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Peg Kusner, owner of Peg Kusner Designer and creator of Style Story and Beyond Your Kitchen Table, is known for creating functional, comfortable and beautiful spaces that tell personal stories. She shares how creative self-discovery can break through preconceived notions of interior design and lead to remarkably storied spaces.
SBT: Tell us about your business and how you’re helping clients these days.
Peg: Most of my clients are entrepreneurs who need help with their home office. After they’ve experienced the power of design in their workspace they often hire me to design their entire home.
SBT: What’s the big problem that home-based entrepreneurs experience with their work space?
Peg: What generally motivates people to get hold of me in the first place is a feeling of disconnect between the persona that they’re projecting with their online brand through videos, YouTube or their website and reality. We curate these wonderful pictures on Instagram and Facebook of this magical airbrushed life. Things are not quite as beautiful as they look online and I think entrepreneurs easily fall prey to imposter syndrome. They know that just behind the camera where their audience can’t see is a stack of files and an entire office in disarray, if they even have an office. Nine times out of 10 my clients are working off a kitchen table and there is this lingering doubt that they’re not as professional and pulled together as they seem online.
SBT: How do you help them remedy that?
Peg: I have a client who, for example, who wanted her office to feel “done” but she didn’t know what that looked like or how to get there. So I guide my clients through a very personal process of connecting that professional image with soul.
SBT: It’s an interesting juxtaposition isn’t it? We’ve been conditioned to keep our personal and professional lives separate and now we’re seeing this shift toward being authentic and congruous. It takes some time and focus to reconcile those mindset and practices in a way that actually feels good right?
Peg: Absolutely. There’s a famous quote that says your home is a reflection of your soul. If your office is a disaster zone then it’s a fair reflection that you’re going through a lot of inner turmoil. The reverse is also true. When your work life is organized, it reflects the best qualities of you and your work, and amplifies all the best qualities.
SBT: What’s the most important question that entrepreneurs, especially those who work from home, need to ask before carving out or redesigning their workspace?
Peg: Start with asking this one question: “Why now?”, then think about what’s working and what’s not working because that’s usually a huge indicator of the design direction. Then I guide my clients through my signature process called Style Story, which is introspective and fun. Through my career working in fashion and retail I always asked clients questions to get to know them and get a feel for their style and vibe. It’s an intuitive process that helped me nail a client’s style quickly and give them exactly what they wanted. When I evolved into interior design, I did the same thing and people always say “Wow, how did you figure me out?” Many designers are intuitive about design.
SBT: How is your approach and process different from other designers?
What’s different here is that I realized I needed to formalize and articulate the process so that anyone can figure out their own style if they follow the process. Also, my process is specifically tailored process for home-based creative entrepreneurs. It gives them the flexibility to hire me to do design their space or go through the process on their own with my Beyond the Kitchen Table program, which walks clients through the process from beginning to end. They figure out their own style story, visually and verbally, and walk away with a beautiful roadmap to make decisions in every aspect of it.
SBT: How do you help clients get through the fear of making the wrong choice and wasting their money on items that don’t work in their space?
Peg: Here’s the cool thing. Whether you’ve worked through this process one-on-one with me or through Beyond Your Kitchen Table on your own, you have a set of three to five words that are unique to your personal style. I have clients personally put together a series of images that connote those words. For example, my words are creative, calm and inspired, which are great words but how those words look and get expressed are different for everyone. I walk my clients through an actual illustrated journal where we pull together their images for their related words.
For example, when I say the word inspired, the way that translates in my office is that I have a huge bulletin board covered with inspirational quotes and a whiteboard with lots of different colored magic markers that I doodle on. I have a chalkboard with pictures of animals and inspirational images that I pulled from magazines. I’ve got fun, quirky things all over the place like personal artwork and several big glass jars full of markers, pens, pencils and paper at the ready. I have a bookshelf full of inspirational shelter magazines and design books. That’s what inspiration means to me.
I love color and I work with it every day, but for my own personal space, those colors are neutral so I can concentrate on my clients. Everything is bleached out woods and an off-light cream on the walls. All my lighting is very clean and simple. I want the projects I’m working on to be the primary interest. That’s comfortable for me.
