Curating the Wow Factor from 500 Miles Away
Current MBA student, former strategy consultant, and up-and-coming interior stylist Erica Williams hit gold — with her very first design project going viral, catching all the heart eye and fire emojis on Twitter.
When I saw the beautiful, hip space come across my feed, I had to dig into the deets. Read the case study-style interview below to learn how Erica brought her Toronto-based client’s vision to life from Philadelphia, PA.
Having never stepped into it physically, she virtually designed the apartment’s interior using mid-century modern inspirations accented with rich jewel tones and Afrocentric patterns.
Q: Tell us about yourself! How’d you get into interior styling?
The design spark goes pretty far back - I took architecture drafting classes in high school. Though I didn’t end up majoring in architecture in undergrad as I planned to, I carried that love of design - both exterior and interior - with me informally. I did a lot of Pinterest-inspired DIY projects to make my space my own as a college student (tufted headboard panels, silhouette wall art, and a matte black penny vase junior year) and as a recent graduate living in New York City (visible closet and wooden magazine displays). I have been my primary “client” in the past, but decorating my own space has led friends to reach out for design advice and recently, to hire me to decorate a space in full.
Q: What decor styles do you lean into most?
On one hand, I love Scandinavian styles that “prioritize functionality without sacrificing beauty,” as Bridget Mallon of Apartment Therapy describes. I call my own twist on that “vibrant” Scandividian because I love color pops too much to fit into the traditional black, white, and gray molds of most Scandinavian designs. On the other, Parisian drama and glam always have my heart. Billowy drapes, freestanding bathtubs, rococo, and velvet are all elements of the style that embody my kind of carrying on.
Q: The process.
You recently completed your first client project – a friend’s downtown Toronto apartment — and it is such a vibe. Even went viral! We want to know all about it. What was your decor process?
I did, I did - thank you! I was honestly really pleasantly surprised when I got the ask. It was a very iterative process and went something like this:
Consult call: We chatted through a few key questions: Are there items you already own, or that you’re planning on buying, that I should consider and decorate around? What colors and interior design styles would you like me to focus on, if any? What’s your budget for the project? Of that budget, are there items you’re more comfortable splurging on or saving on to accommodate the splurge items? Once we answered those questions and confirmed I could manage the scope and timeline, she shared reference photos, videos, and measurements that would help guide my search.
First pass at the design: The apartment I was decorating was in Toronto and I was in Philadelphia, so the entire process took place over FaceTime, phone call, and email. This made client inputs like measurements and visuals of the space extremely important because I never saw the space in-person. I used PowerPoint to create design boards that I could share in an easy-to-access format. Each room in the apartment had its own slides featuring photos of the undecorated space along with photos of items for the space.
Iterations and updates: there were several feedback swaps that involved me sending the latest slide deck, receiving feedback on some of the updates, and re-researching alternatives until we landed on items that worked best. My client was very involved in sourcing some of the major pieces herself (i.e. the credenza and bed frame) that she came across and fell in love with. Other pieces were a quick “yay” or “nay” and some were a “yay” initially, but required replacement for a myriad of reasons - production and shipping timeline too long because of COVID-19 delays, a product sold out, budget adjustments, and the list goes on.
Finalization, ordering, and delivery: Once we agreed on the full design, I placed the orders for products, shared updates as they came in, and requested photos of the finished space as the client received shipments and put things in place. I had included details about product placement for the larger items in the slides as we shared them throughout the process, so there was little confusion about where things would go when they were received.
Q: The vision.
How did you and your client decide on a theme? Did either of you create a mood board? What were some of the important factors in bringing her vision to life?
The client came prepared with a theme that I honored. During that first consult call, she vocalized a few phrases that I put on a mood board verbatim as a constant point of reference. Here’s the simple board:
I also created a secret Pinterest board to save ideas that spoke to some, or all, of the themes mentioned.
Comfort and functionality were key factors that contributed to the vision as well. I was very intentional about reading product reviews in detail to ensure that a couch wasn’t going to be firmer than it looked or to confirm that a product would be made to last once assembled.
Here are some of the final boards, including most of what was ultimately ordered and placed:
Q: The theme.
What are some adjectives you would use to describe the style of this space?
Mid-century modern all the way with a small shot of art deco added to the cocktail. There are a few more colorful moments infused throughout the space than that which you might see in a traditional sea of mid-century modern beiges, off-whites, and browns.
Q: Where you shopped.
What stores did you find most of the pieces in?
