This week’s “Working Girl” Nicole Gibbons is the founder of the popular home décor blog So Haute and can currently be seen transforming homes on “Home Made Simple” – a design show that airs weekends on OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network.
Name: Nicole Gibbons
Location: Harlem, NYC
Profession: Interior Designer & On-Air Personality
How did you get started?
I’ve always loved design, I never really anticipated doing it as a career, but I always loved being around beautiful homes and design magazines. My mom was a designer so my earliest exposure I had to design was through her. I just always loved it. During high school I went through this whole evolution and wanted to be a doctor, got to college and after taking advanced science classes realized I didn’t want to do that. Then I thought that I wanted to go into broadcast journalism and I wanted to be an entertainment reporter so I did the communication and journalism track at Northwestern University to then realize that I wasn’t that passionate about journalism. I did like being in front of the camera and became involved with broadcast journalism extracurricular activities at school and I also really loved fashion. One thing I never did that a lot of young people do coming out of school was put pressure on myself to have my whole life and career figured out upon graduation. And since I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I decided to take a job that I thought would be fun for a 21- year old in New York City fresh out of college and fell into fashion PR. I did several PR internships in fashion, beauty and music while in school and landed a full-time fashion PR position, which I started two weeks after graduation. I never anticipated being in PR for quite as long as I was. The goal was always just to do it until I had that light bulb moment and figured out what I was really passionate about.
Around 2008, there weren’t very many design blogs and at the time I didn’t really have a hobby so I decided to start a blog, to keep myself busy outside of work and channel some of my creative energy through that. In January of 2008 I launched my blog, and it caught on really quickly. I worked on it for about a month without telling anybody and built out the content and as soon as I started to spread the word about my blog by April of 2008 I had secured mentions in the Washington Post and notable mentions in other outlets. I then realized that I was in a position of influence and that my voice mattered and started taking the blog more seriously. I really enjoyed it and I felt that the blog was a really excellent platform to help position myself as an expert in design, so I decided to focus on that.
At the time I didn’t know if I would be a full on interior designer, or work in the design industry in some other capacity, but I had always had it in the back of mind, being an interior designer was something that I knew that I would enjoy. So I started an LLC in L.A. and started taking on more design projects, super low budget one room projects, for friends and friends of friends just for the experience. Then I realized that I enjoyed it enough and that I also had the desire to build a brand. I’ve always been an over-achiever in different regards, so I knew that if I were going to be an interior designer, I wasn’t just going to be an interior designer, I wanted to be THE interior designer, build a brand and not do client work anymore.
It took several years! I worked really hard; I networked, talked to every designer in the industry whose work I admired or could get an introduction to. I took a few classes at FIT and NYU to cover some interior design basics and read everything I could devour and immersed myself in the industry. I knew that it would take a lot of preparation for me to feel confident because I had no desire to actually go to design school, so I looked at all the designers who I admired the most and who I had the opportunity to talk to (most of which never went to school but were either self-taught or worked under someone). I’m a pretty smart and resourceful person so I felt like I could develop all the knowledge I would need on my own and that I had enough resources and people I could tap into for advice if needed. At the end of 2012 I decided to leave my fashion job and knew that when I left, my next venture would be my own venture. Since leaving at the beginning of this year, I’ve hit the ground running and within six months, landed the show on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network and haven’t looked back since!
What’s an average day like?
A day in my life changes so much! Earlier in the year it was all about networking, because clients don’t just come walking through your door, so being out there and letting people in my social circle and in my industry know what I was doing and promoting myself as a designer was really important.
After landing a recurring role on “Home Made Simple” on OWN, my typical day became filming and 12-hour days on location. But when I’m settled in NYC, my day consists of working from home, sending out emails, bookkeeping and sending out invoices and breakfast or lunch meetings during the day are common a few times a week because I’m constantly networking. As an entrepreneur, you have to constantly be in the face of influencers and create opportunities for yourself so that’s a big part of my daily routine. I’m also either at the D&D building or New York Design Center shopping for clients quite a bit and then on any given night I may go to a cocktail party for a design product launch.
