Whether graduates of design schools or self-taught, interior designers rely on the eye they’ve carefully developed yet any designer can tell you that creating a “name” for yourself, that is, developing a brand is just as important. That important business of interior design is the subject of Kim Kuhteubl’s new book, Branding + Interior Design. Kim traces the history of branding in interior design from Elsie de Wolf in 1905 to today. She shares stories from top interior designers, including Barbara Barry, Christiane Lemieux, and Vicente Wolfe.
You’ve worn many hats in your career. What made you interested in branding in the lifestyle space?
I’ve always been interested in stories about identity and belonging and fundamentally that’s what branding is, defining the story of who you are and what you value—your essence—for the people you belong to, or in other words, your tribe. When I worked in unscripted formats, most of the stories I told were about interior design and designers, whether for HGTV, lifestyle cable series or in print for national newspapers and digital outlets. The freelance clients I had in between were designers and makers of things. Producers wrangle and inspire multiple creative people around a vision, but they also have to sell and market that work too, so I instinctively got what interior designers were going through, and had to do, to take it to the next level.
How did those experiences shape your goals for Branding + Interior Design?
The book I thought I was going to write was not the one I ended up with. Most online marketing “gurus” will tell you to write a book to build your platform. That felt way too sales“y” and disconnected from why I tell stories so I compromised by writing a short e-book on how to pitch and then realized I had a lot more to say. I wrote a proper outline, sold it, and then promptly got derailed by a footnote during my research. That took me off course to a couple of out-of-print books, even more footnotes and specific points of view I couldn’t leave out. I started cutting my own business case studies to make space for the deeper story I was unraveling about women’s leadership—the characteristics of which often show up in ways that have previously been considered less conventional—-femininity and how we value creativity. Sixty-nine percent of interior designers are women, which is interesting to me, because when Elsie de Wolfe invented the profession just over a hundred years ago, part of the reason was because she wanted women to have personal economy. Vision accomplished.
Are there particular challenges women face in branding and promoting themselves?
I think so. So many of the designers I work with have a complicated relationship with being visible. One woman’s definition of confidence is another’s arrogance. Also, many of my clients are introverts and quiet leaders are challenged in specific ways. For me, being visible is about more than being seen in the traditional sense, like getting press or having a big social following, it’s also about being available, one of the underused definitions of the word. Are you available for the size of career and quality of life you say you want? Because claiming it will require a certain kind of discipline. Setting boundaries, saying no, giving up people pleasing and giving yourself permission to roll on your own terms are all visibility issues that I tackle in the book.
See some our favorite excerpts from Branding + Interior Design in the slideshow! Branding + Interior Design is available to order here.