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Hunker House, our real-life space located on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, CA, provided the ideal setting for this intimate conversation. This is where we get to bring our design obsessions, conversations, and ideas to life.
Nina is no stranger to the podcast. We first had her on the show in 2021, and after that conversation ended, we realized that had even more questions we wanted to ask her. So, we were delighted when she agreed to come back to Hunker, yet this time IRL and in front of a design-loving group.
If you scroll through Instagram or Pinterest, chances are you've seen Nina's books "Surf Shack" or "Bibliostyle" styled on a coffee table or bookshelf. (Her third book on mountain houses will be available in Fall 2023.)
As the founder of Freudenberger Design Studio, she is known for her impeccable taste seen through her residential and hospitality projects. (We highly recommend a visit to White Water Cambria or San Luis Creek Lodge if you're in California.)
Nina is a wealth of information and inspiration for anyone who loves design, wants to write design books, or is interested in an interior design career or side hustle.
In this conversation, Nina shares about:
- The magical and challenging aspects of creating and publishing design books.
- Tips on how people can get started on creating their own books.
- Organizing and producing photo shoots.
- How she finds all the homes she features in her books.
- Advice for anyone who has a passion for interior design and wants to start offering their services.
- Things people might not consider when setting up an interior design business.
- Clever ways to get yourself "out there" and find clients.
- The realities behind having your own candle business.
- Where she continues to find inspiration.
Read the full conversation on the transcript below, or click here to hear the full podcast conversation.
Learn More About Nina Freudenberger
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Read the Full Transcript
(Edited slightly for clarity)
Laurie Grossman: I looked at my calendar, a year ago yesterday was when you and I had our first conversation for the podcast.
Nina Freudenberger: That is fascinating.
Laurie: It was October 26th, a year ago yesterday, and that was when we sat down and had our first conversation. We chatted.
Nina: Love that convo.
Laurie: I fell in love with you as a person. So we have had you on the podcast, which is amazing, and talked a little bit about your background. But I'm going to just go over a couple things right now, if anyone is unfamiliar. You have your own design firm Freudenberger Design Studio. You work with residential spaces, you work in hospitality. You have designed two hotels here in California. One of them I visited after we spoke the San Luis Creek Lodge. Loved it. Highly recommended it.
Laurie: Yes. You make product, you have rugs, you also have other products as well, but you have your design books, which we're going to talk about. Surf Shack, Bibliostyle. You're working on your third one, Mountain Houses. Nina, what is up with all of this?
Nina: I don't even know.
Laurie: We touched upon about this before. There's a lot you've got going on.
Nina: There is. When you list it like that, it sounds like really I probably should focus or talk to someone about [inaudible 00:03:44] focus issues or something. But I do have a lot of avenues and things that I'm interested in. They all take a lot of time and they all happen at different phases and it's not happening all simultaneously. But there is always consistently my interior design business. And then at any given period I'll be focusing on the rug collection or then doing the book. I'm not totally insane, but it's all happening, those things.
Laurie: So you are creating these spaces that make the spaces happy, make people happy. What makes you happy doing your work as an interior designer? Why is this work meaningful for you?
Nina: And I think this is part of the conversation about the books too, but I am obsessed with how people live. I just love it. If you know me, I'll ask you the weirdest questions for no reason. You'll be like, "Oh, I just went home and had dinner." And I'm like, "Well, what'd you have for dinner?" And then they're, "No one asked that... That's so invasive." But then I'll be like, "Did you put on comfortable clothes? Were you sitting? Talking to your husband? Did you have a cocktail before? Were your kids awake" or... I need the details. It's always been a weird thing, but I love to know how other people live and it's a way for me to understand why I live the way I live. But I'm also interested in this idea that we're all doing the same things. We all have this need for shelter. We're all seeking comfort. We all go to sleep at night. We all have our dinner with alone or with people, but we're doing this all at home. And it's just so interesting to me how people do it all differently.
And I always remember going into friends family's homes when I was a teenager and the house smelled different. Do you remember? And the styles were totally different, but it was like they were just living in a different little world. I just find that to be so beautiful and interesting. First and foremost, I love finding out how people live, how they live in their homes and then slowly deciphering why they live that way. Being able to create something for someone just by cues or picking up on what they're interested in or conversations, that is the ultimate for me to create a home.
Laurie: And so then, is that how you get into people's minds when you're working with them? Because you want to create a home that reflects them. Their identity and create something where they're going to walk in the door and be like, "This is me." How do you get into their minds? What do you talk to them about? What do you ask them?
Nina: Oh, so many questions. First of all, I feel really strongly that it's not about me, ever. I can certainly put my ideas and thoughts in present moments that is me in the project, but it's not my house. So there is that view that some designers come in and they just... A homeowner wants that kind of house, but that doesn't feel authentic. Imagine living in a house that feels like someone else's that'd be so disappointing. The first thing I do is I really don't... I do talk because I can't help myself, I cannot control the words all the time. But the rule someone once told me was "Really ask more questions and let them talk more than you talk." And so I'm really careful of that ratio. And I think interior designers love to go in and be like, "I think you should do this and put that on there." And "You need new drapes" and show off a little bit.
But really, I always know when I go to a conversation and someone's asked more questions of me than I've asked of them, I'm like, "Wow, I felt like someone needed to know about me." And that feels good. We all want to be heard, right? And so I really ask those clients a tremendous amount of questions. I don't start with the personal questions upfront, but we do get there eventually like "What side of the bed do you sleep on?" I literally have to know those things. But I also talk about like "What do you imagine your style to be?" Sometimes they'll take me a tour of their closet and talk about fabrics. They talk about the health of their pets like "My dog is old and is vomiting on the carpets." I know that that poor dog in two months. You become so into their lives so quickly. But you have to listen and you have to ask questions.