SBT: It feels like you’re turning what we think of as interior design on its head. Do you find people choose a particular interior designer because of the designer’s style?
Peg: Exactly. You look at somebody’s portfolio and say, “Oh my God, that’s a beautiful space. I want that in my house.” I really fought with the concept of presenting my portfolio to my clients because I didn’t want a client to look at something and say, “That’s not me.” It’s not them. It’s that particular client and what we do for them is totally personal.
SBT: What other fears or misconceptions do people have about interior design?
Another big fear for clients when it comes to working with designers, and it’s a legitimate fear, is that it’s the designer’s way or the highway. Any designer worth their salt needs to work collaboratively. Producing great creative work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s my job to make clients feel supported. Also because I know the design rules, I know how to break them safely and inexpensively. I can push the boundaries and help my clients think beyond what they’re seeing in a shelter magazine or what they’re seeing on HGTV and make it something much more personal, functional and beautiful for them.
SBT: It sounds like you’re saying design is another way of expressing yourself. Expressing the real you rather than the way you think you’re supposed to be expressed.
Peg: Isn’t that what life’s all about anyway? We’re all put into these boxes and we’re supposed to behave a certain way. As far as we’ve come in society, there are still certain expectations and judgments so it’s a fine line to walk between being truly authentic and feeling like you’re following the rules.
SBT: What are some of the outcomes that your clients achieve by working with you?
Peg: The biggest thing that happens is relief. Every time they walk into their room or house, they feel like they’re home. They feel like “This is me. This is where I belong.” My clients say they feel at ease and there is incredible power in that. That’s the difference between a space that’s designed in reference to who you are and tells your unique story and one that’s designed to fit a home’s or designer’s style.
You can apply your style story to every aspect of your life. You can go to the mall and buy clothes, for example, not because they’re on sale but because you know it’s your color and you know you’re comfortable and look great in it. You know that when you look and feel great in it, you project this whole different aura. You walk through life with confidence. That’s how you get to that authentic place.
There is incredible power in environments. Retail is all about telling stories visually to control the situation and make people act and react a certain way. This is using that idea for good to make your own personal space the best it can be rather than getting you to spend money or time, like in retail environments.
SBT: What inspired you to become an interior designer?
Peg: I come from a family of storytellers going generations back. In my immediate family, my dad was a White House correspondent. My mom was a teacher. My four sisters are all in publishing, public relations and marketing. I have one sister who’s a published author. Storytelling is in my DNA yet I grew up terrified of the written word. I love to read but in terms of writing, I found it incredibly intimidating. I used to feel like the black sheep of the family until I realized I am a visual storyteller and a pretty gifted one at that, especially when it comes to curating the best things other brilliant creatives have made.
SBT: Can you share a lesson that you learned early on that still impacts how you’re doing business today?
Peg: I came across this quote about “Do unto others” from Gloria Steinem who says the golden rule only works if it’s reversible. We must learn to treat ourselves as well as we wish to treat others. That is at the heart of the design work that I do. We put everything into our business, our family, our community, but when it comes to our own personal workspace or even our home, that’s at the bottom of the list of priorities. People often don’t realize the power in creating a workspace or living space that is truly welcoming, engaging and warm. There’s so much pain and suffering in the world, and incredible power in creating beautiful spaces to deflect that pain. If you create a workspace that is welcoming, inspiring and engaging, you can’t wait to get there every day. Imagine how that can impact your work.
Peg Kusner is the owner and principal designer of Peg Kusner Design in Scottsdale, Arizona. A fashion stylist, award-winning retailer and noted visual merchandising expert, Peg is now known for her imaginative and innovative sensibility, her collaborative, fun and upbeat approach to design and her gift for creating functional, comfortable and beautiful spaces that tell personal stories. To learn more visit, PegKusnerDesign.com.
Gayle Nowak is a contributor to Small Business Trendsetters and Business Innovators Magazine covering influencers, innovators and trendsetters in business, health, finance and personal development. She also has contributed to Founderswire.com, an American digital news magazine and video channel that provides in-depth analysis and reporting on modern entrepreneurship and technology that solves global problems. She was previously a staff writer and contributor for several local newspapers in the Boston media market including the Ludlow Register, Ashland and Holliston TABs, MetroWest News and Taunton Daily Gazette.