We’ve long admired the work of Mindy Gayer and when she was (deservingly) nominated for The List a few months back in one of our giveaways we couldn’t wait to welcome this beauty into our community. It only made sense to get to know her a bit better and how she arrived at where she is today. To my surprise, the designer and I have a few things in common! She too, had her time in Boston (for college), and a love for letterpress that birthed a sweet little stationery shop.
Today, she explains how her career path split off into design, what her typical day looks like, valuable lessons she’s learned as a business owner and so much more—right along with this beautiful home tour captured by Lane Dittoe. It’s a good one folks! Cozy up with your Monday cup and dive in.
How did you get your start as an interior designer? What did you do before diving into the design world?
My journey to where I am today is largely marked by a series of creative endeavors, all of which have helped me land where I am today in this industry. Back in the day, when I was in college in Boston, I thought my path and interests were going to lead me into the world of Social Services, but I quickly learned I wasn’t cut out for it after a series of internships. From there, I was essentially back at ground zero, with no real “Plan B” of sorts, but suddenly found myself realizing the world was quite literally my oyster, and if I wanted to, I could carve out my own little path.
At that point, I had never considered myself a “creative” or an “artist” by any means… I was terrible in art and ceramics classes, never a natural in my photography classes, and truthfully, always thought of others as far more inclined to land that dream type of creative job than I would. When I made the decision to ditch my plans of living in an urban environment and working in Social Services, I started printing stationery in my college dorm room between classes and studying and snow storms, simply because I had this dormant little creative bug itching inside me.
There was a local Paper Source store in the city, which at the time, was one of the only places to source and purchase decent quality card stock in small quantities without having to buy in bulk or buy online site unseen. I started by printing custom stationery on my little Epson printer, and gifted it to friends and family for their birthdays. At the same time, I started learning more about letterpress printing, and became obsessed with the simplistic design and tactile feel of the thick, cotton card stock and beautiful impression you could see and feel with letterpress cards.
Come graduation time, I’d started getting lots of requests from friends and family who wanted to place orders for more stationery. I had zero game plan, but knew I loved creating stationery and loved how something so simple brought people so much joy. I spent the next few years growing my little side stationery business, while working for an Advertising Design firm back in Southern CA. I worked on the Account Admin side of the business, but nearly all of my newfound friends at the firm were all wildly talented graphic designers. I knew very little about graphic design, but learned so much watching them create.
All the while, I had started writing a business plan, with the hopes of raising enough capital that I could leave my full-time job and open up a Stationery Store in my hometown in Orange County, CA. It had been a dream ever since I was a little girl, and now that my side business was gaining so much traction, I knew I just had to go all-in and try to make it happen! After about a year of hustling and meeting with lots of wise mentors and friends, my dream came true and I raised enough capital to open my first retail store and full-fledged business.
That’s when I realized, wow, maybe I have been a “creative” all along?! It’s funny how life works in these little ways to point you in the right direction. My store opened in 2007 and was called Cotton Idea Studio. For about 3 years, I had so much fun building up a store full of pretty things, designing lots of invitations, stationery and holiday cards…and truth to be told, learning EVERYTHING about turning a hobby and passion into a business. The recession hit around the same time, and I had to make the really hard decision to close my brick & mortar store largely because of the economy. It was one of the hardest things I had to do because it truly was a dream job for me and had so much of me wrapped up in it; and, if money were no object, I’d still be the same happy little shoppe owner today.
That’s when I realized, wow, maybe I have been a “creative” all along?! It’s funny how life works in these little ways to point you in the right direction.
As I transitioned out of the paper world, I moved to San Francisco for about two years and worked for incredible people while I put my entrepreneurial hat back on the shelf for a just a little bit. About two years later, I was eagerly recruited to move back down to Orange County by a Residential Design-Build firm, who also happened to be one of my clients at Cotton Idea Studio years prior. I had designed business cards for them, and as their company grew and grew over the years, the owner reached out to me while I was living in SF and presented me with a proposition to join their team. She was convinced I could transition my eye for design seamlessly into the Residential Design world.
Looking back, she took a big gamble on me, but her belief in my innate ability to create beautiful things is what propelled me into the world of Interior Design. I worked alongside her for a few years, learning everything I could about building custom homes from the ground-up, architectural detailing, spec’ing exterior finishes and materials, cabinetry design, sourcing interior finishes, lighting, tile and hardware, furniture space planning, etc. You name it, we did it. It really was the BEST way to learn, and those few years under her wings were the playground on which I learned to discern good design from incredibly thoughtful and detail-driven design, how to manage large-scale new build projects, how to design unique spaces tailored to the families that are dreaming them up alongside you, and further, to love what you do without hesitation, even it takes a few forks in the road along the way to get there.
