If you’ve ever been through a home renovation or simply can’t get enough of peeking inside other people’s living spaces (guilty!), chances are you’re well acquainted with The Design Files, an online hub for all things style and home. Founder Lucy Feagins started the site 10 years ago as a design blog and now boasts content spanning from home to food and family, while also bringing the brand to life with their Open House and TDF Talks events (it launches this week!), with no sign of slowing down soon...
The design industry heavyweight is also mum to (almost) two-year-old Minnie, and is living proof that motherhood doesn’t have to come in the way of running your own business or keeping the drive and ambition alive that is needed to maintain a website that is at the forefront of the industry, despite having some pre-baby nerves before the two worlds collided. “Because I run my own business I wasn’t able to take the standard maternity leave, and I was really worried that my world would turn upside down after having a child. But actually, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It’s busy, sure… and I get a bit less sleep than I used to… but my mantra is, it’s all do-able! I’m here to tell you, yes, you can run a business and be a Mum!” We caught up with the ever-inspiring Lucy to chat business, success and the ever-elusive art of maintaining (and hiding!) children’s toys in her pared-back yet beautiful Fitzroy home. Pinterest-clicking at the ready… Words: Marisa Remond | Photography: Nikole Ramsay | Taking place in Melbourne, The Design Files Open House opens from Thursday November 23rd to Sunday November 26th, from 10am to 5pm daily. For more information, go to www.thedesignfilesopenhouse.com
What can’t you start the day without?
Hitting the snooze button at least twice!
What is the best advice you’ve been given about motherhood?
The best advice I received was some help getting Minnie to sleep through the night at around nine months of age. After a rough week, we finally got her sleeping through and haven’t looked back. We essentially followed the sleep training advice in that book called ‘Baby Love’ which has become my bible for all things parenting!
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
To be honest, I heard a lot of horror stories whilst I was pregnant, and I was expecting the worst. Because I run my own business I wasn’t able to take the standard maternity leave, and I was really worried that my world would turn upside down after having a child. But actually, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It’s busy, sure… and I get a bit less sleep than I used to… but my mantra is, it’s all do-able! I’m here to tell you, yes, you can run a business and be a Mum!
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I actually grew up in London. My Dad is British and my Mum is Australian, and I spent my childhood in the UK. Then we moved to Australia as a family when I started high school. These days I feel 100% Aussie! I have one sibling, a brother, who is two years younger than me. We fought all the time as kids! I was an absolute nerd at high school – always studying, never partying. I guess I haven’t changed much!
Talk us through your career path… do you think you were always destined to run your own business?
Yes I suppose in retrospect I was. I worked for seven years in the film industry before launching The Design Files, but I have always been quite independent and bossy (I guess!) and I think it just suits being my own boss. I really enjoy the challenge and the freedom to choose my own direction. Like most small business owners I probably work twice the hours I otherwise would, but to me, the autonomy of being my own boss is worth every extra hour I spend at my laptop.
How, in your opinion, has the media landscape changed since you started?
OH GOD do you have time for a 4000-word thesis!? Everything has changed. When you run an online business, everything changes pretty much every six months! You have to stay on your toes, it can be quite exhausting! I started in 2008 (The Design Files will be 10 next year!). When I started, readers just came obediently to our blog every morning, each month our readership would grow without too much effort at all, and I simply focused all my energy on just making great content. When Instagram really took hold, that changed a lot of what we do. I think attention spans have definitely shrunk. You need to constantly remind people to visit your website – even if they LOVE your website, you still have to remind them! The pace of content has also sped up significantly. Posting a new piece of content once a day used to feel like enough. These days, we post 2-3 times a day and that feels ‘slow’. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it does feel like a bit of a race sometimes.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face running a small business?
I both struggle with and relish the challenge of wearing so many hats. Even though we have six staff now, as a small business owner I still find myself washing the office laundry at home, and texting my husband to come over and change a broken light globe at the office! And, then on the flipside, there are times when I have to fly to Sydney to be on morning TV!? My job feels like the strangest combination of being a bit high profile, and at the same time keeping it very real!
