If you’re not already following Emily Starr Alfano of mStarr design, I truly hope we can convince you to today. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this lovely soul in person (and her sweetest mini me) and she is just as warm and welcoming as they space you are about to experience. Emily got her start in the creative industry as an event designer and planner and has recently shifted into interior styling—which is doing a huge service to this world, as this beautiful home will soon prove to you. Make sure to soak up our full interview with this boss babe woven between Becca Brendler‘s imagery below.
Tell us a bit about your story. What was your journey to becoming an interior stylist and how did mStarr design come to life?
My mom instilled creativity in me from a young age and even when working in not-so-creative-jobs, I always had some type of creative outlet, whether it was jewelry making or decorating bags. I started mStarr in 2012 as a primarily event and wedding design business. I was hard-working and a bit lucky and almost immediately had a full roster. More events and editorial work came but by 2016 I was feeling pretty burned out and was expecting my daughter Max.
My husband and I had moved into our house (affectionately nicknamed #farmhousedialfano) in July of 2014 and I set to work on decorating our first real home. It’s from the 1830’s and full of charm + quirks, and instagram was a perfect place to showcase what I was working on! While focused on the few weddings I had taken on as well as a newborn Max, I began to notice that many of my Instagram followers were more interested in what I posted of my house instead of the wedding/event related posts. After various apartments, I loved diving into the decorating and experimenting with various styles (side note: I will never ever be done making changes to our home! Sorry hubs.)
I actually came across some photos recently that I remember taking of my bedroom when I was around 13 or so. The decor leaves much to be desired (I favored leftover centerpieces from my “circus of the starrs” bat mitzvah) but there were also hints of what was to come, for instance, a moodboard of magazine pages plastering an entire wall. So it’s safe to say I’ve always had the decorating bug and I look forward to continuing to grow and expand this next iteration of mStarr design!
If you had to describe your design style like a cocktail, what would it be?
A mai tai maybe? something that has a bunch of different ingredients but somehow all work together.
How did your past work in event planning and design translate to interiors?
Well they’re both creative jobs and both involved project and client management. There’s plenty I am still learning about interiors but whether it’s an event or a home, there always has to be room to grow and adapt based on the nature of the project and who the clients are. Having a foundation to work off and guide the process (while setting expectations for the clients) is something I’m fine-tuning and finalizing thanks to input, advice and support from seasoned pros and friends in the industry.
Can you tell us a bit about the space we’re featuring today and the inspiration behind it?
I really lucked out with this one (the #mstarrsouthiecondo as I call it). It’s a new-ish build with tons of natural light and was done pretty impeccably. Beautiful materials, trim work, floors, the works. But the owners were looking to upgrade some things and to add some personality while still keeping things bright, contemporary and open. So I got to really do what I love best! Tell a story through decorating: new lighting, a grasscloth wallpaper with integrated TV gallery wall, a bold yet still neutral wallpaper from Sarah Sherman Samuel for Lulu & Georgia, new rugs and more.
What does your design process look like in a nutshell?
There are core components to the process and they include:
- a consultation to determine project goals, timeline and overall aesthetic
- visual + pinterest boards
- research, presentation and selection of services + items
- installation and styling
You’re a mama to the cutest little lady, Max. Any tips for designing a home that caters to kiddos without sacrificing the look you want?
Aw, thank you! She’s pretty awesome. And somehow almost three years old which means her needs and our wants are constantly evolving. I know plenty of people who do sacrifice aesthetic while their kids are young, and I get and respect it. I just can’t do it! and feel there are ways to keep your kids safe and your look intact. Think outside the box and think about versatile pieces that can be changed up/reconfigured/re-accessorized along the way because kids don’t stay in one stage for very long. What works today may not be ideal a month from now, which is a good reason to keep your favorite items accessible instead of in permanent storage. Some of my go-to’s are rounded edge tables, soft rugs, attaching furniture to walls, toys that you can stand to look at (wood, wood and more wood), quality fake plants, and lots of baskets for corralling toys and runaway items.
What is the best entrepreneurial advice you’ve ever received?
Oh man, I feel like there are just lots of tips I’ve picked up along the way… Be deliberate and be committed. Worry about yourself and not what others are doing. Don’t give up you to be a mom. To be honest, these are all things I struggle with at times and I know many who feel similarly. There are pros and cons to living in such a visual, instagram-focused world in that there’s so much inspiration and room for lots of ideas but it can also feel really overwhelming to keep up with it all. And being a busy working mom who runs her own business, well I feel all the guilt but I can’t imagine not working and I’d like to think I’m being a good role model to my daughter. Having so many kick-ass female business owners to look up to and learn from helps during the tough times!
What (if any) challenges did you encounter in your first year of business?
Well I kinda feel like I’ve started a whole other business now that I’m focusing on interiors and brand partnerships! When I first started the event design business, it was hard not knowing who to work with and trust, and how to find them (Instagram wasn’t what it is now). I made plenty of mistakes and the truth is that I’m dealing with similar challenges now but almost have the opposite problem… having SO many talented people to work with can be hard to determine who is the best fit for any given project. I’m also working hard to put the right processes and tools in place to make the days run smoother and to set mStarr up for future ease and success.
What does a beautiful home mean to you and what is your number one tip for crafting a space you’ll love for years to come?
Beautiful can mean something big or be on a smaller scale. Maybe a beautiful home is one that is styled perfectly but lived in. Maybe it’s always having fresh flowers around. I think whatever makes you happy, and what makes you (and others) want to spend time in your home is what beautiful is all about.
Not to steer anyone away from a bold pattern or color palette (my daughter’s room has a statement wallpaper that is bold and fun and makes the room), BUT it’s nice to have high quality (note: high quality doesn’t always equal expensive), timeless pieces in versatile and neutral colors, textures + patterns in your home. Neutral doesn’t have to mean white or beige either, just colors or patterns that can allow for a variety of accessories to work with them. For anyone (ahem, me) who likes to change things up, whether daily, monthly or yearly, these items provide the foundation needed for those changes. I’m a big believer in that small changes such as new pillows, artwork, or plants can instantly change the look of a space.
Do you have a favorite room or spot in your home? If so, which one/where and why?
Well I probably spend the most time on the couch! But I love sitting in the chair in my daughter’s room. Despite it being home to a toddler, it’s the least chaotic room in the house.
If you could go to lunch with any boss babe (or gent), who would it be?
Do I have to pick just one?! I think it’s a tie between Amber Lewis and Nate Berkus + Jeremiah Brent.
Instagram account(s) you’re currently crushing on:
housesevendesign, @theidentitecollective, @glennondoyle, @all.sorts.of, @kismet_house
Current favorite book and/or podcast:
Second life podcast and I’m currently reading the Handmaid’s Tale
3 apps you can’t live without:
Canva, Lightroom, tossup between Instagram and Pinterest
Favorite beats usually playing in the studio:
I feel like I mostly listen to the greatest showman soundtrack thanks to my daughter (but it’s actually really good!) or a podcast or CNN on Sirius.
The Haven Workshop is an intimate, community-driven learning experience for interior designers who are looking to up-level their business and build a successful brand.