If we were to look up the term, "go-getter" in the dictionary (or more likely, Google it), chances are, we'd see a photo of Stephanie Hauptli.
This Swiss-born, California-based woman is not only an accomplished interior designer with her own practice, but she also started a beautiful children’s label in her spare time, all while raising two children without a host of local family support.
But you’d never hear Stephanie complaining. “The toughest challenge was and still is that I can’t afford to fall behind in really anything,” she says. “Because there is too little time to catch up. What that means is that most nights, I stay up and work after the kids go to bed. I don’t mind it, but if one of my children is up sick or something like that, then I have to put a hold on work. I do this willingly because my children will always come first, but it’s just hard to stay on target some days! This is why we don’t have a TV at home because then I can focus on work after the kids’ bedtime.”
It’s not hard to see why Stephanie is kicking goals in every direction. In fact, her divine baby brand – Hauptli Haus Kids; a range of eco-chic, sustainable baby scarves – has been featured on the likes of WIRED and People Magazine, and the world is starting to take notice. These Swiss-inspired scarves – also known as Nuscheli – not only keep babies dry, but are also safe and stylish (just take a look into my Cart for proof). Made of the softest, highest-quality cotton, while being chemical-free to protect skin from allergens and irritants, they are used as scarves, drool catchers, burp cloths, bibs, or for imaginary play by toddlers. And I’d safely assume they’re about to become our latest obsession.
We spoke to Stephanie about her rich, diverse career, how she makes it all work, and how no matter what, she’ll be the one at school pick up.
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Can you share with us a little bit about your childhood?
Yes, I was born in Switzerland and lived there until I was five years old. My mother is from California and my father is from Switzerland. I have a brother who is two and a half years older than me, and he was my best buddy growing up. When I was five we moved to Paris for three years. This is where my interest in art began, because every weekend was spent at museums and visiting city monuments (when we were not at my brother’s hockey games…!). We would visit my mother’s family (she has eight siblings!) almost every summer in Northern California. After living in Paris for three years we moved back to Switzerland. When it was time to decide on a high school, my teacher begged my parents to send me to an art school. But we decided for a more conventional high school with more general studies. However, It was the first time I felt like someone outside of my family recognized my artistic abilities. While studying I was the student that was good in all subjects, not top of the class in anything (besides art), but just good at many subjects. While it was reassuring that I was a good student overall, it took me a while to figure out what I really enjoyed and wanted to do in life. When I look back though, it was evident all along that I wanted to work in interior design and architecture. In fact, at ten years old I had written an essay about “my life in ten years” and I had written that I’ll be an interior designer in California. I only found this letter once it was precisely how my life looked like. When I was nineteen I moved to California and have been living here since. It was in California that I realized I wanted to study architecture and interior design.
Your mother was the daughter of the first organic fruit farmer in California - did this connection to food in its natural state and a love of the environment infiltrate into your own upbringing?
I think the Swiss lifestyle influenced me more than my heritage at first! Swiss were the inventors of recycling facilities and I grew up collecting all the various recyclables (basically everything besides food scraps which get composted) and then taking them to the recycling center once a month. I only much later in life learnt about the fact that my grandfather was the first organic fruit grower in California. So I think many influences contribute to my sensitivity to caring carefully for our planet and our health. My grandfathers initiative to go organic might have subconsciously influenced me more than I realized, but good education about sustainable lifestyle in a country where it’s enforced definitely left a deep mark in who I am and how I go about life.
What prompted your move to California?
Many young adults travel or go on an exchange year before university in Switzerland. I wanted to do this, too, as an experience. But I loved California so much from all of our visits and since I had a passport I decided to go stay a year where I love to be. There was no particular reason besides a strong internal force to go. I’ve always felt drawn to California.
What did your career involve prior to children?
Prior to children, I was working in Malibu at a design office. We were working on the Nobu restaurant and hotel and it was such an amazing time of my life. I had an incredible responsibility within the office, they let me spearhead the interior design for the Nobu hotel project and everyone working at the office was my more or less my age. I made some lifelong friends there! Our principal at the time (female!) with whom I’m good friends now, really cared about our wellbeing beyond on job duties. She sponsored for us to take classes at UCLA to further our knowledge in subjects like construction, real estate, design etc. We also always had lunches made at our office for everyone, which helped make us all bond more because we would eat like a family.
You started your own interiors practice after giving birth to your first daughter. What was it that prompted that move?
I worked from very early in the morning to very late at night at the design office in Malibu, I really loved my job and the project so much I didn’t feel like it should be any other way. This was probably the main reason I went independent after having my daughter because I knew what the speed at the office was and I didn’t feel like it would fit anymore with being a mother so well. And that goes for most interior design or architecture offices, unfortunately.
How did you manage to balance a new business with a new baby? What were some of the greatest challenges?
