Serene. Classic. Coastal. All of these words come to mind when describing Joan Trefz’s Savannah rental. While her home is furnished mostly from hand-me-downs and thrift store finds, Joan still manages to make her home feel pulled together and intentional, without being overly “designed.” A cozy spot on their $70 Craigslist sofa (a total score!) is the perfect place to unwind with her boyfriend after spending the day working on her online business, Simply Southern Wedding Boutique.
Shortly after Joan gave us a tour of her home, she made a big move to Greenville, SC, and with it came a new house to decorate. We can only imagine that it’s even more adorable than this one! Read on for more from Joan on how to make the best out of recycled family furniture, how she launched her business, transitioned to a new city, and how she turned an internship into a full-time position. Advice we can all benefit from!
Full name: Joan Trefz
Current title/company: Owner, Simply Southern Wedding Boutique
Education: BBA in Marketing, University of Georgia
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
I majored in marketing at the University of Georgia and, in an attempt to narrow my focus and get experience in the hospitality industry, I worked as a recreation intern at a beach resort my last summer in school. After graduation, I continued to apply for marketing and event-related jobs at hotels, restaurants, and country clubs, and was eventually offered a job as the member relations coordinator at a country club in Savannah, GA. The position allowed me to wear many hats (club concierge, event planner, marketer, dinner hostess, social media manager, photographer, etc.) and helped me recognize that I was most interested in the creative marketing aspects of my role. After working in hospitality for about a year, I accepted an internship at a local internet marketing company.
Tell us about your transition to moving to Savannah post-graduation from Athens, GA. What was the biggest change or challenge you came across from living in a new city?
I went to college in my hometown, so taking the job in Savannah was a fun opportunity to explore a new city! I was fortunate enough to find an amazing one-bedroom apartment with charming details like built-in shelves, a farm sink, and the original hardwood floors – so fun to decorate. The biggest adjustment to being in a new place was learning how to deal with alone time. I went to a big school and always had roommates, so I wasn’t used to coming home to a quiet house. But after sitting at the country club’s front desk and talking to people all day, I quickly came to appreciate the quiet time to myself after work.
After interning for an internet marketing company in 2012, you were able to evolve the internship into a full-time position as a project manager. What do you think attributed to landing a job after your internship ended? What advice would you offer to other interns in the same boat?
I accepted the internship knowing there was an opportunity for a full-time position after a three month trial period, so I worked my tail off during that three months to prove that I was worth keeping. When my boss mentioned that he wanted a member of the team to get Google AdWords certified, I started spending my evenings and weekends studying for the certification exams. I was offered a job as project manager within a week of passing my final Google exam!
What inspired you to launch your e-commerce site Simply Southern Wedding Boutique? Do you balance your responsibilities as a business owner with a full-time “day job” and if so, how do you strike that balance?
When the internet marketing company I worked for went remote in the fall of 2012, I started working from home full-time. That was when I began daydreaming about starting my own business – something that would allow me to think more creatively (and style pretty things!) while utilizing the digital marketing skills I’d acquired. After tossing around several ideas, I registered the domain simplysouthernwedding.com and started researching what it would take to start an ecommerce business! For several weeks I spent all of my free time putting a business plan together, filling out the necessary paperwork to start a retail business, and picking my co-workers’ brains about the best platform for my website. Eventually I quit my “day job” to focus on building my new business.
Simply Southern Wedding Boutique has been my primary focus for almost 2 years and I couldn’t be happier! I also work about 15 hours a week doing freelance online marketing, but am able to work from home full-time and schedule my freelance work around the needs of my shop.
Tell us about the process of launching your business from the ground up. What were your first steps to making your end goal a reality? In what ways has your vision for the business expanded or evolved since you first began?
With more and more brides looking to the internet for inspiration and goods for their wedding, I wanted to create a pleasant online shopping experience for brides-to-be with a collection of hand-picked products they could actually envision coming together to create a curated look for their wedding. After several months of late nights sourcing suppliers, writing product descriptions, designing marketing materials, wrestling with my ecommerce software, and changing my mind a million times, Simply Southern Wedding Boutique went live in March 2013!
Since the shop’s launch, more than 400 new products have been added, including everything from artisan guest books and personalized wedding favors to unique place card holders and vintage-inspired cake stands. I love seeing DIYers and event planners alike shop our collection of décor, favors, and gifts for weddings, bridal and baby showers, birthday parties, and simply entertaining at home.
Watching the shop evolve over the past year and half has been a truly humbling experience. Every day comes with new challenges, opportunities, and lessons (often learned the hard way!) that shape my priorities and goals moving forward. I am a one-girl merchandising, marketing, writing, design, web development, and accounting team (and an expert at none of the above), so I often look to other small business owners and creatives for inspiration. From tips on effective email marketing campaigns to the best photo-editing app, I am always grateful for the ideas shared by my favorite bloggers, entrepreneurs, designers, and stylists – many of whom I look to for interior design ideas as well!
Let’s talk about your home! Do you own or rent, and how long have you been living in your current place?
My boyfriend Craig and I have been renting our house in Savannah for a little over a year, and it has been perfect for us. After walking through several rentals (that left much to be desired) during our search last summer, we were certain we’d have to settle. When we stepped into this house, however, both of us were ready to sign the lease on the spot! The old house had been completely renovated on the inside and had lots of natural light, refinished hardwood floors, 3 bedrooms (giving us space for a guest room AND a much-needed home office), and very affordable rent.
What home items are important to invest in? What items do you recommend saving on?
