Industry Influencer Nicole Gordon

This industry influencer is particularly special to me. When she was Senior Designer at Waldo’s Designs, she hired me at my first job in the design world. I came in, a flea market fiend pulling at my sleeves to hide the paint on my arms, and she gave me a shot. Her enthusiasm and passion were contagious. She explained woods, finishes, famous furniture designers, and scale. She taught me about why different fabrics should be used for different applications, and the brilliance of small details that can make a room.

Since then, she has launched her own firm. She hit the ground running, and has been on fire ever since. She’s been busy designing hot restaurants and homes for celebrities including actors, models, and media moguls. When I spoke with her, she had 8 projects across the country, and her client roster was only growing. She also recently participated in LCDQ Legends 2016 and created a featured window display for Maine Design.

Her design choices are elegant in a cool, “I’m not trying to be chic, but I can’t help it” way. Most importantly, her passion shines through in her projects, creating spaces that clients can truly be excited about.

Read on to learn more about Nicole Gordon, what she loves about having her own firm, things she finds inspiring, and an important lesson she’s learned along the way.

 

RR: How would you describe your personal style?

Nicole: That’s supposedly easy… I’m a mix of traditional, but I don’t see it as traditional. I like warm interiors. Mostly my style is dependent on the architecture of the house. If it’s a Mediterranean style house, you can’t really put vintage 70s furniture into it. You have to respect the architecture of it. I really feel like that is what drives all of my spaces. Location and architecture.

RR: What is the first thing you notice when you enter a space?

Nicole: I look for light. Is there natural light? Are there windows? Or is it a dark space?

RR: What have you been working on?

Nicole: An apartment at the Edition Hotel in Miami, 2 homes in Bel Air, a George Washington Smith home in Montecito, an 8000 sq ft new build in Montecito, and 2 homes in Westwood.

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Cadet in Santa Monica, one of Nicole’s projects

 

RR: How has your style evolved since you got started in design?

Nicole: Now I have a broader understanding of what’s out there and what is possible, so I’d say my style is more sophisticated. My experiences, travel, and all of the jobs I’ve done have impacted my style. I’ve been exposed to so many different spaces and have grown from a lot of people I’ve collaborated with—clients, architects, and vendors. I’m learning all the time about materials, new details, and things that are possible.

RR: How did you start working in interior design? Have you ever had a job outside of design?

Nicole: I have a degree in psychology. Before becoming a designer, I worked at a children’s hospital and school for four years. It was a painful and difficult job. I was always really upset and realized I didn’t have the constitution for it. I went and met with a career counselor. I took some tests, and they told me the job I was #1 best suited for was interior designer. My mom is an interior designer, so I grew up around it. I interned for a while, then moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA Extension’s Interior Design program.

RR: Does your degree in Psychology help you as a designer?

Nicole: 100%! As a designer, you are working with people and balancing all day—vendors, clients, and friends. You’re dealing with so many different personalities. My degree was a good foundation for that.

RR: What is your biggest source of inspiration?

Nicole: Travel. Just going to different cities, countries, restaurants, and hotels. I think traveling is the best education on so many levels, for anything in life. To learn how different cultures live, to see different architecture, materials. I went to Japan last year, to Tokyo, and that was my year highlight. My goal is a new city or country every year (that I haven’t been to before.)

RR: What is your dream trip?

Nicole: Axel Vervoordt’s castle in Belgium. I worship him; that would be awesome.

RR: What is your favorite part about having your own company?

Nicole: I love the freedom. I have the autonomy to source things at my own pace; I can go shop for 2 hours and not worry about it. I love my clients and I love building relationships with them. I love treating my clients to great finds. I just bought a Murakami sculpture for my client Jared Eng (Just Jared.) It was a total find, and he is so excited to put it in his house, and I’m really excited about it, too.

I love finding good things. You know… when you find that great chair? (RR: YES!) You feel like you’ve won the lottery. When you happen to find that vintage piece or that art piece that is so coveted, and you actually find it for a good price—that’s so rewarding. And that you’re able to treat the client with that, that feels really good.

I also love that I am able to create my own inventory. It’s really fun being able to curate and collect, and to know that you can buy a fabulous piece, and you might not have the place for it now, but you’ll  find the right home for it soon. I love that feeling.

RR: What is your dream piece?

Nicole: FANTASY is more the word. Something from Anish Kapoor.

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Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor

 

RR: What is your favorite piece in your own home?

Nicole: That’s a good question. A photograph by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. It’s an angel in a subway, and it’s beautiful. There are lots of things that I like, but I love that, and I bought it for myself, and that is amazing, too—it makes me feel proud.