What are some of the biggest advantages of running a small business?
Just waking up every morning and being excited about going to work for yourself and your team, and not having to ever worry about being motivated because you just love your job so much!
How do you manage social media – do you schedule posts ahead of time?
We plan social media imagery and captions 24-48 hours ahead of time, and I always oversee/edit every caption before it goes live. On Instagram stories, we are a bit more fluid, and all the girls in the office get involved a bit more with our stories.
Do you have an idea of where you’d like to be in five years?
I would quite like another child but my husband is not yet convinced! We’ll see! Work wise, I’d love to be just a little less frantic – I still do a LOT of work after hours each night and would love to somehow find a little bit more of a balance. Having said that I’d also love to have our own shop, a magazine, a podcast and a web TV series… hmmm!
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I am so personally invested literally everything we do at The Design Files, which is both strength and a weakness. I am sure that passion has helped to shape our success, but it’s also limiting. I’m learning to delegate more and to trust my team, because realistically I know we cannot continue to grow if every single thing has to funnel through me.
Did your mother influence your career/work ethic?
Absolutely. My Mum was a working Mum in the advertising industry at the time of ‘Mad Men’ – say no more! Working in the ad industry at that time was so totally male-dominated, and any issues with kids had to be basically managed invisibly. I can’t even imagine that. Seeing my Mum work full-time in a really demanding career whilst I was young I am sure has had a formative effect on me. I have always been very committed to having a career and being financially independent.
SHOP: Gordon Johnson drawers, Mr Draper bed linen, Tizio table lamp, Emily Ferretti painting
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
‘Lean into it’ is a bit of a motto. When you can’t quite see exactly how to achieve something, just ‘lean’ in the right direction, and don’t worry so much about the next step, or the big picture. This is a great thought process if you’re prone to talking yourself out of something before you’ve even started!
What inspired you to launch The Design Files Open House and how do you divide your time between the two businesses?
The Design Files Open House came about in 2011. I’d been running the site for four years, and I was keen to do something in the ‘real world’, but I didn’t want it to just be another pop-up. I asked myself the question ‘what would The Design Files looks like if it were a physical space’. Of course, the answer was a beautiful Australian home, full of all the design, art and handcrafted pieces we feature on the website. The event has grown a lot each year and these days it’s become a bit of a beast! Right now with less than a month to go, it’s taking up more than 50% of my time, and my team’s time. It’s definitely all consuming!
What artists/makers would you like to highlight ahead of Open House – can you tell us about them?
We have over 60 artists, designers and makers involved – it’s hard to choose favourites! BUT Since we’re talking about parenting, it seems opportune to mention a couple of great brands for kids. I love Such Great Heights – who make beautiful kids play tents and a stunning new A-frame dolls house which we will be featuring at Open House. It’s hard to find local labels making lovely things for kids, and these guys are nailing it! Sam Davy of PARK social soccer is also super inspiring local start up. Sam founded his one-for-one socially conscious soccer brand in late 2015. Through it’s one-sale-for-one-donation model, PARK has currently passed 1,270 soccer balls to disadvantaged children both in Melbourne and globally. Finally, I’m obsessed with these incredible hand-made ribbon rosettes by Melbourne maker Leila Sanderson, who goes by the name ‘Skinny Wolf’. They are truly so incredible – such beautiful palettes, hand stitched with such meticulous attention to detail. I bought one as a keep sake for Minnie’s first birthday, and I’m super excited we will have a very limited number of them at Open House.
What can we expect from the next Open House – what do you have instore for us?
