This week, the guest on The Business of Home Podcast is one of our own: BOH editor in chief Kaitlin Petersen. In this episode, she tells host Dennis Scully about the career path that led her to cover the design trade, the biggest issues the industry faces, and a new podcast she’s hosting (more on that later). Interestingly for an editor so immersed in the business, Petersen didn’t discover the world of interior design until she left home for college.
“I definitely did not see interior design as a profession when I was growing up,” she says. “I think the first time I met anyone who used the phrase ‘my decorator’ was when I got to college.” College was Northwestern University, where Petersen studied journalism and interned at a series of regional magazines in and around Chicago, as well as completing a fellowship with Texas Monthly, where she covered politics and crime, among other subjects. It was thrilling, but not a fit.
“In that hunt for the right subject area, it was a stop along the way, but [taught me] to be comfortable asking really hard questions,” says Petersen. The hunt continued, eventually bringing her to New York, where she landed a role at Veranda and went on to spend six years at the newly formed Hearst Design Group and ultimately helped develop the special-issue relaunch of Metropolitan Home. In 2017, she decamped to Business of Home—at the time, working only on the brand’s quarterly print magazine.
At first, leaving Hearst for BOH was mostly about good timing and trying something new. But over time, it became an opportunity to bring a more probing approach to covering the interior design industry. “I thought a lot about what it would take to make Business of Home [an] essential destination for industry insights,” she says. “There are a lot of people who can tell you what’s new in the industry, but how can Business of Home be the destination that [tells you what] matters?”
Bringing a more journalistic approach (and asking a few Texas Monthly–style hard questions) initially led to some friction. Timing was also a factor. Petersen took the helm of the entire BOH editorial operation in late 2018, just before a wave of major drama hit the industry, ranging from the Robert Allen Duralee Group’s bankruptcy sale to Dessin Fournir’s sudden collapse.
“For the first time, we were asking people tough questions about their businesses, tough questions about challenges they were facing, … people who had public failures, but no one had ever talked about it [before],” says Petersen. “I think that was a really unpleasant surprise for brands that weren’t used to that kind of treatment. I think it also makes people better. I think if there is a real sense of honesty and storytelling around pretty universal business challenges, then we all grow as an industry as a result.”
Of course, it’s not all dramatic bankruptcy news. One of Petersen’s favorite subjects to tackle in recent months has been the inner workings of interior design firms. Through interviews for BOH magazine and weekly installments of the 50 States Project, she has gained an intimate appreciation for the mechanics of how an efficient modern design firm works. Spoiler alert: “There’s no one right way to do it,” she says.
However, what makes a design firm tick is certainly a subject worth exploring in-depth—and it just so happens to be the subject of Petersen’s biweekly podcast, Trade Tales, which launches this week. Each episode will feature a conversation with a designer who went through a challenge, made a change and learned a key lesson. “I hope that it eventually becomes a wealth of knowledge, and that as designers are facing their own business challenges, they find someone who sounds like them—and they feel less alone,” she says.
Homepage photo: BOH editor in chief Kaitlin Petersen | Rayon Richards