Behind the Design: Ivy Design Firm M & M Interior Design
Ivy Interior Design Firm Spotlight: M & M Interior Design – Chicago, IL
Leslie and Kim – how did you get where you are today?
We grew up in Southern California and although it was an amazing place to live, we both knew we wanted to live on the East Coast. After college, we made our way to NYC where Kim was an agent at Sotheby’s Realty and I (Leslie) was the creative director at a marketing agency. We’ve always loved decorating and were quick to help friends on the side. Our boyfriends at the time (now husbands) had friends who were moving into these great apartments that they had no idea how to decorate, so they’d hire us, hand over their credit cards, and they rarely asked questions. Neither Kim nor I were trained in interior design, we were self-taught and were learning on the job. Thank goodness our clients didn’t mind our lack of degrees and were simply grateful their apartments were now nice enough to bring a date home to! After getting married and each having children in NYC, it was time to move again; this time, to Chicago. We stopped working for a number of years as our families grew, but deep into each of our last pregnancies (Kim’s 3rd, my 5th),we decided we needed to start working again. Looking back, I’m not sure what we were thinking; the timing was nutty, but it’s never an ideal time to start your own business. We launched in February of 2015 and in December of that year, we were asked to design two rooms in the Lake Forest Showhouse which really catapulted our business to where it is now.
M&M Interior Design strives to create family-friendly homes. How do you maintain functional beauty in your designs?
When a client walks us through their home, it usually goes like this: “This is the family room, we watch TV in here. This is the dining room, we use it once a year…” We listen and then we try to challenge our clients to think deeper. It’s funny how differently your clients begin to think about their spaces when you show them how design can make their homes function better. For instance, instead of just a couch and coffee table, wouldn’t it be great to work in a big round table into your family room so you have space to play a board game? In the dining room, let’s make it less formal and incorporate more durable finishes and enjoy that room more often. When you have kids, the last thing you want is a home that is fussy, but that said, we are all for having at least one kid-free zone that is elegant, adult and remains perfect looking – it’s good for your soul to know that in all of the chaos, you have an oasis to escape to and take a deep breath.
What are some smart ways to create family-friendly homes?
It really comes down to picking materials that can stand up to almost anything. Thank goodness indoor/outdoor fabrics have come as far as they have. It’s now possible to have a white couch and kids and pets – imagine that! We use a lot of grass cloth on walls because it’s quite durable and we always suggest investing in good quality wool rugs and carpets – you will not be disappointed, they clean up beautifully unlike some lesser quality materials. Finding a beautiful ways to store things is key. Jute baskets to throw toys into quickly can work in any room. Built in bookshelves and cabinets make a space feel finished and are perfect for hiding kids’ stuff. Lastly, create designated spaces for the kids’ creations, whether it’s a framed gallery wall of art, or a big framed cork board in their bedroom – if there is a place for it, it’s less likely to overtake your space.
Who are your favorite local Chicago vendors and people of the trade to work with?
We are so lucky to have the Merchandise Mart as an invaluable resource here in Chicago – it’s home to hundreds of showrooms. We think of it as our design school because we’d spend hours wandering the massive halls and asking showroom reps ridiculous questions (which they were always happy to answer). We truly love our reps because they’ve been abundantly supportive over the last few years, especially when we came begging for the Lake Forest Showhouse. Chicago also has a long list of super talented artisans like furniture makers Aaron Bladon. We have an incredible team of tradesmen like wallpaper hanger Jef Reese and we love the workroom Zirlin Interiors.
What’s it like working as sisters day-to-day?
I guess it depends on the day! First and foremost, we are siblings (which means the occasional bumping of heads), but for the most part, it’s wonderful to have a partner who knows what you’re thinking without having to say it. Our styles are similar enough to be cohesive but we challenge each other to go beyond our comfort zones which really helps our overall style evolve. We each manage our own projects but we are always the other’s sounding board. Most importantly, we completely understand one another’s challenges of juggling kids, work, and life, so we pick up the personal slack unlike a typical business partner might.
How does designing make you feel?
Leslie: In control! Life with 5 kids under the age of 7 is a series of mishaps and unforeseeable disasters. Messes, boo-boos, tears, hyperactivity and lots and lots of requests for sugar. It’s a wonderful ride but when I am designing, I get to step off and into a world where there is order and beauty. I am in control of creating a space – a space that hopefully a family can experience their own whirling dervishes, all while enjoying the functional beauty around them.
Kim: Energized. The thrill of designing, and then bringing to life, a client’s home is so gratifying. There is nothing like the excitement of walking through a new space and being flooded with ideas and possibilities.
What’s your business mantra?
“Always exceed expectations.” Our clients entrust us with a lot of money and emotion. Creating someone’s home is a privilege and responsibility and we don’t forget that. From Phase 1 to Phase 7 we need to make sure they are blown away.
You have a thriving Instagram account @mmdesignconsultants – what’s your secret? How much time do you dedicate to social media marketing?
Probably more time than we should! It can become really time consuming. Having a highly followed account is great for business, however, it doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t doing great work behind the pretty feed. We try to do a mix of original content and inspiration pictures that are in line with our style – this way, our followers can get a sense of our aesthetic. We are always educating ourselves with podcasts and articles that have given us great tips to increase followers. The biggest bursts of followers have come when a major line like Stark or Schumacher posted one of our rooms. Anytime you can get a large account to feature/tag you, you’re going to see a lot of activity. Those accounts see you when you tag them in your posts, so do that often! Instagram can be a very collaborative platform if you need it to be.
Why did you join Ivy?
We knew going into this business that if we didn’t figure out the back-end stuff, we didn’t stand a chance of succeeding. The problem was that neither one of us were great at the back-end stuff! It was serendipitous to stumble upon Ivy. We literally had a conversation about wishing there was a tool that could keep track of all of our orders and invoices that was easy to understand and required little bookkeeping know-how. One day later, Ivy popped up on my Facebook feed. Regardless, Ivy came into our lives in the exact moment we needed it. We signed up immediately and have been nothing but blown away ever since.
What have you learned from the Ivy Designer Network (the private FB Group)?
If the Merchandise Mart was our design school, then the Ivy Designer Network has been our sorority – a never ending source of support and comradery. It constantly amazes us that you can post a photo of a product, and within minutes, you have 5 responses for either the exact one, or something super close. We don’t use Facebook much – personally or as a marketing tool, but we check the Ivy Facebook Group multiple times a day because we always learn something or can help someone else. It’s the best.
How does Ivy help streamline your day-to-day workflow as an interior designer?
We all know that the truth is, in this business, we could spend 20% of the time being creative and 80% of the time doing icky bookkeeping and logistics. Ivy’s gift to interior designers is flipping those percentages. With tools like the Ivy Product Clipper, our products are accurately cataloged and ready to be presented and purchased in minutes. Being able to have more time to design makes us better designers and ultimately benefits our clients. That’s the definition of a win-win.
What’s an Ivy feature you can’t live without?
Our Company Dashboard with the Project Revenues Pie Chart – we obsess over that! Is it wrong that we habitually refresh the browser and love watching those numbers climb? If it is, we don’t want to be right ☺.
Are you an interior designer searching for a business management tool for your interior design firm?