We’ve curated a sort of ‘ultimate Australian home’ – a space that feels like a home, featuring all our favourite furniture, lighting, artwork, homewares and objects by local makers. There are a lot of new makers this year – and I’m particularly excited to have a lot of new ceramicists who we’ve never featured before. I’m also really excited about ‘TDF Talks’, a new initiative which will run alongside the main event, featuring a speaker series with a host of inspiring people from the worlds of design and architecture, photography, styling, small business, social enterprise and more. The speaker series is a not-for-profit project, with all proceeds going to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
What’s the key to an exciting retail experience?
Visual appeal, story-telling, authenticity, and a dash of social media hype!
How would you describe your interior style?
To be honest, at home I am a bit pared back. I discover so many amazing homewares, textiles and artworks at work, but at home I like to keep things a little understated. I do have a few pieces by favourite local creatives, such as artwork by Emily Ferretti and the late David Band.
What are three things every home needs right now?
I’m not a fan of fleeting trends, the following three things are a must in any home, anytime. – A beautiful rug! We love Armadillo & Co, and Loom Rugs. – Original artwork. I’m loving paintings by Elizabeth Barnett, and Hannah Nowlan. – Beautiful bedlinen is a wonderful, useful indulgence – I love Mr Draper bedlinen, who we’re also stocking in Open House. His palette is incredible, and all his bedlinen is made in Melbourne.
How many hour’s sleep do you get a night?
Regrettably, about six hours. 1am – 7am on a weeknight.
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed/stressed?
Ride my bike home from work, drink wine, de-brief with my Mum or my husband, have a bath with my baby.
What are your top time management tips – how do you juggle it all?
I’m not sure if I have any great secrets to share – I use Excel for very comprehensive ‘To Do’ lists, and I just work a LOT to keep up with everything. I do an eight hour day at work with my team every day, then I come home, put Minnie to bed, and settle in for a 4-5 hour night shift. Every. Single. Night.
How would you describe your home and can you talk us through some of your favourite pieces of furniture/artwork?
My home is brand new, actually… I don’t feel like it’s quite as layered as I would like just yet. It’s a beautiful three bedroom inner city home designed by my favourite Australian architects, Kennedy Nolan. We moved in a year ago and I still pinch myself, I can’t believe we live in such a beautiful house. My most treasured possessions include: Rugs by Loom Rugs. Artwork by Emily Ferretti, David Band, Anna Varendorff, Leo Greenfield. Le Corbusier LC3 chair from Cult. Minnie’s ‘Caravan’ cot from Kido! (Like every first time Mum I researched cots like crazy and settled on this one!)
What are your tips for home organisation with children?
I love cheap and cheerful woven baskets for toy-storage, and I love Muji plastic containers for organising kids clothes drawers. I am only a Mum of one toddler, so we haven’t descended into endless extra-curricular activities and associated paraphernalia – yet!
How do you keep your home organised?
It’s not very organised to be honest! I love Muji plastic containers for organising inside drawers/bathroom cupboards etc. I like the new kitchen accessory/rubbish bin range by Vipp (available at cult). I am also a freak for zip-lock bags!
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
I work full-time and have an almost-two-year-old, so I do literally no exercise and spent ZERO time thinking about my wellbeing! Something’s gotta give…! Maybe next year I’ll get back to the gym!? Probably not.
What is your definition of success?
I want to be an old lady one day, looking back at my life, and feeling like I did really worthwhile things that made a difference to people. Heading into our tenth year, I’m keen to work more social enterprise/philanthropy into what we do.
How do you unwind and relax?
Wine. Date night. More wine.
Favourite quick kids’ dinner to cook?
Chicken schnitzel from our favourite local butcher, Meatsmith. Vegemite on toast for dinner has also been known to make a semi-regular appearance!
Lucy’s little list of loves:
My brand new bike from Tokyo Bike! The most exquisite handmade doll made for Minnie by A Makers Burrow. Ultra-delicate glassware by Reidel. I’m seriously coveting a weekend away to Jackalope Winery on the Mornington Peninsula. Minnie’s first pair of deep red Mary-Janes from Pretty Wild.