Laurie: Wow. Do you feel like for someone who wants to get into interior design, this is an essential part... What do you think is important? People who want to do interior design or people who just write about interior design? What do they need to love aside from design?
Nina: You need to love people. You really have to love people. And then I think you have to also really appreciate everyone's perspective. And I think that there is no right or wrong. There are beautiful things in all different forms. And I think that interest is enough to make you a good designer.
Laurie: What if you don't like people? What do you do?
Nina: Then maybe there's a different profession. Yeah, that's a tough one.
Laurie: Okay. So say there's someone listening to this conversation and they want to start in the world of interior design, they want to start a business and it can either be just a little side hustle or they want to work with some friends. I think people imagine like, "Oh, I have to think about paint colors. I have to think about styles. Do they want modern? Do they want traditional?" But what are some other things as people are creating a business that you feel could be very helpful for them to know that they might not even think about?
Nina: I think if someone's interested in doing interior design, I think the number one is be realistic about what the profession actually is.
Laurie: Okay, Tell us about [this].
Nina: Because I think people think that I run around and shop every day and I just get to do whatever I want. I'm just like, "I'll take that, I'll take that." Pretty Woman style. That's not what's happening. I'm literally on the phone with FedEx and I'm like, "I cannot pick up that package, there's no sticker here." Or I'm unpacking a box that has so many of those like little peanuts in there and then I have to spend a half hour cleaning up. I mean, you name it. And I'm scrubbing out a stain in a vintage Moroccan. It is not what you think it is. It is not what you think it is.
Even though our design work is a large portion of the project, there's this logistics behind it that is huge. So you really have to decide that you're in it for the business aspect, not just because you think your interiors are pretty. If you are only interested in beautiful interiors, you can do it for yourself, do it for your family. But the business of interior design is very different. Some days I spend half the day invoicing. The other day I go to the work rooms and make sure the finishes are correct. The other day I'm organizing my material library or I don't know, shopping for light bulbs. But if you love interior design, all of those things happen. And with these, you're not freaked out by them.
But it's just they're logistics. And so that's one thing. I think a lot of people have really good taste. I want to say that because I think that's part of interior design, but I also think managing that backend stuff is super critical. I think speaking with an interior designer that has a lot of experience, when I started out, I didn't ask enough professionals real questions. When I opened my brick and mortar store, I didn't even ask a single store owner what it was like to have a store in New York City. That would've really gone a long way. Because I literally didn't even know what a point of sales was. I actually didn't know how to ring someone up. And it was the night before my store opening and I just got the Shopify app... The program on the computer. I was like, "I don't even have skew coats." Bonkers, totally nuts. But I had picked out... Spent three weeks researching tissue paper. I knew the pen people would sign for. But literally nothing was working.
Just speaking to someone is huge. And I also think everyone is accessible. You would be shocked. And I learned that through the books, you can get to anyone and almost everyone will talk to you because people like to talk about themselves. So just shoot someone an email and they will respond. And if not, fine, you didn't want to talk to them anyway. I just think advice in making sure that that's the right move for you, for sure. And start small. The other thing with interior designer is design is like you can't build your portfolio until you have a lot of projects completed. Projects take a year and a half sometimes. You might have three years of projects that are not even good to shoot and you don't want to even put that [inaudible 00:12:47]. It takes a tremendous amount of time to build a portfolio. So you have to be committed to that and be ready to hustle along the way. It's a journey.
Laurie: Got to have the hustle. Would you say that people should, if they're starting out, just take any project, take smaller projects that maybe wouldn't take as long so they can build their portfolio?
Nina: Yes. I think you have to decide what your value is. I think some people are starting off their careers by doing their own home. I think that's a nice start. Start small. Don't think you're going to do a castle in the south of France on year two. Just go with what's coming to you. You have to come up with new avenues. Interior design, you can't necessarily advertise. You got to find a way to connect with people. Is it brokers who are just selling houses? Is it a developer? Are you introducing yourself to other people in the industry? Vendors or... Make sure that your furniture maker knows that you exist, so that if he has a client and they want more things in the room, they can recommend you. Things like that.
Laurie: Yeah. Now in addition to doing that where you're talking to vendors and introducing yourself to them, what are some creative, clever ways for people to find clients? How did you find your first client? Just you as your own business, not when you were at the architectural firm in New York, when you just went off. How'd you find this person?
Nina: It was actually just word of mouth and it's referrals. Being at another interior design firm was very helpful because I didn't get those projects directly. None of those clients, I would never poach a client. But the clients would have a friend and they'd be like, "Oh, Nina just went out on her own. Why don't you give her a call? That project's not big enough for the firm, but she might take it."
Laurie: Oh, well that's nice.
Nina: And I was like, "I will take it."
Laurie: Yeah, that's nice.
Nina: I was like, "It's a powder room but I'll totally take it." I think that really helps. To come in completely out of the dark, someone has to see something you've done, otherwise you're just providing a service exclusively service-based. And then you might get pigeonholed and... They need to know that your strength is design, not just being an assistant and getting a garbage can for the laundry room.
Laurie: Yeah. Do you remember what it felt like when you completed your first project on your own?
Nina: I can barely remember those years because it was so hard. It was crazy.
Nina: Yeah. It was in New York City and the hustle's so hard. It was super intense. I just would take every project really that came my way. And some of them were successes and some of them were total failures. Total failures.
Laurie: Got to have the failures sometimes, right?
Nina: Well-- I think that's part of it. It really took a long time and more than I expected. And so there really were moments where I was like, "I can't. This is... I'm going... I'm just bailing on this." And you just have to just keep pushing through those super dark, really challenging times.
Laurie: Got to have a little hustle.
Nina: Got to hustle. In New York City, everyone's hustling so you have to hustle extra hard.
Laurie: Oh boy.
Nina: You're just actually a little bit of a lunatic, but you just go for it.
