Jessica Tolman Interior Design Ivy

Behind the Design: Jessica Tolman of Jessica Tolman Interiors


Designer Spotlight: Jessica Tolman of Jessica Tolman Interiors, Needham, MA

How did you get where you are today?

I’m a proud Midwesterner, born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin. As I child I spent a lot of time in museums because my parents loved art and loved to travel. After being dragged around the world, my love of art led me to study Art History at Northwestern Unviersity in Chicago. After graduating, I moved to London to participate in the Sotheby’s Works of Art Course. I then returned to Chicago and found a job as an appraiser at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers where I became good friends with my colleague, Nate Berkus. When Nate eventually left to start his interior design business, I had the opportunity to join him. Thus began my career in decorating and design.

In 1999, marriage brought me to Boston and I took a break from working full time to have children. Meanwhile, I found myself constantly giving out free decorating advice to my friends, helping them choose paint colors and rearranging their bookshelves and furniture. With my children getting older, the timing was finally right to start my own business.

Jessica Tolman Interior Design Living Room Massachusetts Ivy 2

© Margaret Ellen Photography


The moment I knew I wanted to be an interior designer was when…

It was honestly always in the back of my mind since childhood. As a girl, I spent hours decorating my Barbie doll’s ‘apartment’ which was actually the bottom of my closet!! I wasn’t allowed to have any of the Barbie furniture or clothing so I had to be very creative and resourceful – a great foundation for my future career. When the opportunity came to work with Nate (Berkus), I jumped at the chance. In the beginning it was just the two of us, in his basement, learning the ropes of this business through many creative triumphs but also quite a bit of trial and error.

The most memorable space I’ve ever been in is…

The summer home I once visited in Cadaques, Spain. It had the most breathtaking views and was decorated in an airy, contemporary style that blended perfectly with and complimented the architecture. It was all about the views in that house. There was a lovely bathroom with a soaking tub perfectly positioned to overlook the cobalt blue waters of the entire bay. It was heaven.

I get to know a new space by….

Immersing myself in it. I photograph it and measure it and I find that hand drawing a floor plan helps me to understand the proportions better than anything else. I’m old school that way.

My favorite city for design inspiration is…

Anywhere in Europe, really. They’ve just been doing it better, for longer. A feast for the eyes.

When I design I feel…

Excited, happy, and fulfilled.

Jessica Tolman Interior Design Bedroom Massachusetts Ivy

© Margaret Ellen Photography


Every morning I…

Meditate. It helps to begin every day with a clear frame of mind.

I treat myself with/by…

Spending quality time with my family and my close friends, enjoying a great meal, going for an early morning run, skiing in the winter and relaxing on the beach and swimming in the ocean in the summer.

My personal style is…

Classic, with a bohemian twist. I love vibrant colors and patterns.

My tips for staying organized are…

To take the extra time to think through a system to manage the clutter and to then put it into practice instead of putting it off. Sometimes that is easier said than done though!

I never leave home without…

My iPhone – it’s my lifeline in this business…and my glasses!

“Designing is the fun part, but to be successful you need a good grasp of the day to day tasks like getting estimates, placing orders, invoicing, tracking orders, etc.”

Jessica Tolman Interior Design Living Room Massachusetts Ivy

© Margaret Ellen Photography


My role model is…

Legendary American designer Sister Parish jumps to the head of the pack simply because I can relate to certain parts of her story. She started out decorating for friends and neighbors and going into business was also a necessity for her, not a choice. As she liked to say, her interiors had “character” and were so colorful and perfectly imperfect.

I also love the chic, understated elegance of Lee Radziwill who, in my opinion, shouldn’t have to stand in the shadow of her sister, the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, has created an enviable lifestyle of elegant simplicity that I admire.

My business mantra is…

On the client side, listen closely to their ideas and always be honest and straightforward with them. On the design side, edit, and then edit some more. On the business side, don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

For interior designers new to the business, I recommend…

Working for another designer first, to learn the ropes. Designing is the fun part, but to be successful you need a good grasp of the day to day tasks like getting estimates, placing orders, invoicing, tracking orders, etc. Interior design is a relentlessly detail oriented process, whether working with vendors or sub-contractors. Mistakes can happen so easily and can be costly to your reputation and your bottom line.

I define success by…

How much you love what you do. At this point in my life, it’s less about material wealth or posessions. Maya Angelou put it best when she said that “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.”

The best advice I have received is…

Do not fear the unknown – just jump right in. Also, trust your instincts, they are usually spot-on.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned working in the interior design business is…

To design spaces that people can truly live in comfortably. Pretty, or chic, or whatever just isn’t enough. Someone has to live there. Function has to work hand in hand with form.

Jessica Tolman Interior Design Massachusetts Ivy

© Kate King Photography


What’s your favorite thing about Ivy so far?

It makes invoicing and time tracking 1000 times easier allowing me more time to focus on the creative part of the job that I love the most.

If you were to tell your design friends about Ivy, what would you say?

Ivy is simple and straightfoward. While I’m not the most tech-savvy, Ivy’s support team is always available to answer questions and offer help. It’s a no-brainer really, what are you waiting for?