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Jean-Baptiste Mondino Subway Angel, purchased at M&B Gallery

 

RR: Do you have any tips for someone starting a project?

Nicole: Do a plan. Determine what your goals are and decide on a budget. If it’s a project for yourself, be realistic about what you can or are willing to spend.

RR: Have you done any DIY projects?

Nicole: At Cadet, I created a salon wall of Carlo Mollino prints. I bought a Mollino book and cut out pages then framed and matted them myself. It turned out great.

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A Mollino print in Cadet

RR: Do you have any design disaster stories?

Nicole: When I was working at Michael Smith, I found this mirror in the auction catalog at Christies for $60k. I had it air shipped. Well, I hadn’t converted metric to inches, and it didn’t fit in the space. I lost thousands of dollars on shipping alone. It was a BIG lesson. Now I always check dimensions and measurements a minimum of three times. I never trust photos for scale. I always physically look at the tape measurer. It was 15 years ago, but it still feels like yesterday.

Nicole’s firm, Nicole Gordon Studio, is based in Santa Monica, CA.

Industry Influencers: Scott Shirey at Finders Keepers Vintage

Interviewing Scott at Finders Keepers!
Interviewing Scott at Finders Keepers!

A little over a month ago, I met Scott from Finders Keepers Vintage at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. I was at his booth, utterly impressed with all of the genuinely cool stuff he was selling. I ended up buying a chair from him, and we got to talking. He told me he found everything by picking. Yes, like American Pickers picking. I was intrigued. A picker? Based in California? I knew he had to be the next influencer interview!

The chair that started our conversation! Scott picked it from a farm in SoCal.
The chair that started it all! Scott picked it from a farm in SoCal.

Luckily, he was happy to sit down with me. Once Spring Break hit, I visited his store in Murietta, CA. It was awesome! Like the Rose Bowl on steroids. There were signs, tins, little finds, big finds, manniquens, an amazing arcade bowling game… pretty much anything you could imagine finding on a pick.

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The window is just a preview of the treasures you’re gonna find in the shop!

Here’s what he had to say:

RR: How did you get started buying?

Scott: My grandparents were big flea market and swap meet people and I would always be the tag along. And, of course, when you’re young, 4 and 5 years old, you’re always asking for money because you find something. So they’d give me five bucks and I’d go out and look around and have a blast. My whole life, it has always been flea markets and swap meets, you name it…. I love trying to find that hidden treasure. It may be hidden away for years and you find it and bring it back to life.

RR: How did you get started selling?

Scott: In 2012, I was transitioning jobs and my wife encouraged me to follow my passion and look into opening the store.

RR: Do you really only find things picking?

Scott: We aquire all of our stuff through picking. I don’t do estate sales, I don’t do garage sales (you have to go to 50 garage sales to find a couple of cool items, estate sales, at least out here, they charge more than I do in my store.) I put ads out, people call me, now that I have the store, people come in here every day trying to sell me items.

I’ve been as far as the Midwest picking. I’ve been to Iowa. You walk into a barn, and it is just full of rustic items and just oozes America and it’s really cool. Sometimes it just gives you goose bumps when you walk in… you just think you walked into the holy grail of picking.

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Just by this wall, you can tell Scott has been picking in some really cool places!

RR: How do you approach people to pick? Do you call ahead? Do you ever knock on doors like the show American Pickers?

Scott: I’ve been picking as far as Iowa. There’s very little door knocking. I don’t like to invade people’s privacy. Generally, I’ll have something set up already. I’ll do ads or we call to set it up. When we went to Iowa, we only had one pick set up. Through word of mouth, we ended up scheduling so many picks that we had to cancel our trip to see the American Pickers store. I had to remember that we were there for business first! One day I’ll go back and go to the store.

RR: How do you decide which items are in the store and what you take to the flea market?

Scott: I kind of cross everything over. I try to take eye catchers from the store. In addition to the store, I have a 3,000 square foot barn filled with stuff. The goal is to stand out at events. I bring some things from the barn, but I also bring things from the store.

I got these from Finders Keepers at the Rose Bowl.
I got these from Finders Keepers at the Rose Bowl.

RR: Do you have any tips for negotiating?

Scott: My goal is to find the right home for items. I’d rather someone take an item and appreciate it and enjoy it than just throw it in their garage. I don’t change the price whether the item is in the store or at the flea market and I’m always willing to negotiate. If I can tell that someone really loves something but they are feeling shy about negotiating (especially in the store), I may tell them to make me an offer or offer them a lower price to at least get the ball rolling. If you really love something, just ask.