Laurie: And you were like, "To hell with that. I'm coming to California [inaudible 00:16:08]."
Nina: I came to California after I had already done hustle number one. So then I had to do hustle again, which was like... I thought I had nothing left to give. Turns out, if I have to, I'll just keep hustling.
Laurie: Do you think that the hustle that's part of your genius zone? Have you ever heard Gay Hendricks talks about how people have a genius zone or you have your zone of competence or your zone of excellence and so you can be really great at what you do and that's your zone of excellence. When you think about the work that you do with interior design and also being an author, which we're going to talk about too, where do you feel like you shine the most? Where's your zone of genius?
Nina: Great question. That's amazing. I think my zone is a threshold for risk that might be higher than... I do things that I know nothing about over and over again. Someone asks me to design rugs. No idea what you're talking about. Literally just I don't... What is a cut pile? I don't know. Do you know? It's like opening a store. I actually don't know how to get money into the store because I don't understand the point of sale system. You can... Books, I'll tell you the story. But really, I had no idea what I was doing and I just sent out an email to an editor, just the wackiest thing. I'm not afraid. And I think the thing that I do is I just go for it. And if someone says no or if it doesn't work out, over and over again, you can always redo. Just do something else. Do something new. There's no fear. I guess I have no fear in that level, is that weird?
Laurie: No, it's amazing.
Nina: I'm fearful of everything like waves and heights and airplanes. I'm mostly afraid, so don't get me wrong, but I'm not like, "Oh tomorrow I'm scaling El Capitan." There are certain things where I'm just not afraid of in business, because I just... I mean, it's one life.
Laurie: It's so inspiring. I love it so much. And this makes me want to pivot and talk about your books, your design books. I think I heard you say that design books are your passion, traveling is your passion. So you have been able to put them together. And now you are an author of design books that also enable you to travel and talk about risks. Because right before this podcast started, we were talking about your traveling to... Wait, was it Patagonia?
Laurie: And as a wild story. So you're putting yourself out there. I might have you share that story too because I think it's part of this whole thing. But first of all, so you have Surf Shacks, you have Bibliostyle and you are now working on Mountain Houses, which is coming out in fall 2023?
Laurie: Ooh, so exciting. Let's first talk about how you got to publish a book. What was your process? Because from what I understand, everybody, there's a different process for everybody. So anybody who wants to know how to do it, this is one way, your way.
Nina: This is my way.
Laurie: Okay, let's hear it.
Nina: I think there was a point in my career in interior design where I was feeling a little disheartened. I had hustled once, hustled twice, I'm now in California. Moving to California was really challenging. I moved here because of my husband and I was like, "It's America. It's the same country. How different can it be?" What was happening here? I was like, "What is going on?" I waited in line for 20 minutes for a coffee. I was like, "Why does everyone have a green juice? Does anyone have a job? Because why is everyone doing noon yoga?" I was like, "Are you showering after, are you not? How does that fit in? Are you wearing that to the office? Because I'm pretty sure you're in sweatpants." Anyway.
And then everyone walking down the street at 5:30 in the morning with their surfboard. I really came from a very... New York is very different. You work till 11 at night, you're staying up and having drinks till two. The world is very different there. And here everyone was like... No one asked me what I did. No one cared. That's not... No one asked that question here. Literally no one gives... But in New York actually they don't even care about your name. They're like, "What do you do?" Your identity really shifts when you come here.
And then I was like, "Oh God, I have to start interior design again." I had no client base. I really was shocked, "I need to do this whole thing again." And I was like, "Oh, it was so hard the first time" that I was like, "Wow, I got to do this." And I was also confused about the style here, very different. New York City was like... I would do a little at Hamptons and we did some in Boston, but really you're not jamming a ton of stuff in a house in New York City. I don't care if you have a five bedroom, you're certainly not... People are trying to reduce what they have. You're not jamming a thousand... Here, you have a 7,000 square foot home that you're like, "I don't..." A table lamp disappears as if it didn't exist. There's a whole style, my entire... Everything I knew about interior design kind of had to shift. Plus the style is very different. Everyone's like "A white wall, it's great here because it looks good and it's California and the light's different."
It was completely different for me. So when I got here, part of me was confused and I wanted to explore what that was. And then the other half was... I was trying to test out what was happening because my career hadn't started here yet, again as an interior designer, I was like, "What am I going to do? Do I have a job? What's happening right now?" I was speaking with someone over lunch and they were like, "What do you want to do?" I was like, "I would just love to do a design book." And they were like "On what?" And I was like, "California, what's happening here in Venice." Because remember, a couple years ago, maybe seven years ago, there was a lot of new buildings being built. There was this real friction between the old beach bungalows and these new houses. But there has been amazing stuff that's been happening here.
So she was like, "I know someone in publishing. Why don't you just talk to them and see what they think?" One morning I woke up and I was like, I'm just going to do this. And I wrote this [inaudible 00:22:25]. I looked back and I forwarded it to her again just recently because I was like, "I cannot believe this." I think it was hungover. I had a stupid idea. There were grammatical errors, spelling errors. I didn't even do a spell check. It was really weird. But I was like, "I wanted to introduce myself. I'm really into this concept about surfing and interior design and people building their lives around something they love doing." And she actually wrote back. I located it in California and she was like, "I'm actually really interested in this topic. It's timely and the fact that you're bringing this up to me is really interesting. I'll be in LA next week, Would you like to meet?" And I was like, "Yeah."
Laurie: Oh my God.
Nina: At the breakfast, I was really nice I guess. She was like, "I'm going to help you with your vision, but let's do this." And I was like, "Okay." I wrote a really bad email, so there was no proposal, there was nothing. And mind you, I've never done a design book before. I had no idea what she was talking about in advance. I don't know what... A release. I literally was like "What's happening?"
Laurie: Let me ask you a quick question. Was social media around at this time? It was seven years ago?