The difference between working for someone at an office and working for myself was that I was able to work at night after the baby went to bed. It made all the difference, to be honest! The toughest challenge was and still is that I can’t afford to fall behind in really anything. Because there is too little time to catch up. What that means is that most nights, I stay up and work after the kids go to bed. I don’t mind it, but if one of my children is up sick or something like that, then I have to put a hold on work. I do this willingly because my children will always come first, but it’s just hard to stay on target some days! This is why we don’t have a TV at home because then I can focus on work after the kids’ bedtime.
You also work very closely with your husband. How do you make this work in your relationship? Do you actively take time to talk about things other than work?
Yes, my husband has his own architecture practice. While we keep our two companies separate (for now at least), we do overlap quite a bit and have several projects together. I would imagine that working closely with your partner is not for everyone. We make it work, because we fell in love over a shared passion for the arts, architecture and design. It’s our common denominator! We do talk about other things than work, but I wouldn’t say we actively seek that time out. We also don’t go on regular dates, since we spontaneously can have lunch together whenever we want.
You have a European sensibility in your design, but also a clear midcentury modern influence - I assume influenced by California. How do you go about balancing your various design influences?
That’s a great question, and something I haven’t really deciphered for myself. I think how influences interweave is when something starts to feel authentic to oneself. Not so much about being able to pick them apart and categorize them, but when they come together and become something new, or a style that describes the person behind it. I should also say that most of our projects are a response to the many given circumstances of each client, their needs and the environment etc.
Tell us about the inception of Hauptli Haus Kids.
When my daughter was just a few months old she became a very drooly baby! I was visiting my family in Switzerland and picked up a few gauze cloths called nuscheli from our local store, which I wore as a little drool scarf when I was a baby. It’s a very common Swiss product. When I was back in LA I got so many people asking where I got her adorable bandana scarves. Because of this feedback, I thought about importing them from Switzerland and selling them. But I wanted to improve on them, so I started Hauptli Haus Kids, and had them made to our own specifications.
What is a Nuscheli?
A Nuscheli is a cotton gauze cloth (formerly used as reusable diaper inserts), which translates roughly to “lovey”. Many kids in Switzerland use their nuscheli as loveys.
What do you use these gorgeous pieces for?
They are incredibly versatile. We use them as a burp cloth, bib, drool catcher, bandana, accent scarf, for pretend play, as a nursing cover-up, as head bandana, to wipe up spills, as a wash cloth, or cleaning rag etc. etc. Someone just recently sent us a photo, she used her nuscheli as an ice pack for a head bump. She simply filled it with frozen peas and tied up the corners!
How did you go about finding suppliers and building the business from inception through to launch?
It took me a good year from my first thoughts about this to actualizing anything. I studied the market first, and other brands to make sure there wasn’t anything exactly like ours out there already. I had no idea where to start looking for manufacturers, but I did know I wanted to make them as sustainable and possible. Through researching, I found out how abusive the fashion industry is to our planet and the people working at some of the manufacturing plants. I looked in various countries and ended up at a mill in Switzerland with whom I was able to become Cradle-2-Cradle Gold certified. Initially, I asked them for a quote because they were also GOTS certified. But once I found out about Cradle-2-Cradle which makes our product compostable, and a step beyond GOTS, I could not turn away.
How does sustainability play a role in your business?
It’s everything! Our product in itself is a simple item, the sustainability aspect sets it apart. We’ve used 100% renewable energy and zero waste in the production, and they are compostable at the end of their lifetime. It’s a full-circle model where everything that goes into making our Nuscheli is borrowed from nature and can safely return to nature. Even our packaging and our flyers and nuscheli sleeves are compostable. We truly care!
Your pieces are absolutely divine. How do you select the colours?
I think this is where my two businesses overlap. I love color and I work with color a lot for the interior design business. I’m not in the fashion industry per se and studying trends etc. So the choices for the nuscheli colors come from within, and what I feel like looks good with children’s skin colors and against nature. I love chroma in our nuscheli. It’s a great way to add something cheerful and lively to a child’s outfit. To me, the colors are like characteristics of children.
Where do you look for inspiration across both your businesses?
Nowadays you can find so much inspiration online. It’s good and bad. I try to be authentic and solve problems by thinking about the challenges or trying to resolve it by myself before I go down the rabbit hole of sites like Pinterest or Instagram. For the nuscheli, I’ve not searched for any inspiration, I’ve truly pulled the colors out of my mind and my mood. Things that remind me of my children, or places we’ve been, things we’ve seen, suns setting etc. For the interiors, there are a lot more factors to consider to find the inspiration that meets the challenge. Historic references and nature always inspire me the most.
You now have two children - Ray and Luc. How do you make the juggle work in your family?
