“We have been friends since we were seven-years-old and have long shared a passion for design and have a similar aesthetic,” says Jennifer Kelly, co-founder of Canadian home décor brand Pehr Designs...
Kelly and childhood friend Rebecca Perren founded the brand back in 2010 after noticing a gap in the market for the kind of products they wanted to fill their own homes with (“the right mix of classic and modern, the subtle balance of fresh yet sophisticated design”). They expanded the brand with the launch of Petit Pehr in 2013, a chic yet playful children’s collection. They now offer everything from elegant tablecloths and napkins to fun swaddles and storage baskets (the pom pom styles went straight into our cart). We caught up with them to talk storage solutions, their definition of success, motherhood, working together and more. Go to www.us.pehrdesigns.com
What’s a typical morning like in your household?
Very rushed! No matter how early they wake up there always seems to be a mad dash out the door to school and work. Packing lunches, getting changed, eating breakfast all take little ones a lot of time and require a lot of patience! We both have a ‘no-TV’ in the morning rule. We learned that lesson early on with our first ones. If you want tantrums in the morning, pull a three-year-old away from their favorite program to get them into a jacket and boots!
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
Try your best. Honestly, it’s really difficult to eat as well as you’d like and work out as much as you want. So, we both try to fit it in as often as possible, but it doesn’t always happen. Guilt is so much a part of motherhood already that you have to go easy on yourself. Try again tomorrow. However, real, homemade food is a priority for both of us when it comes to feeding our families. Teaching our children the importance of eating well at a young age through our own habits is critical. Another key factor for our wellbeing is sleep. For us and the kids so we always make it a priority. Our patience and productivity really suffer without it!
Who is your role model?
Our role models are other moms who are doing what we are doing. Building successful, world-class businesses, while raising happy children. Some days it feels like that is a nearly impossible task. So reading about other women, how they manage, how they struggle and how they succeed is so incredibly helpful. It’s nice to see that there are women who do it and do it well and aren’t afraid to show they’re vulnerabilities and shortcomings.
What is your definition of success?
Feeling proud of what you do on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes that means being fulfilled by something that’s happened at work and other days it’s related to being a mom, wife or friend. Success is so hard to define in any other terms and always seems fleeting. We find we reach a goal and before we’ve even celebrated it, we’re onto the next thing, so we do try hard to remind ourselves and each other to pause and appreciate those moments.
What did your mother teach you about motherhood?
That children will act like children. You can’t expect anything else from them, that’s what they are, so patience and unconditional love are all you really need to see you through the challenging times. Sometimes that’s easy to forget when your six-year-old is in the middle of a meltdown!
Did your career change after you had children?
We talk often about the expectations of mom’s versus dad’s in the work world and at home. It’s hard for working mom’s, it really is. If you’re in a two-career relationship, the mom will often be the default parent. Who does the school call first when a child is sick? Who organizes the meals/groceries/cooking for the week? And who is expected to stay home with said sick child? If you said ‘my husband’ to all of the above, you’ve figured it out! For the rest of us, there are a lot of parental and maternal pressures that are layered on to career pressures. But the real struggle comes from the fact that we really want to be both the default parent and a successful business person. But, the merging and management of the two worlds doesn’t come without some major challenges. We totally understand why so many women seek more flexible, less demanding careers or stop working altogether once they have children. We love what we do and while it’s demanding and stressful with tonnes of unexpected challenges, we still cherish the fact that we can leave the office early for a swimming lesson or go on a school class trip. We are fortunate that we can create that flexibility in our schedules.
What inspired you to launch Pehr Designs?
At the time we launched the company, most of the brands in the home decor market offering high quality and modern design were price prohibitive. We launched with a clear vision to create a lifestyle brand, which embodied the personal style and sensibility of the two of us. Specifically, we wanted to produce products of exceptional quality, beautiful design and high functionality and do it in a way that was accessible to people like us. We were positive that it could be done without making any compromises on quality or design. About two years after launching Pehr and during our transition into motherhood that it became clear to us that an extension of the Pehr brand was needed to fill a void in the market for what we couldn’t find for our own kids. And so Petit Pehr was born!
What inspires your designs?
So much of what is happening in our own lives effects our design direction, specifically when it comes to developing new products. Our own children have a huge impact on that. As our families and styles evolve so do our collections. The way we decorate our own homes is definitely reflected in what we are designing.
What’s your approach to interiors?
We love colour for our kids and for smaller home accessories. But when it comes to the overall feel of our homes, we both prefer a quieter, more muted palette as the framework. We both have a long-standing love of antiques. Most of our homes are designed around these standout pieces. And there is definitely a lot of overlap in our houses which our kids notice. Comments like ‘Oh we have this too!’ is often overheard. Lots of linens, velvets, brass and vintage ceramics are staples. Some colorful hits from our own line of textiles or accessories collected on our travels keep it interesting.
Are you tidy or messy?