I love the colors on this bread box and the canisters! (I have a thing for canisters lately!)
I love the colors on this bread box and the canisters! (I clearly have a thing for canisters lately.)

RR: How do you clean up items?

Scott: It’s funny you ask. At first I would wipe everything down, but then people would say, “no, no, no, I want it how you found it!” Now, if an item is really needing some attention, we’ll wipe down the outside but leave dust and the dirt and the cobwebs inside so people can see where it came from.

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RR: What is your dream find?

Scott: A split window VW bus would be my dream buy.

I think my dream buy changed when I saw these awesome bikes!
I think my dream buy changed when I saw these awesome bikes!
Let's talk about the original ad with the matching bike... now that is awesome!
Let’s talk about the original ad with the matching bike… now that is awesome!

RR: What’s your favorite find to date?

Scott: Any time I see Disney, I try to buy it. To me, Disney is America. Disney represents that creativity, that drive, passion, and vision.

I love finding porcelain gas station items, advertising signs, and vintage toys because those are the things I am passionate about and collect myself.

This Circus Nut Warmer is one of Scott's favorite items in the store.
This Circus Nut Warmer is one of Scott’s favorite items in the store.

RR: Is there a “find that got away?”

Scott: I can’t tell you how many items that I’ve wanted or had my eye on. A 12 foot A&W neon that said “All American Foods” and, you know, timing is everything. I went to look at it, and I loved it and didn’t have my trailer with me. Then I got too busy to call the guy, and when I called him the next week, it was long gone.

RR: Any disasters?

Scott: I bought this vintage bear trap. My emotions got the best of me and I ended up paying $1000 for it, and it sold for about $750.

RR: Where all can we find you?

Scott: We started permanent residences at the Rose Bowl and Long Beach Flea Markets and will be there every month. We’re aiming to pick up at least one other event each month so we’ll be doing three flea markets a month. This month is Junk Bonanza in San Diego on March 20, 21, 22. We are on Facebook and Ebay. Also, we are starting to rent out items for weddings and events.

With a Japanese sword from WWII.
With a Japanese sword from WWII.

I had so much fun talking to Scott! He finds such cool stuff and I love that his finds are a piece of Americana. He loves it, and he wants other people to love it, too. He’s so clearly passionate about what he does, and that shines through in the quality of his merchandise. Definitely go and see him at the flea markets or check out his shop at 25285 Madison Ave #111 Murrieta, Ca 92562.

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Industry Influencers: Shane Brown from Big Daddy’s Antiques

Recently, I was lucky enough to meet and then sit down with Shane Brown of Big Daddy’s Antiques (THE Big Daddy!)

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Chatting with the man behind the brand.

I’ve loved BD’s for quite some time, I love to go to their massive store off Jefferson and just get lost. They always have creative, fun, and funky pieces (antiques and custom made!) that will take your rooms up a notch and make your space special. In the store, we started talking, and Shane told me about how he got interested in buying and selling furniture, and I knew I had to interview him.

We talked about the business and how he got started, the find that got away, and he even gave me some tips for negotiating prices!

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These are just perfect.

RR: What’s your biggest source of inspiration?

Shane: Walking in here. There’s nothing more inspiring than moving stuff around and combining different things and having it sell in the next day or 20 minutes even.

I also look at a lot of magazines for inspiration.

It’s interesting because (Big Daddy’s) hits every outlet. My creative outlet, my business outlet, and I think that’s why I still have a lot of passion for it. Other than that, the business is really fun and every day is different– I can go to the San Francisco store. I can go buying in the south of France or somewhere else. Its just fun!

RR: How did you get started?

Shane: I decorated a girlfriend’s house, and when it ended, I was selling off the pieces, and the buyers were telling me I had a great eye. I guess that’s why I’m still in business—I have a good eye.

When I first started, I was schlepping stuff to the Rose Bowl at 4 AM in a $800 van I bought from my uncle. I’d be praying that it would make it to Rose Bowl so I could make money to feed myself and buy more stuff.

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So chic and so comfortable.

RR: What do you look for in a piece?

Shane: Patina and character. What’s going on at the time influences it. How I’m feeling, what people are buying. It evolves constantly. I’m not buying the same kind of stuff I was buying 20 years ago. Thank God!

Also, I think what I look for has evolved with the amount of money I can spend. I had a good eye in the beginning, but I didn’t always have the money to back my eye. My eye is ALWAYS better than my pocketbook.

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Character: check. Patina: check.