In 2014, I went out on my own and started my own Design Studio. My first two Clients were friends of friends, and they too saw the potential in me. I will forever be grateful to those two families because they allowed me the opportunity to be a dreamer again, and take the risk of starting yet another business. I love this design community, and love love love designing homes for the most remarkable and kind families.
How would you describe your design style?
At my core, I would say I’m all about classic design with a fresh and simplistic palette, neutral hues, and a space FILLED with beautiful, unique finishes and furnishings, so it always feels homey. No two projects are alike, and I love that as our projects evolve, so do I as a Designer.
What does your typical day look like?
While most days differ from one another, I typically like to start my mornings with job site meetings alongside Clients and Trades, when all of our minds are collectively fresh and brimming with good ideas and problem-solving! Some days are full of back-to-back meetings and calls, showroom and slab yard visits to source materials and finishes. LOTS of time is spent at my desk on my computer doing more sourcing and designing and space planning with my talented team, putting out fires, more problem-solving and also taking care of all the little ins & outs that are necessary to keep the business running.
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned as a business owner?
As I talked about earlier, getting to run a retail-based business that didn’t quite make it was undoubtedly one of the hardest and best ways to learn how to start, run, manage and navigate this new business. I learned to protect myself personally by setting-up the business as a formal business entity from day one, and hiring a Bookkeeper and CPA who could fill in the gaps and dedicate the time the business demands to keep good books and assess where the risks and areas of improvement might be. I learned to asked better and more transparent questions when considering taking on a new project or hiring a new employee/intern. I’m continuing to learn to delegate more, and to onboard passionate and talented people with skills that I don’t possess, which allows me the freedom to prioritize my time so more of it can be intentionally spent designing and dreaming up cool spaces!
It’s amazing just how much time it takes on the back-end to keep a business afloat, let alone one with a growth-oriented mindset. There are weekends when I lock myself in our pretty Design Studio and hammer through the admin details so I can spend my weekday hours dedicated to Clients and designing homes. As we continue to grow, our internal needs continue to evolve, and I love that it’s a non-stop learning curve. There’s always more to learn and improve upon, and I love getting to grow with the people I’m surrounded by every day.
What is your best advice for growing an engaged community on Instagram?
As the social media community at large continues to explode in growth, so does the pressure to have a really strong and consistent online presence, particularly with Instagram. So much of our growth as Design Studio has come from an intentionally consistent presence on Instagram, as we aim to fill our fans’ feeds with a daily dose of our projects. As we continue to design and install beautiful spaces, we love getting to share them with such a large community of people who adore design as much as we do, and follow along from afar for the duration of our projects. InstaStories have become a really fun and easy way for us to keep followers on the up and up with our ongoing projects, showing them the build and remodel process from beginning to end, and taking them along for the year and ride of transforming a home into something incredible.
Even if you only have one project under your belt, invest in getting it styled to a T, photographed as professionally as possible, and with double the amount of images you might think you’ll use or need.
I think it’s really important to use a business-based Instagram account to represent your brand and services as clearly as possibly. I’m personally a fan of keeping our feed happy, bright, and filled with images that inspire people to dream up something special for their own homes. I get SO much inspo from other design accounts we follow, and love how it makes what could be a rather competitive industry more for-each-other and inspired to do better projects and design differently. My biggest piece of advice, while by no means being an authority on all things Insta, is if you’re new to the design industry and trying to get your projects and brand more visibility, don’t be afraid to show people what you’ve done, on a very consistent (if not, daily) basis. Even if you only have one project under your belt, invest in getting it styled to a T, photographed as professionally as possible, and with double the amount of images you might think you’ll use or need. Start posting those images to show and tell people who you as a Designer, your point of view, your project details, everything. It’s a slow-growth process, but I think that’s how you find quality Clients and followers…by taking them in and sharing who you are through the beautiful images on your feed. Be patient too, because it all takes time. We all grow our businesses at such different paces, and lastly, try not to compare. We each have a seat at the table, and there’s enough for everyone!
What timeless design elements do you see prevailing in 2019?
Lots of white (always a yes!), moody hues used throughout, investing in better finishes and fixtures such as lighting and cabinetry hardware, and lots of specialty ceiling and wall millwork.
If you could sit next to any other boss babe in the world on flight across the country, who would it be and why?
