“The Work We Do” is an interview series that asks creatives with daydream-worthy jobs how they got where they are—and what it’s like to live a day in their shoes. This week, I’m speaking with designer, stylist, and blogger Joslyn Taylor.
Joslyn’s blog, Simple Lovely, was one of the first I read when Aron and I first started Hither & Thither, together, back in 2008. And I credit her with some of the site’s success: she called it one to watch at Alt Summit, way back then. (She also interviewed us!) We’ve been in touch since, and I’ve let her know that (along with Julia, of course) she was actually an inspiration for this series: at one point a corporate exec with a blog on the side, she’s reimagined her entire career.
I’ll let her tell you the story.
You’re a woman of many careers: editing, styling, blogging, designing. Tell us how you got your start.
Many people think careers develop in a straight line, but mine definitely didn’t.
Out of college, I worked in technology for 15 years and moved through that world a little bit. I was the Director of Online Marketing at Siemens, and although it was a great job—I had a lot of flexibility, a team of people, and a management role in my early 30s—I always wanted to do something a bit more creative.
I have two little girls, one who’s ten and one who’s seven, and I first discovered the blog world when I was on maternity leave with my youngest. It was 2006, before blogging was tied to anything monetary. It was a really interesting space. I thought, I think this could be fun. So I started a blog, Simple Lovely, about trying to live a meaningful, simple, well-designed family life that celebrated the overlooked aspects of the day-to-day: lighting candles and sitting down to a nice meal, going to the museum with your kids.
Through blogging, I ended up making some amazing connections. I got some freelance jobs, and some fun side projects that I’d do while still working full-time. I ended up writing for The Dallas Morning News, for Dallas Child Magazine, and for D Magazine. As I continued doing that, I started to realize that I liked that part of my life more than I loved going to work every day. Meanwhile, I had two young daughters who I was telling to follow their bliss and to do the things that made their hearts happy—and I wasn’t doing that.
I wasn’t sure how to transition to a new career without completely starting from scratch. So I continued to plug away at writing and blogging—and luckily, since I had a job, there was never any pressure to make a living out of that right away. I was able to pursue a lot, regardless of the pay. I did projects for friends; I wrote pieces that paid maybe 75 dollars. It allowed me to gain exposure, and that was a very lucky thing.
Eventually, one of the founding editors of D Magazine offered me a job as the Market Editor of their home magazine. I had also started a second blog with a group of friends called Tiny Dallas, and she really loved our concept of having a soulful, cultural, art-driven life in our city—so she wanted me to help with family content, as well.
So I left my job in corporate America. I took a huge pay cut, but I felt I was leaving to do work that was challenging and interesting, and that I’d be able to make an immediate impact. While I was at D, I had the opportunity to help launch a brand-new magazine called D Mom. It was me and one other person. I did all the editing, all the writing it was a true labor of love. I got shingles while doing it because it was so insane, but it was the ultimate crash course in all things creative. I did that for a year-and-a-half, and was incredibly happy. I’d never worked harder. I really loved every minute of it.
Then, a dear friend of mine, Samantha Sano, came to me when she was eight-months pregnant with her first child. About five years ago, she’d started a multi-disciplinary design studio called Swoon. The firm does everything from luxury branding, to event and product design, to store windows, to museum exhibitis. She wanted me to come in as Principal of Interiors and help formally launch that side of the business.
So I left and joined her, and have been there ever since. I’m 40 now. It’s a long story, but it’s been a very interesting path.
Was it scary to suddenly be embarking on a totally new path? Was there any trepidation, or was it just pure excitement?
You know, it wasn’t as scary as it probably should have been. Financially, it was a little bit, for sure. But otherwise, I had always been very cautious—I took so much time with my own blog and with freelance writing. I’d tested those waters, and knew that I was never happier than when I was doing that stuff. There might have been one day of fear, but really, there was mostly this sense of, this is what I was meant to be doing all along. It just took me a little longer to get here.
That’s so inspiring. You’ve done and accomplished so much—when people ask what you do, how do you answer?