I definitely learned a lot about online, Canadian decor shops during this process, that’s for sure haha. I needed to find as many local and national vendors as possible because of the hike in shipping costs that could result from sourcing items in the U.S. or other countries. There are, fortunately, a few U.S. brands that either have a Canadian version of their website, host Canadian sellers, or that ship for free to Canada. A few of those brands:
There are also many quality Canadian decor brands that I ordered from:
Finally, I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t include pieces from a few Black-owned brands in the project:
I have to give more than a single bullet of credit to Etsy. I’m huge on including pieces that no one else would have. Etsy is amazing for offering products that accomplish just that. The decanter set and ice holder for the bar cart and the mirror and cookie urn in the kitchen were all unique, and in some cases vintage, pieces found on Etsy.
The same goes for Overstock. When you’re looking for pieces that are budget-friendly and typically offer a host of product reviews, Overstock is a great place to start, if not finish. The bar cart, full-floor area rugs, and bar stools are all from Overstock, and that is not an exhaustive list.
Q: The budget.
About what was the budget range for furnishing/decorating this space?
The initial budget the client provided was $5,000 CAD, inclusive of furniture and decor costs and exclusive of my designer fee. I talked briefly about the client’s parallel research and that research in some cases resulted in a love affair with pieces that broke the budget we set. While I was more than happy to work within the confines of the initial budget and would also be able to navigate lower price ranges if asked for other projects, the client ultimately asked that we increase the project budget to $10,000 CAD so that she didn’t have to sacrifice these must-haves and I was happy to oblige. Bigger ticket items that drove the change were splurge pieces like the couch, the TV credenza, and the headboard from places like CB2 and Crate & Barrel.
Q: Helpful tools & apps.
What tools, apps, or sites did you use in your planning process for mocking up the space?
I worked entirely in PowerPoint to mockup designs. I have introductory-level experience in AutoCAD, SketchUp, Photoshop, and Illustrator, but I’m not “dangerous” in those just yet, as they say. Fortunately, this worked out for me and my client because we could upload our updates to Google Slides and make notes and comments there on a fluid and frequent basis. As they also say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (though I will continue to dip my toe further and further into the official design tool pool).
Q: Do’s and don’ts.
What 3 decor principles did you follow when styling the apartment?
One key principle I leaned on was the importance of using light fabrics to brighten up dark rooms. My client was hoping to lighten up a really dark apartment palette. Her unit has a dark grey wood floor, so I made sure to avoid rugs with dark base colors and patterns for this reason.
Another important design idea I relied on was using mirrors and mirrored or acrylic furniture to open up the space for the same reason above. I didn’t want solid bar stools or a dark bar cart because the kitchen bar/table itself was already dark and prominent in the space.
Color cues were also important. In mid-century modern styles, whites and browns are anchoring and noticeable, but because they’re so neutral, they allow for other unifying colors too. We ended up with two primary and secondary color pops: emerald green and honey. I didn't shy away from those colors for any major items throughout the house. You won’t see hot pinks or royal blues or neon greens anywhere because they don’t compliment the theme in this context.
Favorite decor sources to draw inspiration from, either for this project or in general?
Well, first and always: Pinterest haha. I’m just inspired whenever I open the app.
More specific recommendations:
My best friend gifted me a subscription to Architectural Digest, so now, in addition to obsessively following their Instagram, I read their newsletters and articles almost every day. Beyond that, I’ve received, loved, and read Domino mag’s and CB2’s newsletters for awhile. Springwise Daily is an innovation newsletter, but I’m big on sustainable innovation and they often post articles on eco-friendly building and architectural technology and advancements, so I love that. I’m a huge daily newsletter girl generally speaking. Accounts I obsess over on Instagram but don’t read daily or weekly content for include Arch Daily and Vogue Living.
I’m also personally inspired by Black women designers of varying tenures in the design space, including Eneia White, Tiffany Thompson, Bria Whitfield, Aurélie Tshiama, and design duo Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters.
I mentioned loving DIY projects. Though I haven’t done one myself in a while, I came across Ben Uyeda’s Instagram and have been fascinated with his building tutorials ever since.
I think that’s it, but inspiration is really anywhere and everywhere.
Q: Where can someone find you online if they’re interested in hiring you?
Potential clients can check out pictures of the Toronto project on Instagram or on Twitter and reach out to me by email at email@example.com for design project hiring inquiries. I’m excited about the possibility of creating new spaces with some new faces moving forward.