Interview: Vanessa Holden Of West Elm

West Elm is a go-to destination for hipsters kitting out their first loft on shoestring, but the affordable, stylish offerings from this savvy brand give any space an instant update. As creative director (and mother of two), Vanessa Holden not only drives the look of the West Elm’s design direction, she embodies the busy lifestyle that customers can relate to (check out brand’s blog Front + Main). Pragmatic and to the point, this Aussie native who cut her teeth on major gigs at Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living gives pointers on the best way to spend your decorating dollars.

House & Home: What are your tips for decorating on a budget?

Vanessa Holden: Paint. Always. Paint is one of those things that people get very tentative about doing, but it’s the lowest cost, highest impact thing that you can do. You just need to get over that feeling of, ‘I need to paint it and I’ll never be able to change it.’ You will, and you can do it the same afternoon. It is literally like changing a T-shirt. Lighting is a high-impact way to make a difference in your space too. You get a lot of impact with statement lighting. I would honestly go over your budget in order to make a statement. When you walk into a room, it’s one of the first things you see. With lighting and a rug, that’s really where you identify a space within a room.

H&H: What’s your advice for decorating in small spaces?

VH: With a small space, things have got to be smart, so multi-purpose things, definitely things with storage, like ottomans with storage, multi-purpose pieces, things like stackable chairs or our Storage Coffee Table. You almost have to think through the smarts of the room, even before you think through the style. Look for furniture that does more than one thing. You can buy a little martini table and use it at the end of a sofa as a side table, or as a little stool, or group three of them together as a coffee table. Built-in storage is important, too. I’m always thinking, ‘Where can I hide things?’ And I think it’s helpful to remember that you might not always be living in a small space.

H&H: What’s worth a splurge?

VH: Sofa. Spend the money to buy the sofa that you love. We have great sofas at $999 now. (She really likes the Paidge, shown below, which starts at $1,095).

H&H: What if the look you want is out of your price range?

VH: If you’re working with a small budget and high expectations, really focus on one thing at a time. What will complete the look of your sofa? Three or four pillows and a throw. The satisfaction of getting a project done is really gratifying if you’ve got a small budget.

H&H: We heard you have an unusual home office, what does it look like?

VH: It’s in a closet. When we moved into this new house, you could see a screen in every single room that we were in, and it was driving me crazy. So we took the rods out of a closet, put a desk and two shelves in to hold the computer and a printer. You pull a Z-fold door across it and it disappears. I work there, my husband is self-employed so his whole business runs out of there. And it’s definitely the best way that I’ve ever experienced a home office. Working at home has always been a part of how I operate, but to actually have dedicated space has completely changed kind of my attitude, because it’s not something that’s just there, all the time.

Read about more of our interview subjects here in our Style Icon gallery.

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Stacy Lee Kong