Behind the Design: Ivy Designer Firm 1 Chic Retreat

Ivy Design Firm Spotlight: 1 Chic Retreat

Mercedes and Karen – how did you get where you are today?

Mercedes: After I graduated with a Master’s Degree in interior design, I worked for Windsor Smith, an incredibly talented and highly published Los Angeles designer. Windsor taught me almost everything I know about residential design and it was invaluable. As much as I loved working for her, I wanted to venture out on my own and find my niche. I struggled for a little while searching for what that was. I knew I loved residential design, but I also love hospitality. I was trying to decide on which path to take. Then I had an ‘Aha’ moment.

My husband, two kids and I were staying in a Cambria vacation rental and as I wandered around the house visually improving it with my imagination (which I always do in vacation houses), it suddenly occurred to me that I could do this for a living. I was tickled because it perfectly combines residential design with hospitality design.

With the help of a friend versed in starting blogs, I launched 1 Chic Retreat in 2014 and the vacation rental clients have grown steadily. I joined forces with my wonderful partner, Karen Campbell, whose design background with HGTV, branding, and project management was invaluable. I couldn’t have grown the way I wanted on my own. It’s one of the best business decisions I‘ve ever made.

Karen: I travelled a number of different, albeit interesting, roads before landing at 1 Chic Retreat. I’m a former national and international television news producer who went on to co-develop and produce the show New Spaces for HGTV. When my husband and I decided to start a family, the demands of a career in television didn’t marry well with raising a family, so I decided that it was time to close that chapter in my life. I loved staying home with my girls, but as they grew older, I yearned for a new creative outlet. Painting rocks and dressing dolls wasn’t enough to fulfill me!

My daughters were riding horses and wanted a belt buckle with a pony on it. I couldn’t find anything like it so I made my own for them. When women and girls at their barn asked to buy them, a business was born. I ended up creating a belt line, beyond just horses, that was sold at small boutiques throughout the United States. But as the business grew and required me to travel, it became too difficult to balance both my family and my business. After 4 years I shut it down which was a tough decision to make. And once again I was faced with the question, “what do I do now?”.

My experience at HGTV had me working closely with architects, contractors, designers and property owners where I learned the ins and outs of design and project management. A few years ago, a friend asked me to help him finish an 18,000-square foot home he was building for a client in Southern California, where I live. Multiple deadlines were approaching fast, and he needed someone he could trust to help deliver the project over the finish line. He knew my background in project management, and valued my aesthetic and design tastes, but primarily he needed someone who could work with the finishing teams (cabinetry, flooring, and interior decorators). He wanted someone who could communicate the owner’s needs, and make important decisions quickly, on the spot when needed, to keep the massive project on schedule. He thought I would be a good fit. Today, the finished home is a stunner, with very happy owner-occupants. I have always been drawn to interior design, endlessly pouring over magazines, websites, and blogs – it is my passion. So to be working in that space, on this home, was a dream come true. When the project ended, Mercedes asked me to partner with her at 1 Chic Retreat and I couldn’t be happier.

1 Chic Retreat

1 Chic Retreat is on a mission to create the best design resource for vacation rental owners and managers. How do you achieve this using the power of design? 

There is design science to hospitality and most vacation rental owners are ignorant of what to do. They have a disadvantage to hotels in this sense. Hotels spend money on design because they know it pays off in bookings and rates and they have the finances to make it happen. 1 Chic Retreat helps vacation rental owners and managers get to a level playing field. It’s all about creating rooms that serve as “booking magnets,” or the kind of spaces that potential guests can’t resist booking.

The second part of the equation has to do with excellent reviews. By delivering comfortable, serene, and supremely engaging spaces to guests, they want to leave you an awesome review, which in turn, ensure big bookings and also repeat bookings.

In your opinion, why do well-designed homes generate more bookings and higher guest satisfaction for vacation rentals such as Airbnb, VRBO, Booking, and Home Away?

Beautiful homes are what people seek on vacation. Instead of simply “a home away from home”, people prefer “the home they wished they had away from home”. It’s all about delivering a fantasy. People work all year and yearn for get-away time. The last thing they want is an ordinary environment. Unfortunately, most holiday rentals deliver ordinary, which results in ordinary investment returns.

Owners who are willing to invest in design generally see a minimum of a 20% increase in rates and bookings. In fact, we have even seen as much as 100% increase. We have a Vermont client, for instance, who was able to double her rates after we helped her re-design her cottage. Furthermore, she has twice the bookings as her competitors.

1 Chic Retreat

Can you offer interior designers some tips of best practices for sprucing up clients’ second homes they’d like to put up for rent?

1. Everything in the house should look intentional and current with design trends. Nothing should look used, discarded, or like an afterthought. For instance, if the upholstery looks like it’s seen better days, replace it. Think like a boutique hotel. Be like a boutique hotel. You are in the hospitality business.

2. Buy comfortable mattresses! If you fail here, you will fail epically. Aim for dreamy mattresses guests will want to stay in all day.

3. Invest in beautiful, soft bed linens. White sheets are de riguer and so are two bed pillows for each guest.

4. Kitchens get a lot of use in vacation rentals so this space needs to look appealing. At the same time, a major kitchen overhaul seldom pencils out for ROI, so we recommend painting cabinets and replacing outdated pulls and knobs when appropriate.

5. The power of lighting cannot be stressed enough. Outdated or ugly lighting kills a space, so buy new lighting if the budget allows. It marries up the rest of the room.

1 Chic Retreat

What are some fun projects you’re working on now?

We are designing a romantic guesthouse in New Orleans, one of the most exciting and oldest cities in the USA. Also, we are putting the finishing touches on a boathouse in Kennebunk, Maine, which can’t be beat for charm.

1 Chic Retreat

How does designing make you feel?

Design is always rewarding, but designing vacation houses is especially so. Because we are creating spaces where friends or families gather, or where couples get away for romance, we consider ourselves happiness creators.

1 Chic Retreat

What’s your business mantra?

We love Milton Glaser’s take on design and have adapted it as our mantra – “There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.”

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Why did you join Ivy?

We were Ivy early-adopters. As soon as we found out about it, we signed up and it has been a godsend. It has saved us countless spreadsheet and accounting hours. It’s so easy to use and we love the fact that Ivy is always innovating and making the software better to best please its users. Thank you, Ivy!

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What have you learned from the Ivy Designer Network (the private FB Group)?

This is one of our favorite aspects of Ivy because it serves as a reality check when dealing with clients – is this normal, would you do this, how should I respond? Equally important are all the design resources we have discovered and now specify all the time.

1 Chic Retreat

How does Ivy help streamline your day-to-day workflow as an interior designer?

We can look at any project and instantly know how we stand. The dashboard is naturally chronological so it’s easy to stay on top of things.

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What’s an Ivy feature you can’t live without?

We especially love the Proposal tab not only because we can we attach our documents to it, but because we get that documented “yes,” which is so important in documenting client-designer communication.

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