Laurie: Did you have a presence on social media?
Nina: No, no. I had literally three followers. It was pictures of my [inaudible 00:23:45]. It was really bad. You guys can go all the way back in time and then you were like, "Oh my God."
Laurie: What you came to the table with was... You had your store?
Nina: I had two stores in New York City and in LA. And I think I did have... I had a very successful candle line that was sold at 500 stores and things like that.
Laurie: So she knew you had this going on?
Nina: It wasn't like I was coming to the table like... I wasn't laying on my couch. I had a reputation in New York. And so she was feeding from that because all the publishing houses are in New York. So that's where she knew me and [inaudible 00:24:21] the store. Anyway, that part was a little bit of a blur. Mind you, I was pregnant with my first child and I am not great at writing. And I didn't have a photographer lined up and I had a really small budget. And she was like, "Go for it, I'll see you in eight months." And I was like, "Oh, my God." And so I basically had to produce... I didn't know what I was going to produce. I didn't know what the plan was really in eight months.
Laurie: This is also what I found fascinating, because you and I had talked about this separately because I was... Oh no, maybe it was when we talked on the podcast, but I was imagining that you have your crew, your crew of photographers and everyone's coming along with you and you said...
Nina: No, it was just me and the photographer traveling around the country and the world and just staying at some really gross hotels and doing it.
Laurie: And you booking everything?
Nina: I literally feel like I should get sponsored by Expedia and [inaudible 00:25:24] because it was crazy. We showed up to the airport going to Australia and we didn't have a Visa because why would I know that? I am a travel agent, but I'm not really. No, but I would book this travel... First, it was a lot of communication with the homeowners, convincing them, finding the houses. The goal was to publish things that were not published before. So that's confusing, because how am I going to find them?
Because I had no idea how to do things, I had to invent my own way, which was... I couldn't search Pinterest, I couldn't... Because I was like, "That's a regurgitated image." I couldn't really do image searches in Google. There were no cool tagging systems and reverse tags at that time. All I had was Instagram and friends of friends. Every day, I would come up with these crazy lists. My minimum would be I'd have to reach out to 40 people. If I met you, I will email you. I will email you my book idea and you need to tell me if you know anyone in your circle or a friend of a friend or anyone that might have a house that's worth it.
Laurie: Wait. 40 people a day?
Nina: A day. Literally, I'm not even kidding, if you met me once, I probably sent you an email about this book. No. I was like "Hi." And I'd personalized each one of them. Yeah. I was like, "Hi. I don't know if you remember me. You did my hair once back in 2015. You look like you're doing great. I see that you have a dog." I'd have to do research because I didn't want it to sound generic. And then I would sit there all day eating multiple chocolate croissants because I was pregnant and I would just shoot emails out to every single person I know. And then I would do Instagram searches.
But when I'd write these emails, people would respond, they'd write back. They'd be like, "I think Laura, my friend Laura in Australia has a ceramics company that might know a girl." So then I'd be communicating with this girl in Australia that might have a friend on the other side of Australia that maybe I should go look at our house. And then I would have to write thank you to that. Then I'd have to reach out to this new person. Then I'd be like, "Would you mind taking photos of your house?" Respond to that or just literally be like, "Oh my god, that house." It was a total social experiment, but between social media... I would zero in on stories or pictures. And be like, "Wait is that [inaudible 00:27:46] in the background?" I can hunt someone down.
Laurie: The hustle came back.
Nina: It came back. And because I was pregnant and didn't know anyone and I didn't know what I was doing with the book, I didn't know how to find things. I really just had to invent my own way and then also lose any fear from emailing a stranger. And that's really hard to do in the beginning.
Laurie: I imagine so. So you did all this research, we're talking about Surf Shacks, your first one. And you found the places and then you and your photographer...
Nina: Just a backpack and a dream. And just got on that plane and just would go there.
Laurie: Oh my goodness. And then for each book afterwards, it seems like your traveling is just like... You're just upping the ante.
Nina: This time I went bonkers.
Laurie: You went bonkers?
Nina: The next book is going to literally be houses in--
Laurie: Your backyard?
Nina: On my block.
I'm literally just going to knock on my neighbor's door and be like "Can I come in?" This one, I overdid it a little bit. I remember my editor, she's like... Because it was COVID when I got the deal and I was like, "Oh, I really..." She was like, "Just do the US." And I was like, "Mm-hmm." And then I was writing down my lists and I was like, "Okay." We've done almost 14 countries now in nine months.
Nina: I am dead inside. But yeah, it's fine. It's fine.
Laurie: What's been the most beautiful place, if you could say it? What's been the most adventurous place¡ and where have you had the best food?
Nina: It's really hard because when I go to these places, I go into these people's homes and I'm so obsessed with their homes because I'm also obsessed with them and how they live. And I get to see all the details that it's hard for me to say... Once I'm in that world, I love everything about it. I would say the most beautiful was this place, I guess I'm telling everyone about it now, but it's called Ticino and it's in Switzerland, but it's right on the border of Italy. It is the Italian food, is the risottos, the pastas, the attitude, the whole vibes, Swiss precision roads [inaudible 00:30:13]. And this area, it's all the way up in the mountains. There are about 20 separate small towns and each town has about five to 10 inhabitants. But they each have four to five restaurants. Everyone owns a restaurant there. It's very quiet. It's a real journey up the mountains. It is. Those roads will make you want to cry in the back of a car because they are... You look over and you're like, "Oh." Really going down downtown, down.
Laurie: That's not good.
Nina: So super terrifying. Even for groceries, they use pulley systems or helicopters to lift. Garbage is taken away sometimes in helicopters. They just call the helicopter and the helicopter.
Laurie: Wow, really?
Nina: Yeah. No, it's crazy. It's the coolest place. The food, the people were incredible. There were very few tourists. It looked like Swiss people were going there but that was it. And it was really remarkable.
