An interview with Whitney Talsma Lead Designer + Founder of Oliver James Interior
From bridal stylist, to entrepreneur and interior designer, Whitney Talsma shares of the serendipitous moment that led her to founding Oliver James Interiors in this inspiring conversation with the Boston business owner. Like so many entrepreneurs, Covid gave her the chance to leap into serendipity and follow her dreams of starting her interior design business. Now 3 years later, her work speaks for itself, showcasing her love for timeless design and creating spaces that feel like home. We had the opportunity to learn more about her story, inspiration, and even got some tips to take home too.
First of all, tell us about your business and what it’s all about, in your own words!
I personally love to live in beautiful environments that make me feel inspired, cozy, happy, safe and a reflection of my style and personality while also being functional for the way I and my family live. I know many others feel the same way but may lack the time, energy, creative vision, and expertise to make a beautiful home of their own and so Oliver James Interiors strives to fill that gap so that others can experience the same benefits. I strictly serve the residential community and mainly focus on families or young professionals who are like-minded, value quality craftsmanship, are willing to take risks, and trust the design process. My design style ranges from organic, antique mixed with modern pieces, and English country style to what the design community likes to call the “grandmillenial” style where you’ll find lots of floral prints, gingham, wicker, and chinoiserie elements. Although I once leaned more into a neutral color palette, I now find myself enjoying the challenge of bringing in more color and mixing patterns that work harmoniously with each other.
How did you decide on the name, “Oliver James”?
The name Oliver James is a combination of my son and daughter’s middle names which embodies the spirit of bringing life to one’s home that is not only personal and timeless, but a design guaranteed to be treated with care as if it were my own. And truthfully, the name rolled off the tongue a little better than my own name, Whitney Talsma, ha!
What goes into designing for clients? Are there different levels of involvement that you offer? What does that look like?
I always start with a 15 minute discovery call with prospective clients to learn a little bit more about their home projects, what they are looking for my help with, their design style to see if it aligns with Oliver James Interiors (OJI), a general budget, and what type of service package they’re interested in. I currently offer, design concierge, eDesign, and a full service option for clients who want me to take care of everything from A to Z. Design concierge is for someone who just wants to pick my brain, needs help choosing a paint color, or countertop material, for instance. The eDesign package is great for clients who need help creatively but also want help with sourcing all of the elements in a design. However, they have the time and energy to execute the design on their own time which involves their own purchasing of furnishings and decor, managing any subcontractor work, and ultimately piecing it all together.
For my eDesign and full service clients, I also conduct a more detailed consultation to gather more information about their own, review inspiration and the lifestyle and style questionnaires I have them fill out at the beginning to really get a sense of how they use a space, how they want to use it, what travels or hobbies shaped them into who they are today, and design style, for instance. These are extremely helpful for personalizing a design and ensuring I make the space function exactly how they want it to.
What did it take to actually turn this into a career? What was your background in before starting Oliver James Interiors?
Well first, I had to finally rip the band-aid off and jump in headfirst to actually pursue this as a career. It’s been on my mind for 10+ years but between imposter syndrome, a lack of education in the field, and lack of guts, I held myself back. This was until I realized I was at a pivotal moment in my life in 2020, like many others during Covid. I never considered myself the entrepreneur type (that was my brother from the time he was in middle school) and yes, it was a scary thought to change paths, but with what I’d like to consider some divine intervention, I felt this strong unexplainable urge to make the leap to start this career.
So what was this divine intervention you ask? Call it what you may but here’s a little side story:
In August of 2020 when I was back at work as a bridal stylist at BHLDN, I was outside eating lunch when I had a chance encounter with an old co-worker who said she had just started taking online interior design classes at the New York School of Art and Design for interior design. This encounter happened the DAY after my husband and I had a serious conversation of finally pursuing interior design as a career. I had been hoping for a sign or a little push to make the leap and lo and behold I got that sign the day after this conversation. The following day I checked out the program and signed myself up and this was officially the start of this new career path.
I truly feel that my previous experience with being captain of my sports teams growing up, events management, commercial property management, and bridal styling were amazing stepping stones that shaped me into the person and professional I am today. I bring so many of these different skills to my company including leadership, logistics, creative design, marketing, building trust and personal relationships, sales, and also putting on my psychologist hat from time to time which has really helped in so many facets.
Where do you get inspiration from? How do you decide what decor & design works best for your clients?
It may sound cliché but nature and traveling are huge sources of inspiration for me. I find the details you see in architecture around the world is so interesting, between the little details on facades to the different materials used on flooring, walls, upholstery etc. Different textile patterns and color combinations vary around the world and inspire many new ideas. Besides nature just being neat, I also feel my most relaxed when I’m outside which allows me to open up my mind to more creativity and thoughts that help drive my designs.
As far as deciding the design direction for my clients, I usually review their inspiration photos, find the common threads among them while getting an idea of their style and interpret that in a way that feels personal to them while adding a touch of Oliver James favorite elements of design that signifies that it’s a design that stays true to OJI.
What is your favorite way to connect with your clients? Is there a question you always ask to get a feel for their aesthetic?
The first discovery call is a great way to quickly get an idea and feel from my clients. In many cases I like to find a commonality between us and usually it’s that we have similar aged kids, love of travel, or we just genuinely click. Additionally, I find that asking where they like to shop (for clothes and home goods) and what kind of clothes they have in their closet is very telling about their style and personality.
Do you like to follow the trends or do you find inspiration elsewhere? How much influence do design trends have on your work?
I don’t consider myself a very trendy person and lean more towards staying true to oneself whether it’s trendy or not. To me, this will always be timeless.
I follow many other amazing designers in the interior design or other creative industry that are incredibly inspiring and I will sometimes take an element from one of their designs that really struck me and incorporate it in my own way.
What is your number one tip for making a home feel put together?
Have a home for everything which means putting things away in their rightful place once you’re done using it. Yes, that means I’m constantly picking stuff up as I walk around the house when my kids (or husband!) leave things strewn about. Ha!
Some other items include fresh flowers, a bed always made first thing in the morning, and a pretty scent in the air whether it be from a burning candle or diffuser.
Tell us about what it took to be successful as an interior designer?
Am I successful yet? I don’t know! But things seem to be going well just by building great relationships with clients and vendors, taking risks, staying organized, disciplined, and continuing to learn the industry as it constantly evolves.
What do you think has contributed most to your success?
I think having a natural eye for interior design, having a personable personality, and being business-minded have helped. All of that and just going out there and doing the dang thing!
Any advice for other entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business?
Listen to your gut, have a good support system, be a sponge, and don’t feel like you have to have everything set up perfectly before starting.
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Photos By Jessie Wyman