With a new business to focus on, there isn’t much money to spend on home décor, so we’ve enjoyed creating a cozy home on a dime. In each room, you’ll find a combination of repurposed hand-me-down furniture, budget finds, and Craigslist scores. To be honest, the only pieces I’ve really “invested in” are my Ikea desk (which I obsessed over for months before buying) and our grey headboard from One Kings Lane.
If you spend the time upfront to find classic, neutral pieces to ground your space, then you can make it your own with affordable accessories – this also allows your space to evolve over time without breaking the bank. Most of my staple accessories (rugs, lamps, baskets, trays, lanterns, vases, and frames) are inexpensive finds from HomeGoods, Marshalls, Target, World Market, and Ikea. Some of my other favorite accent pieces came from my grandmother’s home, including old hardback books, colored glass pieces, and unique pots for houseplants. You’d be surprised what you can find in your family members’ basements and back closets. I also have a few products from my shop sprinkled throughout the house, like the jade cake pedestal on our bar!
How would you describe your personal decorating style?
Unstuffy classic with subtle coastal elements. My favorite spaces include a comfortable, neutral base with a combination of bright whites and rich wood tones, mingled with warm earthy textures and modern pops of color.
You’ve scored some pretty incredible deals on Craigslist for your home. Tell us about those pieces. What advice do you have to others who are currently on the Craigslist/thrift store/vintage hunt?
When we moved into this house, Craig and I knew we would need a bigger sofa and weren’t thrilled about the idea of buying a new one – even “affordable” new furniture can be expensive. But we found this barely-used leather sofa on Craigslist for only $70!
The best Craigslist pieces go very quickly, so if you see something you like you should act fast (I still regret not jumping on some amazing vintage rattan chairs I saw a few months ago). And you shouldn’t get discouraged if you don’t see something you want right away! I have the Craigslist app on my phone and check it a couple times a week to see if anything fun has been added. It also helps to keep a few key searches saved for quick reference – for example, I have “cart” saved so I hopefully catch the next bar cart or tea cart that pops up in Savannah!
You’ve said that many of the pieces you own are hand-me-downs from family and friends, which is what makes up many of our homes when we are first starting out! What advice can you give more making those pieces work, even if they aren’t exactly what you would have originally picked out yourself?
Slip covers and paint are game changers! Two of my favorite hand-me-down pieces are the white love seat in our living room and rattan love seat in our dining room. These loveseats were formerly red and yellow floral in the house I grew up in, but my mom made white slipcovers for them when I moved to Savannah (I’m incredibly lucky that she’s a magician on a sewing machine). She used the basic white Ikea curtain panels to make them (a bargain for that much fabric), so the slipcovers can be easily washed and ironed to look like new. Some of my other favorite repurposed freebies include our coffee table, pedestal dining table, and Windsor dining chairs, which I have stripped, sanded, and repainted several times each since college. Higher quality antique pieces, like my mahogany armoire and rocking chair, I won’t touch with paint.
What was the biggest design challenge you faced in decorating your home, and how did you overcome it?
There are a lot more walls in a 3 bedroom house than a 1 bedroom apartment, and I have seriously struggled with filling all the blank wall space. We are not in a position to invest in major artwork, so we’ve had to think outside the box for affordable alternatives. For example, we purchased the marine map on our living room wall for just $15 at a local boat supply store, and used a staple gun to attach it to quarter round from Home Depot and jute twine for hanging. The walls are still a work in progress, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a stack of Ikea Ribba frames (we don’t have an Ikea here so they’re on my shopping list for our next trip to Atlanta or Charlotte).
How long did it take for your home to look the way that it does now?
Our furniture essentially hasn’t moved since we settled in more than a year ago, but I rearrange and swap out accessories all the time as my tastes change. I kind of obsess over details and I draw a lot of style inspiration from sites like The Everygirl, Domino, Style Me Pretty Living, Glitter Guide, and Rue, and bloggers like Caitlin Moran, Michael Wurm Jr. (of Inspired by Charm), Carrie Waller, and Camille Styles (mostly discovered via Instagram) and have as many Pinterest boards devoted to interiors as I do weddings! (https://www.pinterest.com/southernwed/)
What do you love most about living in Savannah? What are your favorite things to do in the city?
I absolutely love walking around Savannah’s historic district – there is so much charm in the old architecture, spanish moss covered trees, parks, and squares. Some of my other favorites are listening to live music in City Market downtown, going to Sand Gnats games (the local minor league baseball team), and attending festivals and events in Forsyth Park. Being a 20 minute drive from the beach is a bonus too!
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
“Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” I don’t know the origin of this quote, but it really resonated with me when I came across it recently. It’s so tempting to compare the start of my journey to the middle of someone else’s (thank you inner overachiever), but I have to be willing to let my career take shape in its own way, at its own pace, and celebrate where I am.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
I would love to see simplysouthernwedding.com continue to grow and eventually allow for an office space and small team to support the areas of my business I’m not as strong at. I also recently built a lifestyle and wedding inspiration blog called Style in Simplicity that I wish I had more time to invest in. Hopefully someday it will be more than just a hobby!
Joan Trefz is The Everygirl…
Perfect Savannah date night?
Dinner and drinks at Bona Bella Yacht Club. It’s super laid back and their deck has the best view of the island marshes.
Favorite wedding blog?
There are so many good ones, but Style Me Pretty and 100 Layer Cake are probably my favorites.
Biggest guilty pleasure?
Watching Law and Order reruns from my couch with a big glass of red wine.
Who would play you in a movie of your life?
Gosh, I really don’t know. Jennifer Lawrence might be able to capture my clumsiness!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Mexican food and a pitcher of margaritas with my mom during (or after) a full day of shopping. We are the type to shop until everything closes, so we’re always starving and laughing at ourselves by the time we sit down to eat something.