Such a fun question! About 25 powerhouse women popped into my mind immediately… can we have an entire flight-filled boss babe retreat one day!?
I’m honestly so inspired by so many of the babe entrepreneurs, mothers and hard-workers out there. I really love listening to podcasts about women who are going for it, risking everyday, while building brands, products and companies that make our lives better. If I had to pick one though, I’d buckle up next to Brené Brown. She’s brimming with so much head and heart and life nuggets that are empowering women and men to live fuller and better lives. I think it’s really hard to be a boss babe without also tending to the personal parts of our lives that are easily pushed aside. I’m trying to get better about bringing these two together so I’m better equipped to be both personally and professionally full and happy, which undoubtedly help me shine in my creative bubble.
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?
Buy things you love that are made well, stick with a palette that feels true to what you love, and/or hire somebody to help you if none of this makes sense! As much as designing a home from top to bottom comes so naturally to me and is so fun to bring to life for other people, I certainly acknowledge that this is not the case for most people and it can be an extremely overwhelming and paralyzing process. So, if you have a friend who’s home and taste you really love and admire, ask her or him to come alongside and starting helping you invest in pieces around your home that may cost a little more upfront because of quality and craftsmanship, but in 5+ years, you’ll still be so happy to have and use on a daily basis. I’m a big believer in comfort, character, and clean lines. If I see something that incorporates all of these elements, that product or item usually finds its way to the very top of my list. And they’re often the items that years down the road, I still own and love.
What are some of your favorite local SoCal shops for home decor?
We are lucky to have so many lovely, local brick & mortar shoppes in our area! A few go-to’s for Client shopping are…
- Juxtaposition Home
- Isles Interiors
- House of Morrison
- McGee & Co.
- Serena & Lily
Instagram account(s) you’re currently crushing on:
For interiors, we love the ladies over at @m.elle.design and everything @forest_studio dreams up! @thevenuereport for all our wish list travel spots, and we’d like to teleport to @sohofarmhouse on a daily basis!
Current favorite book and/or podcast:
A podcast from the ladies at MyDomaine called Second Life!
3 apps you can’t live without:
VSCO for on-the-go photo editing, Planoly for ease of managing our social media posts, Dropbox for just about EVERYTHING we do (this is a total lifesaver for us!)
Favorite beats usually playing in the studio:
All of the mixes on Spotify! It’s my favorite DJ since I have no idea what’s cool anymore haha!
Can you tell us a bit more about this featured home design?
The house was originally built in 1995 as a Tract Home in a Coastal Newport Beach Community, and was purchased by our Clients with the intent of tackling the project as a full-scale interior remodel and landscape re-design. Many of the homes in this Community were built in the mid-90s and have a Mediterranean Architectural style with a good floor plan, but desperately outdated finishes and design details in dire need of some TLC.
As a complete Interior & Exterior Remodel, this home is home to an International family of 3 who moved to California and wanted to enjoy the quintessential indoor/outdoor lifestyle that Southern California offers. We made sure to make every room light, bright and infused with both a calming design sense and bits of whimsy and personality to make things full of life…but with nothing too fussy that it couldn’t be lived in & enjoyed by this young family.
The project was approached as a full interior gut and remodel from the very beginning. Not one room or finish was left intact; rather, everything was demo’ed and we started from scratch from the ground up on the interior of the home. The floor plan stayed the same, but we spent a lot of time with our Client dreaming up the perfect home for them – full of specialty finishes, materials and lighting, newly engineered French oak hardwood floors, custom cabinetry, and all new furnishings. Our Clients started with a blank slate, even down the furnishings, so we were able to reinvent each and every space, tailored with the finishes and fixtures they loved most, all with a bit of personality.
Toward the end of the project, our Client’s brought Molly Wood Garden Design into the mix to give the exterior hardscape and landscape some love. Molly and her team did a wonderful job updating the footprint of the exterior, and we brought in lots of great outdoor furniture to complement Molly’s exterior design.
As much as wanted to keep things light and white, we also wanted to infuse a bit of those coastal blue hues, each with their own unique tone, throughout all of the custom cabinetry and some of the upholstery pieces. Nothing too beachy, but very much full of depth and character.
As a full interior remodel, one of the more challenging parts of the design and construction process is deciphering early on in the design phase where to best spend resources that both achieve our overall vision, as well as add value to the property itself without going overboard. It’s a fine line, and is often why we find ourselves making decisions on our Client’s behalf to maximize budget dollars! Client’s who invest in hiring a great Contractor, Trade and Design team are often really happy in the end because we all act together to make their dream a reality and it takes a village to do it well.