Laurie: Are you going with a translator?
Laurie: Are you just making your way?
Nina: I Google Translate. Luckily the writer is completely fluent in Spanish. He lives in Mexico, but he was born in Maryland. He's bilingual, which is amazing. I can speak a little German. Google Translate's my best friend. And most people in Europe I found and other places that I was communicating, there was always a way to get to English, except for in Korea, where that was just a no-go.
Laurie: Oh yeah. But you don't have a fear of that either, just-
Nina: No, I'm never afraid of that. I can always find a way to communicate with someone. And I have a sense of that before I go based on their emails. If there was ever a need for a true translator, I would've figured it out, but so far no.
Laurie: Right. Okay. I realized I was asking you about these places when as you were in the middle of trying to publish this book and you're probably like, "Can you wait for the book to come out before?"
Nina: No, you can totally talk to me about [it].
Laurie: Okay. Okay good.
Nina: Well, because I mean you don't know which house I photographed there.
Laurie: That's true. That's true, yes. What about adventure? Adventure story.
Nina: Adventure story?
Nina: We did go to a house in Patagonia. We'll tell this story, which also coincides with the best food. I cannot tell you whose house it went to. But essentially we had to fly to Buenos Aires, fly, which is 13 hours, fly another three hours to this town called Comodoro Riviera, which I... No one needs... Rivadavia, excuse me. Which is really an industrial town. And then you get in a car and you drive for seven to nine hours. I think in the end it was nine because we had a snowstorm on hour seven. Meanwhile, I just want to let you know, I thought it was going to Patagonia in the fall. And the last photos I had seen were these beautiful images of these red, orange and yellow trees. And then all of a sudden we're driving down a dirt road in the middle of literally nowhere in a snowstorm. Blackout conditions, literally no light. And I was like, "Okay."
We then get to a fishing lodge, stay there overnight. Snowstorm, we're talking feet of snow, it was nuts. Wake up the next morning and the homeowner came to pick us up by boat, it is in the middle of a blizzard. It is 32 degrees at. He is suggesting that we get in an open boat in the middle of a snowstorm on a lake in Patagonia near the Andes for two hours with no radar. And I was like, "Okay." It's like "What is happening right now? No one's going to come help us?" And we get to this really remote island in Patagonia and it was remarkable. It was one of the coolest experiences.
But we were really alone. There wasn't electricity, everything had to be brought in the same way, there was no helicopter, there was no plane landing site. Everyone that's ever traveled to this island, every piece of food, every single piece of furniture traveled the same exact route that I did. Which is literally nuts. You almost don't want to eat food because you're like, "Is there enough on this island?" No one's coming to get you if you break a leg. This is literally... You're going to have to use a popsicle stick. It was really, really remote. It was shocking.
Laurie: And in those moments though, are you, "I love this" or are like "Why did I choose this particular house?"
Nina: Well, I'm like "I did this to myself?" No, it is such an adventure. When you're in it, you're like, "This is the coolest. I would have never done this unless I was doing the book. What a crazy adventure. Thank God this is my life." But then you're really thrilled when you land in Buenos Aires and you're like, "Thank you."
Laurie: All right. So you have published two books, you're working on your third one, so you've had some experience. What about publishing books feels the most magical to you?
Nina: I think a couple things. One is I think it's merging my love of looking inside people's homes like a creeper and traveling. We can all go to travel to Portugal or to Patagonia, but that's a very different trip if I'm going with my family and staying in a hotel versus me going into someone's home and seeing how they actually live there. Smelling their foods or seeing the bread on the counter because they left it out from breakfast, and seeing the books on their shelves and the plants. Just everything you can understand through their house. It's a way of understanding a location based on the inside of someone's house that I would never get otherwise. You feel very different when you come in as a guest as opposed to feeling like you're visiting a country. Does that make sense? You feel part of it a little bit more. I think that's part of it.
The other part is sometimes I run out of inspiration. We can all talk about we always have inspiration, but sometimes I'm on Instagram and I'm like "Saw [inaudible 00:36:11]. Saw that three days ago. Already saw that again. I totally know that's this month's issue. Got it." That's exhausting. And I've come to the end of Pinterest searches too, you're like "Is that at the same image I just saw 10 minutes ago? What's happening now?" I think for me it's how do I still stay constantly excited about what I do and about interiors and also see what other people are doing that are not interior designers. Because that is where the magic happens, I think. People are really smart, they're really good at interior design. They're really good at just making a home for themselves, thank God. And it's not just professionals. And I love to see what other people can do. It's so cool.
Laurie: That's really beautiful, I love that. Now, for people who are maybe interested in publishing a book, what are some of the bigger challenges? What are some of the... Let's get real here. What really goes into-
Nina: Making a book?
Nina: Well, I would say, I think challenge number one truly is the financial aspect of making a book, which I think people should talk about because I think it's a little unfair. It's-
Laurie: Let's talk about it.
Nina: Let's talk about it.
Laurie: Let's do it.
Nina: Design books are not... You're not selling 2 million copies, who knows? But-
Laurie: Are you not though? I mean come on.
Nina: No, we are... We've sold over a 120,000 copies. For a design book, that's enormous. I understand in the grand scheme of the population of America, that doesn't sound like that many. But we're design-driven people. So we are the ones that are buying the books. Everyone in America is not buying design books, which is the truth of it. We're not publishing a novel. It's a very specific market. I think advances are not enormous and you have to decide... For me, I couldn't make... It's not a way of making a living truly. Interior design is. But doing books, the amount you'd have to pump them out so fast. Plus you would have to bring another skillset to the table. You'd either have to be a photographer or you'd be willing to write your book. I can barely write a email as I told you. So I'm not the right writer for the books. And it's a tremendous amount of work too. You really have to be ready for all of that.