RR: How has your style evolved?

Shane: I’m moving away from the look Restoration Hardware has started doing now. (Author note: he’s been doing it for about 10 years already!) I’m going toward a more minimalistic, contemporary look with my twist on it. That might be some leather…(the twist) will come organically within the next year. I’m looking for the next thing– “what are we doing, what we should be doing?”

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RR: A lot of rehabbers dream of having shops. How did you go from buying and selling pieces to having a brick and mortar establishment?

Shane: People couldn’t always come to markets, or they would call me and want to see stuff during the week. I heard that enough, so I finally opened here in LA. I was doing markets up in San Francisco, and I started hearing that enough. I would set up my area like a store, and people would ask where the store was, and I had some people come down to LA to see the store, and I realized it was time to open a store in San Francisco.

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A peak inside the a portion of the GIANT LA store.

RR: Most memorable buy(s)?

Shane: When I was first getting started, I bought some paintings for $5 each, they sold for $1300 each.

I bought a Louis Vuitton trunk for $600. I still own that, and it is now probably worth $15,000.

RR: Has there been a “find that got away”?

Shane: A sterling silver trophy. The price was fine, he just wasn’t negotiating with me. Someone else bought it about twelve steps later.

When I was younger, there were a lot of things I had to let go because I just didn’t have the cash to buy them. Now, I usually just buy something if I think its great!

RR: Where do you find this amazing stuff?

Shane: People text me photos all day. I have two containers coming in that I bought off photos.

Also, I find a lot of stuff in Europe. I do major buying trips about 6 times a year.

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This sign has character, a thing to look for when buying pieces for your spaces!

RR: What’s the best part of the job?

Shane: I meet the most interesting people. You meet the whole spectrum of society. I might meet a broke artist making really cool things, or a billionaire collecting odd and interesting things.

Like yesterday, I wasn’t planning on going downtown, but I went and met this amazing artist from Portugal who is doing all of these murals on the sides of buildings that are crazy and a client of ours took me down there. I’ve flown on a customer’s private plane to go install a rock from Bali. That’s the best thing—meeting really interesting people.

Also, I’m living exactly the dream I created in my head as a child. I mean, to the wife, to the kids, to the business, to multiple homes… everything I wanted as a kid. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to travel, have a healthy family, and I wanted to have a fun, interesting lifestyle. And, I think I’ve done it!

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I love old safes!

RR: Have you had any “what was I thinking” moments?

Shane: I’ve been married for a long time now, so I don’t really have any of those!

In business—I’ve been pretty lucky. The hardest thing, really, has been the employees. “Why did I hire that particular person?”

What I’ve created– I don’t look back at things I’ve created negatively. I saw some photos recently from when I first started and said, “wow! look how far I’ve come!”

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RR: What are your design pet peeves?

Shane: Dead plants, plants in cheap container or the black plastic container. If you’re sitting in a multi-million dollar home and have really cheap pottery because you’re too cheap to buy nice pottery, it really irks me.

Also, lamps without lampshades drive me crazy.

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This bench is pure perfection. They had several in store while I was there, and they were on their way out the door.

RR: Do you have any negotiating tips?

Shane: The best way to the best price is to be nice. Show that you love a piece, don’t knock it down and point out the flaws. Have respect for the seller, be honest if something is above what you can pay but you really love it. Put a package together and buy multiple pieces. Ask for the seller’s “friendliest price.”

RR: Any parting words?

Shane: We’ve become a throw away society. They aren’t as interested in quality because they don’t expect it to last. People used to pay $20,000 to decorate their living room and expect it to last 30 years. Now people just buy mid-priced things and expect to throw them away.  I’m trying to teach my little girls that is not all about looks, it is about what’s on the inside that counts.

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An example of a quality piece.

My note: This also applies to quality furniture. It’s about finding the good bones and quality pieces that will last. This is the kind of stuff Shane is attracted to and sells in the store.

Another note: We had a wonderful long interview. In some instances, word order has been modified for flow.

I loved talking to Shane and learning about how Big Daddy’s became what it is today. It was so much fun to hear his stories and learn about the business. After more than 20 years, he is still passionate and excited about the work that he does. Talk about a dream job!

Visit Big Daddy’s or Georgia Brown for your last minute Christmas needs or if you just want something really special.  You won’t leave disappointed (or empty handed!)

Big Daddy’s LA Location:     3334 La Cienega Place, LA, CA 90016

Big Daddy’s San Francisco Location:     1550 17th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

Georgia Brown Aspen:     217 Galena St, Aspen, CO 81611