Well, it depends on who I’m talking to and how much they know about the design world. With a lot of people, I’ll just say that I’m an interior designer, because for all practical purposes these days, that’s what I do. If someone is well-versed in that world, however, I might just say that I’m a designer. I do everything from interiors to events to branding—I really do a little of everything.
In our world, so many women are multi-hyphenates: I’m a writer, I’m a designer, I have lots of experience in marketing and branding. I think the blog world has opened the door for a lot of people to pursue work in a lot of different creative fields and make a living from it. That’s an incredibly exciting thing.
What did you study in school?
Back in college, I was an English and Art History major, and I always thought I’d do something creative. My father was a musician and we lived an artist’s life in many ways, but ironically, my parents pushed me to do something a little more mainstream, a little more corporate. They wanted me to have some of the stability in my life that they didn’t have.
What about your experience as a liberal arts major has translated to your career nowadays?
My time at school really taught me the importance of curiosity, and of always observing, and remembering to considering the bigger picture. One of the most important things when you’re designing is to have a strong understanding of what’s come before and what’s out there now.
I love that. There may not be an answer to this question, but what does a typical day look like for you?
I don’t have typical days, but there are certain consistencies: meeting with clients, sourcing, putting things together for presentations. There’s some aspect of spending time with clients and visiting shops and showrooms, but there’s a lot of executing, too—I might be in your yard on a ladder, chopping things off a tree, or loading wood into a backyard in 100-degree heat.
Tell us more about that side of your job—what are some of the harder aspects of your work?
The physical work that it takes to execute the design of a beautiful space is monumental. For stylists and designers, 50% of your life is spent hauling, shlepping, polishing. Not all of it is necessarily glamorous. At 40, I go home many nights and think, I’m so tired, and so sweaty, and so achy. But that part of it is also a great counterpoint to the more cerebral moments—to be able to roll up your sleeves and work hard, and then know that you’ve created something that will fundamentally change the way someone interacts with the space they call home. It can be really difficult, but it’s incredibly rewarding.
What advice would you give to an aspiring designer—or young creatives in general?
If you want to be an interior designer with every fiber of your being, then I’d say, go to design school. There is some benefit to having that education, because it makes certain things easier right out of the gate. I don’t think it’s essential, though.
Also, anything that you want to try—whether it’s being a stylist or an editor or a writer or a designer — I’d say, try to create a space where you’re able to do it consistently on your own. Take pictures, start a blog, build a portfolio. I believe that anyone who wants to be in a creative field should have a blog or a Tumblr, or some space where they’re forced to be disciplined about their creative endeavors, and to work on it every day and to really practice. In your free time, go to museums. Read magazines. Flip through design books. Step away from your computer—and get off of Pinterest!—and actually visit bookstores and galleries and showrooms. See, and touch, and be out in the world. Try to feed your creative soul as much as possible.
So smart! What do you love most about where you’re at now?
I’m incredibly lucky to work at Swoon with a group of people that I respect and admire tremendously—as artists and creatives, but also as human beings. That is huge, huge, huge. It’s truly a collaborative environment. It feels like a creative tribe.
I also love being able to make a client really happy. Every now and then, I’ll go home and there’s a nice voicemail from someone I’ve worked with that I’ll save and listen to five times. There’s nothing better than delighting someone like that.
Do you have a stand-out memory of getting here, to this stage in your career?
There was a woman who was the fashion editor of The Dallas Morning News, Tracy Hayes, who said to me early on, I think you could do my job. It was jarring and encouraging and probably the best thing that had ever happened to me. Here was someone who had done what she was doing for 30 years, and knew that I wasn’t trained or hadn’t ever worked for a magazine or as a designer—and she saw something in me. I’ll never forget it. I thought, I can do this.
Visit Joslyn at Simple Lovely and Swoon. Thanks so much, Joslyn! I love the suggestion, for anything you want to do, to “create a space where you’re able to do it consistently on your own.” It can be difficult to allow oneself the space to consistently practice a craft and it’s valuable to be reminded of how essential it is to take physical space and time to do so.
Portrait by Shayna Fontana. First office image by Hilary Walker; the rest by Joslyn Taylor.