A combination! Although we both covet perfectly organized and clean spaces, life happens and it doesn’t always look that way. Of course, our Pehr storage is critical to cleaning up a quick mess. And seriously, we’re both addicted to fresh flowers and plants. Not matter what a room looks like, it will always look better with fresh flowers or foliage!
How do you approach decorating tabletops and entertaining?
Our approach over the last couple of years has evolved to a focus on elevated essentials for the tabletop. Texture and technique have become really important. We both scour vintage/junk stores for good finds and often that is serving wear, bowls and vintage linens. We often do the styling for all of our shoots and almost everything that we use is pulled from our own homes! So our ‘treasures’ much to our husband’s dismay have come in very handy.
How often do you entertain and what do you love to cook?
We both definitely entertain less now than we did in the past, so entertaining now is much more family orientated. And yes, we both love to cook! Some favorite cookbooks from the last couple of years are anything by Ottolenghi and Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows.
What are your top tips for decorating children’s spaces?
Be relaxed and don’t be afraid to mix styles and have fun. Our favorite children’s rooms are those that are a mix of modern and vintage, old and new. Everything picked out of a catalog is boring and will almost never stand the test of time. Your children’s spaces should evolve as they grow. Use furniture and accessories that are fun, functional and quality. You’ll find these are the things that won’t be given or thrown away in the end. It’s okay to try new things in a kids’ room, so this is where you can play around.
You’ve been friends since you were children. What’s it like working together? Do you ever switch off?
Haha! Yes, we switch off mid-conversation! It would probably be quite funny to be a fly on the wall because we can go from talking about a major logistics issue to what we’re going to make for dinner, to a friend’s party mishap in five minutes flat. Seriously though, working together is what makes running the business fun for us. We feel very lucky that we get to do this together and that we have each other’s back. Because we have known each other for so long, there are a lot of shared values, goals and an innate understanding and trust in the other person that can only come from so much history.
What qualities do you both bring the business?
We feel very lucky that we started the business both having different but complementary professional backgrounds to draw on. It made the separation of work very easy. Of course there are a million other jobs that come with running a business – none of which either of us has had any experience in! Legal, compliance, logistics, human resources. The list goes on and on. So there is a lot of learning as we go.
What are some of your favourite pieces in the collection?
Jen: My favorite piece this season is the ‘Meadow’ print sleep sac. It evolved from a beautiful French bunting bag that we had seen on a buying trip into potentially the prettiest sleep sac on the market! Becca: Our new ‘sidekick’ blanket, which is made from the softest layered muslin. Just imagine four layers of the softest swaddle blankets wrapped into one cozy blanket. I brought a sample home for my daughter to test out and it keeps getting softer and better with each wash! It’s now her go-to favourite.
What are your time management tips?
We work hard through the week and then check out as much as possible on weekends. Our husbands also have demanding jobs so between all of our travel schedules, the work/school week can be chaotic. We need some uninterrupted family time on weekends to balance things out and slow down. We are also getting used to working in separate offices since Jen has recently relocated to the US. This adjustment has forced a greater level of time management since we often only have a limited amount of time face-to-face with lots to discuss. As a result, we have also become reliant on Slack, Skype and Facetime to stay connected and maintain our constant dialogue! Finally, we could not do any of this without our incredible network of support. We lean hard on lots of people – our husbands, parents and amazing caregivers and we feel incredibly grateful to have their support. We know we couldn’t do everything we do without them.
What are your mama essentials?
Pedicures to make you feel like you haven’t totally checked-out, anything from Aesop, a good bag, preferably from Clare. V and Instagram!
What has been the most challenging part of running your own business?
Managing growth and time. For the foreseeable future, at least the next 15 years, time will always be a challenge. Balancing how much we travel, work each day and spend personal time with our families and friends is a constant tension as we know it is for so many other working mums. Of course there are many business challenges too – but it feels like the balancing act that is the real struggle.
How do you relax?
Getting out of the city is a big one. We grew up in a small town and getting to the country on the weekends and holidays is important. Becca’s in-laws own a remote lake house in northern Ontario and once a summer both families make the trek there. Just thinking about our time there is relaxing.
What makes you feel stressed?
Jen: Juggling the needs of my kids with the needs of work. Work will always take a back seat, but honestly, there are days when it’s difficult to push things off. That’s where the push and pull comes in. Work piles up and that’s difficult when there are no more hours in the day. Putting my phone away when the kids are around is the first step! Becca: Feeling like there just isn’t enough time to accomplish what I want to do. Or to do it as well as I’d like to. That causes me stress. That and leaving my kids for a work trip. I travel to India a couple times a year and I really hate being so far away from them. It’s something I never get used to.
What are you going to do after you finish answering these questions?
Jen is hopping on a plane on her way to a tradeshow in Las Vegas and Becca is getting ready to head back into the office after returning from a week visiting our factories in India. For real!