I’m not sure, but I think I just keep going. I try to always be the one picking up my kids from school. It’s easy to hand off these things to a baby sitter or even my husband, but they grow up so much I want to be with them as much as I can! We (my husband and I) actually don’t have much help with the kids or our household. We don’t have a cleaning lady, for example, we both don’t have family nearby. We do a lot ourselves for our family. I think the only way I can juggle this all is by staying up late most nights and working after the kids go to bed. I spend time with them from 4pm on when I pick them up until they go to bed at 7pm. That gives us three great hours to be together and I really try to be present with them. Then I work from 7pm to about 10pm every night. Some nights longer and some nights less. I have to say that my husband is so hands-on, I couldn’t do it all without that. We reserve the weekends to travel locally and spend time as a family.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Generally, we get up in the morning around 6.30am. I make the kids breakfast, my husband eats with them while I shower and get ready, I pack their lunches, get them dressed and we are out the door by 8am. I drop off my son with his day-mother (it’s a shared nanny at her house, a small group of 4 toddlers that she watches, and we call her our day-mother!). Luckily she is around the corner from our daughter’s preschool. She goes to a German preschool. I work from 8.30 to 4pm. My day usually includes project site meetings, working at my desk, phone calls, many emails, sometimes showroom visits. When I have time I sometimes go to the gym for 45minutes during lunch. I pick up my daughter from preschool at 4pm and go pick up my son around the corner. We usually go to the park, to the beach, or run an errand like groceries. We then go home, make dinner while the kids play (they actually love being home and playing with their toys, it’s me who likes to be on the go and outdoors!). We eat as a family most nights. The kids take baths, read books, and in bed by 7pm. Both kids are good sleepers, which allows me to get back to work. Sometimes my husband will take a little break before I get back to work and sit down and talk about things. It’s amazing that even though we work so closely we somedays don’t find time to talk about anything! I usually fulfil Hauptli Haus Kids orders in the evening as well.
Do you feel mother’s guilt? If so, how do you work through it?
Yes, sometimes. I’m pulled in many places. But I’m not a super social person, I don’t have an inner urge to constantly be out with friends, so I feel like my kids get a lot of me, besides work and clients. But I sometimes think that I could give more of myself if I wasn’t working so much. I forgive myself by reminding myself how much I show my kids how much I love them. I think they know that. And I hope that it’s quality over quantity when it comes to how much time I get to spend with them. I definitely try very hard to be present with them when we are together.
You visit Switzerland twice a year with your family now - do your children feel a connection with Europe?
Yes, they love Switzerland. They’ve also been to France. But mostly they love seeing their grandparents (who spoil them…), and my brother’s family. Their cousins are close in age and it’s nice they get to grow up together even though we live so far apart. My mother is so great with the kids, I always admire how much energy she has for them. She just keeps going and wears them out! The kids feel at home there. They ask us often if we can move there.
How do you approach dressing each day? Do you subscribe to a uniform?
This is a work in progress! I have yet to figure this out for myself. I’ve made a big shift in my dressing since having kids. One because I have way less time in the morning to think about what I’ll wear. But also because I’ve become more aware of the fashion industry and which brands I stand behind. I have paired down my wardrobe to just a few outfits, and so yes, you could say it’s like dressing in a uniform. Sometimes when I love a pair of pants I’m wearing I’ll wear them several days in a row, because they make me feel good and I don’t have to think about what to wear so much!
Where are your favourite places to shop for yourself, your home and your children?
Well, I barely shop for myself these days! Mostly for the kids. But for myself I like brands like Everlane, Soor Ploom, Doen, Ace & Jig. For the kids I love brands like Mabo, Misha & Puff, Soor Ploom, As We Grow, Millk, just to name a few. For our home, we live quite simply, and I love to find things used.
What’s a typical dinner in your family?
We pretty much always cook at home and very rarely go out to eat. We enjoy it and at dinner time the kids are usually tired. One of our go-to favorites lately are vegetables in a mustard cream sauce with rice.
Do you outsource anything? If so, what!?
To be honest, not much at all. I sometimes hire someone to help with drafting, but that’s just when I get swamped and then it’s temporary. I also hired someone to help with the most recent launch of the new Nuscheli colors. She helped me strategize the launch and coordinated the photoshoot. This was the first time I hired a photographer, prior to that I took my own photos. I’m hoping to get more help for the businesses soon, and as we grow.
How do you make time for yourself? Do you have any side hobbies/passions, or is all your time absorbed by your children and your businesses?
Currently, most of my time is absorbed by my children and businesses. It’s a busy time of life for sure, but I don’t regret it and I don’t feel like I need more time to myself. One day soon, I can take a yoga class again and the kids can stay home by themselves or will be with friends etc. There’s a time for everything. I have little kids and two businesses that are still young too. Everything is growing up at the same time. There will be more time for other things soon again. Time for myself currently looks like this, I sometimes listen to a podcast in the car, or occasionally I go get a massage and don’t tell anyone where I am!
What’s next for you and for your businesses?
For the interiors, I hope to grow to the next step and hire someone full-time. We are moving to a new area in LA this summer, our daughter got accepted to a school that we really wanted her to go to. When we find a home, I hope to set up an office close by and then hire someone. For Hauptli Haus Kids we are working on new products and hope to have a new collection by the end of this summer! A dream of mine would be to one day open a children’s shop selling curated goods and antique children’s furniture. That would be the third business, so we’ll see.