And then also it's really a team effort. There are a lot of voices sitting at the table and you have to figure out what that is. You have an editor, you have their sales team, you have their publishing house, you have maybe an agent or maybe not. You have a writer, you have a photographer, you have yourself and you have all the people that you're including in the book if you're doing a design book or whatever that you are trying to please or make sure that they're represented in the best way possible. That becomes really challenging. That's a lot of people. Even though it feels like there's just one name on the cover, that's actually completely false. So I think it's those things, you have to really just...
And you have to really love what you're about to do. Because the amount of... It is just so much work, you have to really love the topic you're doing it on. It can't just be a cool idea that you want to see in some cool bookstore. It better be something you deeply love because otherwise halfway along the journey, there's no way you can make it because... There's all this travel, which sounds super fun, but then I have to take every photo. There are 3000 of them, I have to edit them down to 250. I then have to have those edited. I then have to put them in order and then decide which ones are going into the book. The narrowing down process is bonkers. It's just impossible. And you're trying to tell a story and communicate and come up with a cohesive vision. And for me, because it's so many different houses and the styles are so different that there has to be a thread between all of that. And that's actually very complicated.
Laurie: Yeah, telling stories.
Laurie: I know, but you're going to continue doing it.
Nina: I love it so much. I do, I love it so much. It's this phase at every project when it's literally me, when everyone else disappears, the photographer can go home. The writer's finished all his chapters and then it's just me. And it's so much work I have to do still that I'm like, "Whoo." But every time, I feel so proud of them and I love them. And seeing them in a store makes me want to cry. Even seeing them here, I keep looking at that Bibliostyle over there. It's such an amazing thing. I would keep doing them, I just need to keep coming up with ideas. I don't know how many more I've got.
Laurie: Well, you just keep traveling then you get your inspiration-
Nina: I'll figure it out.
Laurie: And then-
Nina: Figure it out.
Laurie: Yeah. I have a couple more questions and then we're going to open it up to some questions here.
Laurie: If someone wanted to get started on creating a design book, what are just a few little tips and takeaways that you could share on how people could just even get started?
Nina: I think number one is make sure that you find that what you're wanting to do is truly authentic. It has to be something you really care about, otherwise just stop right there. And keep digging. I think it has to be inclusive and feel accessible to a wide range of people. When I first approached the editor, I was like, "It's going to be about homes in Venice, California." She was like, "You're going to care. People here are going to care in Venice. People in Brooklyn are going to care. What about everyone else?" And I was like, "You're right, thank you." Because it felt exclusionary. People don't know about it, care, all sorts of reasons. So you have to make sure that everyone can access what you're about to put out.
And then I think that speaking with people, speaking with other authors about the reality of what it is like. I've had people ask me out for a coffee and I will go every single time because I do think what I didn't do enough of was ask other people's advice. And I think understanding what you're about to head into is super critical and then also assembling your... Find the people, find the books that you love and find the people you love. So you have to start by, go to your bookstore and find your dream art book. You flip to the back into the acknowledgement section and everyone's like, "Who's your editor? Who's your book agent? Who's..." Guess what? They're all back there. Every single one of them. And guess what? You type those into Google and their email address is pretty much because you can... You type it in two different ways and one of them is not going to bounce back. In a way, you really can figure out all of this. You don't need to ask for favors unless you have a direct connection. You can truly do this on your own.
And then I think you're really showing up with your clear statement and purpose. But it does not have to be a chapter. It could simply be what you're really trying to do. And then you're also always including maybe a mood board of image styles that you like, your dream chapter, an image or something. And then also what books have been published that are similar, but how yours would be different. They're always looking at that competition. They'll look up... For a mountain house, I certainly was like, "Oh look, Cabin Porn." That thing has been around forever, has sold a bazillion copies. My book is not even close to what that is. But the topic is not... It's cabin houses. We have some cabins in our book. You don't need to be afraid that no one's going to be able to understand it. Look at the success of this book.
I think all those things should get you on your way, hopefully.
Laurie: That's some good tips.
Nina: I know guys.
Laurie: Good tips. Do you think now that people should have a strong social media presence now for design books?
Nina: I think that publishers want to see that. I think they'd be psyched if they saw you had over... They don't even require that. I don't think it's that much. But I think if they see over 40, they're pretty psych.
Laurie: Over forty-
Nina: No, no, no. But I don't-
Laurie: 40 people? It's amazing.
Nina: Listen, I think if you have over 400,000, you're probably... You're publishing, you're probably getting approached by publishers anyway. People will approach... Everyone's out looking. That's not confusing. I think if you have less, you have to force your way in and find a niche. But you also have to tell the story of why you are the one that's supposed to be telling the story. I might have a great idea, but why am I the authority? Why am I the author of this book? Sorry. That's a important thing to mention in that proposal, why you're the person to tell that story.
Laurie: Yeah, it was a good tip.
All right. Let's open this up to some ques.tions What do you think Nina? I'd love that. Are you ready for it?
Laurie: Okay, let's do it. Gab, do you want to go first?
Gab: On the topic of books, I am Curious Bibliostyle I see as a little bit of an outlier in the sense that it's one area of a home and not an entire house, but it's still centered around a passion. Are there other passion points within the home that you've explored and could turn into a book later?
Nina: Such a good question. And thank you for noticing it's a little bit of the outlier.
Gab: In the best way.
Nina: No, I know.
Gab: I own that book.
Nina: I appreciate that. Thank you so much.
Gab: I'm one the 120,000 copies.
Nina: I think the theme in the books, whether it's about an object or a thing or it's a passion, I'm trying to find a way to look at a house through a lens. The book is literally the most important part of the house accessory, I think. Without them, every house will feel cold and a showcase. And really please just load up the books. But also I think people feel burdened by that. It's a very interesting topic, but it's a way.... Books can be everywhere in the house. They'll be in the bathroom, they'll be in the dining room, they'll be in a living room. That meant that I could view the house in that level. And then same with Surf Shack, the surfboard could be outside, inside, there could be sand on the thing. I could then go do an overview of the house without just being home tour of just random things.
