What advice would you offer an Everygirl who aspires to make her living as an interior design or freelance stylist?
Be aware that interior design is 25% creativity and 75% paperwork, project management, psychology, and math. It’s not all fabric swatches and paint colors and wine with clients! It’s so so so much work!
How do you handle opinionated or hard-to-deal-with clients?
Deep breaths, patience, and faith in process. And if it becomes too difficult, I walk away. Life is too short to waste energy on people who are irrational and abuse your talents.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Keep going. It’s going to be all worth it some day. Know that the little steps lead to big leaps eventually. And when Tom Brady talks to you in a bar this year, don’t run away.
We are happy to announce for the first time anywhere that you’re working on a new fashion line, Two Penny Blue. Congratulations! Please tell us about that! What is your role in the brand?
A very good friend of mine approached me with her idea to launch a fashion brand focused solely on making amazing blazers for women. I’ve been helping her define and design the brand for about a year and half and we’re launching this month! I’m serving as Style Director: helping define our fits, fabrics, details, branding, and such. It’s been a really interesting process since neither of us are fashion designers. She’s worked really hard on sourcing and finding vendors by just asking around and being persistent in contacting them and asking the right questions. What we ended up with is beautiful and exactly what we thought was missing from the marketplace. We also were really certain we wanted to have a charity component to the brand, so when you buy one of the blazers we donate a percentage to outfit a girl in Africa with a school uniform. This not only separates us from other blazer options but also hopefully makes you feel really good about buying something beautiful.
You’re a talented writer and a little birdie told us you’re writing a book! 1. Congratulations! 2. Can you share the basic premise? How do you find time to write? Did the publishing house approach you? Any and all details are appreciated about the process of having a book published!
Well, I’m attempting to write a book. It’s an incredibly daunting process that has unfortunately taken a backseat the last few months. I write personal essays on the blog every now and then, and it’s created a lot of discussion amongst readers and has gotten my writing noticed by some literary and publishing folks. So I am attempting to craft a book of essays/short stories based on those blog posts—kind of a Bossypants meets Chelsea Handler meets Eat, Pray, Love thing. No deal yet, but I do have an agent who would love it if I’d get around to sending her pages. 🙂