It takes most designers some time to nail down a signature style, but Heidi Caillier got started early. By the time she reached the seventh grade, she’d grown weary of the matching color-blocking paint treatment she’d completed on her bedroom furniture and graduated to a more sophisticated, Egyptian-inspired theme.
“I think my taste has changed a little bit, it’s safe to say,” the Seattle-based designer tells host Kaitilin Petersen on the latest episode of Business of Home’s new podcast, Trade Tales. “But I always enjoyed bringing a vision to life.”
Despite the early interest, Caillier didn’t follow the design path right off the bat. Instead, she studied sociology as an undergraduate before pursuing a master’s in public health. From there, she ruled out a few other potential professions—including nursing, acupuncture, coffee shop owner and scuba diving instructor. It wasn’t until she reached her mid-30s that the blogging boom found its way to the home industry, prompting her to make her prodigal return to design with the advent of her own site, titled “The Rustic Modernist.”
The blog offered the budding designer a chance to determine her own aesthetic, and later acted as a makeshift portfolio—allowing Caillier to get her foot in the door with an entry-level internship with one of her favorite designers. In the years to come, she’d find her bearings in the industry working for online design service Homepolish before establishing her own firm in 2014.
In this week’s episode, Caillier gets down to business by sharing a few tricks of the trade—explaining why not all press is good press, how people-pleasers can learn to say no, and where to draw the line when small projects become a big hassle.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
As recently as last year, Caillier was still accepting every project that came her way. In the process of whittling down her workload, she has found that small assignments often turn out to be some of the biggest time sucks. By sticking to large-scale jobs, she’s able to avoid getting lost in the weeds with clients who are laser-focused on the minute details of tighter spaces. “Someone who’s doing just a kitchen, and maybe has been saving up for five years and thinking about it for so long—those projects feel very, very important, and the amount of time that people have to spend on those little details is much more,” Caillier says. “I just had this realization a few months ago where I was like, I can’t do the small projects anymore because they eat up so much bandwidth.”
One topic that’s not frequently discussed in the industry: the winding road it takes to see a project through to its end—and more importantly, the fact that this route is sometimes filled with dead ends. To help steady the course, Caillier has instituted a five-question screening process to help filter new project inquiries and feel out whether a client’s boundaries and intentions will match her own. “I’ve learned so much about expending creative energy and the cost of that when it doesn’t come to fruition, and I really want to be doing projects that are serious, that the clients have a strong desire to bring to life and are heavily invested in,” she says.
Choose your words wisely
Caillier is avid about documenting her work, and she’s committed to maintaining the quality of those images by enlisting the same professional photographer each time to ensure a consistent look. She’s even more selective when it comes to deciding which publications get to use those images; if a magazine or website isn’t a good fit aesthetically, she protects her well-cultivated brand by steering clear. “I think it is very important, if you’re trying to level up or get to a different clientele, that you’re really cognizant of where you’re pitching, who’s picking you up and what that represents for your brand,” says Caillier. “You have to be willing to say no to the wrong stuff, too.”
Homepage photo: Heidi Caillier | Courtesy of the designer