If I were just running a design business, I think my day would be a lot more routine and monotonous, but because my business is so multifaceted (the media/TV arm, my blog and design business) I have so many different things going on all the time. With the OWN show, even though we’ve finished production, I still have a lot of obligations to the show between social media and writing content for the Home Made Simple website. Either way, I’m always working 24/7 doing something work-related. My computer is always with me because whenever I have a free moment in between meetings I’ll pop in a coffee shop somewhere to get stuff done. I use nights and weekends to catch up on my blog. So no day is really the same. It’s exciting and I love what I do!
Why do you do it?
I think at the end of the day, I love having the opportunity to help people in some way. There’s something rewarding about that, and just being around things I love. I have a passion for beautiful things and furniture – just to be surrounded by that all the time is inspiring so I really enjoy that. I get notes from people all the time about how much my designs or something I talked about on my blog improved their home, how much they love it, or how they really admire my sense of style. Getting that type of feedback is great and having a strong online presence is great because people will let you know what they think – positive or negative. It makes me want to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m not saving the world but to have any kind of impact on people in a positive way is something that I want to continue to do.
Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:
There are so many, but I think the main challenge is being spread thin and not being in a position where I can have a full time staff and a full time office. At this stage, I’m ok with not having an office because I can pick up and go and am not tied to any piece of real estate, but on the other hand, it leaves me with a lack of structure and stability. Right now I do everything myself, but I do have design assistants that help me on a part time basis on projects but it’s challenging at times because there’s a lot on my plate.
I think another really challenging thing just being an entrepreneur is that every ounce of your success and your compensation is entirely up to you, so I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to always be out there creating opportunities for myself, because you never know when the next project will come and because my business is still growing. Everything I accomplish and everything I achieve is completely up to me and having that pressure is a constant challenge.
Although I’m fully entrenched in social media due to my work as a blogger, there can be a challenge to keep up with the social networking aspect of what I do: tweeting, facebook-ing and instagramming – for what I do I consider all of that work too!
Your greatest achievement so far?
My greatest achievement is always the last thing I did that I’m proud of. It’s hard to say that I had this one great achievement that was a career-defining moment, because I am still growing and there’s so much I want to accomplish. At the moment I would say the production of “Home Made Simple” on OWN was a lot of work and required a lot of energy, but now that the show has started airing, I’m really proud of that, and I can’t wait for people to see more of me on the show. That to me is a huge accomplishment and one that I’m incredibly proud of, but I’m also looking forward to the next big thing. I hope that there will be many more proud moments in my career to come. I know there will be!
What might be next for you?
I’m launching a new blog design with all new content soon and I’m in the planning stages to begin producing my own original video content. I am also working on concepts for a book and want to continue auditioning and doing more television. Lastly, I have my eyes set on taking on design projects in Los Angeles where I live part time and elsewhere outside of NYC.
What are your top 5 hair tips?
- My hair is very dry so I like to keep it moisturized with Argan oil. Usually after getting my hair washed, the first thing I do once it’s straightened is make sure that it’s really well moisturized with Argan oil.
- I cowash! L’oreal has this line called Ever Crème which includes a cowash shampoo, cleansing crème conditioner which I love! It’s what I choose to shampoo with most of the time, because my hair is abnormally dry. And when my hair really needs it, I use warm castor oil in lieu of a hot oil treatment.
- Because I’m super low maintenance, I almost never put heat on my hair unless I’m going somewhere. I am currently transitioning and couldn’t bring myself to do the big chop so lately I’ve been wearing extensions to protect my hair since I’ve been filming Home Made Simple and needed to put heat on my hair every day to get camera ready. I haven’t had a relaxer in about a year so right now my hair is about half-way natural.
- I trim my ends every 4-6 weeks or so and also wrap my hair pretty religiously in a silk scarf at night to keep it protected.
- I’ve transitioned to only using products that are sulfate and alcohol-free, both of which dry out the hair. I love the Shea Moisture line and some products from Carol’s Daughter and Josie Maran Argan oil.
Fun Fact: Despite her outgoing and gregarious personality, Nicole considers herself a loner and really loves visiting museums and going to the movies by herself. She also enjoys travelling alone to off the beaten path locales such Mexico, the Honduras and secluded beaches.