I think that is a great question about what else could be, in a home that could... You mean an object? I don't know. But when I figure it out, I'm going to definitely write a book about it. I think Mountain House and Surf Shack are very much tied together because it's talking about people's decisions in life and they feel so passionate that they're willing to hike for two miles to go get groceries. And Surf Shack people were so committed to their surfing lifestyle that they had to live wherever they had to live. Not necessarily even beach side, it just had to be there. I don't know what the next thing is. I feel really strongly about books, but I'm going to think about that.
Laurie: Right on. Did you have a question, miss, at the end here?
Speaker 4: I am interested in what you said about your candle business. Actually you didn't really talk about it, but I'm an aspiring candle-maker as of two weeks ago. But I feel all in on it, where I'm like, "This could be my thing." And could you just talk about that.
Nina: Oh my God. It's the craziest story. This is another weird thing I did that I didn't know anything about. So welcome. So I had a store in New York City. And it was a really small home decor store. I was talking with someone about product and I was like, "I'd love to start producing my own product. All I do is sell other people's products, other makers' products, which was so lovely. But my markup was... It's really hard to sell exclusively other people's stuff." So someone's like, "You should produce your own product." And I was like, "Great idea. What is that?" And so they were like, "Look at what sells the most in the store." And I was like, "Great idea. I don't know what I'm doing again." I went through the sales and literally number one was candles. Candles every day all the time I was importing them from Great Britain. They smelled like log fires. It was a whole hip.
It was really crazy because I really didn't want to be the store owner that had candle burning over there and my dog and be like "[inaudible 00:48:13] to my interior store." I could just see how that spiraled out of control and I would the woman I never wanted to be. But then I was like, "Let's give this a shot." This is actually a really weird story, but I actually started driving by in... So I moved to California and then I started driving by Stone Candles, you know the one right over? It's pretty close to here.
Laurie: Is it called Stone Candles?
Nina: It's Stone Candles. They had make-your-own-candle classes, but they also produced candles. So one day I just walked in there and I was like, "So you guys make candles?" And they were like, "Yes, we do." And I was like, "What's the minimum order?" They're like, "Whatever, 20." And I was like, "Cool." This is the craziest story. So then I started producing these scents. I found someone to help with the labels. I started to sell the candles in very small quantities. And I was like, "Wouldn't this be cool if I made this a bigger thing?" And then I was like, "Oh, so there're regulations on candles because it's fire. So I should put a warning sticker on the bottom and I'll do all that stuff." There's stuff which we can talk about.
So I had a manufacturer start producing them and I started marketing them and then people would come into the store and buy 10 of them. And I was like, "What's happening right now?" And I was like, "This is crazy." And then one day I got a call from West Elm because they would like to place an order. And I was like-
Laurie: This is big,
Nina: "Oh my God." And they were like, "Can you do this?" And I was like, "Yes, absolutely. It'll be ready in six weeks." And I was like, "Great." So then they were like, "Have you had your candles safety rated?" And I was like "Not yet, but it'll happen." They were like, "Is it translated in French, your warning labels on the bottom? And is it at 2.4 font and is..." What's happening? "And do you have it..." Anyway guys, I just... Will tell you, I went down the journey of what it is to move a candle that is allowed to be mass produced. That started happening and started selling at West Elms. It started selling at off 5th, the weirdest... It just blew up. But I was doing a lot of sales a year. It actually overtook both stores and my interior design business at one time. Plus e-commerce. It was house interior, it was the house candle. So we'd have school house, log house, but it was selling. It was the weirdest thing.
So then I finally got a rep and then he started repping it and handling the small mom-and-pop stores so that I could manage the big e-commerce stores and get those things shipped out. And this is my favorite story because I will tell the story because it's so good. So I started emailing, this was when Steven Alan existed. Do you remember?
Nina: They were so cool. So I emailed Steven Alan store. My dream was to have my candles in his store and they were like, "No." They were like, "But we do know someone at J. Crew." And I was like, "Okay." So I literally emailed Mickey Drexler and he literally responded, because I'm a freak show. I swear to God. I'm telling you guys, you can email anyone on the planet and someone will get back to you.
Laurie: This is the moral of all the stories I'm hearing.
Nina: No, guys, this is [inaudible 00:51:20] magic. Just literally send an email. And it's okay if you don't write back. No big deal. Don't freak out, have a glass of wine. And if you have to be wasted while you write the email because you have so much anxiety, just do it. Whatever. Just write the email. So then he was like, "Would you mind coming in for a meeting?" I went in with one of the buyers and they were like, "So listen, we don't really do candles, we've never done candles before in the store, but we really like the candles and you're going to be our first candle line. We are going to place a big order. It's going to be [inaudible 00:51:51] pick for Mother's Day, would've blown up."
So I prepared the order. It was hundreds of thousands of candles. And I remember the day that it shipped and my shipper was here in California and they were like, "Listen, it's the hottest day of the year. Are you sure you want to ship today?" And I was like, "If I miss this deadline, it is over." Meanwhile, I just would like to let you know, FedEx bought trucks usually go up to... They average from 89 to 93 degrees on the interior, which is something that your candle threshold would have to make to not melt. That day was... My fragrance level went up a little bit because I added a little something in that candle to make it extra good. And my melting pen went down by two degrees and I shipped out so many candles and I got a call and they were like, "We're unfortunately going to turn these back to you." And I was like, "Oh my God. Oh my God."
So my point of the story is-
Speaker 4: Don't make a candle?
Nina: Don't make a candle. listen, I'm sending flammable meltable things in glass across the country. It was so much work. You got to get custom boxes, the whole thing. There's so much joy though in a candle. People still email me to this day asking for the discontinued scents. They love the scent. They're afraid to burn the last moments of the candle. They're saving this candle. People love a candle. It's also the perfect gift. Our price range was $32. It was not the very expensive candles where you're like "I can't buy that because I literally cannot buy anything else this month" because that candle's so expensive.
And I think the business is incredible because there is a lot of opportunity there. And I think at the time people were moving away from paraffin and whatever, and we were going to coconut wax and some of the cleaner burns. I think the candle is an amazing business. I just think there were layers that, once again, I entered and I was like "Candles." And then you're like, "Oh my god." LTL freight shipping and unrefrigerated trucks with... How do you even wrap a candle so that it doesn't break into small pieces as it ships across the country? Just learning experiences, guys.
Laurie: So many of these things sound in theory so exciting. Make a book and make some candles and design a hotel. And there's stuff behind it.
Nina: And there's stuff behind the scenes. Some things like that was my... You win some, you lose some. I definitely lost that. Lot of candles. I would say that that... But I was very successful for a long period of time, so I'm very, very grateful for that. And that was super fun. I was not scalable for me and I didn't have my heart in the shipping process. I bailed on that part. I was like... And really, quite frankly, someone else should have been helping me who had experience, so that was tough.
Laurie: So good luck to you-
Nina: So good luck. Have so much fun with that-
Laurie: With your candle business.
Nina: Listen, if you have specific questions, certainly ask. I will say that definitely ask people. But I would say that some of the safety regulations are really important as a small candle-maker, but it is a really beautiful process, the meeting with the fragrance houses and stuff and developing your own set is really fun.
Laurie: I have one more question for you just to wrap all of this up. I asked this before when you were on the podcast. Our podcast was called Being Home with Hunker. And I love to ask what being home means to you, which you did answer and people can go and listen to other episode. But I'm curious, with all of your traveling, especially in these past nine months that you've been doing some really intense traveling, has that idea of being home changed for you? What does it mean for you?
Nina: That's actually such a nice question because I do think when I leave and then come back, I experience my home... My gratefulness for being home and why I feel so comfortable in my home is so interesting to me. The other locations had... Even when you travel with your family, you have your clothes or you have maybe your kids with you, or you have a bed to sleep in, there's breakfast coming for you somehow. There's something about just the minute you enter your house, even if you've recently moved or whatever, that you just feel so much better, just so comforted. And it's just this natural instinct that we seek our own shelter.
And the stuff around us. I know people talk about stuff and things and that's meaningless, and we have our brains and we don't need that we can live in, But I actually do think those things do matter. They each tell a story. We all know where every single item came from in our house, and we also made those choice, that choice to get that. Sometimes maybe you walked by it and it was on the side of the road and you picked it up. Those things in your house exist for a reason.
And we don't even know why we love them sometimes. You're just like, "Why is that there?" "I freaking love that thing." It's so weird. My husband's sometimes like "What's happening over there?" "Whatever. It's staying there, just leave it. Just walk by it." But I think that's so interesting to me. We all say we don't have an attachment to things, but we do. We do. And it's okay too. We're attached to a chair and the way it feels or where we've read or we got bad news when we were doing something in the house, and you can remember that location. There's something about that that is so important to us as humans that I just feel very... I am grateful for a home and for being able to make it the way that I feel comfortable. And that's exciting to me.
Laurie: It's beautiful, Nina.
Nina: Oh, thank you.
Laurie: So beautiful. Thank you so much.
Nina: Thank you guys.
Laurie: For coming here.
Nina: Thank you.
Nina: Thanks. Thanks.
Laurie: I think I've said this before. I'll say it again. You're just delightful.
Nina: Oh, you are too. Thank you.
Laurie: And very generous. Very generous with your time and offering for people to send you emails now to ask questions, so get ready girl.
Nina: Guys, you can figure out my email. Is it my first name? Is it my first name, dot, my last name? Which one is it? Shoot out emails to all of them.
Laurie: I just want to say for people to go follow you on Instagram because you have been showing behind-the-scenes photographs of your adventures among other things.
Nina: I haven't put out the Mountain House book one yet just because I'm afraid of sharing too much about the homes. But we are certainly rolling them out now as we get closer. And then no one's going to be able to travel to these far off places at the same time. So we're like, "Now we can do it."
Laurie: And we'll keep an eye out for your next book.
Nina: I'm so excited.
Laurie: Fall 2023. All right. Thank you so much.
Nina: Thank you guys. Thank you. Thanks [inaudible 00:58:52].
Laurie: To learn more about Nina, visit her website at freudenbergerdesign.com or find her Instagram @ninafreudenberger. Also in our show notes, you can discover other episodes we think you might like based on this conversation, such as my original chat with Nina back in 2021. Thank you for listening to Being Home with Hunker. For more information about this episode or others, visit hunker.com/podcast. And if you don't already, please follow our show. If you like what you hear, be sure to give us a five star rating and review and share it with your friends. It really does help. Being Home with Hunker is produced by me, Lori Gunning Grossman. Eve Epstein is our executive producer. The podcast is recorded and mixed at Night Shift Audio. Theme music by Jonathan Grossman. Special thanks to our team at Hunker, senior designer, Mory Men and director of audience development, Gina Goff.
Hunker's mission is to inspire and empower you to create a space that expresses who you are, shows off your unique style, and makes your life happier and more productive.
About the Podcast
Being Home With Hunker is a new podcast where we explore the idea of "home" – not just as a place where you live, but as an expression of your identity. Each week we talk with designers, creatives, and artists about who they are, how they create meaningful spaces, and what "being home" means to them.
If you like what you hear, please rate and review the podcast, hit subscribe/follow, and share with a friend. When it comes to podcasts word of mouth is how most people will find the show. It really does help. Visit Hunker.com/podcast where you can find, follow, and listen to our show.